Fine, yes, I’m trying to sell my book on the psychology behind the phenomenal success of Indians in the U.S. and, yes, I’m in neutral on the work having to do with growing up (feeling) Ethiopian, but on a pragmatic, let’s-get-it-done level, and in anticipation of my imminent trip to Japan…
We’re looking at a piece on jazz in Japanese cities and the places where people go to eat, drink, and hear the music. We’re looking at Kyoto–not the temples, not the Kamo river joints, not the Gion and the geisha trappings, but the sweet spots to relax and have a shochu and some noodles or grilled chicken.
We’re looking at a remarkable bartender in Tokyo, whose shaved head sparks stories in his customers at his tiny, eight-seater on a hard to find alley. And describing the deep seasonality of Japanese cuisine where purveyors are regarded as spies almost with access to a few precious ingredients that at times are available for “seasons” as short as a few days.
And we’re looking at context: Until the Meiji era in the mid-nineteenth century, Japan was feudal, divided, impoverished and rich, retro, and in danger of colonization. Then all of a sudden: Western! But with that imperial transformation, the threat of facade as opposed to what is in the genuine soul became a hallmark of the spiritual crisis of modernity in Japan. Which, for me as a writer, makes it a spellbinding place to be.
And on top of all, as a pinpoint, is the fact that for all the celebration going on right now about Japanese supremacy in cuisine, what I have to wonder about is how the very recent development of beautiful food impinges upon that crisis. And is compounded, very frankly, by post-war famine, hunger, and a loss of national sense of purpose.
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi?” Um, no. Jiro dreams of meaning. What is the meaning of his life? It sure ain’t fish.