This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From how Jiro Dreams of Sushi transformed US sushi culture to the lost world of Kyoto’s jazz kissas, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ and the American Omakase Boom

Jaya Sexena

In 2013, even though I could not afford it (not like there was a time when I could afford it), I saved up my money and got a reservation at Sushi Nakazawa soon after it opened. It felt important, like witnessing the launch of a spaceship, or a president’s victory speech after a long war. I remember laughing with my partner and other patrons as we got far too drunk on our paired sake, the wide-eyed looks and guttural moans we gave each other after each course — melty fatty tuna and a scallop that tasted like it lived in a bath of sugar. The laughter and — god, really? — applause with which we all received chef Daisuke Nakazawa, who appeared at the end to serve the tamago that made him famous. Maybe it’s the benefit of hindsight, but it felt like something was beginning.

The only reason I, and everyone else at the counter, was there was Jiro Dreams of Sushi: We were not sushi experts, but the film made us feel like we were. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which was released in 2011 but debuted on Netflix in August 2012, is a film about obsession. Directed by David Gelb, it is a quiet look into the work of Jiro Ono, a then-85-year-old sushi master behind the exclusive, three-Michelin-starred restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. The documentary had everything a foodie could want — a “secret” restaurant tucked away in a Tokyo subway station; a man with exacting taste; the tension of Jiro’s age and what will happen when he passes his legacy off to his sons; and an apprentice, Nakazawa, whose character arc bends towards success. And most of all, shot after pornographic shot of what was widely considered the best sushi in the world. [continue reading]

Latvia topples Soviet-era obelisk amid backlash against Russia

Associated Press

A concrete obelisk topped by Soviet stars that was the centrepiece of a monument to the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany was taken down in Latvia’s capital on Thursday, the latest in a series of Soviet monuments brought down after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Heavy machinery was spotted behind a green privacy fence at the foot of the nearly 80-metre (260ft) obelisk shortly before it was felled. The column, which had stood like a high-rise in central Riga, crashed into a nearby pond, causing a huge splash at Victory Park. A Latvian media outlet broadcast the event live as onlookers, some with Latvian flags wrapped around their shoulders, cheered and applauded. [continue reading]

Researcher hopes trove of rare residential school photos can help identify missing children

Olivia Stefanovich

About 1,000 black-and-white photos from the early days of Canada’s residential school system have been discovered in the archives of a Roman Catholic order in Rome. Raymond Frogner, head of archives at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) in Winnipeg, found the photographs earlier this month when he was given exclusive access to the Oblate General Archives to identify residential school records.

He said the images are part of an early 20th century photo series sent by priests from various institutions in Canada — including the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, where the discovery of more than 200 suspected unmarked graves was reported in May 2021. “The photos would give some indication of children who perhaps might have been known to be lost,” Frogner said.  “If the photos are dated, we can actually get an indication of where they were.” [continue reading]

The inside story of the CIA v Russia – from cold war conspiracy to ‘black’ propaganda in Ukraine

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones

In the early 1990s, Senator Patrick Moynihan campaigned for the abolition of the CIA. The brilliant campaigner thought the US Department of State should take over its intelligence functions. For him, the age of secrecy was over.

In a New York Times opinion piece, Moynihan wrote:

For 30 years the intelligence community systematically misinformed successive presidents as to the size and growth of the Soviet economy … Somehow our analysts had internalised a Soviet view of the world.

In the speech introducing his Abolition of the CIA bill in January 1995, Moynihan cited British author John le Carré’s scorn for the idea that the CIA had contributed to victory in the cold war against the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev and his successors. “The Soviet Empire did not fall apart because the spooks had bugged the man’s room in the Kremlin or put broken glass in Mrs Brezhnev’s bath,” Le Carré had written. [continue reading]

At the Jazz Kissa

Aaron Gilbreath
Story Magazine

Like the cramped sushi bar I found in Kyoto packed with friendly businessmen and laughing smokers, and the independent Tokyo record store I found filled with collectible blues and jazz, I stumbled on Jazz In Rokudenashi by accident. It was a jazu kissa on a brick side street in Kyoto’s historic Gion-Shijō district. Jazu kissa translates to ‘jazz café,’ and this one had no windows and no eye-catching architecture to announce itself. It stood at the top of a narrow staircase set between a sleazy night club and a vacant storefront where the only testament to its existence was a thin standing sign advertising “Jazz In.” Looking closer, I found a small handwritten white sign affixed to the wall. “Coffee, Tea, Whisky, Beer, Others,” it said. Beside it, a twelve-inch record painted with a tiny arrow pointing up the stairwell. So I went.

When I stepped into the dark warren, the smell of cigarette smoke hung in the air. A patchwork of stained, aging posters gave the interior a yellowish tint. In the doorway, a young woman stepped past me, shouldering a backpack, as the young man at the counter bowed and said something to her in Japanese that wasn’t your standard arigatou gozaimasu. Then he looked at me and nodded. [continue reading]