Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Perspectives on Asian-American culture through the lens of identity, history, and experience
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Erin and I attended the opening performance of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," a moving tribute to the tragic life of jazz singer Billie Holiday, who is remembered today for classic renditions of "God Bless the Child" and the stark song condemning the racist lynching of black men she first recorded in 1939, "Strange Fruit." Holiday was one of the most influential singers ever, whose influence crossed over jazz and blues to folk, R&B, rock and pop music. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" is set in a bar in Philadelphia just months before her death in July 1959 from heart failure caused by cirrhosis.
The skeletal dome that marks ground zero for the atomic bomb that deciated Hiroshima is now part of the city's Peace Memorial Park. We live in tumultuous – and possibly perilous – times. Our government and society at large is more divided than I can remember, even during my childhood in the 1960s. Race and gender issues fill the headlines every day, and that’s just looking at domestic headlines. It’s not “fake news” to say that our country is struggling today, on a variety of levels on a variety of topics.
When the word “veterans” comes up in conversations within the Japanese American community, I suspect most of the time the image the word conjures is a picture of Nisei soldiers of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team fighting during World War II.
When I was a kid, I used to tell people who asked what generation I was, that I was “Ni-hansei,” or second-and-a-half. That’s because although my father was a Nisei born in Hawaii (technically a Kibei because his family moved to Japan in 1940 and he was stuck there during the war, but that’s another essay), I was born in Japan.
All the recent controversy over “whitewashing,” Hollywood’s habit of casting white people in Asian roles, got me thinking about how Japan has been portrayed in films over the years. Because I was born in Japan, my earliest movie memories are chambara, or samurai (and especially ninja), movies that I watched in black and white on television. We didn't get to see many movies in theaters, but my mom used to take my brother and me to Disney features when they opened, riding the trains with us to the cinema. After we moved to the States, I treasured American films that were set in Japan. There haven’t been a whole lot but it’s interesting to see how Hollywood depictions have showed Americans’ stereotypes of Japan, and how that’s changed over the years. Here are a few (Click the images to purchase the films):

The recent 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima went by quietly on American news (in part because there’s just so much news to cover exploding out of our own White House). So on Aug. 6 I turned to the one place I knew would give the commemoration of the bombing its due coverage: NHK World, Japan’s English-language public television...

Like many people, and especially many Japanese Americans, I’m a big fan of George Takei. I’ve followed his career since I first saw him in the role of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu in the original 1960s television “Star Trek” series and as he reprised the character in subsequent Star Trek movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of fading into pop culture...

The historical story of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II is still not well-known in mainstream American culture and literature. When it comes to books, there are only a handful of books that are based on JAs' wartime experience. After the groundbreaking, angry "No-No Boy" by John Okada in 1957, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's "Farewell to Manazanar" was the...

Perspectives on Asian-American culture through the lens of identity, history, and experience

Gil on Twitter

@GilAsakawa

- January 19, 2018

RT @AARPAAPI: A YouTube fashion star who is half-Japanese is being criticized for being "ashamed" of her ethnicity because she colors her h…
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- January 19, 2018

RT @AARPAAPI: Awww, feel-good Friday moment! Mark Hamill tweeted to "Star Wars" co-star Kelly Marie Tran that she's like a "2nd daughter" t…
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- January 19, 2018

RT @AARPAAPI: Did you get one over the holidays? It turns out Smart Speakers may be handy gifts for older consumers! https://t.co/gX4FlhtMCv
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- January 19, 2018

The National Mall will become home to a memorial to Native American and Native Alaskan veterans https://t.co/oSvThdZ9cm
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- January 19, 2018

Trump appointee Carl Higbie resigned over racist, sexist, anti-Muslim and anti-gay remarks he made on the radio. Af… https://t.co/dKDbDELhRh
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More from Gil Asakawa

Being Japanese American

“A must-read book that will delight you with its humor and amuse you with its insights; for non-Asian, a must-read book if you’re curious about what makes Japanese Americans tick.”

— John Tateishi, National Executive Director, Japanese American Citizens League