Watch the 2011 Colorado Dragon Boat Festival TV spot

Many thanks to FOX 31 weekend anchor Deborah Takahara and reporter Chris Jose, as well as the FOX 31 crew and Dragonboat Race Association of Colorado (DRACO) members who manned the dragon boat for this shoot on a hot summer day!

My wife Erin is the executive director for the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival. We volunteered for the first seven years of the event starting in 2001, and she was hired last year. I’ll be the lead emcee at the Main Performing Arts Stage, and I’ll be Tweeting and Facebooking like crazy throughout the weekend. If you’re in Denver, come see how cool and diverse the Asian and Asian American communities are in this region! Sat.-Sun. July 30-31, Sloan’s Lake Park,

Denver pays tribute to Bill Hosokawa, a Japanese American leader

Denver Botanic Gardens' current Japanese Garden

The Japanese Gardens as it currently looks at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Many Japanese Americans – especially older JAs – will be familiar with the name Bill Hosokawa.

He wrote a column, “From the Frying Pan,” which was a running commentary on Japanese America that ran in the Pacific Citizen, the national newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), a civil rights organization, for decades. In 1969 he published the first comprehensive history of Japanese Americans, “Nisei: The Quiet Americans,” that included information about internment. In 1982 he published “JACL: The Quest for Justice,” a history of JACL. He also published a collection of “Frying Pan” columns with added observations in 1998.

His final book, published in 2005, was “Colorado’s Japanese Americans: From 1886 to the Present,” which most Japanese Americans across the country probably aren’t familiar with, but was well-received here in Colorado. Even at age 90, when he wrote the book, he was an agile wordsmith and a witty and straightforward storyteller, a gift that served him well in his long career as a journalist. He died two years later, in 2007.

bill hosokawa-denver press club 2005I was interviewed for an obituary in the LA Times when Bill died, and the reporter couldn’t understand how important “Nisei” was to a JA kid in northern Virginia in the early ’70s, where my family lived when I first read Bill’s landmark book. Being in a multicultural place like California with Asian faces everywhere you look, a book about the history of Japanese Americans may seem unremarkable. The Times’ obit even pointed out that to the emerging third-generation activists who were radicalized and beginning to actively seek their identity, “Nisei” seemed tame and even reinforced stereotypes of the meek, accommodating model minority.

But to me, a kid in a northern Virginia suburb with no Asian friends — a banana if there ever was one — “Nisei” was like an electric jolt of identity. The radicalism came later; the first step for me was realizing that there were other people like me with an Asian face and Japanese values, but American heart and spirit.

Colorado is more like Virginia when it comes to Asian population and JA identity. I’m much more a part of an Asian American community now, but it’s a small and disparate one. So having a historical giant like Bill Hosokawa in the area was like having a lighthouse in a fog.

Bill Hosokawa was well-known nationally as one of the foundations of the Japanese American community’s national history.

He’s also remembered in Colorado, and not just by Japanese Americans. His legacy looms large in Denver and throughout his adopted state for his work as a writer and editor, and a diplomat who built lasting bridges with Japan. He was, as he quite accurately used to quip, “The most famous Japanese American in Japan.” And Colorado, too.
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3D role-playing online game simulates experience of JAs in WWII concentration camps

Drama in the Delta screen shot

Japanese Americans know about internment. My wife Erin’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides were rounded up from Sacramento County, Calif. and eventually imprisoned at Rohwer, one of two concentration camps in Arkansas built during World War II to house Japanese Americans out of fear and racial hysteria. There were 10 in all, including Camp Amache in desolate southeastern Colorado. (Note: There’s been a gradual move towards the use of the term “concentration camps” because that’s the term the U.S. government used for them when they weren’t using euphemisms like “assembly center” or “relocation center.”)

For many older Japanese Americans, the first thing they ask of each other when they meet other JAs is, “what camp was your family in?” and they’re not talking about summer camp.
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Groupon sparks ire of Asian Americans (& supporters of Tibet) w/ stupid, insensitive Super Bowl commercial Tibetcommercial

Within minutes of this commercial airing during last night’s Super Bowl game, emails, tweets, updates and blog posts began zipping across the Interwebs decrying the insensititvity of Groupon using the plight of Tibetans, who’ve been suppressed by the Chinese government for decades, with the Dalai Lama ruling in exile. The spot starts out sounding like a call to help protect Tibetan culture, but then cuts to actor Timothy Hutton, the narrator, chowing down on Tibetan Fish Curry for half price, thanks to Groupon’s daily deal.

I mean, Tibetan Fish Curry? Thai Fish Curry maybe, or Indian. But Tibet’s about as landlocked a country as you can imagine — it’s the rooftop of the world, after all. Helloooo, Himalayas?

Groupon isn’t helping to soothe any offended viewers (many of whom are promising to quit Groupon’s daily deals), by giving this flip non-apology and a link where they’ll match donations to charities:

“We certainly don’t mean to offend with our advertisements. We think renting celebrities to promote our “Save the Money” campaign is pretty funny, but we understand if it doesn’t tickle you the right way.”

Shame on Hutton, Groupon, and ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Read Joz Wang’s reaction in 8Asians, “Controversial Groupon Super Bowl Commercial Exploits Tibet for Laughs.” Couldn’t have said it better.

Here’s the Chicago Tribune: “Groupon’s Super Bowl ‘Tibet’ commercial draws harsh reaction

Happy New Year, Japanese-style

Japanese New Year

Unlike other Asian cultures, the Japanese don’t celebrate Lunar New Year. Instead, they celebrate the Western calendar New Year, January 1, and some of the special traditions for the holiday, called “Oshogatsu,” have been handed down to Japanese Americans over the past century.

Japanese New Year’s traditions are different from Western (or at least, American) ones: First of all, New Year’s Eve isn’t the big holiday, and the focus isn’t on partying and waiting until midnight on Dec. 31 to watch the Times Square ball slide down, or to see fireworks or make hearty toasts. A lot of us do, because we go to parties to celebrate with friends — after all, we are Japanese American.

In Japan, New Year’s Eve and the days leading up to it are all about cleaning house, cleaning yourself and your soul, putting your business in order to prepare for the new year. It doesn’t sound like much fun. And traditionally, people spend New Year’s Eve quietly at home with family or friends. There are events, such as the release of thousands of balloons at Tokyo’s Zojoji temple to pray for world peace — pretty different from Times Square, huh? My mom’s hometown of Nemuro is at the easternmost tip of the northern island of Hokkaido, and thousands of people gather on Cape Nosappu outside of town past midnight on January 1, to see the first sunrise of the new year in Japan. Buddhist temples ring their bell at midnight to mark the start of the new year, a very spiritual sound.

There are other festive events throughout Japan too, with live music and fireworks just like in the US — it’s not all traditional.

By the time the clock ticks over into the new year, Japanese have spruced up their house with traditional decorations made of pine, bamboo and plum trees to bring good luck. On New Year’s Eve, families settle in with special toshikoshi soba noodles to bring long life, and watch Kohaku Utagassen, a men versus women singing contest that’s like karaoke on serious steroids featuring the country’s biggest enka (a traditional style of pop music) and J-pop stars. This show has been aired on New Year’s Eve since the end of World War II, and for decades it was Japan’s equivalent of the Super Bowl in popularity. Denver’s Japanese community has held a Kohaku Utagassen competition for many years too.

The main event in Japan isn’t New Year’s Eve and the midnight celebrations. It’s New Year’s Day, or Oshogatsu, and not because of college sports contests. The first days of January represent the start of a clean slate for everyone, and a time to celebrate family and friends by visiting people and wish everyone well. January 1 is also the day for a family feast that can put American Thanksgiving to shame.
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