A Japanese American perspective on Trump and Japan

A standing-room-only crowd attended this year’s Japanese American Day of Remembrance in Denver. Lane Hirabayashi, Asian American studies expert and author of books about Japanese American history, gave a presentation of the post-war resettlement of JAs in Denver.

Many Japanese Americans I know don’t pay much attention to Japan, which I think is a pity. I believe JAs should keep up with news from Japan, and travel to Japan. A lot.

However, most JAs I know closely follow the news of Donald Trump’s presidency, and what he’s doing in the US.

JAs – and others — have been concerned enough about our president that this year’s Day of Remembrance events across the US, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942 by President Franklin Roosevelt, were packed with much larger audiences than in past years. That’s because EO 9066 led to the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent in American concentration camps.

Now, with President Donald Trump signing a blizzard of executive orders including two controversial, currently on-hold one temporarily banning travel to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries, and threatening to punish “sanctuary cities,” also blocked by a federal judge, Executive Order 9066 has a much heavier symbolic weight. People are worried that what happened to Japanese Americans could happen again to Muslim Americans. A ban and registry, which were both cited during Trump’s campaign, are first steps to what happened to JAs 75 years ago.

So Trump’s brief reign as president has already resulted in a lot more awareness of the Japanese American experience. Thanks, prez!

But JAs should also keep an eye on what he does and how he thinks about Asia, and in particular, Japan.
Continue reading

Is China’s economic domination coming to an end?

2016-03-22_9-56-25

I follow news from all over Asia. Primarily, I pay attention to all the news happening in Japan, from the goofy stuff to the serious headlines. But the world is so interconnected these days, that Japan can easily be affected by news developments — political, economic, cultural — in other parts of the globe, and especially Asia. The crazy dude in North Korea, Kim Jong Un, for example, has been shooting missiles into the sea to flex his weak muscle and try to scare Japan and it allies, like the U.S. and South Korea, whenever the U.S. conducts military exercises in the region.

The most important news from Asia is often about China. China is the 800-pound economic gorilla of Asia. A more appropriate description might be a slinky Asian tiger or dragon, but the enormity of China’s outsized impact is like a gorilla: brute strength sometimes flailing about like King Kong beating his chest and romping through Manhattan — Wall Street, to be exact.

For years, China’s economy was growing so fast that it attracted laborers from rural regions (of which there are many) to the cities where good paying manufacturing jobs were available. For years China invested huge amounts in building cities and the infrastructure to reach those cities. For years, China’s growth and spending was a windfall for the rest of the world, which was happy to supply the raw materials and technology to help China become the second largest economy in the world, overtaking Japan.

The whole world got richer as China got rich, and the Chinese got rich too, relatively speaking. A middle class developed in the cities, and China became one of the biggest markets on Earth for cars. Hollywood studios regularly court China’s humongous audience, these days flush with disposable income and able to go see the latest theatrical releases. Luxury goods and Western brands are all the rage with the nouveau riche, and Chinese tourists, who now have the cash to travel all over the world, are visiting Japan in droves and returning with modern rice cookers and fancy heated toilet seats.

The downside to all this growth is captured in the nervous joke that’s been making the media rounds: “When China sneezes, the world catches cold.”
Continue reading

If you have these things you must be JA

THINGS_JAPANESEAll the Japanese Americans I know have all sorts of ways to show their cultural roots. It may not be evident when you meet them, but the signs are there, in their homes.

When I was a kid living in Japan, it never occurred to me that the stuff in our house was… well, Japanese. And when we moved to the U.S., we took a lot of our stuff with us – folding screens, small artworks, dolls, dishware, pottery, chopsticks and cooking utensils, and a lot more.

Once we moved into a suburban Northern Virginia home in the mid-1960s, we set about fitting in to our all-American Wonder Years life: nice ranch home, big back yard, all our Japanese stuff inside. Oh, except for my dad built a Japanese rock garden in the back yard complete with a stone lantern, and he planted a cherry blossom tree in the front yard, which bloomed every spring at the same time the famous cherry blossoms that were given to the US.

That tree has grown huge in the decades since – I’ve seen photos, and it looks like a giant fluffy ball of pink cotton candy that dominates the yard, and hides most of the old house behind it.
Continue reading

Nagomi Visit introduces Japanese culture to visitors through home-cooked meals

Nagomi Visit

Travelers are treated to home-cooked Japanese food when they book a meal with Nagomi Visit. (Photo courtesy of Nagomi Visit)


 
There’s no getting around it: One of the most reliable ways to generate international friendship and cultural understanding is through the stomach.

Diversity in dining is a reflection of an evolving society. Just think of a typical American culinary palette of the 1950s: Pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, spinach boiled to drab green mush, creamed corn. Your plate was all white and tan, with maybe a green highlight or two (it helped if you had an iceberg lettuce salad on the side). The one bright spot, color-wise might have been a jiggling red blob of Jell-O for dessert.

I’m oversimplifying, of course. Depending on where in the U.S. of A. you lived in during the decade when I was born, you would have grown up having Italian food, or Jewish food, or maybe Mexican or Americanized Chinese food. But Middle America — the land of Better Home and Gardens Cookbooks — was all about red meat and multiple kinds of carbs. Don’t get me wrong — I love white and tan food. Except for that over-cooked spinach, which is a crying shame, I love that typical ’50s meal, including the Jell-O.

But for 2013, I’m sure glad that Americans have a much wider appreciation for ethnic cuisine, from Italian and Mexican to Chinese, Korean and Thai.

I grew up eating Japanese food, naturally. My mom cooked Japanese food for herself even if she cooked spaghetti, or steak, for the rest of us. In fact, we had rice every night, even if we had pasta, mom made rice and I often had a serving on the side alongside my noodles. But mostly, my brothers and I grew up eating my mom’s home-cooked Japanese food. Whether it was basic like teriyaki chicken or grilled salmon, or fancy and more “ethnic” dishes like oden (a traditional winter stew) or chawan mushi (a hot savory egg custard), we knew we were always getting a true authentic taste of Japan, because that’s what my mom grew up with.

A lot of us love to travel to Japan so we can have authentic Japanese cooking. Eating in restaurants in Japan, whether expensive high-end eateries or funky hole-in-the-wall joints, can be a satisfying way to hook into Japanese culture. But imagine the awesome experience of having a home-cooked Japanese meal, in a Japanese home.

OK, so you don’t have relatives that you can mooch off, or friends who you can crash with who’ll cook for you.

No worries — there’s a brilliant service called Nagomi Visit International through which you can set up a home-cooked lunch or dinner during your travels in Japan, and make new friends while you’re at it.
Continue reading

Denver’s direct flight to Tokyo is no longer a flight of fantasy

United flight 139 from Denver International Airport to Tokyo’s Narita Airport flies direct daily, and shaves off hours of travel time and stress from flying to the west coast for a connecting flight to Narita.

Here’s what I wrote when the direct flight on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner was first announced. Technical issues grounded the plane for several months from the original March launch, but it left on a fine late spring June day from DIA.

Here are other reports of yesterday’s celebration and inaugural; flight:

CNBC: “Sake Toast” for First United Denver-Tokyo Boeing 787 Flight

Huffington Post Denver (with KDVR Fox-31 report about Montbello Drumline traveling to Japan on second 787 flight): DIA Launches First Direct Denver To Tokyo Flight With Montbello High School Students Aboard

Follow Fox31 reporter Eli Stokols and photojournalist Anne Herbst on their blog as they travel to Japan and chronicle the direct flight and the adventures of the Montbello Drumline students. (The station will air a 30-minute soecial documentary later this summmer.)

Here’s my Nikkei View post about the Montbello Drumline’s orientation, an introduction to Japanese cuktyure including their first sashimi, even octopus.

Denver Post: Denver flight successfully takes off for Japan in inaugural journey