Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | history
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I had the pleasure in April of giving a presentation, "From Newsprint to New Media: The Evolving Role of Nikkei Newspaper," followed by a panel which I moderated, looking at the vibrant history of Japanese community newspapers. The program, which was organized by Discover Nikkei, was held at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Discover Nikkei is a project of JANM, and hosts its own very cool website that showcases the Nikkei experience from people of Japanese descent all over the world. Like the newspaper industry in general across the U.S., publications that serve Japanese communities -- both Japanese-speaking and English-speaking Japanese Americans -- have suffered from tough economic times, falling advertising dollars and declining readership. But also like the rest of the industry, Nikkei newspapers are evolving to suit the needs of the future. That's the framework I wanted to establish in my presentation, which I've embedded above. I followed my talk with brief introductions by four panelists describing their history and various current approaches to Nikkei media, and then a panel discussion about what's in store for the future. I've embedded videos of the entire program below, which was shot, edited and assembled by the Discover Nikkei staff as an album of video clips on this page.

Geronimo, not Osama bin LadenThe message to everyone waiting with bated breath in the White House situation room was terse and to the point: "Geronimo-E KIA": "Geronimo," the Enemy, Killed in Action. Really? Osama bin Laden was codenamed "Geronimo?" Even if, as the White House later clarified, that "Geronimo" was the codename for the mission, not the target, the choice is ripe with symbolism that reeks of mid-18th century American imperialism and European American racial privilege. I know I'm going to hear from the folks who screech at the thought of political correctness overtaking American culture and spoiling pop references that used to be commonly used but now can be offensive. I'm going to hear from people who thought I didn't have a sense of humor when I got angry that Shaquille O'Neal, or Adam Carolla, or Rosie O'Donnell, or Rush Limbaugh pull out the "ching-chong" routine to mock Asians. I'm going to hear from people who think I'm over-sensitive about "yellowface" in Hollywood (the long and still-going history of white actors playing Asian parts) and the use of Asian stereotypes. I'm going to hear from people who defend racially offensive statements or behavior as OK because it wasn't "meant" to offend -- therefore leading to the non-apology apology that blames those who are offended for taking it wrong. The fact is, if something is offensive to someone, it's offensive. Period. It's not about the motivation, or the intent. It's about the impact. And the impact of the U.S. military's use of "Geronimo" -- either as the codename for Osama bib Laden, or the codename of the mission that took bin Laden out -- is definitely negative in the Native American community.

Japan tsunami I was shocked, saddened and depressed when I learned that there are people in the United States who think that the Tohoku Kanto Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which has caused enormous damage and casualties that will surely top 10,000, is some sort of karmic payback for Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor. Really? Seriously? Yes, unfortunately. Here's just a sampling of some updates and comments from Facebook that rant about Pearl Harbor and the tsunami, and how the U.S shouldn't send any aid to Japan:
Who bombed Pearl Harbor? Karmas a bitch. Do I feel bad for japan? Two words....pearl harbor Dear Japan, it's not nice to be snuck up on by something you can't do anything about, is it? Sincerely, Pearl Harbor. screw japan they got what they dederve. any remember pearl horbor I do .they killed thousands of anericans and would do it again. kill em all let god sort emm out. Now the people in japan know how we felt during pearl harbor when they made are man abd women float in the ocean... Its god way of sayng theres too many chinese here imma take u out lol If they didn't bomb pearl harbor this wouldn't have happened. Gods way of tell japanese people there gay all yall remember pearl harbor when yall give money to japan OMG!!! Im so sick of people "praying for Japan" :we should help" i don't know wha happened in yall brain but they're the same people that bombed Pearl Harbor! get it together mane, I have no sympathy for em, Tragic stuff happen every single day!! Obama To Offer Assistance To Earthquake.. We have starving people in this country, people with housing /medical needs and other life substaining essentials yet USA runs to the rescue, who's going to rescue us the overinflated porices does any 1 remember "PEARL HARBOR"??? AGAIN TAX PAYERS WILL END UP PAYING AT THE END OF THE DAY
I'm all for free speech and these people have a right to say what they think, even if it's ignorant, misinformed and downright hateful. But these thoughts are worrisome because they seem so cavalier, so easy for these people to express.

Site of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming Maria Hinojosa, a very respected journalist for NPR and PBS who's currently working on a Frontline documentary about the detention camps holding Latin Americans suspected of being illegal immigrants, visited the University of Colorado this week. She gave a speech Tuesday night but that day she had a casual free lunch discussion with students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She described the film she's working on, and some of the heartbreaking stories of families torn apart and the shame and embarrassment the detainees face. Her description conjured up for me how Japanese American families must have felt in 1942 as they were being rounded up and sent to internment camps in desolate parts of the Western United States during World War II, including Heart Mountain in Wyoming, shown above with a still-standing tarpaper-covered barrack. I asked her, since February 19 is the annual Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans, if she found it especially ironic that she's working on this documentary and giving a speech this week. Hinojosa looked at me, stunned. She clearly knew about Japanese American internment. But she had no idea there was such as thing as Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans.

It stands to reason that the country that invented karaoke is one that takes karaoke very, very seriously. It takes singing to backing tracks so seriously that in Japan, Kohaku Uta Gassen, the annual singing showdown that airs live on New Year's Eve, has been like the Super Bowl of the country's broadcasting industry, drawing huge numbers of viewers year after year. And Colorado's Japanese-speaking community has brought the tradition to Denver by hosting its own Kohaku Uta Gassen every January for 36 years. Since 1951, the year Japan and the US signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and Gen. Douglas MacArthur -- the "Gaijin Shogun" who ruled Japan as the Commander-in-Chief during the US occupation of post-war Japan -- was fired by President Dwight Eisenhower, the annual karaoke singing contest has been one of the highlights of the country's cultural calendar. Kohaku Uta Gassen (literally translated as "Red and White Singing Battle") has pitted women (the Red Team) against men (the White Team) in a competition to see who has the best singers. That first Kohau Uta Gassen was broadcast on NHK radio on January 4, 1951. When television broadcasting began in 1953, the show moved onto the small screen, and to New Year's Eve. Along with sports shows such as wrestling (there was a huge fad of Western-style, not sumo, wrestling in the 1950s) and baseball, Uta Gassen helped boost sales of television sets because no one wanted to miss the shows. Over the decades it became so popular, featuring the country's best performers in evolving styles from traditional "enka" (Japan's version of blues or country music, mostly about heartbreak) to the current Jpop and rock sounds, that it's become an institution. Denver's Uta Gassen has also become an institution, with some performers singing every year. This year's contest, held at the Denver Buddhist Temple's auditorium in Sakura Square, was filled as usual with about 300 audience members, including the singers and their families and friends. It's always an all-Japanese affair -- the one year I served as a judge, I understood about 30% of the jokes and even less of lyrics but was able to vote on the merits of the performances. It's extreme karaoke, spending an afternoon hearing 32 singers belting out songs in Japanese to nothing but backing tracks. At least they don't need to refer to a TV screen with the lyrics scrolling by -- they've been rehearsing their songs for weeks.

Ralph Carr memorial dedicated at Kenosha Pass on Hwy 285, reamed Ralph Carr Memorial Highway Ralph Carr, the man who served as governor of Colorado at the start of World War II, had been largely forgotten for decades. But thanks to an effort by the Asian Pacific Bar Association (APABA) and a biography by journalist Adam Schrager, Carr's making a comeback in Colorado, and his legacy is finally getting its due, with a fine biography, a stretch of Highway 285 named in his honor, and now, a memorial to Carr's legacy at Kenosha Pass. On December 12, representatives of Denver's Japanese American community, APABA, and CDOT assembled at a scenic overlook just a few hundred feet west of the Kenosha Pass summit on Highway 285 to dedicate the memorial. (Here's a nice report from the Canyon Courier about the dedication.) It's a massive stone tribute engraved with a message that explains the significance of Ralph Carr to Colorado. A rising star in the Republican Party during the 1930s, Carr was mentioned as a future presidential candidate when he famously became the only Western governor in the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor to oppose first the harassment, and then the internment of Japanese Americans.

The 11 recipients of the 2010 Min Yasui Community Volunteer Awards. Most people living in Denver today probably don't know the name Minoru Yasui. But the Japanese American community leader has left a legacy that still impacts the city. I attended the annual Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Awards luncheon on Dec. 1 and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the event had sold out all its 440 tickets. It's a celebration held every December to honor the monthly recipients of the MYCVA awards, which are given to 11 people who work tirelessly to help the community as volunteers in non-profits or community organizations. Each recipient gets to choose their favorite charity to donate their $2000 award to, so there's a powerful, positive ripple effect of the Min Yasui recognition. Young Minoru Yasui Over the years, my wife Erin and I have known a handful of the recipients from Denver's Asian community, and this year, two Japanese Americans were recipients: Mike Shibata, who's volunteered with the Japanese American Community Graduation Program, which hands out a whole bunch of scholarships to deserving JA high schoolers (I was the recipient of one scholarship in the mid'70s when I graduated from Alameda High School); and Kimiko Side, who helped establish the Denver Sister Cities relationship with Takayama in Japan (it's the oldest sister city partnership in Japan). The other MYCVA recipients for 2010 are: