Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | japan & asia
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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.

godzilla2014 Although Hollywood has been making monster movies since the original 1933 “King Kong,” the monster with the most staying power and screen incarnations didn’t come out of California, but from Tokyo. Godzilla is back with another cinematic reboot produced by Hollywood featuring the usual array of mega-special effects, including a digitized monster instead of a man in a monster suit. Whether costumed or computer-generated, Godzilla is the most famous Japanese American in the world. He’s starred in 28 movies, stomping his way through cities on both sides of the Pacific. Godzilla, or the Japanese pronunciation, “Gojira” (a combination of the words for gorilla, “gorira” and whale, “kujira”) made its first Japanese appearance 60 years ago, in 1954, but the film was edited and scenes inserted starring Raymond Burr as an American journalist for its 1956 release in the U.S. as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!”

[caption id="attachment_5550" align="aligncenter" width="520"]My brother Gary (on the right) and me at Kintai Bridge in Iwakuni, Japan circa 1965. My brother Gary (on the right) and me at Kintai Bridge in Iwakuni, Japan circa 1965. Note that my brother is wearing a Cub Scout (or Webelos) shirt -- we were both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts starting in Japan, and I was even an Explorer Scout! How American can we get![/caption] This has been a good week for sometimes contentious but bracing conversations on Facebook. The latest one started when I posted a link to an excellent Forbes article by Ruchika Tulshyan titled "'Where Are You From?' And Other Big Networking Racial Faux Pas" The article raises the oft-aired complaint by Asian Americans that asking "Where are you from?" (sometimes linked to the even more irritating "You speak English so well...") is a social, racial no-no. I certainly can't argue with that. I've written plenty about this very topic. I once criticized Martha Stewart for pulling the "Where are you from?" card, and in the post also included the conversation from my book, "Being Japanese American" that so many Asian American are all too familiar with, which starts with "You speak English so well" and veers off into "where are you from?" territory. The Forbes piece quotes a South Asian news producer making a point that many Asian Americans should learn by heart and recite whenever we're asked the question:

[caption id="attachment_5367" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Nagomi Visit Travelers are treated to home-cooked Japanese food when they book a meal with Nagomi Visit. (Photo courtesy of Nagomi Visit)[/caption]   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.

montbellodrumline-vidcap It was at Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock's suggestion that the nine members of the Montbello High School Drum Line got the chance of a lifetime -- to take the second historic flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on United Airline's new direct flight between Denver and Tokyo. The students raised money for the trip with the help of sponsors, and they performed their synchronized drumming at the U.S. Ambassador's home in Tokyo, and several times in Takayama, Denver's sister city. The news report below is a sample of a half-hour special that airs this Friday, July 19 at 9:30 on KDVR Fox31. These students were cultural ambassadors for Colorado in Japan. So the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is proud to introduce the Montbello High School Drum Line as one of the highlights of this year's Opening Ceremony. The Opening Ceremony, which begins at 10 am on Saturday, July 27, also includes a spiritual Eye-Dotting Ceremony with chanting Buddhist monks to awaken the spirit of the dragon boats; a dynamic Dragon Dance; and an Olympics-style Team Parade. The Drum Line will get the chance to perform in front of Mayor Hancock, who will speak during the ceremony.

(Note: KTVU attempted to use copyright law to remove this video clip even in instances, like mine, where the clip is essential to the discussion about it, for critical journalistic purposes. The station said it was removing the clips to protect the Asian community: "By now, most people have seen it. At this point, continuing to show the video is also insensitive and offensive, especially to the many in our Asian community who were offended. Consistent with our apology, we are carrying through on our responsibility to minimize the thoughtless repetition of the video by others.” It didn't take long for the attempt to fail.)
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Seriously? San Francisco TV station KTVU aired a monster of a mess, when its anchor read the purported names of the pilots on Asiana flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco Airport. During the noon newscast, anchor Tori Campbell said the pilots were Captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow. Really? Seriously? Think about it -- look at the names. Use one or two brain cells. And no, they're not even close to being Korean names. Ugh, this is as bad as it gets. It's not funny, and it's a sad and unfortunate reflection of the state of the news industry. This is a tragic FAIL on a couple of levels: 1. Who would submit such a nasty, racist "news release" to media? Do they think it's funny? 2. How could a news organization -- especially in San Francisco, which is not only where the crash occurred but a city with a very large and diverse Asian population -- accept this kind of claptrap without either confirming it, or just plain LOOKING AT IT? (Here's an AP story that ran, among hundreds of papers, in the SF Examiner from July 8 that lists two of the pilots' names as released bu Asiana.) 3. What's the chain of evidence that sees these names when they're submitted? Producers? Directors? Reporters? Anchors (she obviously didn't catch it)?