Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | pop culture
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Banana 2 is scheduled for Feb. 26 in LA The Banana 2 conference of Asian American Pacific Islander bloggers is now officially set for Saturday, February 26 at CBS Studios in Studio City, Calif. If you haven't heard of Banana, you can check out my blog post and photos from the first Banana gathering, which was an informal affair in late 2009. It was mostly one very large panel on the USC campus in LA, with most of us meeting up for dinner afterwards near Little Tokyo. This year's Banana will be an all-day conference with a handful of panels and breakout sessions, as well as a reception afterwards with entertainment (more details to come). And it'll be held at CBS Studios in Studio City, with (I think) the reception planned for a New York street set for "CSI:New York." Cool, huh? I'm organizing a panel titled "Bananas, Twinkies, Coconuts & more: The rainbow of the AAPI blogosphere." Here's a draft description: The Asian American blogosphere (as represented in the richness of Banana's panels) covers a lot of ground, from the political to the whimsical, from foodies to Asian pop fanatics to bloggers that focus on specific communities. AAPI blogs can be about the Asian experience or exclusively about the Asian American experience.There are even blogs by Asian Americans that have nothing to do with Asian American culture, values or identity. What does it mean to be an Asian American blogger? Other panels include:

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.

Slam poet Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai I met spoken word artist Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai when she performed in Denver during the 2008 Democratic National Convention (you remember, the cool one where Obama was nominated) for an APIA Votes gala for Asian Americans. She rocked the room with a too-short set, and I bought her first album of slam poetry from 2007, "Infinity Breaks," that night. She released her second album, "Further She Wrote," in early December and it's available online via Bandcamp. Through January, you can name your price for the album (I suggest a minimum of $15 -- we gotta support our peeps), to download the tracks to your computer. The CD version will be available in January. Tsai's a Chinese Taiwanese American born and raised in Chicago and now living in New York City. New York is a palpable presence in some of her poems, especially her sharply observed ode to her neighborhood, "he Ballad of a Maybe Gentrifier" in which she bemoans how the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is changing as new diverse residents move in and the established black population gets pushed father into the margins. She notes the irony that she's part of the new guard that's changing the tenor of the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. I know the hood, since it's where I went to college in the '70s, at Pratt Institute. It was a mean-ass place then and it's way different now. Sometimes changes -- even "gentrification" is a good thing. She also draws a terrific picture of her hood in "Betp, Bed-Stuy Sketch #1."

JC DavieHoly cow -- I just read about this on Jezebel.com, and it goes way beyond the pale. J.C. Davies, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and blogger who's published a book about inter-racial dating, "I Got The Fever: Love, What's Race Got To Do With It?," was a panelist on the NPR show "Tell Me More" for an episode about dating unemployed men. The other panelists on the program were Danielle Belton, author of the blog "The Black Snob", GQ magazine Washington correspondent and TV pundit Ana Marie Cox, and the host is Michel Martin. Davies began riffing off the topic at hand, and spouted off some incredible stereotypes as if they're indisputable facts. Here are some passages from the NPR transcript:

I've known about Kickstarter.com, the fundraising site for creative startups and projects in a variety of categories including film, art, dance, technology, design, journalism, comedy and others, but I'd never really looked into it. This week, though, I've come across several very cool films by Asian Americans that are using Kickstarter to ask for donations. Here's how it works:
Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors. We believe that... • A good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide. • A large group of people can be a tremendous source of money and encouragement. Kickstarter is powered by a unique all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully-funded or no money changes hands.
Each project must set an amount needed and a deadline by which that amount must be raised. If you don't get enough donations to reach the amount, you get none of the money that's already been pledged. Each project offers different levels of thank-you gifts and rewards for donors, and donors can pledge as little as one dollar. The submissions include a video pitch asking for donations, as well as written descriptions for the project. It's a great way to generate crowd-sourced funding. The three films I wrote about on my Posterous blog this week are all short films by Asian American filmmakers, and they're all interesting ideas that I think are worth supporting. Here's a little information about them, starting with the video at the top of this post, for "The Potential Wives of Norman Mao."

Comcast and NBCU will promote AAPIs in programming JACL sent out an announcement this morning about an agreement that's been reached between NBC Universal, Comcast (which is trying to get regulators' blessings to buy NBCU) and a handful of Asian American Pacific Islander organizations: the Asian American Justice Center, East West Players, Japanese American Citizens League, OCA and Media Action Network for Asian Americans. Although the past couple of years have led to a marked increase in the number of Asian faces on TV and in movies, it's nice to see some high-level muscle put on both Comcast and NBCU to be more inclusive within their programming. The agreement's been in the works for a while; Comcast last month announced its new on-demand channel, "Cinema Asian America," which is great. I hope to see progress from other media companies and Hollywood giants too, until AAPIs are no longer invisible and are represented accurately as just another part of the quilt that makes up American society. This probably seems like a trivial deal to some people, but as an Asian American who grew seeing very few people like me on TV and in movie, it's a big deal. It's slowly getting better, but I've written about this issue as early as 1998 in a column titled "Why Can't I Be on TV?" and I've I've given speeches about the topic over the years. When I no longer do a double-take or other take notice of an "Asian sighting" on a reality show, or in a commercial, or as a lead character on a TV series or Hollywood film, I'll know we've finally arrived. Here's the full text of the JACL press release:

Here's a cool Asian/Asian American spin on the ubiquitous city guides concept, if you live in LA or some select other cities around the globe. Privy 5 is a startup that's launching a series of city-focused websites that invites celebrities and local playas to submit their Top 5 lists in categories such as restaurants, hotels, bars, karaoke/noraebang, shops and spas,...