Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | pop culture
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The Montbello High School Drumline -- an awesome precision drumming group -- is traveling to Japan for a once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange, on the new United 787 Dreamliner's direct flight between Denver and Tokyo. After performing at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, the students will travel on to Takayama, Denver's Sister City, to perform for schools and in a concert hall with a famous taiko drum group. The Montbello group was invited by Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, who had traveled to Takayama himself when he was a high school student, and who was a principle player in bringing the direct Tokyo flight to Denver International Airport.

This awesome commercial, titled "Just Checking," for the popular cereal Cheerios, the first snack of choice for generations of families with kids, has hit a nerve with people who object to the multicultural family it depicts. It shows an adorable mixed-race little girl asking her white mother if Cheerios is good for the heart. Mom answers that according to the...

Not many cats get their own Wikipedia entry, but Maru the Cat does. If you're a cat hater, Maru may leave you cold. But anyone with a soft spot for furry animals in generals and felines in particular won't be able to resist grinning over this "best of" collection by Maru's owner, a woman who remains off-camera and anonymous, under...

I was nervous that this YouTube clip of a post-game interview with shortstop Munenori Kawasaki would be just an opportunity to make fun of the onetime Japanese baseball star, but I didn't need to worry. His likable enthusiasm came through in spite of his struggles with English, and his team's appreciation for the player came through loud and clear when one player stepped aside to allow him to be interviewed, and two others doused him as if they'd just won the World Series. It wasn't the championship: Kawasaki had just helped his Toronto Blue Jays win a game in the 9th inning against the Baltimore Orioles by hitting a walk-off double. Although (or maybe because) he had started the season in the Blue Jays' minor league club (he had been released after one season with the Seattle Mariners). I hope his Major League career continues to be as bright and happy as this day.

bravo-princesses-show Bravo to the Bravo TV network. And Bravo to Michael Yaki, a former City of San Francisco supervisor who is now a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. When Yaki wrote to the network to complain about the use of the term "JAP" to describe a "Jewish American Princess" on a new reality show, "Princesses: Long Island," Bravo agreed immediately to stop using the term, both in its promotions and in the show. Yeah, yeah, bring out the anti-P.C. police, and tell me that I'm being too sensitive, and that if Jewish people wanna use the term "JAP" they have the right. Let it all out. Vent. The thing is, not all Jews are OK with the term -- even in the early '80s when the Jewish American Princess term was widely used as a lighthearted (but still ethnic) slur, there were people who thought the term itself was offensive, never mind the acronym. And pretty much every Japanese American I know cringes at the use of "J-A-P" even if it's used as an abbreviation for Japan, or as an acrobym for Jewish American Princess.

mikado I recently blogged about a video produced by the City of Los Angeles – using taxpaper money – that was originally produced with good intentions: Explaining the importance of recycling water. But to make its point, the video used a ghastly, stereotypical caricature of geishas played by non-Asians with painted faces wearing kimonos, including one played by a non-Asian man. Of course, they spoke in “ching-chong” Japanesey accents. It's disturbing that it's OK even in 2013 to caricature Asians with the most shallow racial stereotypes -- ones that have been used to depict us for 150 years. There’s a long tradition in Hollywood and show business in general of “yellowface” – non-Asians (usually Caucasians) cast as Asians. The most egregious example is probably the horrid character of Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s," in which Mickey Rooney played the part to the hilt with buck teeth, thick glasses, squinty eyes and a terrible accent. But wait, there's more! He played a perverted lech of a photographer who keeps trying to shoot pictures of his downstairs neighbor Holly Golightly (imagine this name pronounced in a horrible fake Japanese accent), played by Audrey Hepburn. There are many, many examples of yellowface going back to Katharine Hepburn and Marlon Brando playing Chinese and Japanese characters with their eyes taped back in classic films such as “Dragon Seed” and “Tea House of the August Moon,” all the way to last year’s big-budget sci-fi flick “Cloud Atlas,” in which Hugo Weaving (of “Matrix” and "Lord of the Rings” fame) was among the cast who played both white and Asian parts, with hideously phony-looking makeup. It's not just on the big screen. Yellowface has also been a tradition on the stage, and I happened to see two plays recently that used elements of the practice, with varying results. Gilbert & Sullivan’s famous 1885 comic opera “The Mikado” is known for its social satire; the musical pokes fun at British politics and society by using Japan as the setting for its wacky love story. But the Japan it portrays is the Japan that people in the late 1800s fantasized about: Exotic, utterly foreign and just plain strange. To ensure that it only depicts simpleminded stereotypes, W.S. Gilbert based the play on a fictional Japan that had just been opened to Western commerce, but he didn’t bother to do any research to make his portrayal of Japanese culture realistic at all. Instead, he named the village where “The Mikado” takes place “Titipu” and gave his characters improbably names such as “Nanki-poo” and “Yum-Yum.”

Jennifer 8 Lee, a NYT reporter who wrote a wonderful book about the origins of Chinese food (specifically the fortune cookie, which is Japanese, not Chinese) called "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles," wrote a HuffingtonPost piece about the way Asian cuisines fuse with American tastes. The essay is worth a read, and the 16-minute video about Chinese food is definitely worth...

I'm glad Colorlines, via @Katchow, posted this clip of film critic Roger Ebert from 2002. I was going to track it down and post it myself, but they did the work for me. Ebert attended the screening at Sundance that year for "Better Luck Tomorrow," the landmark Asian American film that turbocharged the careers of, among others, director Justin Lin and actors such as John Cho and Sung Kang. The dark film turned the "Model Minority" Asian stereotype on its head, by following a group of Southern California Asian American high school students who are not model citizens.