Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Perspectives on Asian-American culture through the lens of identity, history, and experience
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Naomi Osaka photo by Peter Menzel Naomi Osaka at the 2018 Nottingham Open qualifiers, photo by Peter Menzel, Creative Commons/flickr


I love following the exciting young career of Naomi Osaka, the world’s first Japanese tennis star who has been ranked number-one by the Women’s Tennis Association, after her recent win in the Australian Open.

I love her passion and skill and determination to win. And most of all, I love that she is mixed-race, with a Japanese mom and Haitian dad. And, that she’s culturally as American as she is Japanese or Haitian.

I love kaki. That's Japanese for persimmon. Not everyone knows what a persimmon is, so let me explain. Persimmons are a popular fruit that is grown through much of Asia. The Japanese call it "kaki" (kah-key). Kaki are wonderfully sweet when they're ripe, but depending on the strain of kaki, they can be bitter. I learned to love kaki as a kid growing up in Japan.
Something that can't be replicated by a "fake" Japanese restaurant in the US: Homemade Tofu served as part of a multi-course feast at Ukai, a lovely traditional Tokyo tofu restaurant. I’m still pondering the process of cultural assimilation, and how I get so frustrated when Japanese culture – especially Japanese food culture – gets appropriated by people who don’t really appreciate the culture.
My mom has suffered from worsening dementia for years, and when my brothers and I saw increasing signs that she is no longer able to live by herself we moved her into a Memory Care Center nearby. Two years ago, my wife Erin and I took the last of several trips to Japan with my mom.
My brother Glenn and I moved my mom from her house in Lafayette, Colorado, last month to live in a memory care facility nearby. She’s had dementia for a long time, and it’s gotten noticeably worse for the past couple of years. I’m still sorting through how it felt to take her out of her house, and how it feels now.
My friends (and anyone who follows my social media “food porn” photos) know that I’m a snob about Japanese food. I have strong opinions on the best tonkatsu fried pork cutlets, real vs. fake sushi and Japanese restaurants staffed by non-Japanese who can’t pronounce menu items correctly. And, because I love ramen, I hate bad ramen – and in Denver bad ramen is much more common than the good stuff.
Yesterday I was heartened to see the news that the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team is going to stop using its blatantly racist caricature of an American Indian, "Chief Wahoo," on its uniforms starting the 2019 season. The leering cartoon character is so obnoxious that my wife Erin has included it for years in a workshop she gives on racist icons in American culture from Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito. But this being American in 2018, the philosophy of yin and yang means that for this bit of good news (the chief will be benched from uniforms but not from team merchandise) there is a balancing blast of bad news. That came at practically the same time, when I saw a post on Facebook sharing a godawful item from Walmart.com, a "Kids China Boy Costume," complete with a photo of a young white boy dressed in an inappropriate, culturally appropriate and inexcusably phony polyester suit with baggy pants, a Mandarin-collared shirt with Chinese-style knot buttons, and a matching hat with an attached queue of braided hair (which is sold separately to "improve your costume").
Erin and I attended the opening performance of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," a moving tribute to the tragic life of jazz singer Billie Holiday, who is remembered today for classic renditions of "God Bless the Child" and the stark song condemning the racist lynching of black men she first recorded in 1939, "Strange Fruit." Holiday was one of the most influential singers ever, whose influence crossed over jazz and blues to folk, R&B, rock and pop music. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" is set in a bar in Philadelphia just months before her death in July 1959 from heart failure caused by cirrhosis.

Perspectives on Asian-American culture through the lens of identity, history, and experience

Gil on Twitter

@GilAsakawa

- February 12, 2020

Who does that, and why? Two bonsai trees of historic significance to Japanese Americans were stolen from a museum i… https://t.co/xdo5nyIE9y
h J R
@GilAsakawa

- February 12, 2020

Chef Aimi Iura at Consul General Takeuchi's home. Bravo! https://t.co/pdTpU3ZAif
h J R
@GilAsakawa

- February 12, 2020

Strawberry Milk Yokan for dessert at Consul General Takeuchi's home. #twEATs #foodporn https://t.co/T2qyvmiQDZ
h J R
@GilAsakawa

- February 12, 2020

Sushi with Miso Soup at Consul General Takeuchi's home. #twEATs #foodporn https://t.co/qpIgJUeRIG
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More from Gil Asakawa

Being Japanese American

“A must-read book that will delight you with its humor and amuse you with its insights; for non-Asian, a must-read book if you’re curious about what makes Japanese Americans tick.”

— John Tateishi, National Executive Director, Japanese American Citizens League