Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | culture
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I’ve been following the worldwide career of Marie Kondo with bemusement since her first book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” was published in the US in 2014. I’ve watched from a distance as friends have embraced Kondo’s single-minded prescription for people to clean up their lives, physically and emotionally, by focusing not on what to toss out but instead what to keep that “sparks joy” for them. I’ve followed this fad -- which can feel a little bit like a cult -- sweep the world from afar because, frankly, I’m not a tidy person.

AAPI Heritage Month poster from East Tennessee State UniversityWith Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month about to end, I thought I'd write a bit about the terms we choose to describe our identity. Like other ethnic groups, the labels we use for ourselves seems to be always evolving. Hispanic evolves into Latino; Negro to Black to African American; Native American to American Indian. Asian Americans are sometimes called Asian Pacific Americans, sometimes Asian Pacific islander American, and sometimes Asian American Pacific islander. These labels lead to a crazy bowl of alphabet soup acronyms: AA, APA, APIA, AAPI. I choose to say (and write) "Asian American" most of the time, but say "Asian American Pacific Islander" and use the acronym AAPI for formal references. Although organizations such as APIA Vote and APAs for Progress helped get Asian Americans involved in the political process, President Obama and the White House prefers AAPI, as in "Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month." (Note that the poster shown here, from East Tennessee State University, calls it "Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.") Earlier this month at an AAPI Heritage Month event sponsored by the Colorado Asian Roundtable, our friend emcee Kim Nguyen stumbled on "Asian American Pacific Islander" and I had to snicker. It's a mouthful, all right, especially when you say it over and over into a microphone. And even just saying "AAPI" repeatedly gets to feeling odd, as if the letters lose all meaning upon repetition. As it happens, we may be on the cusp of a change in how we identify ourselves anyway. The Sacramento Bee the other day ran an interesting story that proposes that "Asian American" is fading off like the term "Oriental" before it. "As Sacramento's growing Asian immigrant communities celebrated Sunday's Pacific Rim Street Fest, a growing number note that Asian American isn't a race and said they choose to identify by their ethnicity," the article stated. The excellent (required reading) group blog 8Asians picked up on the SacBee's story and expanded upon its theme of ethnic Balkanization. Asian Americans are increasingly identifying more by their specific culture and ethnicity, and not so much as a larger, racially-linked group. Like a lot of social change, this may be a generational swing.

Kabuki is one of the most dynamic and interesting theatrical forms in Japan.Like any school kid, I loved going on field trips when I was young, But, since we lived in Japan until 3rd grade, my earliest memories of field trips weren't the typical ones that American kids remember. I remember looking out of a school bus and seeing steaming lumps of sticky rice being pounded into mochi for New Year's celebrations, for example (I think we were on the way to a shrine where we learned about Oshogatsu, or Japanese New Year, traditions). And, I have a distinct memory of going from Green Park Elementary School, on a U.S. Army base in Tokyo (it's no longer there), to a grand old theater in the heart of Tokyo to see a form of traditional Japanese theater, kabuki. A lot of Americans probably know the word "kabuki" because it's been used for restaurants and hotels and other products. Like "Sukiyaki," "Mikado" and other words, they've become shorthand for "something Japanese." But many Americans who've heard the word probably don't know that kabuki is a cultural treasure in Japan, an artform dating back to the early 1600s that's a bit like a mix of stylized Chinese opera and melodramatic Western-style opera. The Japanese government is hoping to change that, and make more Americans aware of the traditions of kabuki. They're sponsoring a U.S. tour of a lecture/performance called "Backstage to Hanamichi," starring two of Japan's kabuki masters, Kyozo Nakamura and Matanosuke Nakamura (no relation) from the world-renowned Shochiku Company. Denver gets its introduction to kabuki this Saturday, Oct. 24, at the June Swaner Gates Concert Hall at Denver University, 2344 East Iliff Ave. (303-871-7720 for the box office). The performance costs $25. I have vivid memories from my childhood field trip:

We just snuck out after a couple of hours of Denver's annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, an event sponsored by Colorado's APA umbrella organization, Asian Roundtable. This free event has been going on for over a decade, and it's held every May in a community auditorium at the Well Fargo Bank building in downtown Denver. The Asian Roundtable represents two dozen APA organizations and for-profit companies as well as some individuals. Its member organizations sponsor the event, which runs from 11 am-4pm on a Saturday, kicking off with a buffet and then featuring several hours of performances. I was involved with this event when I was the president of the Mile-Hi chapter of the JACL, almost 10 years ago. Back then, I appreciated the event because it brought Asian communities together to learn from each other. I was surprised at the time that Asians knew so little about each other's cultures. One year the JACL brought some basic sushi for people to taste, and people kept asking me, "What is that?" (Sushi, or wasabi.) "What's the soy sauce for?" (The sushi.) "What does this taste like?" (Try it and see, lady.) Then it struck me -- Asians are so tribal and insulated from each other, that they don't know anything about the other Asian cultures. I admit, I didn't exactly grow up eating Filipino or Thai or Vietnamese food. But I've embraced all those cuisines, and more, every chance I get. Many Asians (especially older Asians) don't do this.

Erin and I went out to eat tonight at Thai Basil, a very popular restaurant in southeast Denver. We had eaten there a couple of weeks ago with friends and enjoyed the food, so we decided to give it a shot on our own. The food was fine once again -- we had chicken coconut soup for starters, and Thai curry lime beef and sesame tofu for entrees. But during the meal, it occurred to us that aside from one woman at a nearby table, we were the only Asians dining in the packed room. The servers were mostly Asian, but on the way in this time, I noted that the owner and much of the staff is Chinese, not Thai. These observations maybe are unimportant if the food is great, but I started wondering about the importance of authenticity in ethnic cuisine. First of all, does it matter what ethnicity the staff, owners and even maybe the chefs are, if they can make great Thai food, or Chinese, or Japanese or Korean? Shouldn't the end quality of the food be the measure of a restaurant's quality? Yes. And... I've had various ethnic cuisines served up by people not of the ethnicity and had the food fail the taste test. Even years ago in New York City, when I was in college, I was so desperate for Mexican food that I went into a Mexican restaurant in Greenwich Village, only to be served enchiladas with spaghetti sauce -- no lie -- poured over them. That's why that Pace Picante tagline works so well: "...from where? NEW YORK CITY?"

The current protests throughout the world by Muslims who were offended by caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (the cartoons caused riots in Afghanistan) that originally ran in a Danish newspaper, sparked an interesting discussion among some friends of mine, about the nature of offensive imagery and the role of the media and even of cartoonists. The most inflammatory cartoon was one of Muhammad with a bomb as part of his turban, suggesting that all Muslims are terrorists. Below are edited excerpts from the e-mail discussion.