Thursday, August 27, 2015

Follow me on Twitter #MyAsianAmericanStory

I'm of the pre-Twitter generation that remembers life before Twitter. When Twitter was launched I didn't understand why anyone would want to use it. I have much more to say than will fit in 140 characters. I heard about how useful Twitter was during 3.11 and during the Arab Spring but I didn't really understand Twitter until last August during the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown. Before the national and international media started paying attention, Twitter and local St. Louis news outlets were pretty much the only sites on which you could read and watch what was going on there. Even after the story went international Twitter was still the fastest way to find out what was happening and there were many stories I learned about on Twitter the media failed to tell or told a different version of.

While I don't expect any of my tweets to change the world, I've been thinking about setting up an account to share things that aren't really worth doing a whole blog post about. Sometimes I hear about events at the last minute and don't have time to write it up for the blog or I see articles that would be worth sharing but don't want to spend the time writing commentary. I'll probably share pictures of tasty food I eat. :)

The thing that finally pushed me over the edge to finish setting up my account and go public was #MyAsianAmericanStory. The hashtag was created on Monday by 15-year-old Jason Fong in response to presidential candidate Jeb Bush's appalling remarks accusing "Asian people" of "coming into our country -- having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship". @#$%! Pitting minorities against each other is the oldest trick in the book. He threw us under the bus so he could make nice to the Latinos so they wouldn't think he was referring to them in a previous comment on so-called anchor babies. Bush has since suggested that we "chill out a little bit."

When I looked through Jason's tweets I noticed that a couple of hours before he created #MyAsianAmericanStory he tweeted California Rep. Ted Lieu, asking where the AAPI response to Bush's remarks was. No reply. So he took matters into his own hands.
Jason Fong on Twitter
That's what's great about Twitter. Anyone of any age or class can make their voice heard and start a national conversation. AAPIs are always complaining about our lack of representation in the media, in politics, in national conversations on race. I've certainly done it. Something I figured out a few years ago is that if you're not out there making your voice heard, then you're part of the problem. I think it's awesome that Jason didn't wait for the adults in the Asian American community to come up with a carefully crafted response. There was no guarantee that his hashtag would go viral but he made an effort, which is more than I can say for a lot of AAPIs. Thanks to Jason, a couple of big media outlets have started sharing these stories. Once upon a time Asian American reaction would not have been covered by the media. Now, a 15-year-old with an Internet connection can make a difference.

I've written before about how there comes a time when all your teachers cease to be older than you and you start learning from people younger than you. We can all learn a lot from Jason.
"[Jason] said he did not create the #MyAsianAmericanStory hashtag to exclude anyone. Instead, the hashtag is an opportunity to share stories that are not often seen in the media. “I hope that people can look at this tag, and know that Asians and Asian Americans are part of the American narrative,” he said." – "Student starts #MyAsianAmericanStory in response to Bush remarks," Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2015
On the blog I try to keep my focus pretty narrow and write primarily about Japanese and Japanese American stuff rather than Asian American stuff. I do this because there are a lot of other Asian American bloggers who are writing more broadly about Asian American experience but very few Japanese Americans who are writing about our experiences. As other Asian American populations are growing, we're shrinking. Where we used to be a majority among Asian Americans, at around 1.3 million we're now the smallest among the six largest Asian American populations. I'll probably have more Asian American content on Twitter but I'm planning to keep the blog focused on Japanese and Japanese American stuff.

I don't think Twitter is for everyone. I'm not even sure it's for me. There's a lot about the site that I find annoying and problematic. I don't promise to stick with it. But I'm giving it a try and we'll see how it goes. You can follow me @keikoinboston.

Update 9:25pm: The JACL has issued a statement on Jeb Bush's remarks and Donald Trump disparaging Japanese and Chinese businessmen he's negotiated with.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Closed: Mochi Kitchen in Somerville

Mochi Kitchen - It's a bittersweet time for us. The great... | Facebook

Oh no! This is old news but I just discovered that Somerville-based Mochi Kitchen closed back in March due to owner Erino Tezuka Wade relocating to San Francisco. :( That explains why I haven't seen them anywhere this year. So sad! They were the only fresh mochi in the Boston area that I'm aware of.

Red bean ginger mochi dusted with cinnamon @ 2014 Sakura Matsuri

See also: Closed Japanese Businesses

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Comment Policy

After three years I have finally come to the point of needing a comment policy. I wish it weren’t necessary but I'm not interested in this blog being a space like so many others on the Internet where divisiveness rules.

I’m publishing this so that anyone whose comment is not published will know why. I welcome comments even if you don’t agree with me or other commenters but if you’re not capable of discussing something in a civil tone then this is not the forum for you. Strong language is okay if it’s service of making a point, but not if it’s directed at someone. Anyone who thinks this is an infringement of their free speech rights should know that as this is my blog, you're not guaranteed free speech here. I choose what to publish.

Comments that I will not publish:
  • Those that contain hate speech of any kind.
  • Personal attacks directed at me or anyone else.
  • Those that are inflammatory.
  • Obvious trolling.
  • Those with no substance that appear to be for the purpose of driving traffic to your site. (Notifications that you've linked to my blog are okay, unless your blog is full of hate speech or ideas I don't want to help propagate.)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki

I meant to spend time working on a post for the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but because I spent the past month writing about the Kimono Wednesdays protests I haven't had time. I didn't want to let today's anniversary pass without posting something so here's a round up of stuff happening in the Boston area and some interesting articles.
Mass Peace Action seems to have collected a lot of the 70th anniversary events in the Boston area on their website. Unfortunately, some events already happened but there's a Concert in Observance of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings tomorrow night at The Church of the Advent in Boston and a free film screening on Sunday of Article 9 Comes to America by local filmmaker David Rothauser as part of an evening of activities organized by Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment.

Apparently, there's a private museum in Natick called the Museum of World War II that houses original bombing orders for Hiroshima and Nagasaki along with other WWII artifacts. You can only visit by appointment.
I would like to note that the United States has never apologized to Japan for dropping the bombs and killing somewhere between 129,000 - 246,000+ civilians (mostly Japanese, but including others) and maiming hundreds of thousands more including Japanese Americans, Koreans, and other foreign nationals. For scale, compare that to the nearly 16,000 who died in the 3.11 tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear disaster. Many Americans persist in the belief that the bombing was "an act of mercy" that ended the war rather than the result of rabid racism that fueled things like the imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese for committing the "crime" of being Japanese or of Japanese descent. Look up pictures of hibakusha (people who survived the bombings - the literal translation is "explosion-affected people") and tell me the bombings were merciful.

Japanese, Americans Disagree on Bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki 

Although opinion on the use of atomic bombs has shifted in the US, there is very little support for an apology. A US president has never attended ceremonies to mark the anniversaries; the highest ranking official we have ever sent have been US ambassadors to Japan and that only started five years ago (see The New York Times article below for more details).

I was very surprised to read that the Battleship Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is currently displaying an exhibit of artifacts from the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots (Wikipedia) which has never been displayed outside of Japan before. Elsewhere in the US WGN America has been making a fictionalized TV show called Manhattan about life in Los Alamos and the building of the bombs. They style the show's title as "MANH(A)TTAN" with the "(A)" on top of an unexploded bomb stuck into Los Alamos. The show premiered last year just a few days before the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I thought about writing about it, but I was so disgusted after watching the trailer and reading reviews that praised the show that I couldn't bring myself to watch the first season. There's nothing entertaining about how the US maimed and killed up to half a million people and Americans still think it's funny to joke about it. Incredibly the show got renewed for a second season.

It has always amazed me that Japan and most of its citizens don't hate the US. It is widely believed that this is due to the US's heavy involvement in rebuilding post-war Japan during the US-led Allied occupation that lasted until 1952. Earlier this year the Pew Research Center published the results of a survey titled, Americans, Japanese: Mutual Respect 70 Years After the End of WWII. While US-Japan relations are generally seen as good, Japanese see Americans as inventive and tolerant but not honest or hardworking. Interestingly, 75% say they trust the US even though 79% don't think that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified.


Further Reading

For some stories from Hiroshima, please see Koji Kanemoto's blog, Masako and Spam Musubi and A-Bomb and Us, a website containing translated stories from surviviors.

  •  8/8/15: Added Further Reading section with Masako and Spam Musubi and A-Bomb and Us.

Monday, July 27, 2015

List of Kimono Wednesdays protest issues, concepts, and related history

Please see my original post for background: Monet's La Japonaise Kimono Wednesdays at the MFA.

People keep asking me to explain what precisely the protest is about and I've given up. After talking with some folks this weekend about the protesters' concerns I decided to compile a list of everything they’ve mentioned in their materials and signs and provide links to Wikipedia and other sources for further education. Some issues that are related are grouped together. I have located some Japanese sources, but please note that the Japanese links may not be as helpful as the English links because they may not provide context on these concepts from an American perspective. The list ended up being longer than I expected so I alphabetized it for easier reference. Yes, I used to read encyclopedias for fun as a child. Wikipedia is pretty much a childhood dream come true. ^_^ Happy reading!

  1. AAPI underrepresentation in media and culture
  2. Ableism障害者差別
  3. Asian American (nisei Yuji Ichioka is credited with coining the term
  4. Asian festishism | アジア人フェチ
  5. Black Lives Matter | 日本
  6. Classism
  7. Colonialism | 植民地主義 / Postcolonialism | ポストコロニアル理論 / (See also Colonial mentality)
  8. Complicity
  9. Critical art theory
  10. Critical gender theory
  11. Critical race theory
  12. Cultural appropriation
  13. Cultural insensitivity
  14. Decolonize Our Museums
  15. Dehumanization of women
  16. Erasure of Japanese narrative
  17. European feminine beauty ideal (see also Eurocentric Beauty Ideals as a Form of Structural Violence: Origins and Effects on East Asian Women)
  18. Exoticismエキゾチシズム
  19. Feminine女らしさ
  20. Genderqueer | ジェンダークィア
  21. Hibakusha | 被爆者
  22. Hiroshima & Nagasaki atomic bombings | 日本への原子爆弾投下
  23. Historic discrimination against AAPI (see also Racial inequality in the United States)
  24. Homophobiaホモフォビア / Transphobiaトランスフォビア 
  25. Human zoos | 人間動物園 
  26. Hyphenated Americans
  27. Indigenous rights movements
  28. Ivory tower
  29. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzō Abe | 安倍晋三
  30. Japanese American internment camps (I prefer the term incarceration camps per Densho’s convention) | 日系人の強制収容
  31. Japanese denial of war crimes | 日本の戦争犯罪
  32. Japonisme | ジャポニスム
  33. June 24, 2015 Tokyo protest | 日本 
  34. Kanagawa Treaty | 日米和親条約 / Commodore Perry | マシュー・ペリー
  35. Kimono | 着物
  36. Lived experience
  37. Mark Wahlberg beating of two Vietnamese men | 日本
  38. Minstrelsy
  39. Misogyny | ミソジニー
  40. Model minority myth (see the 1966 New York Times article where the myth originated)
  41. Murder of AAPI women
  42. Museum studies | 博物館学 / Asian underrepresentation in museum workforce / Lack of diversity at the MFA 
  43. Orientalism | オリエンタリズム
  44. Otherness | 他者性
  45. Patriarchy | 家父長制
  46. Pearl Harbor | 真珠湾攻撃
  47. People of color 
  48. Pillaging of artifacts | 略奪芸術 / Provenance disputes at the MFA
  49. QTWOC (Queer Trans Women of Color) - as far as I can tell this is primarily used as a Twitter and Tumblr hashtag
  50. Racism | (アメリカ合衆国の人種差別)
  51. Remilitarization of Japan  (see also The Japan Times opinion piece ) | 日本国憲法第9条
  52. Respectability politics
  53. Reverse racism (article provided by protesters)
  54. Sexism性差別
  55. Sexual assault | 女性に対する性的虐待 / Sexual harassment | セクシャルハラスメント / Rape (AAPI under-reporting of rape) | 強姦
  56. Slavery | 奴隷制
  57. Solidarity
  58. Stalkingストーカー
  59. State-sanctioned violence against people of color米国警察の異常な暴力
  60. Sureshbhai Patel police brutality incident | スレシュバイ・パテル
  61. Systemic violence and brutality against people of color
  62. Tokyo firebombings | 東京大空襲
  63. US Women's World Cup win over Japan Twitter celebration | 日本
  64. US military presence in Japan | 日本国とアメリカ合衆国との間の相互協力及び安全保障条約
  65. Vietnam War | ベトナム戦争
  66. Vincent Chin | ビンセント・チン
  67. Violence against black & brown bodies
  68. Western imperialism | 帝国主義
  69. White allyship
  70. White culture
  71. White fragility
  72. White institutional racism 
  73. White male gaze
  74. White privilege
  75. White supremacy / white supremacist murders
  76. Whitewashed Japanese textbooks歴史教科書問題
  77. Women | 女性
  78. Yellowface / AAPI misrepresentation in film and television - Fu Manchu, exoticized sex worker, Mr. Yunioshi

If you can provide Japanese terminology for things I wasn't able to figure out, please leave a comment. If you can find a Wikipedia or other well-written source that would be great too. Thanks.

If I've missed anything, please let me know!

This post was made possible in part by Google Chrome and Google Translate! どうもありがとうございました!

  • 8/2/15 1:05am: Updated to include issues from these signs. Added ableism, classism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism
  • 8/4/15 6:10pm: Added Asian American and people of color.

Related posts

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Center for Art Law and NCAC critical of the MFA's decision to modify Kimono Wednesdays

I've been adding interesting commentary to my original post and some follow-up posts but I felt this required a separate post.

The protesters have been accused of wanting to censor art because their actions resulted in a significant modification to the presentation of Kimono Wednesdays which denied museumgoers the opportunity to try on the replica uchikake. The protesters have said it is not their intention to ban art but to promote dialogue and education, but at times their actions – which included celebrating that the MFA had agreed to change their programming – have seemed to be at cross-purposes to their stated goals. Ultimately the MFA is responsible for their response and while some people hold the protesters primarily responsible because they feel they backed the MFA into a corner, some have been more vocal in criticizing the MFA's actions.

Last Friday, The Center for Art Law published an editorial by their Founder and Director, Irina Tarsis, an art historian and attorney, which opened with this very blunt statement: "Self-censorship by museums is a dangerous trend." She characterizes the "public outcry" against Kimono Wednesdays as, "but another instance where public outrage is misplaced as more important issues remain overlooked." Ms. Tarsis is critical of the MFA's disinclination to carry on with Kimono Wednesdays as they were originally structured and feels they should have used the controversy, "to tackle the misconceptions surrounding the idea of cultural appropriation." She goes on to detail the ways in which artists all over the the world have long been borrowing from one another:

"The decision to scrap the benign kimono project is disturbing because museums are meant to be educational forums where different manifestations of creativity and creative types inform the public about the past and safeguard it for the future. It is universally accepted that artists frequently explore and borrow ideas and iconography from different cultures and other artists. Just as Eastern Art experimented with “Western” conventions of painting landscapes to show perspective and integrated Western dress into portraiture, artifacts of Asian, African, South American art and culture, including fans, kimonos, masks, patterns, ceramics, etc. were and continue being frequently incorporated themes in Western artworks, with varying success."

On the same day, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) published a letter they sent to the MFA signed by a Japanese artist and arts activist, Kentaro Ikegami, their Arts Advocacy Program Manager. It's worth a read (see below).

Mr. Ikegami feels that the MFA missed an opportunity to, "discuss the history of cultural appropriation with its public, and to create a deeper awareness of the historico-political context in which art is created and seen." He worries that they have left themselves, "vulnerable to future demands to cancel programming." Further, "by acceding to the demands of protesters and canceling the program, the museum has privileged their voice over any others who may see it in a different way." Mr. Ikegami refers the MFA to NCAC's Museum Best Practices for Managing Controversy. They produced the document in response to the 2011 controversy surrounding the censorship of The National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture which had one piece that was seen by some as being anti-Catholic.

NCAC along with The Vera List Center for Art and Politics, "convened a group of arts professionals, consultants, and First Amendment lawyers for a closed policy session," the goal of which was, "to brainstorm on ways to become pro-active on issues of artistic and curatorial freedom and to reverse a cycle of politically motivated accusations and censorship still assaulting many art institutions." The document is endorsed by several national organizations that supporting museums and museum professionals including The Association of Art Museum Curators, The American Alliance of Museums, and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries.

The best practices consist of three strategies that museums can employ when faced with controversy:
  1. Public Statement Affirming Commitment to Artistic and Intellectual Freedom of Speech (“Freedom of Speech Commitment”);
  2. Preparation in Advance of Upcoming Programs and Potential Controversy, through agreement on clear curatorial procedures, feedback mechanisms, and educational plans;
  3. Procedures for Addressing the Press or Complaints from the Public after an Exhibition or Special Program Opens.
This item in the third section under, "Handling Complaints from the Community," stood out to me:
Evaluate the complaint(s): Who is complaining? What are their credentials? Is the complaint sincere criticism or an act of political opportunism by a group leveraging controversy to serve other goals?
Many critics of the protest have felt that they were using Kimono Wednesdays to further their own agenda on issues that had nothing to do with art, Impressionism, Japan, or kimonos. Various writers struggled to follow the logic of the protest (see: Hyperallergic上り口説 Nubui Kuduchi, and Ready, Set, Kimono!). Observers have been angered and saddened that a small group of protesters managed to influence the MFA to such a degree that all members of the public of any race or national origin have been denied a once in a lifetime opportunity to try on a replica of a 140-year-old theatrical kimono. If the MFA had been following NCAC's best practices, much of the turmoil could have been avoided and we would actually have the dialogue and education that the protesters have called for. I hope that going forward the MFA will adopt NCAC's best practices.

I contacted NCAC yesterday to find out if the MFA has taken them up on their offer to discuss this further but have not heard back.

Update 8/2/15: I just noticed that NCAC posted a response from the MFA a few days ago.

Click here for a full page view of NCAC's letter.

Related posts

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Myths and facts about Kimono Wednesdays and the protests

I have been frustrated by all the misinformation (or lack of information) about Kimono Wednesdays and the protests in both the media and on social media, so I put together this handy guide for anyone who has questions or whose friends are spreading incorrect information. I really encourage anyone who wants to know what the debate is about to read my original post but I understand it's very long. My answers on this page are brief. If you want more detail, please see my previous posts which are listed at the bottom of this post. You can also review the protest materials on their Tumblr and Facebook pages.

I apologize to Japanese readers that I am not able to translate these posts into Japanese. I am illiterate. ごめんなさい。(with help from Google Translate!)

La Japonaise replica uchikake

Kimono Wednesdays

Fiction: Kimono Wednesdays have been cancelled due to the protest.

Reality: The MFA modified the event known as Kimono Wednesday which used to allow museumgoers the opportunity to try on the La Japonaise replica uchikake. In response to "concerns from some members of our community" visitors may no longer try on the uchikake, but there are still Spotlight Talks (15 minute talks) and museumgoers may touch and photograph the uchikake. Time Out Tokyo reported that the MFA "pulled Kimono Wednesdays off their calendar" but I'm not sure it was ever listed as such on their calendar. The Spotlight Talks are still on the calendar as "Claude Monet: La Japonaise" but the description doesn't mention that the uchikake will be on display. The protesters have demanded that Kimono Wednesday be closed altogether but the MFA has given no indication that they will give in to this demand.

Fiction: Kimono Wednesdays is an event conceived of by white MFA staff.

Reality: I have not been able to get the full story behind the idea of events like Kimono Wednesdays, but we do know that the idea for this type of event – where museumgoers get to try on the replica uchikake – originated in Japan. I do not know if it was conceived of by NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, or the museums where La Japonaise was exhibited as part of the "Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan" traveling exhibit. We do not know the ethnicity of all of the MFA staff who worked on Kimono Wednesdays. The protesters have implied that the MFA had a choice in which painting to use for these events and must have chosen this one because of their white bias but that is not the case. The event came about because NHK contacted the MFA asking to create replica uchikake specifically for La Japonaise's tour.

Claim: The MFA appropriated Japanese kimonos to be props in their La Japonaise Spotlight Talks.

My Thoughts: The uchikake were commissioned by NHK with the MFA's permission and subsequently donated to the MFA for the purpose of allowing MFA visitors to have the same experience that Japanese museumgoers had of trying on the uchikake and taking a photo in front of La Japonaise. The MFA may also use the uchikake in the future in whatever way they would like to use them. NHK made no stipulations in the giving of the gift. Since the uchikake were a gift and the event put on was essentially the same as those in Japan, I do not feel this meets the definition of appropriation. Additionally, I don't agree with the protesters' characterization of the "Orientalist underpinnings of its commission." However, not everyone agrees that this was not an example of cultural appropriation, even some Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Claim: The MFA is not providing education on the context of La Japonaise or about the uchikake.
My Thoughts: Kimono Wednesday has been running since June 24, 2015. I did not attend until July 15th. The protesters have stated that in previous weeks little to no education was provided to the public. I was told by Timothy Nagaoka, the counterprotest organizer, that the July 15th talk was better than the previous week's talk. Since I haven't been there every week I can't speak to what level of education has been provided and how that has changed week to week. The talks are only 15 minutes long so you can't teach much in 15 minutes

The Protesters

Fiction: All of the protesters are non-Japanese Asian Americans.

Reality: They have at least one Japanese American protester. There may be more but I did not take a census on Wednesday. They appeared to have about six white allies. There are a wider range of people supporting them on Facebook including Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Fiction: All of the protesters are Japanese American.

Reality: Some media outlets are peddling this fiction (like the National Review: "Almost immediately Japanese-American activists raised a ruckus..." screenshot). None of the protest organizers are Japanese American. None of the protesters who have given media interviews have been Japanese American. As stated below they have some Japanese American support but it would not be accurate to say that the protest is the work of "Japanese-American activists." I have emailed the National Review asking them to correct the story. (7/23/15: The National Review emailed me to let me know they corrected the story.)

Fiction: There is a fake Japanese/Japanese American protester.

Reality: This is something going around on social media. It is not true. Please stop saying this. The protesters have one Japanese American protester that I'm aware of who has identified herself as "Japanese" on signs. She can speak Japanese and I accept that she is Japanese American. (I can confirm that she speaks Japanese because two of my friends spoke with her in Japanese and English.) I do think it's unfair for her to represent herself as Japanese because being Japanese and Japanese American are two very different identities and telling the world you are Japanese gives a very different impression of who is protesting. However, she is ethnically Japanese so I wish people would stop questioning her heritage by saying things like if she can't speak Japanese she's not Japanese. I can barely speak Japanese but I identify as both Japanese and American. There are some ways in which my habits and mindset are distinctly Japanese and other areas in which my habits and mindset are very American. Asian American identities are often very complex. I wrote in more depth about having a dual identity here.

Fiction: The protesters have no Japanese support.

Reality: I have seen comments in support of the protesters from around three people identifying themselves as Japanese. I have looked some of them up and found them on LinkedIn so I believe they are real Japanese people. It seems that the overwhelming majority of Japanese nationals do not support the protest, but it is not correct to say they have no Japanese support. They have some Japanese support, though they have not stated how much. They have said that when they have communicated with people in Japan privately to explain the protest, people tend to agree.

Claim: The protesters are claiming to speak for all Japanese/Japanese Americans/Asian Americans.

My Thoughts: The media has not helped with this. Several articles I read implied that the protesters were speaking for all Asian Americans and I don't feel that the protesters have done a good job of proactively clarifying that their views do not represent the views of all Japanese people, Japanese Americans, or Asian Americans. Some read their materials as appearing to speak on behalf of Japanese Americans. The five signatories to their "LIST OF DEMANDS AND CHARGES" do not appear to be Japanese American and many (but not all) Japanese Americans are offended by the presumption they took when they purported to speak for us. However, they do state in their FAQ that it is not their intention to speak for all Asian Americans.

Claim: The protesters are anti-Japanese.

My Thoughts: I have not seen any explicitly anti-Japanese statements from the protesters. I do not believe the protest is anti-Japanese, though I have no idea if any of them personally hold anti-Japanese views because of their family histories. Update 7/23/15 4:30pm: One of my JA friends pointed out that one of the protest signs from last night could be viewed as anti-Japanese or anti-Abe (Japan's current Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe). I will note that this sign was carried by a JA protester, not a non-Japanese Asian American. The sign mischaracterizes the June 24th protest in Japan which according to Al Jazeera America was only about some recently passed bills that some feel are an unconstitutional expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The other issues on the sign are criticism that Prime Minister Abe has received since entering office. When Americans who live at home and abroad are critical of the US government that doesn't necessarily mean they are anti-American. Sometimes it means they're against a particular politician or a particular political party. I don't personally read this sign as necessarily anti-Japanese but I don't know what the protester's intent was.

Claim: The protesters are agitators working for a foreign government.

My Thoughts: As I have said before, although I have no proof that they are not, I don't believe this is true. My impression of the protesters is that they are regular Asian Americans struggling with issues of race in a country that is frequently hostile for non-whites. I think these suggestions have been made by people who do not understand the complexities of Asian American identity and life and therefore cannot understand why a non-Japanese Asian American person feels like a kimono event relates to their history. This is a complicated topic that would require its own post but you can read the Wikipedia entry on Asian America for some background. It is not uncommon for white people to assume that Asian Americans are agents of a foreign government and cannot be trusted because we are not Real Americans, although in this case I am also seeing this charge from Japanese people. Some people may think it's funny to joke about it, but it's not. This is a racist assertion. This kind of thinking is what got 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans rounded up and incarcerated during WWII.

Claim: The protesters think it is racist for all white people to wear kimono at any time.

My Thoughts: The protesters have said they think it's okay for white people to wear kimono that they purchased or received as a gift. They have a problem with the way Kimono Wednesdays were/are structured and marketed and have protested with signs that make it appear they think any white person who tries on the uchikake is racist for doing so, however I am not clear on whether or not that was the statement they were trying to make. They have said that the protest is primarily directed at the MFA, but at times it has seemed like the protest is also directed at white museumgoers.
Please see sansei Japanese American author, Jan Morrill's, blog for more commentary on this.

Claim: The protesters are anti-white and engaging in reverse racism.

My Thoughts: The protesters have said reverse racism doesn't exist due to the white power structure. On Facebook they have used racial slurs against white people, made discriminatory and hateful statements, and generally discounted everything white people have said (even those with Japanese spouses and children) because they are white. However, they obviously have white friends and supporters so clearly they don't behave this way towards all white people. I encourage you to read their Tumblr and Facebook pages and draw your own conclusions. (I should note that there have also been slurs, ugly language, trolling, and harassment from some of their critics both white and Japanese.)

Fiction: The protesters are for racial segregation.
Reality: The protesters have never said this.

Claim: The protesters want to ban art.

My Thoughts: They have never said this, though as I said above, they have demanded that Kimono Wednesdays close completely. The protesters have said they are for better education, though the demand to stop Kimono Wednesdays (see item 2 on their LIST OF DEMANDS AND CHARGES) seems contradictory to this. Japanese and many Japanese Americans firmly believe that the way to educate people about our culture is through sharing things like our beautiful kimonos. This cannot be accomplished if an event like Kimono Wednesdays if forced to close because some people think it doesn't provide a deep enough history lesson on colonialism, Western imperialism, orientalism, the Kanagawa Treaty and how that relates to racism faced by people of color in the US today. I don't believe that most Japanese and Japanese Americans would want that lesson to be what accompanies an event that is aimed at art appreciation of a French painting and a replica of a theatrical kimono.

Claim: The protesters are aggressive.

Reality: I think this depends on how you define aggressive. I have only been present at one of their four (to date) protests. I did not witness any behavior there that I would call aggressive though I did hear several heated exchanges. The only aggressive behavior I have seen was in a video on their now deleted Facebook page in which they had surrounded Timothy Nagaoka on the day he was counterprotesting alone and videoed the "conversation" (I wrote about it here). It looked more like a confrontation to me but Timothy told me he wasn't that bothered by it. I guess as a teacher he's used to dealing with disagreements. On the other hand I spoke to two counterprotesters who said the majority of protesters had been rude and disrespectful when engaging with them on July 15th which was a marked change from the conversations they had with the protesters on June 24th. The museum staff I spoke with said the protesters' behavior was fine on July 15th and better than they had on July 8th, but they didn't go into detail about the protesters' behavior on that or any other date.

Fiction: The protest is illegal.

Reality: Actually, the protest is legal. It is permitted under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which guarantees Americans the right to freedom of speech even if other people don't like their ideas. The First Amendment also guarantees the right to peaceably assemble, although this right does not always apply on private property. The MFA is private property, but staff told me they have decided to allow the protesters to be present in the gallery because the protest started off very small. Larger protests are not permitted in the building or on MFA property and must remain on the sidewalk which is city property and therefore a public place where they may legally assemble. Via the ACLU: "As a rule, the First Amendment doesn't give you the right to engage in free-speech activities on private property unless... the owner has given you permission to use the property for speech."

Fiction: The protesters are committing a "hate crime."

Reality: In order to commit a hate crime, you must commit a crime. As I said above, the protest is not illegal. If you would like to learn more about hate crimes which are a very serious problem that people of color face in the United States, please see the FBI's overview of what a hate crime is.

Claim: The protest is ridiculous. There are more important problems in the US/world that we should be talking about.

My thoughts: The protesters have responded to this in their FAQ:
"g. Putting on a kimono is not real racism. There are more important problems.
White supremacy is a major problem in the world. This kind of programming fuels and propagates it."

I've been discussing what's going on at the MFA with a West Coast Japanese American friend who has worked abroad for the Peace Corps and World Vision in some very harrowing conditions. This is an abridged version of what he said to me:
"People all over the world are dying from lack of food and access to clean drinking water. They don't have the luxury of visiting an air conditioned art museum to view fine art by Monet or to touch a real uchikake modeled on the one in the painting. Only by seeing how much of the world struggles day-to-day can one fully appreciate life in America."
I think this is a perspective shared by many people. Which isn't to say that Asian Americans don't have problems. We have problems, some of us more so than others. Japanese Americans, for whom the model minority myth was created, who as a group have a nearly 150 year history in the US, are in a much more stable position than other Asian Americans (ie: recent Southeast Asian refugees). The MFA controversy clearly falls into the category of #firstworldproblems. I've continued to write about it because the protesters have continued to minimize and dismiss dissenting Japanese and Japanese American viewpoints which is not something I can accept. It does seem that our energy would be better spent helping people in countries who could only dream of having problems such as ours.

The Counterprotesters

Fiction: The counterprotest was organized by a Japanese American.

Reality: The counterprotest was organized by Timothy Nagaoka, who identifies himself as Japanese. He has lived in the US for almost two decades and is a teacher of Japanese language in Boston. This misidentification was made by at least one media outlet (I sent a correction and they updated their post). I think people on social media may make that assumption because he has an Anglo first name.

Fiction: All counterprotesters are Japanese.

Reality: The counterprotest included two white American women.

Claim: The counterprotesters don't understand what the protest is about.

My Thoughts: I can't speak for the counterprotesters but my sense was that they had three main messages: 1: let the MFA know they support Kimono Wednesdays in their original form, 2: ask the MFA to bring back the original Kimono Wednesdays, and 3: let the public know that as Japanese people they don't think it's offensive or racist for non-Japanese people to wear kimono at any time or in any way as demonstrated by the white counterprotesters. Beyond that Timothy very clearly believes that sharing Japanese culture is important, a view that my friends who counterprotested also share. One of my friends went because she wanted to share the beauty of kimono with museumgoers. I don't think most Japanese people feel there is a right and wrong way to share Japanese culture unless your goal is to insult them so I don't think they agree with the protesters' assertion that the museum went about sharing Japanese culture in the wrong way. All the Japanese counterprotesters are long-time residents (one has lived here more years than some of the protesters have been alive) and some even have US citizenship. I think they are aware of the issues but can't connect the dots the way the protesters do.

If you have any question about Kimono Wednesdays, the protest, or the counterprotest that I did not address please leave a comment below and I will answer your question if I can.

7/23/15 4:30pm: Please note that I've decided to make it my policy not to name any of the protesters, publish photos of their faces, or link directly to any of their personal websites or Twitter accounts. I know that they are being harassed and at least one of them has received death threats. Several of them have chosen to make their names and faces public but I just don't feel right contributing to an environment that makes it easier to harass them. If you want to do that you're on your own. I communicated this to one of the protest organizers last night and she said that she appreciated it.

Related posts

  • 7/19/15 2:55pm: Added link to MFA announcement on the changes to Kimono Wednesday.
  • 7/19/15 6:05pm: Fixed some grammar and confusing language.
  • 7/20/15 3:00pm: Added information about how Kimono Wednesday Spotlight Talks appears on the MFA's calendar.
  • 7/21/15: 12:00am: Added "The protest is ridiculous" claim.
  • 7/22/15 12:55pm: Updated links to protest Tumblr. Protesters have removed their original Tumblr (see here at and rebranded as "Decolonize Our Museums." 
  • 7/23/15 4:55am: Added "All of the protesters are Japanese American" fiction.
  • 7/23/15 4:10pm: Updated links to new protest Tumblr. Missed most of the broken links yesterday.
  • 7/23/15 4:30pm: Added to "The protesters are anti-Japanese" claim to include a sign from last night's protest. 
  • 7/24/15 3:30am: Added link to Jan Morrill's follow-up post under "The protesters think it is racist for all white people to wear kimono at any time."
  • 7/25/15 2:25am: Added links to Al Jazeera America articles under "The protesters are anti-Japanese".
  • 7/26/15 3:35am: Changed "Japan's military" to "the Japan Self-Defense Forces" and added link to Wikipedia. 
  • 7/16/15 5:40pm: Added link to demand to stop Kimono Wednesdays under "The protesters want to ban art" claim. 
  • 7/28/15 8:25pm: Added clarifying language that Timothy Nagaoka identifies himself as Japanese. This was not my classification.
  • 7/30/15 4:00pm: Reader pointed out that "it would not be accurate to say that the protest is the work of "Japanese-American activists."" was missing the word "not".
  • 8/4/15 2:00am: Added link to the ACLU of Northern California's "Know Your Rights: Free Speech, Protests & Demonstrations".