Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 Spring Matsuris: Details & Tips for Japan Festival Boston & Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

Update 5/11/17: Due to the weather forecast for Saturday, the Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival organizers decided to move the matsuri indoors to the rain location at the Schluntz Gym.

Boston's two largest Japanese festivals are coming up! In the past five years attendance at both festivals has grown around six-fold. The Japan Festival Boston started off in Copley Square with 10,000 festivalgoers in 2012. Last year 60,000 people attended the festival on the Boston Common. Attendance at the Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival has grown from around 250 people in 2012 to over 1,500 last year.

Japan Festival Boston

Japan Festival Boston is New England's largest matsuri. This year there will be 76 regular booths, 37 food booths, 50 performances on 2 stages, 50 workshops, and a Cosplay Deathmatch. Check their Facebook page for updates.

As usual there will be lots of arts organizations and businesses, many of whom have participated in past years including Tewassa, GrayMist Studio & Shop, SAORI Worcester, Kaji Aso Studio, Chikako Mukai of Chikako Designs, Julie Kohaya of Heavenly Cranes Jewelry, and amezaiku artist Candy Miyuki (listed as Candy5). There will be at least a couple of businesses selling kimono and yukata – Nomura Kimono Shop from Japan and Ohio Kimono will both be back for their second year at the festival. An interesting new vendor is NPO Reborn Kyoto which "works to nurture the independence of the women and young in developing countries through instruction of cloth fabrication and textile technology using donated Kimono from all over the Japan." See video from Kigali Today, although most of it is in Kinyarwanda, the interview with executive officer Yasuko Yamahira is in English. Another interesting new booth is a peace group called PeaceProject869. "We make opportunities to consider “What is Peace for you?” by [f]olding origami cranes for people whom we meet all over the world through our studying abroad."

The food offerings are growing more diverse and branching out from the Japanese community to include poke restaurants, fusion rice burgers, spam musubi, and more chain restaurants. This year's food vendors include a mix of independent local businesses and chains with Boston locations that are based in Japan and other places, as well as a few others.

Independent local: YumeWoKatare with 6 booths that will include dishes not usually served at the restaurant, Snappy Ramen, Oga's (listed as Kushiya), Ganko Ittetsu, Rice Burg, Yoki Express, Hana Japan, Cafe Mami, Ittoku (listed as Izakaya Ittoku), Sakanaya, Itadaki, Neponset Cafe, Big Rock Oyster, and I am guessing that Hiromoto’s Ultra Okonomiyaki & Hiromoto’s ultra candy shop will be run by Kevin Hiromoto, owner of Boston's only Japanese grocery store, Ebisuya

Chains with Boston locations: Santouka, Beard Papa's, Ogawa Coffee, Go Go Curry, Pabu (listed as Pabu Izakaya), Love Art Sushi, and Lady M.

Daiei Trading, one of the largest Japanese food importers in the US, will also have two booths.

Although the organizers have increased the number of food booths – up from 22 last year – I'm not sure that will result in shorter lines since turnout is likely to be much higher than last year. In past years, the lines have been insanely long so you should take snacks, especially if you're going with children or others who can't wait to eat. There are fast food places near the Boston Common but most are on the other side of the Common away from the festival. The festival has reduced the Fast Pass to $30 (it was $50 when they introduced it last year). This allows you to bypass the main line at a booth, although for popular booths there may still be a line for Fast Pass cardholders. It's well worth it if you're going with a family or group, but not very economical for individuals. Make sure to read carefully - there are restrictions.

See photos & video from 2016 Japan Festival Boston.
See photos from 2015 Japan Festival Boston.
See photos from 2014 Japan Festival in Boston. 

Date & Time
Sunday, April 30, 2017
11am - 6pm

Boston Common at the Beacon & Charles Street corner (near Frog Pond).
See festival map.

How you can help
The festival is not cheap to produce and JREX is crowdfunding with Indiegogo (in past years they have used GoFundMe).

There is also a 21+ benefit concert with pop musician Shinji Harada on May 1st. Tickets are $10 for students, $20 for general admission and $60 for VIP. 

Photography Note
I don't remember if this was on their website last year but I noticed this disclaimer at the bottom of the booth list. The festival is highly photographed by media, the festival organizers, and professional and amateur photographers and last year they used a drone to get footage so it's most likely impossible to avoid being photographed.
**Visitors, stage performers, and others at this festival will take videos, photos, and other media which may be posted online, in print, and in other mediums. It is possible that exhibitors’ booths may be captured in the aforementioned photos, videos, etc. Please be advised that by agreeing to participate in this festival, you are also consenting to being photographed and/or videotaped.**

Japan Festival Boston Tips

The Japan Festival Boston can be a challenging event for people with disabilities. The crowds are enormous, it's not always easy to move around, and while the booths are all set up along paved walkways, some things (food booths, stages) are set up in grassy areas. Booths are often mobbed which can make shopping difficult. While people with disabilities do attend (the Boston Higashi School always has a booth) it may be difficult for people with mobility issues and those who deal with crowd anxiety/phobia or have difficulty with loud noise. While the Boston Common is the largest location the festival has been held at the crowds are still intense. Advice I would offer to anyone, although especially those with disabilities:

  • Even if you stay for all seven hours of the festival you will not be able to do everything. Pick the things you're most interested in seeing/doing and prioritize getting to those booths/workshops/performances. Expect that everything will take longer than you think it will. It took me several hours to walk around and see all the booths last year and I wasn't stopping at all of them. I would not have been able to get food had a friend not given me her Fast Pass.
  • In past locations it has been possible to hear the performances while walking around the festival but I didn't find that to be the case last year. If you want to see/listen to a performance you will need to plan to be in the immediate vicinity of that stage.
  • If you plan to watch performances but aren't able to sit on the ground or stand for long periods, you will need to bring your own chair, although many people stand so it can be difficult to see.
  • Parking under the Boston Common tends to fill up quickly and is expensive so if you can take the T, it's a much better option. If you have to drive, consider making a reservation via a site like Parkopedia or parking in a garage in Chinatown. There is some on-street metered parking that is free on Sundays but it's very difficult to park in that area.
  • Check the weather and dress appropriately. Dress in layers if you plan to stay there all day. If you have a yukata or kimono feel free to wear it.  
  • Pack sunscreen. You may also want to pack a hat.
  • Everyone in your party should have a fully charged cell phone.
  • Pick a meeting time/location away from the main festival area if you get separated from your party. I would also recommend that if you are planning to go with small children that you consider having them carry some kind of ID with your contact info on it. Last year I saw a small child separated from his adults. It appeared that he was too young to know their phone number and may also not have been an English-speaker.
  • Unless you don't mind standing in line for over an hour, bring your own food or buy a $30 Fast Pass. 
  • Pack as large a bottle of water as you can carry.
  • There are portable toilets along Beacon and Charles Streets but if the crowds are dense it may take a while to walk there.
  • Bring cash and make sure you have a lot of small bills. I believe that all the food vendors are cash only. Some of the commercial vendors take credit cards, but not all. 
  • If you plan to do a lot of shopping, bring a bag to carry your purchases. Some vendors will provide bags, but not all do. 

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

The Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival is a very family-friendly community-oriented matsuri with lots of activities for kids that is produced by The Genki Spark and Brookline High School's Japanese Program and sponsored by the Brookline High School PTO and the Japan Society of Boston. Nearly all of the guest artists are returning artists who have performed in past years: Odaiko New England, Mountain River Taiko, Takahashi Minyo Kai, Stuart Paton & Burlington Taiko, and ShinDaiko. There are two new artists this year – sisters Akino Ann & Yoshino Watanabe who play koto. They perform regularly at other music events in the Boston area including the Afternoon Concerts series and the Boston Charity Concert series. They also performed at TEDxBeaconStreet this year and in 2013. See the schedule here.

Ittoku, the popular izakaya in Brighton who was the Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival's first food vendor beginning in 2014, will be back along with Itadaki, Japonaise Bakery, and Hana Japan (who host their own Natsu Matsuri every August). New vendors this year are the Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa's, and local fish market, Sakanaya. The food lines aren't as long as the Japan Festival Boston but if you have young children you should plan ahead. 

See photos from 2016 Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival.
See videos from 2015 Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival.
See photos from 2014 Brookline Sakura Matsuri.

Date & Time
Saturday, May 13, 2017
noon - 4pm

Brookline High School Quad (Rain Location: Schluntz Gym)
115 Greenough Street, Brookline, MA, 02445

Suggested Donation: $5 students, $10-20 families
All proceeds support the BHS Japan Exchange Program ​Scholarship Fund and promotion of the arts

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival Tips

Brookline High School is fully handicap accessible and the courtyard where the festival is held is a small enough space that you can hear all of the performances regardless of where you are (seeing might be harder if you're on the back end of a line or crowd). The crowd ebbs and flows and most people stay for the full four hours although at peak times it could be challenging for people with crowd anxiety/phobia and definitely for those with issues with noise.
  • Parking is very limited so take the Green Line if you can. The closest stop is Brookline Hills on the D Line. If you have to drive, allow extra time to find parking. There is no parking lot - it's all on street parking (non-metered).
  • If you have sensitive hearing, bring earplugs. Taiko drums are LOUD. Hopefully it won't rain but if it does and the event is held in the gym instead of the courtyard, it will be painful. 
  • Check the weather and dress appropriately. Dress in layers if you plan to stay there all afternoon. If you have a yukata or kimono feel free to wear it. 
  • Pack sunscreen. Many parts of the courtyard are not in shade. You may also want to pack a hat. Sadly, not necessary this year. Forecast calls for rain so the matsuri will be indoors.
  • If you have seasonal allergies, medicate. I volunteered at the Tewassa booth a couple of years ago and even though I was medicated I was covered in pollen and itching when I left. There are a lot of trees and other plant life in the courtyard. 
  • The courtyard is concrete so you may want to bring your own chair or a blanket. 
  • The food lines aren't as bad at the Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival as they are at the Japan Festival Boston but there are fewer options. If you are coming with small children or finicky eaters, you should bring snacks. If you come later, there is a chance that food will be sold out. There are no restaurants within close walking distance of Brookline High School.
  • Pack a bottle of water.
  • There is access to bathrooms and water fountains inside Brookline High School.
  • Bring cash and make sure you have small bills. The food vendors are cash only and I believe the few other booths that sell or accept donations are also cash only. 

Disclosure: I would like to note that I am friends with some of the organizers of both of these festivals, however I publicize them because they are the largest Japanese cultural events in the Boston area, not just because my friends organize them. :)

Monday, February 27, 2017

2017 3.11 Events in Boston

If you are aware of a 3.11 event that I have not listed, please post a comment with a link to the event or details if the info isn't on a public webpage. I will update this post if I learn of any other events.

This year is the sixth anniversary of the tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear disaster that happened in Japan on March 11, 2011. Fukushima continues to face challenges in the massive clean up at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant which "the Japanese government estimates will take four decades and cost 8 trillion yen ($70.6 billion)". Some people in Tohoku are still living in "temporary housing". Communities have shrunk due to people moving away for jobs and housing and the likelihood of being able to repopulate grows smaller with every passing year.

Although the world's attention has moved on to other disasters, some groups in Boston continue to be involved in educating the public and supporting Japan through this crisis. If you are interested in learning more, please consider attending one of these events. Events are listed in chronological order.

I'm sorry I didn't get this post up soon enough to help publicize The Japan Society of Boston's event, Research and Reflections on Fukushima Today: Recovery Progress Since the Triple Disaster of 03.11.11, which was held on February 21, 2017.

Update 3/1/17: I just learned that MIT Japanese Tea Ceremony will not hold their annual 3.11 Japan Memorial Charity remembrance and fundraising event this year.

3.11 Memorial Event

Tewassa, a Cambridge-based volunteer group that produces "message quilts" for schools and organizations in the Tōhoku region, will be holding a memorial event.

Date & Time
Saturday, March 4, 2017
4:00 - 6:00pm

GrayMist Studio & Shop
364 Huron Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Public Transit & Parking
GrayMist is accessible by the 72 and 75 buses from Harvard Square. There is free on-street parking along Huron Ave. and neighboring streets.

Children of the Tsunami Screening & Fundraiser for Ashinaga

Children of the Tsunami (watch for free on vimeo)
Directed & written by Dan Reed
2012 | Japan | 59 mins | Documentary  
On March 11th 2011 Japan was hit by the greatest tsunami in a thousand years. Through compelling testimony from 7-10 year-old survivors, this film reveals how the deadly wave and the Fukushima nuclear accident have changed children's lives forever. The story unfolds at two key locations: a primary school where 74 children were killed by the tsunami; and a school close to the Fukushima nuclear plant, attended by children evacuated from the nuclear exclusion zone.

The Tufts Japanese Culture Club's event is a fundraiser to benefit Ashinaga, a Japan-based non-profit that provides financial, educational, and emotional support to children worldwide "who have lost one or both parents as a result of illness, accident/disaster, or suicide, as well as children who have a parent with a disability that prevents them from working". Since 2011, the Tufts JCC* has been very active in fundraising and educating the Tufts community on the ongoing post-3.11 challenges.

Snack Sale & Crane Folding

Stop by the Mayer Campus Center to purchase mochi, cookies and rice crackers! JCC* students will also be folding origami cranes for a senbazuru (one thousand origami cranes) which will be installed later in the Tisch Library.

Date & Time
Thursday, March 9, 2017
noon - 3:00pm

Tufts University
Mayer Campus Center
44 Professors Row, Medford, MA 02155

Children of the Tsunami Film Screening

Date & Time
Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tufts University
Aidekman Arts Center
Alumnae Lounge
40 Talbot Ave., Medford, MA 02155
Directions & Parking

Free, but donations for Ashinaga gratefully accepted.

Voices from the Waves (Nami no Koe) | Shinchimachi

Screening will be followed by Q&A with Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Film Director and Reischauer Institute Resident Fellow.

Moderator: Alexander Zahlten, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Voices from the Waves (Nami no Koe) | Shinchimachi
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi & Ko Sakai
2013 | Japan | 103 mins | Documentary

From 2011 to 2013, RYUSUKE HAMAGUCHI and Ko Sakai conducted a series of interviews with residents in the Tohoku region of northern Japan, an area heavily hit by both the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. Their research resulted in three films which have since come to be known as the Tohoku Trilogy: The Sound of the Waves (Nami no oto 2011), Voices from the Waves (Nami no koe 2013), and Storytellers (Utau hito, 2013). In Voices from the Waves, residents from the region face the camera in close-up view to deliver recollections of the earthquake and tsunami. Centering on the rich regional folk tradition of storytelling, the film explores the experience of discovery in the encounter between speaker and listener. Through Hamaguchi’s lens, Voices from the Waves poignantly showcases how a single event may live a thousand lives through the act of telling and how different voices can render that one event into similar yet unique pieces of storytelling. This interaction between speaker and listener becomes an empowering and transformative process, an affirmation of human resilience, and provides hope for recovery and a return to normalcy in the region. (Screening time: 103 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)

Reischauer Institute Japan Forum special film presentation

Date & Time
Friday, March 10, 2017
4:00 - 6:15pm

Harvard University
Kang Room (S050), Japan Friends of Harvard Concourse, CGIS South Bldg., 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138

トレイン トレイン 


Students from Tohoku University of Art and Design are coming to Boston Children's Museum for the fifth year to mark the anniversary of 3.11. For the third year the students will have an art and friendship exhibit. The public is invited to attend the exhibit opening. The exhibit is open through Monday, September 30, 2017. Children can meet the artists from Japan and engage in a hands-on activity. See photos from 2014 (here and here) when they had fun making monsters. The exhibit is brought to the museum by artist Minatsu Ariga and her “ART THINKING” project team at the university.

Exploring trains as a symbol of determination and kindness carrying HOPE to our Future!
This art exhibition “トレイン トレイン TRAIN TRAIN” invites visitors on an imaginary adventure to our future.

Trains are not quitters. They just keep moving forward every day whether in the rain, in the wind, against the summer heat, or against the winter snow. Trains often remind us of the importance of hard work, patience, tenacity, and willpower.

Trains carry many things and people, and trains help them reach to their destinations. Trains remind us of the importance of kindness, generosity, and compassion for all humanities and the earth we live in.

In this art exhibition, artists use “trains” as their storytellers and welcome us to reflect our lives through exploring those stories. Where is your train going? Between a station and a station, trains connect us together and lead us to our tomorrow with hopes and dreams.... Please also tell us your train stories. What is your train story like? Is it romantic, dynamic, soulful, gentle...?

The artworks in this exhibition are created by the members of the “ART THINKING” project team at Tohoku University of Art & Design in Japan. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami in their hometown in March 2011, they decided to use the special power of ART to make the world a better place and connect with many friends like you! So they bought this exhibition to Boston as their fourth annual international friendship making project.

Our hope is that this exhibition also brings opportunities for the visitors to peek into today’s youth culture and children’s experience in Japan. Visitors are encouraged to make connections and share their own stories. Through this cross-cultural experience in this art exhibition “トレイン トレイン TRAIN TRAIN”, we hope to engage visitors in joyful discovery of learning and foster their appreciation of the world.

Date & Time
Friday, March 10, 2017
6:00 - 8:00pm

Saturday, March 11, 2017
12:00 - 3:00pm

Boston Children's Museum, Japanese House Gallery 
308 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210

Please see the museum's website for admission details.
Please note that "Adults unaccompanied by children must leave proper photo identification at the Admissions Desk. Examples: State Driver’s License or Passport."

Cranes on the Square

Cranes on the Square 2016
This year is the fifth annual Cranes on the Square event organized by local Japanese language teacher Timothy Nagaoka. Volunteers will teach people how to fold origami cranes which will form a temporary public art piece in Copley Square then be collected and delivered to people in the disaster area. See photos from last year's event here.

Date & Time
Sunday, March 12, 2017
11:30am - 4:30pm

Copley Square, Boston, MA 02116

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2017 Day of Remembrance Events in Boston

 San Francisco, California, 1942.
Exclusion Order posted at First and Front Streets directing removal of persons of
Japanese ancestry from the first San Francisco section to be effected by the evacuation.
Dorothea Lange, National Archives Identifier: 536017

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Day of Remembrance, the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the US government to incarcerate Americans and foreign nationals during WWII. The largest DOR event being organized in the Boston area by the New England chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the MIT Center for International Studies is on Saturday. There is also an event at Tufts on Thursday.

If anyone knows of any other DOR events happening later this month, please let me know and I will update this post. You can also submit events to the Never Again Facebook community that was put together by people in the national Japanese American community. The community is public but note that the Events page doesn't seem to be visible if you don't have a Facebook account.

Executive Orders - Past and Present

Please join Tufts Japanese Culture Club and Muslim Student's Association to commemorate Day of Remembrance. Together, we remember the lives affected and lost by Executive Order 9066, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed and authorized the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast during World War II. Through our personal stories of family members interned and Islamophobic violence following 9/11, we strive to illuminate moments in American history in which groups are casted as “enemy alien” and disloyal. We must view today’s Executive Orders against immigration as fully connected to the past.

This evening's event will feature:

- "PILGRIMAGE", a documentary by Tad Nakamura that tells the inspiring story of how an abandoned WWII concentration camp for Japanese Americans has been transformed into a symbol of retrospection and solidarity for people of all ages, races and nationalities in our post 9/11 world.

- PERSONAL STORY SHARING about our families' experiences in internment and following 9/11. Hear from Japanese Culture Club and Muslim Student's Association members, Anna Kimura, Joseph Tsuboi, Chelsea Hayashi, Shaan Shaikh, and Nazifa Sarawat.

Light refreshments will be provided.

Co-sponsored by Tufts University Asian American Center

Date & Time
Thursday, February 23, 2017
8:00 - 9:30pm

Aidekman Arts Center
Alumnae Lounge
40 Talbot Ave., Medford, MA 02155
Directions & Parking

Starr Forum: National Security & Civil Liberties: 1942 & 2017 

(Facebook event page)

The panel will begin with reflections on the 75th anniversary of internment of Japanese Americans, then assess and respond to issues raised by the current wave of Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Invocation: Hoda Elsharkawi, MIT Muslim Chaplain

Moderator: Kenneth Oye, MIT Political Science and NE JACL Co-President

- Paul Watanabe, Director of UMass Institute for Asian American Studies
- Margie Yamamoto, NE JACL Co-President incarcerated as a baby during WWII
- Barbara J. Dougan, Civil Rights Director of Council on American Islamic Relations of Massachusetts
- Nadeem Nazem, Cambridge City Council
- Shannon Al-Wakeel, Executive Director of Muslim Justice League and Massachusetts ACLU Board Member

Refreshments provided.

Sponsors: MIT Center for International Studies; UMass Boston Institute for Asian American Studies; Asian American Journalists Association, New England Chapter; Asian American Resource Workshop; and New England JACL

Date & Time
Saturday, Februrary 25, 2017
2:00 - 4:00pm
Panel will be streamed on the MIT Center for International Studies Facebook page

MIT Media Laboratory
Bartos Theater
20 Ames St., E15-070, Cambridge, MA 02142

Parking & Transportation
Two hour metered street parking is limited due to construction and Cambridge tickets aggressively. There are several nearby parking garages, but all are expensive.

The closest T stop is Kendall/MIT.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How to get your Japanese citizenship back

Photo credit:

I grew up a dual national. I was born in Japan but my mother is an American citizen so she reported my birth abroad (see also: Wikipedia). The United States uses the jus sanguinis – meaning "right of blood" – principle to determine nationality so because my mother was a US citizen, she could apply to have my birth recognized by the US, thus giving me citizenship.

Having spent the majority of my life in the US, when it came time for me to choose a nationality, the obvious choice was to renounce my Japanese citizenship. I was attending college in the US, could no longer speak Japanese fluently and had no plans to ever return to Japan to live. I had also been living under the illusion that I had fully assimilated into American society.

The first time I came to regret my choice was during the 2000 election. Friends with European heritage looked into the possibility of applying for citizenship in their families' homelands and some actually went through with it. But as terrified as I was of living under a Bush presidency, my life was here and my Japanese fluency had only declined since I had renounced my citizenship. I figured that it was an impossible task. Then I thought about it again in 2004 and on and off since then. It's been on my mind ever since Donald Trump became the Republican nominee.

The US and Japan have enjoyed a surprisingly cozy relationship for the past 71 years given the brutal history of WWII. When I read about the Japanese American incarceration and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki I frankly do not understand how Japanese and Japanese Americans are able to embrace America. However, at this point it's difficult to imagine the US-Japan relationship deteriorating any time soon given that the two nations are dependent on one another. But who knows. I don't think that Japanese Americans in the 1940s thought that what happened to them could ever happen.

I used to feel secure in my status as a US citizen but as I have gotten older I have realized that for some Americans, you're only American as long as it's convenient for them. It doesn't matter that my mom's side of the family has been here for more than 100 years – for some people that's not long enough. I also have a Japanese father and the United States is not the land of my birth. The only reason I have US citizenship is due to a legal technicality. While I believe these people represent only a small fraction of Americans all it takes is for a few of the wrong people to be in power.

One of my friends who is Jewish (though not religious) sent me this text earlier today about something her seven-and-a-half-year-old half-Jewish daughter had said: "Did I tell you that [my daughter] said 'I don't want Donald Trump to be president. I don't want to do the Anne Frank thing.'" [She learned about the Holocaust and Anne Frank from BrainPOP]. I asked why her daughter was scared given that they aren't Muslim and my friend said: "She knows that she is Jewish, and she knows he wants to ban people of one religion. And she knows all about the Holocaust. She is afraid of being rounded up. I cried when I assured her that wouldn't happen no matter who wins." Parents in democratic countries should not have to have these conversations with their children.

I never thought that in my lifetime I would see a return to the sort of racist injustice and fearmongering that led to 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans being locked up by the US government for the crime of being Japanese, yet here we are. Earlier this year American-Japanese artist Setsuko Winchester wrote about a conversation she had with a park ranger at Tule Lake in which he told her that they had seen an increase in the number of visitors last year. "The problem he said was that they weren’t coming to uncover this dark part of US history. Rather, they were coming because “they wanted to know how internment worked” — and they were doing so “because they heard Trump and some mayor say it was an example the government might re-think to solve the Muslim-American problem." This story has haunted me ever since. 

With that in mind, I decided it was time to stop wondering and find out what else besides intensive language lessons I would need to reacquire my Japanese citizenship. I called the Consulate-General of Japan in Boston and the staffer I spoke with kindly emailed me some links after our call.

The first step in reacquiring Japanese citizenship seems to be to live in Japan for a minimum of three years (the residency requirement for foreign nationals who do not have a Japanese parent is ten years) as laid out in Article 6 (ii) of the Nationality Act. In order to do that I was told that the relevant visa is the one for "Spouse/child of Japanese national". Although it does seem that in the case of a former Japanese national the Minister of Justice can permit naturalization if you have a domicile in Japan per Article 8 (iii) so I'm not entirely sure if I bought property in Japan if I could bypass the three year residency requirement.

第六条 次の各の一に該当する外国人で現に日本に住所を有するものについては、務大臣は、その者が前条第一第一に掲げる条件を備えないときでも、帰化許可することができる
Article 6 The Minister of Justice may permit naturalization for a foreign national currently having a domicile in Japan who falls under one of the following items even if that person has not met the conditions listed in the preceding Article, paragraph (1), item (i):

二 日本で生まれた者で引き続き三年以上日本に住所若しくは居所を有し、又はその若しくは母(養父母を除く。)が日本で生まれたもの
(ii) A person born in Japan, and continuously having a domicile or residence in Japan for three years or more or whose father or mother (excluding an adoptive parent) was born in Japan;

It seems that the biggest hurdle to reacquiring my Japanese citizenship would be my lack of fluency. At my age and given how complex Japanese is, it feels like it would be nearly impossible but there's that old aphorism: "desperate times call for desperate measures." Renouncing my US citizenship might ultimately be the most difficult part since the bulk of my family is in the US.

Japan has its own problems and their fate is closely tied to the US's but sometimes I feel like if I'm going to live in a country where I'll never be fully accepted would I rather live here or in Japan? It's not an easy question to answer. This election cycle it has felt like the US is regressing, not moving forward. Some would argue that Japan is having similar problems with rising Japanese nationalism and attempts to return to more traditional values but when I hear news about changing attitudes towards Okinawans and gaikokujin and see the incredible aerial footage of mass anti-nuclear, anti-security bill (article), and anti-US military protests it feels like Japan is poised to make some real progress. It could be a grass is greener on the other side of the Atlantic fantasy but at least now I know what my options are.

Disclaimer: Any errors in this piece are due to my own misunderstanding. If you are thinking about returning to Japan and reacquiring your Japanese citizenship please contact your local embassy, consulate, or permanent mission for more information.

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This post has been crossposted at Discover Nikkei, a multi-lingual Nikkei online community. 

From their website: "Discover Nikkei is a community website about Nikkei identity, history and experiences. The goal of this project is to provide an inviting space for the community to share, explore, and connect with each other through diverse Nikkei experiences, culture, and history." Discover Nikkei is coordinated by the Japanese American National Museum and supported by The Nippon Foundation.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

8th Annual Boston Asian American Film Festival Oct 20-23

The 8th annual Boston Asian American Film Festival runs from October 20th to 23rd. This year's festival has films from a Japanese American filmmaker, a Japanese-Brazilian filmmaker, a Japanese animator, and a film about a local Japanese American mental health activist. Check out the other films here.

I'm really excited that Emerson College alum Matthew Hashiguchi's film Good Luck Soup will be screened for free at BAAFF! The film is being co-presented with Emerson's Bright Lights Series. Good Luck Soup is a transmedia documentary. Check out the film's interactive site. This is Matthew's second film at BAAFF. People Aren't All Bad with Yutaka Kobayashi was in the 2012 Shorts Program.

Good Luck Soup

Tuesday, October 18, 2016, 7:00 - 9:00pm (admission is free but you need to RSVP for tickets
Bright Family Screening Room @ The Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111
Film screening will be followed by a Q&A with Matthew.
Directed by Matthew Hashiguchi
2016 | 70 mins | USA | Documentary 

After years of rejecting his Japanese heritage, filmmaker Matthew Hashiguchi sets out on a humorous yet insightful journey to discover if his joyful grandmother and other family members also struggled with their Japanese American identities, just as he did while growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in the Midwest. Along the way, Matthew uncovers the family’s decades-long struggle to assimilate into the Midwest and obtains insightful, yet humorous wisdom from his grandmother on how she overcame racial adversity after leaving the WWII Japanese American Internment Camps.

Shorts: Be True

Saturday, October 22, 2016, 1:30pm (tickets)
Bright Family Screening Room @ The Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111
Followed by Q&A with various filmmakers.

Leandro Tadashi, a Japanese-Brazilian filmmaker, filmed in Brazil. The full film can be seen on Vimeo (click the blue "CC" for subtitles in English, Japanese, Spanish, French and Portuguese!). I emailed with Leandro and learned that his grandmother, Yuriko Miamoto Shimata, plays Bruno's Bá. She also starred in his 2011 short Oyasuminasai. Unfortunately, Leandro won't be able to make it for the Q&A.

Written & directed by Leandro Tadashi
2015 | 14 mins | Brazil | Drama

Tells the story of a little Japanese-Brazilian boy named Bruno, whose life is turned upside down when his "Bá" (from Bāchan, grandma in Japanese) is brought to live in his house.

Shorts: It's Complicated

Sunday, October 23, 2016, 1:00pm (tickets)
Bright Family Screening Room @ The Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111
Followed by Q&A with various filmmakers.

Directed by Kathryn Klingle
2016 | USA | 9 mins | Documentary

"Pata" explores what role chronic depression has played in the life of Pata Suyemoto--teacher, artist, mental health activist.

Asian CineVision has an interesting interview with Masayuki Kusaka, the producer of Harry on the Clouds. The film was originally produced as a music video for the Japanese band, RAM WIRE, with the title 僕らの手には何もないけど (Bokura no te ni wa nani mo naikedo) "Although there is nothing in our hands". They changed the soundtrack and sent it off to film festivals around the world. [Special thanks to Sachiko T for translation help!]

Harry on the Clouds
Directed by Aya Shiroi (城井文)
2016 | Japan | 4 mins | Drama (Animated)

Mother sheep can't wake up because Harry was gone. But Harry is looking his mother from the clouds.

See trailers for 16 films in this year's festival:

Friday, October 7, 2016

Film: East Coast premiere of Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps


Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps

Directed by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong
2014 | 56 mins | Documentary

“Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps” is the full title of this documentary, using historical footage and interviews from artists who were interned to tell the story of how traditional Japanese cultural arts were maintained at a time when the War Relocation Authority (WRA) emphasized the importance of assimilation and Americanization.  Various essays and studies concerning the camps have been published, but have focused on the political and legal aspects of the internment, while hardly mentioning cultural and recreational activities in the camps.  When cultural and recreational activities have been documented, they have focused on American culture, such as baseball and swing music.  This film will be the first major presentation of the existence of traditional music, dance and drama in the camps.  It is possible only because Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong has been searching, researching and collecting for over 20 years information on who these artists were.  She has collected interviews, oral and visual histories, as well as artifacts from the internees and relatives of internees, including teachers, students, the performers, and the incredible artists who made instruments, costumes, and the props needed for a full performance from scraps of wood, toothbrush handles, gunny sacks, paint, and whatever they could scrape up.  Her own family’s history with the camps led her to become a kotoist and teacher of the Japanese koto (13-stringed zither).
Very little is known of the existence of traditional Japanese performance arts in the camps.  The artists Muramoto-Wong has interviewed are all Americans, all born here, but practiced Japanese arts before the war, during, and after the war, because they loved the art.  This made them “social activists” in their own quiet way, continuing the music and dance they loved, helping others to learn and enjoy these arts, and to help draw their attention away from their surroundings, giving them pride and self-esteem.  Their efforts kept Japanese cultural arts alive in our communities today.
We have interviewed 30 artists in the fields of music (koto, nagauta shamisen, shakuhachi, shigin, biwa), dance (buyo, obon) and drama (kabuki) who were interned at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Amache/Granada, Rohwer, Gila River, and Topaz.  We have interviewed Prof. Minako Waseda of Geijutsu Daigaku University of Music and Arts, and Kunitachi College of Music, both universities in Tokyo, whose research thesis, Extraordinary Circumstances, Exceptional Practices: Music in Japanese American Concentration Camps, had written the only scholarly work that had been published on this subject.  We are also interviewing students of these arts in America, some who learned from these artists, and some who are carrying on the tradition in our communities today, and some who have taken this knowledge, and expanded creatively and artistically in various imaginative ways.
Film locations include camps at Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain; locations in Japan, such as Osaka, Kyoto, 3 Tokyo music universities (Tokyo Ongaku Daigaku, Geijutsu Daigaku, Kunitachi College of Music); Cherry Blossom Festivals in San Francisco and Cupertino; San Jose Obon Festival; Chidori Band 59th Anniversary Concert; Japanese American Museum of San Jose; dance studio of Bando Misayasu (aka Mary Arii Mah), and koto studio of Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong.
Film sponsored, in part, by the National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant.

Event Information
Film screening followed by Q&A with creative director Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong and actress Takayo Fischer with koto performance by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong.

Date & Time
Monday, October 24, 2016
3:00 - 6:00pm

UMass Boston
McCormack Hall, Ryan Lounge, Room M-3-721 (3rd floor)
Dorchester, MA 02125

Campus Map
Parking Map 
Detailed parking information
Recommended lots:

  • UMass Boston Bayside Lot (200 Mt. Vernon Street)
  • Morrissey Satellite Lot (75 Morrissey Boulevard) Herb Chambers property next to the Boston Globe building
  • St. Christopher’s Church across from the Bayside Lot


Date & Time
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
7:00 - 9:00pm

Wellesley College
Acorns House (building not on map - head toward the lake, pass Clapp Library and Acorns House is to the right of Harambee House)
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481

Visitors may park at the Davis Parking Facility.


Date & Time
Thursday, October 27, 2016
6:30 - 8:30pm

Brandeis University
Mandel Center for the Humanities, Room G12
415 South Street
Waltham, MA 02453

After 5pm visitors may park anywhere. Tower Lot is closest to the Mandel Center.


Special thanks to Kimi Maeda for making the introductions that allowed us to get Hidden Legacy screened at Brandeis!

About the Creative Director

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong was raised in a musical family whose roots lie in the Chikushi Kai School of kotoists in Japan.   Her mother is a respected head of the Chikushi Kai in the Bay Area, with close ties to her teachers in Japan. Shirley was taught within that tradition, learning and constantly performing the core of traditional pieces shared by all koto groups and also the repertoire particular to the Chikushi Kai.  Importantly, it is a group which is also open to contemporary music for the koto, so that her repertoire encompasses such works as the compositions of Tadao Sawai, Katsutoshi Nagasawa and Shinichi Yuize.  From that spirit of open-mindedness (within tradition), Shirley also pursued her interest in jazz and as it extends to the koto, and improvisation. 

In 1976, Shirley received her “Shihan” degree (instructor’s license) with “Yushusho” (highest) honors from the Chikushi School in Fukuoka, Japan, and her "Dai Shihan" Master’s degree from the same school in 2000 for her mastery of the koto.

A dedicated musician for over 50 years, Shirley strives to involve diverse genres of art and music in her performances.  She teaches private students, and has offered classes in koto music at public schools and at universities, most notably classes at UC Berkeley. Shirley has incorporated storytelling, poetry, hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, European classical, and has arranged world songs from countries such as China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Philippines and so on, for koto, as well as performing and arranging traditional and contemporary Japanese songs, and composing her own koto pieces.   She also is the leader of the world jazz fusion group, the Murasaki Ensemble.

“The koto is an extremely versatile instrument,” says Shirley.  “Though it seems limited and simple in its nature, it’s possible to extract a myriad of textures and sounds through various techniques and even percussive rhythms by incorporating the body of the instrument itself.  The koto is initially easy to play, but it really takes years of practice to be able to produce a good sound.”

Shirley’s koto influences include koto masters Katsuko Chikushi, Kimio Eto, Kazue Sawai, and June Kuramoto. Her jazz influences come from the members of the her jazz group, the Murasaki Ensemble, who are Vince Delgado on percussion, Jeff Massanari on guitar, Matt Eakle on flute, and Alex Baum on bass. 

Because of Shirley’s versatility on the koto, she has performed for many notable people and celebrities, such as: Senator Diane Feinstein, George Lucas/Lucas Films, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Walter Shorenstein, Larry Ellison and Mikael Gorbachev.  She has also performed at many eclectic events from the Fillmore and Union Street Jazz Festivals to the AT&T Golf Tournament hosted by Clint Eastwood, Christina Aguilera, and the Sacramento, Marin, and Fremont symphony orchestras. Shirley has performed at numerous community events, and given of her time to many of them, including annual Cherry Blossom Festivals in San Francisco and Cupertino, many Obon festivals in Oakland, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose, just to name a few.  In 2012, Shirley was honored by the Hokka Nichibei Kai Bunka Japanese American Cultural Association of America by being inducted into their Hall of Fame.

Shirley has been most interested in researching Japanese traditional performance arts in the World War II concentration camps, after finding out that her mother learned to play the koto from koto teachers at Topaz and Tule Lake camps during WWII.  In 2012, she was awarded a National Parks Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant to turn her decades-long research into a documentary film.  The film, “Japanese Traditional Performance Arts in the World War II Internment Camps” completed in 2014, includes interviews and stories from 21 people who experienced Japanese performing arts in the camps, or were taught by teachers from the camps, archival photos as well as actual film footage of performances in the camps.  Hidden Legacy has been screened publicly at numerous community showings, at universities including UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, Tokyo Arts, Waseda, Musashino and Doshisha Universities, and aired on public TV across the United States since its premiere.

Takayo Fischer
Actress Takayo Fischer learned kabuki, buyō, and shamisen while she was interned at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas during WWII. She is best known for her roles as Mistress Chang in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and as Suzanne, the secretary to Brad Pitt's character, Billy, in the film Moneyball. Takayo is active with the renowned Asian American theater organization East West Players in Los Angeles and has acted on Broadway.

Kinko Hatakeda Tsubouchi (Takayo's mother)
making crepe paper tsumami as Takayo looks on.
Rohwer War Relocation Center, Arkansas
Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the
Japanese in our War Relocation Camps

by Allen H. Eaton
Photo credit: Paul Faris
Related links

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Japan Festival Boston & Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival celebrating five years

Boston's two largest Japanese festivals are celebrating five years this year!

Japan Festival Boston & Cosplay Matsuri


Japan Festival Boston (formerly Haru Matsuri and Japan Festival in Boston) is hoping for this year's matsuri to be twice as large as last year's when 40,000 people attended! It looks like they are also expanding the cosplay portion of the event to be a matsuri within a matsuri. Their website has been updated with much more detailed information including team bios of the folks who are organizing the festival. Also check their Facebook page where there's a lot of information posted that isn't on the website.

Weaving at SAORI Worcester booth
2015 Japan Festival Boston
As usual there will be lots of arts organizations and businesses, many of whom have participated in past years, including Tewassa, GrayMist Studio & Shop, SAORI Worcester, Kaji Aso Studio, Chikako Mukai of Chikako Designs, Julie Kohaya of Heavenly Cranes Jewelry, amezaiku artist Candy Miyuki and Japanese calligraphy artist Kokin Manabe, who has been a guest artist at the Boston Children's Museum. There will be at least a couple of businesses selling kimono and yukata (Nomura Kimono Shop from Japan and Ohio Kimono).

The grill @ Oga's booth
2015 Japan Festival Boston
This year's food vendors include a mix of local, NYC-area, and Japan-based businesses. Note that lines are always insanely long so you should take snacks, especially if you have children. Last year some people ended up going to fast food places near the Boston Common because it was easier than standing in line. One of their GoFundMe perks this year is a $50 fast pass that you can use at some of the food booths, but it's unclear how that's going to work. Issues with food lines have unfortunately been a recurring problem for the festival. The food always looks oishii but I've rarely been able to eat at the food booths since I haven't had time to stand in line.

See photos from 2015 Japan Festival Boston.
See photos from 2014 Japan Festival in Boston. 

Date & Time
Sunday, April 24, 2016
11am - 6pm

Boston Common at the Beacon & Charles Street corner (near Frog Pond).
See festival map.

How you can help
The festival is not cheap to produce and JREX is crowdfunding with GoFundMe again. One of the rewards is a $75 yukata rental.

They are also seeking volunteers.

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival


The Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival (formerly Brookline Sakura Matsuri) is also celebrating five years. This very family-friendly matsuri with lots of activities for kids is produced by The Genki Spark (also in their fifth year) and Brookline High School's Japanese Program. The festival has grown every year and while much smaller than the Japan Festival Boston, has a great community vibe and lots of taiko from The Genki Spark and guest artists from around New England: Odaiko New England, Takahashi Minyo Kai, ShinDaiko, Mountain River Taiko, and Stuart Paton & Burlington Taiko. Last year over 1,300 festivalgoers came from all over New England and as far away as Canada.

Food vendors this year are Ittoku, who has been at the festival since they added food vendors in 2014, Itadaki, Japonaise Bakery, and Hana Japan (who host their own Natsu Matsuri every August). The food lines aren't as long as the Japan Festival Boston but if you have young children you should plan ahead. There are no restaurants within walking distance of the high school.

See videos from 2015 Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival.
See photos from 2014 Brookline Sakura Matsuri.

Date & Time
Saturday, April 30, 2016
noon - 4pm

Brookline High School Quad (Rain Location: Schluntz Gym)
115 Greenough Street, Brookline, MA, 02445

Suggested Donation: $5/students, $10-20 families
All proceeds support the BHS Japan Exchange Program ​Scholarship Fund and promotion of the arts

Disclosure: I would like to note that I am friends with some of the organizers of both of these festivals, however, I publicize them because they are the largest Japanese cultural events in the Boston area, not just because my friends organize them. :)