Tuesday, November 17, 2015

G Yamazawa in Mass. this week!

"Dear Grandma" at the National Poetry Slam 2014 Semi-Finals

The awesome wordsmith, poet and emcee G Yamazawa, will be in Massachusetts this week with two shows!

Nisei George Masao Yamazawa, Jr. hails from Durham, North Carolina and is currently based in Washington, DC Los Angeles (11/20/15: oops, he just moved). Over the past six years he's won a slew of awards and has performed everywhere from open mic nights to local and national poetry slams to the Sundance Film Festival and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. G has also worked as a Teaching Artist Poet with non-profit Split This Rock, facilitating writing and performance workshops for inner city youth in the DC public school system. He doesn't get to the Northeast often so this is a rare chance to see him perform here. Both shows are free and open to the public.

Date & Time
Thursday, November 19, 2015

UMass Dartmouth
Woodland Commons, 285 Old Westport Rd, North Dartmouth, MA 02747


Date & Time
Friday, November 20, 2015

Location Mount Ida College
Campus Center Theater, 777 Dedham Street, Newton, MA 02459
Update 11/18/15: I'm told by a Mount Ida student that there is lots of free parking on campus.


The shows are listed here but there don't seem to be any details on the web. Info was provided by G on Twitter. No details on parking. Hope some folks can make it!

"Elementary" at the National Poetry Slam 2014 Finals

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Shino Takahashi photography special to benefit Tewassa

I just heard that local photographer and friend of Tewassa, Shino Takahashi, is generously donating 40% of proceeds from her holiday portrait special to Tewassa. If you haven't gotten your holiday cards together please consider booking with her! Read more about why she's doing this over at her blog.

For the past few years, Hana Japan, which is owned by Shino's family, has hosted a Natsu Matsuri that Tewassa and The Genki Spark have participated in. Hana Japan and Shino are also among just a few places where you can get kitsuke (dressing up in kimono) photos taken in the Boston area.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Japanese art exhibits at Harvard

Update 11/23/15: The teamLab exhibit has been extended through Saturday, December 19, 2015!

There are currently two very different Japanese art exhibits at Harvard that folks should check out. Both are free and open to the public.

One is Dr. David Odo's From Artistry to Ethnography in Early Japanese Photographs. I thought I missed this exhibit because it was originally scheduled through September 27th but the next exhibit fell through so Dr. Odo's exhibit was extended. It is located on the lower level of the CGIS South building which houses the Harvard University Asia Center and the The Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, co-sponsors of the exhibit along with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University. Make sure to continue around the corner at the back of the building. The exhibit is spread out over much of the lower level. Two copies of Dr. Odo's book The Journey of “A Good Type”: From Artistry to Ethnography in Early Japanese Photographs are also available to browse near the stairs. The Concourse is home to rotating exhibits. In the past they have used it to display a traditional Japanese tea house, part of an exhibit on the "tools, traditions, techniques, and woods of traditional Japanese carpentry."

When: Through Tuesday, January 5, 2016, Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm (although I was told the building is actually open from 7am - 7pm)
Location: Japan Friends of Harvard Concourse, CGIS South, Lower Level, 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138

The other exhibit is teamLab at Radcliffe: What a Loving and Beautiful World, an interactive exhibit by Japanese creative collective teamLab. Note that this is only open until mid-November.

When: Through Saturday, November 14, 2015 Extended through December 19, 2015, Monday - Saturday, noon - 5pm (they will be open on Veterans Day; closed 11/26-27 for Thanksgiving)
Location: Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery, Byerly Hall, 8 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

BAAFF is here!

The 7th annual Boston Asian American Film Festival starts this Thursday, October 22nd. It looks like there are only two films at this year's festival featuring Japanese American stories. Check out the other films here!


Shorts: Home in America

Six short films followed by Q&A with ​Directors Lucy Craft and Kathryn Tolbert and the director and producers of one of the other films.

Sunday, October 25, 2015, 1:00PM (tickets)
Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides
Directed by Lucy Craft, Kathryn Tolbert and Karen Kasmauski (article)
2015 | 26 mins | Documentary

Despite lingering wartime enmity, tens of thousands of Japanese wives -- the biggest influx of Asian women in U.S. history -- crossed the Pacific. They began new lives in difficult and to them mysterious circumstances, scattered across the country in places where they were often the first Japanese ever seen. What was it like to abandon family, friends and country, and marry a former enemy? Even for those whose choice of spouse proved to be a tragic mistake, there was no turning back. Many in Japan viewed them as social outcasts and even today the words "war bride" in Japanese carry such a stigma -- of bar girls, even prostitution --  that people don't like to say them. Now these women are in their 80s. This is their story, of lives shaped by one irrevocable decision.


Off the Menu: Asian America

Sunday, October 25, 2015, 3:00PM (tickets)
Bright Family Screening Room @ The Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111
Directed by Grace Lee
2015 | 56 mins | Documentary

Off the Menu: Asian America is an exploration of food in changing communities, families, traditions, and faiths. In the one-hour documentary, Lee travels from Houston, Texas to New York’s Lower East Side, from Oak Creek, Wisconsin to Oahu, Hawaii seeking stories that reflect an evolving Asian Pacific America and the role food plays in peoples’ lives.

“We wanted to find unexpected stories that embodied the Asian American experience,” Lee said. “Asian America is already such a vast, complex, and contested idea. Focusing on food was a way to explore the deeper connections of culture, family, and ideas of authenticity and adaptation that link us all.”

Off the Menu features the story of sansei Glen Yoshiaki Gondo who is known as "the sushi king of Texas".

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Old Japan to close by January

Courtesy of Old Japan

Yesterday one of my friends told me that Old Japan in South End would be closing soon. I called today and confirmed this with Amie Belobrow who co-owns the shop with her husband Shinroku Ohashi. I believe that Old Japan is one of only two exclusively Japanese gift shops in the Boston area and they are the only one with a focus on vintage and antique goods. (The other shop, Tokai in Porter Square, sells mostly modern goods.) Amie-san said that they are being forced to close because their building has been sold and the new landlord wants double their current rent which they cannot afford. She said all of the other tenants have left.

Old Japan has been in business at their current location since 2009. Prior to that they had shops first in New York City from 1990 to 2006 and then for a few years in the Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts. They were forced to leave NYC due to gentrification and rising rents, so it's sad to see them forced out of the South End for the same reason. We've had a number of other Japanese-owned businesses close in recent years, including Old Japan's former neighbor, Yakitori Zai.

They will definitely be open through Christmas and plan to have some sales in December on some of their larger antiques. Beginning in January everything in the store will be highly discounted. They will need to be out of the space by January 30th.

Amie-san said they will continue their small online shop though it offers only a fraction of the goods they have in the store. People have asked if they would reopen in a new location but she said that the reality is that they cannot afford the rent anywhere given their small margins. On their website she writes that the shop has been "a labor of love for both of us since then, and we can’t imagine doing anything else!"

You can visit Old Japan at 24 Union Park Street, Boston, MA 02118. Please note that they don't have regular hours so you should call ahead to find out when they will be open. I wish Amie-san and Roku-san the best as they plan their future.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy Anniversary to The Genki Spark!

This is a long overdue post about The Genki Spark! (Sorry Karen!)

The Genki Spark was founded in 2010, by sansei Chinese/Japanese American Karen Young, who was also a founding member of Odaiko New England. They are the first and only all-Asian all-female taiko performance troupe in the United States. This year they're celebrating their 5th anniversary! On their website they describe themselves as "a multi-generational, pan-Asian women's arts and advocacy organization that uses Japanese taiko drumming, personal stories, and creativity to build community, develop leadership, and advocate respect for all." They are a "fiscally sponsored project of AARW".

Karen Young and Kay Fukumoto at Great Grandfather's Drum screening, June 28, 2013

Initially they performed mainly in New England, but they have become such a big deal that they were invited to the UK Taiko Festival in Exeter earlier this year and have also performed around the US at conferences, schools, and taiko events. They perform at and host a lot of community events in the Boston area and are active in educating people about the WWII incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans. They have gone on the Tule Lake Pilgrimage twice and hosted events to talk about what it was like for them to attend as Japanese Americans, Japanese, and other women in the Asian diaspora. For the past four years they have been co-hosting the Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival, a mid-sized family-friendly matsuri, with Brookline High School and they also participate in Hana Japan's annual Natsu Matsuri.

Obon dance at 2015 Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

In addition to performing, The Genki Spark offers public taiko workshops for beginners. I took one of these workshops a couple of years ago. Actual taiko drums are very expensive, so they had about half chu daiko (pictured below) and half gomi daiko (drums made from trash cans which you can make at home). Class was taught by Karen, who has been playing for over 20 years. A previous version of Karen's bio referred to her as a "taiko cheerleader" which you can definitely see when she talks about taiko. Karen was a patient and enthusiastic sensei and coach. After introductions and a brief warm up, which had me flashing back to my days in nihongo gakko (Japanese Saturday school) when we had to do calisthenics, Karen led us through the basics of how to hit the chu daiko and gomi daiko with our bachi while shouting (kiai). With 11 students beating on drums in a small dance studio it got very loud, so earplugs were provided.

At the end of class we all got to choose from The Genki Spark's epic pin collection! Would highly recommend the workshop to everyone! It makes a great outing with friends. All genders and ages welcome, no musical experience necessary, and it's quite a workout. I was sore for days! (After class, my friends and I had dinner around the corner at Shiki. Perfect way to cap off an evening of taiko!)

Info table at Great Grandfather's Drum screening

Like many other women of Asian descent who perform taiko, the women of The Genki Spark have come to taiko because it's pretty much the opposite of what you're taught about how you should behave as an Asian woman. It's loud – both the drumming and the shouting, involves strength, and is sweaty work. It's the opposite of proper, but it's gorgeous. In Japan taiko has historically been the exclusive domain of men although that has been changing over the past 30 years. In the United States, taiko groups are often mixed gender and more focused on community and were one of the ways Japanese Americans reclaimed Japanese culture after WWII.

2014 Brookline Sakura Matsuri Festival

The Genki Spark is currently in their annual recruitment period for new members. Their second four week trial class starts this Sunday, October 18th and the third trial class starts Sunday, November 15th. First class is free! After that there's a one to three month intensive training program and after that you can apply for membership. If you think you'd be interested in joining, you should sign up! Group membership is open to anyone who self-identifies as female and Asian.

Audience tries taiko at Hana Japan's Natsu Matsuri, August 18, 2013

I don't get to as many Genk Spark events as I'd like to but I've enjoyed every one that I've attended. I love that they are a multigenerational group. Their current age range is 17 to 60. I feel like in modern society we spend far too much time primarily with people our own age. They do an incredible job of promoting community everywhere they go. Check out their YouTube channel to see video profiles of some of their members.

Their 5th anniversary celebration and fundraiser is this Saturday at EMW. Doors open at 5pm with light refreshments. At 6pm they will be screening Tufts alumna Misako Ono's documentary about the group, followed by a discussion and cake! Hope some of you can make it!

Members of The Genki Spark at Hana Japan's Natsu Matsuri, August 18, 2013

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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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Hiroshima Panels @ BU's Stone Gallery until Sunday

Sara June in Peacock at Boston University's Stone Gallery

Last Thursday I went to see Lord and June perform their work Peacock at Boston University's Stone Gallery where six of Iri and Toshi Maruki's fifteen Hiroshima Panels (原爆の図) are currently on display as part of an exhibit titled A Call for Peace. The exhibit is only open through this coming Sunday, October 18th. I would encourage people to stop by if you have a chance. They are worth seeing in person.

Max Lord in Peacock at Boston University's Stone Gallery

Peacock uses Butoh, a Japanese performance art that "arose in 1959 through collaborations between its two key founders Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo". I don't think I've ever seen a Butoh performance before and didn't know that's what it was until my friend told me. Given that BU Today had called the piece an homage to the Marukis' work, I was expecting something eerie. From the description of the work on Lord and June's site: "The originator of Butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, used Butoh-fu as a way to stimulate his dancers' movements and their relationship to space through the use of evocative text and imagery. As in the Hiroshima panels, Hijikata used grotesque form to translate states of unconsciousness into consciousness."

Along with the panels there are a few artifacts that survived the bombing (on loan from the Hiroshima Peace Museum Memorial Museum) as well as an exhibit from Mayors for Peace, an international organization founded in 1982 by Takeshi Araki, who was the mayor of Hiroshima at the time and also a hibakusha (survivor of the atomic bombings of Japan). The exhibit includes an overview of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a brief history of nuclear weapons development, and an appeal to the public to call on our leaders for disarmament. This part of the exhibit is located in The Annex, a small room outside of the main gallery.

Artifacts that survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

It opens with an introduction from the current mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kazumi Matsui and Tomihisa Taue. It's interesting to see mayors working as anti-nuclear weapons activists. This is a role that every mayor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has undertaken since at least the 1960s. One of my American friends went to the Hiroshima Peace Museum Memorial Museum in the 1990s (I've never been) and he told me he was really struck by the protest letters that mayors of Hiroshima have been sending to countries around the world since 1968 every time there is a new nuclear test. These letters are printed on plates that are affixed to pillars. Some were so recent that the plates weren't ready yet so they had taped paper copies to the wall. It really drives home the point that the museum isn't just a warehouse of history but that we're at risk every day of repeating Hiroshima and Nagasaki every day.

If you can't make it to the gallery I have some photos of the exhibit and video from the performance, but seeing the photos won't have the same impact as going to the gallery in person. Please be warned that some of the photos and artwork from the Mayors of Peace exhibit are extremely graphic (they included dead bodies and the mutilated bodies of survivors). This is the stuff that's omitted from or glossed over in US history classes. Note that the article in BU Today lists different hours than are listed on the BU Art Galleries website which says that the Stone Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5pm, except for Thursday when it is open until 8pm. I wasn't able to confirm their hours because they are closed on Mondays. The Stone Gallery is free and open to the public.

Petition X, 1955

Thanks to the attendee at the AARW/NAPAWF Kimono Wednesdays panel who mentioned the exhibit during the Q&A. I'm not aware of any publicity being done to the local Japanese and Japanese American communities so I might not have heard about it otherwise.

Update 10/14/15: I spoke with Joshua Buckno, the Managing Director of the BU Art Galleries today and found out that they did reach out to some local Japanese groups and academic departments as well as internal student groups and departments. It's not clear how much those organizations did to promote this exhibit and related events. It wouldn't surprise me if some found it too political, although it's also a busy time of year for anyone in academia.

I asked how A Call to Peace came to BU. Someone on BU's faculty knew the show was touring and suggested it. The BU Art Galleries try to make sure that their exhibitions have academic value for BU and contacted the Department of History of Art & Architecture and the Center for the Study of Asia who were both interested because of the historical and academic relevance.

  • Videos & photos from Peacock
  • Photos from A Call to Peace: The Hiroshima Panels and artifacts
  • Photos from A Call to Peace: Mayors for Peace exhibit

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