Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Local Nisei veteran Sus Ito to appear in Rose Parade

Sus Ito and George Takei
The New England JACL told us a few days ago that one of our members, 95-year-old Sus Ito, will be appearing in the Rose Parade on a "Go For Broke" float sponsored by the City of Alhambra in collaboration with the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce and the Go For Broke National Education Center. He'll join Mayor Gary Yamauchi and his wife, Linda, and other 442nd and 100th Infantry Battalion veterans. The 442nd was the only all Japanese American regiment in the US army during WWII and the most decorated. "Go For Broke," Hawaiian Pidgin gambling slang for wagering it all, was their motto.

Sus has had a busy year. In February, he was among a group of seven 442nd veterans who met President Obama (video below) and in November, he met George Takei at the Somerville Theater.

Within the local Japanese American community, Sus is known for his special spam musubi! You can read about his long career and many accomplishments at his Wikipedia page and in this Harvard Crimson piece.

If you're in the Boston area, you can watch the Rose Parade on WCVB beginning at 11am. The JACL said the Go For Broke float will be third in the parade line up.

Happy New Year!

Photo credit: New England JACL

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

BAAFF bringing George Takei to Somerville! + $5 discount code!

The 6th annual Boston Asian American Film Festival is running right now and they have their most high profile Japanese American guest coming next week - George Takei! I didn't get to see it in the spring at the Boston LGBT Film Festival so I'm really excited that the BAAFF decided to include To Be Takei in this year's festival. The BAAFF has kindly offered a discount code for Japanese-American in Boston readers (see below).

To Be Takei

Monday, November 3, 2014, 7:00PM
Somerville Theatre @ 55 Davis Square, Somerville, MA 02144
Tickets: $25 (+ $1.50 transaction charge) in advance, $30 at the door (though they are likely to sell out)
Use discount code BAAFFROCKS for $5 off! (enter on second screen before you check out)
Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot
2014 | 94 mins | Documentary
George Takei was always searching for the perfect role - only to find it within himself.

Jennifer Kroot's TO BE TAKEI follows Takei and his husband Brad, capturing their day-to-day as they prepare for Takei’s dream project, ALLEGIANCE, a musical based on his harrowing childhood experiences inside a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. Intertwined with this narrative is a look into Takei's life history, from his rise to fame as helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the iconic television series, STAR TREK, to his advocacy for marriage equality and civil rights across the United States. What emerges is a portrait of an outspoken activist who utilizes wit, whimsy, grace and humor to bring attention to the sorrows of his past and the joys of love and creativity in his present.

Featuring interviews with STAR TREK’s William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig, plus journalist Dan Savage and radio host Howard Stern, TO BE TAKEI shows Takei as he's never been seen before.

Followed by Q&A with George Takei

Co-presented by QAPA, the New England JACL, and the Boston LGBT Film Festival.

Allegiance Original Cast Mini-Album Free Today!

I'm watching a special event with George Takei promoting his upcoming musical, Allegiance, about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII. They've made a mini-album available for free on Google Play today! (Even though it's free, Google Play requires a credit card - mine wasn't current and it wouldn't let me download until I updated it. :( )

Also, I've been meaning to post that the Boston Asian American Film Festival will be screening To Be Takei next Monday at the Somerville Theater and George will be there! Discount code to follow in another post.

Friday, August 15, 2014

US Commission on Civil Rights is now one-fourth Japanese

In conversations about racism in the US, the narrative tends to focus exclusively on whites and blacks. Asian Americans are often completely absent from the narrative and even from any conversation about race issues in the US. So I was surprised to see this tweet from Michael Yaki today about the US Commission on Civil Right's letter to the DOJ re: Ferguson.

I looked up Michael Yaki and found out he is one of two Japanese American commissioners on the US Commission on Civil Rights. There are only eight commissioners so Japanese Americans make up one-fourth of the Commission. Yaki is hapa - he is also of Chinese and native Hawaiian descent and is yonsei on his father's side. Karen Narasaki (twin sister of actor/playwright Ken Narasaki) was just appointed by President Obama last month (note: she isn't listed on the Commission's website yet). Narasaki is also yonsei on her father's side (Wikipedia mistakenly identifies her dad as nisei). Both of their fathers were incarcerated by the US government during WWII in spite of being third generation US citizens, yet both men ended up working for the government Narasaki's father served in the 442nd and Yaki's father served for 30 years in the Foreign Service. Their families' experiences as both victims of US government-sanctioned racism and employees of the government played an important role in Yaki and Narasaki becoming involved with civil rights issues.

Further reading:

If you don't know about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, you may find my introductory post helpful.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sea of Trees seeking Japanese extras for filming in Massachusetts

Ken Watanabe at Inception premiere Photo credit: Ninha Morandini

Just got an email from a friend that a film starring Ken Watanabe is seeking Japanese extras, male & female 18+. I was surprised that a film needing Japanese extras would be filming in Massachuesetts so I did some poking around and found out Gus Van Sant's new film Sea of Trees started filming last month in Foxborough. The film is about an American man (played by Matthew McConaughey) who travels to Aokigahara, a forest at the base of Mount Fuji also known as Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees, to commit suicide. (Aokigahara is one of Japan's most popular suicide locations.) There he befriends a Japanese man (played by Watanabe) and "instead of killing themselves, the duo embark on a reflective journey through the forest together."(Hollywood Reporter) The F. Gilbert Hills State Forest will stand in for Aokigahara.

The film is expected to be released next year. Should be interesting to see how it does in the US and Japan. Japan's suicide numbers have been described as epidemic (nearly twice as many as the US - see Wikipedia) though they have been declining since 2010 following the Japanese government's increased efforts to reduce their suicide rate.

Encore screenings of A2-B-C @ Newburyport Documentary Film Festival

Last year some I went to see A2-B-C at the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival with some Tewassa members. We just heard from filmmaker Ian Ash that they've decided to show the film twice this year. The film raises questions about whether the Japanese government and medical community are being open and transparent regarding the health of citizens, especially children, following the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Ash doesn't have any answers, but felt it was important to help these families tell their stories. Newburyport is a little out of the way for most people but the film is definitely worth seeing.

A2-B-C @ Newburyport Documentary Film Festival
Running time: 70 minutes
Followed by audience discussion

"Synopsis: Eighteen months after the nuclear meltdown, children in Fukushima are suffering from severe nose bleeds and are developing skin rashes and thyroid cysts and nodules. Citing a lack of transparency in the official medical testing of their children and the ineffectiveness of the decontamination of their homes and schools, the childrens mothers take radiation monitoring into their own hands."

Dates & Times
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Sunday, September 7, 2014

$8 at the door. No advance sales.

This info is not up on their website yet but there is a Facebook event.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

69th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki

The ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall Source: U.S. National Archives

This Wednesday and Saturday mark the 69th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Massachusetts Peace Action is holding events this week to mark the anniversaries. Students from Showa will perform (dance and taiko) at Wednesday's Boston Remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Moving from Violence to Unity event. Video from last year is here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 New England Summer Festivals

Sorry, I completely forgot I needed to write this post!

The 31st Annual Black Ships Festival, is happening in Newport, Rhode Island this weekend. It began today and runs through Sunday. Check their website for details. The festival commemorates the history of kurofune, Western ships that opened up trade with Japan. Rhode Island might seem like an odd location for such a festival but Newport is the birthplace of Commodore Matthew Perry who negotiated the Kanagawa Treaty, the first treaty between the US and Japan.

Next month on Sunday, August 24, 2014, Hana Japan Restaurant in Newburyport, Massachusetts will host their fourth annual Natsu Matsuri (summer festival). Unfortunately, details aren't up on their website or Facebook yet but it's definitely happening. The Genki Spark announced in their newsletter that they will be there again and Tewassa will also be there. The Natsu Matsui is small and family-friendly and includes games, dancing, taiko, and wonderful food. Photos from last year's matsuri. I will update this post when I have the hours. Based on previous years I'd guess it will be in the early afternoon.

Update 8/11/14: Details have been posted to their blog. Matsuri will be 11am - 3pm. Admission is free but there will be a charge for games and food.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Define American

I've been meaning to write something to answer Define American's call for stories. In light of founder Jose Antonio Vargas's arrest yesterday I thought now would be a good time. Jose was detained by the US government when he tried to board a flight to California at the McAllen-Miller International Airport in Texas, a few miles from the US-Mexico border. Due to its proximity to the border, people flying out of McAllen are screened by Border Patrol agents in addition to the TSA, something which is not mentioned on the airport's website or CBP's website. Jose said he was unaware before he arrived in Texas that he would have to pass a Border Patrol screening in order to get to another part of the US.

Jose has been living in the US for the past 21 years since his grandfather brought him here illegally from the Philippines at the age of 12. The United States is his home. He feels and believes that he is an American, but he has no papers to back that up and he has no reasonable path to citizenship available to him because he's too old (by four months) to qualify for citizenship under the DREAM Act. Jose was only held for a few hours before being released and it's unclear if he'll be deported when he appears in court. The media is speculating that he won't be deported since he's not the sort of person who is a high priority for deportation. (See his first post-arrest interview with ABC.)

If you need a primer on how our legal immigration system works, Reason magazine laid it out in a simple one page chart back in 2008. To learn more about US Border Patrol checkpoints, see the AP's story, Answers About Immigration Checkpoints.


My mom's side of the family has been here for over 100 years. Her parents emigrated to Hawaii from Okinawa when it was still a territory. My grandfather came over with his dad at age 14 in 1912 and my grandmother followed as a picture bride ten years later at age 16, sailing on the SS Tenyo Maru. Although my grandparents lived and toiled in Hawaii for decades and had 10 children there, they were not eligible for US citizenship until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (also known as the McCarran-Walter Act) repealed racist laws that had denied citizenship to Asian and other non-white immigrants.

Although I was born in Japan, I have been legally American since birth. How did I manage that? By having the sheer luck to be born to a woman with American citizenship. My mom reported my birth abroad and voilà I was a US citizen. I held dual US-Japanese citizenship until age 20 (the age of majority in Japan). At that point my mom and I struggled our way through the paperwork at the Japanese consulate in New York to renounce my citizenship (my dad wasn’t available to come with us). A college friend with dual US-Australian citizenship told me I was crazy for giving up my citizenship since there were places I would be able to travel more easily under a Japanese passport. This was before 9/11 and I didn’t give it any thought. I had to give up one or the other because Japan doesn't allow dual citizenship* for adults and since I could barely read and write Japanese at that point and had no plans to ever move back it seemed like the only sensible thing to do. So at age 20, I became solely a US citizen. But did that make me more American?

When I was younger, I struggled to fit in everywhere. At American school I was the Asian kid in a predominantly white school who brought weird, funny-smelling lunches (onigiri, spam okazu) in plastic boxes (bento) while my classmates were eating sandwiches out of plastic bags. I eventually convinced my mom to send me to school with Wonder Bread and Oscar Meyer baloney sandwiches so I wouldn't have to endure taunting over my lunches. Since I learned to speak English from a native speaker and came here at a young enough age I never had an accent. At American school I was an excellent student in most subjects. I loved learning even though I didn't love my bullying classmates.

On the other hand, at Japanese school, I may have looked similar to the other kids (though not quite the same since most of them were not half Okinawan like me) but since my parents chose to speak English at home my Japanese comprehension got worse over time and I struggled to understand my classmates and teachers. Six and a half days of the week I was surrounded by English and for a torturous Saturday morning, I was immersed in Japanese and expected to learn. My dad helped me with my homework but towards the end it was always a fight and I cried a lot because I didn’t see why I should have to learn Japanese if we were living here and not planning to go back. I hated learning and hated my bullying classmates. My parents let me drop out after 6th grade.

I spent much of my life believing that because:
  • I’d been raised in the US…
  • spoke unaccented flawless English…
  • had a document that declared me American…
  • and had white American friends...
...that I was American.

However, I always identified somewhat with my Japanese origins. Although I had one parent who was a native English speaker, I had another parent who was not. Every time my dad opened his mouth and spoke heavily accented, grammatically incorrect English or yelled, "Baka!" in Japanese I was reminded that I’m not from here.** When my paternal grandparents were still alive I wrote letters to them in my other native tongue. I loved going to shop at the Sanrio store after Japanese school and picking up treats at the Japanese grocery store. I loved it when I received origami paper from family and family friends and would spend hours making models. I loved it when we went out for Japanese food or when we had my favorite Japanese dishes for dinner. I loved eating onigiri on road trips. I loved the custom of omiyage - what kid wouldn’t like getting presents all year long? Food, arts, and toys were the primary ways through which I connected with being Japanese.

It wasn’t until I finally connected with the Japanese community in Boston a few years ago and started seeing a Japanese therapist that I realized that much of my discomfort in my 20s and some of my difficulties with my white friends and partners had to do with the fact that I am NOT American. Of course, I’m not Japanese either. I’m painfully aware of that every time I struggle to understand when people are speaking to me in Japanese and I have to ask red-faced if they can switch to English instead, when I wonder if I’m using the proper tense or the appropriately polite form of a word, when I think I’m not bowing low enough or slurping my noodles loudly enough, and when I can’t even read my own native tongue.

It’s a rare occurrence, but on occasion when I’ve been cranky or haven’t liked the way I’m being interrogated about my origin by a total stranger, I’ve lied and said I was born in the US, as though somehow by claiming an American birth, it makes me more American. Some Asian Americans don’t like to be called "Asian American" or "[insert ethnicity here] American". Some think we should be called American Japanese because that would emphasize our American-ness instead of the country of our ancestors. Others just want to be called American, just like white European descendants. I always told people I was Japanese-American because that's what my mom said I should tell people, but I've stuck with it, including the hyphen, which gets some Asian Americans upset, because I feel like it’s the most accurate representation of my dual identity as someone who was born in Japan, is ethnically and culturally Japanese, but who holds US citizenship and is also culturally American. I may have lost my other native language skills and my Japanese citizenship but Japan will always be in my blood, my heart, and my taste buds. If that makes me less American, oh well. I can't change who I am and I've finally stopped pretending that I can.

As a legal immigrant I’ve been free to embrace as much or as little of my Japanese identity as I've wanted to because legally I have nothing to prove. When I was younger I bought into the Japanese American belief that we must assimilate because what child doesn't want to fit in with everyone around them? However, now that I'm older I see that's not entirely possible for me, nor is it necessary. I couldn't have written this blog 10 years ago since I was still too busy trying to fit in with my friends and their interests instead of asking myself, "What am I interested in?" I suppose it's lucky for me that Japanese food and pop culture are so trendy now so I'm no longer that kid who eats weird, strange-smelling food. I wasn't comfortable with myself until I accepted that I will never be fully American by some standards nor do I want to be. Without my Japanese parts, I wouldn't be me.

We rarely see images of people like Jose (i.e.: professional, not Latino) being taken away by authorities for immigration violations. When someone says “illegal alien” what comes to mind? Probably something like Mexicans crossing the border at night or perhaps other Latinos from Central and South America - the sorts of folks you see working as custodians and food service workers. While Latinos do make up the majority of the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the US, it's not as though they're alone. Unauthorized Asian immigrants are estimated to be around 11% of the undocumented population. Given the focus on Latinos you might have missed that Asians were the fastest-growing racial group in the US in 2012. Sixty percent of that growth was the result of immigration, some legal, some illegal.

After I wrote about Documented, I heard from some Japanese people that they know undocumented Japanese living in the US. There's this notion that since Japan is a polite society and its' citizens are very law-abiding that all Japanese immigrants must come here legally. It's not true though. It's also not true that we don't have a history of illegal immigration. We do, but it's something most Japanese Americans don't want to admit. A few months ago I heard Dr. Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston, speak in Newton and was surprised when he mentioned that his dad had come to the US as an undocumented immigrant. Rather than be ashamed of his dad's choice, he sees it as an act of civil disobedience at a time when the US was restricting Asian immigration for racist reasons. I wish more Japanese American families would share these stories.

Last summer the JACL National Council voted 72-0 to pass a resolution calling for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. It's great to see them involved with immigration reform but I feel like it would have been more compelling if it had been accompanied by personal stories of undocumented Japanese immigrants — current or past. I'm sure that current numbers of undocumented Japanese in the US are probably a very small fraction of the total undocumented population, but their stories matter.

The vast majority of Americans would not be here had our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or other ancestors not come to the US. Without the contribution of immigrants, both legal and illegal, the United States as we know it would not exist. We have to acknowledge that this country is a country built by immigrants and that's probably our greatest strength.

* I’ve since found out that I have a number of friends with dual US-Japanese citizenship who simply didn’t renounce citizenship for one country. The Japanese government doesn't seem to mind or do anything about it if you don't mention to them that you kept your other country's citizenship.

** I felt so ashamed the first time I heard G Yamazawa’s piece about his father in which he says, “thank you for your broken English that reminds me I am Japanese.” [Trigger warning: the piece deals with physical abuse and G's dad having cancer.] It had never occurred to me to see my father’s imperfect English in a positive light. In America we often look down on people with foreign accents, even though being bilingual is an accomplishment. People with heavier accents suffer more prejudice including being perceived as less truthful. However accents don't always relate to level of English fluency and general intelligence and competency. 

If you have a Japanese undocumented immigrant story that you would like to share (yours or a relative's), please email me at keiko dot in dot boston [at] gmail dot com. If you have any friends who are undocumented Japanese immigrants please consider passing this along to them. Thank you.
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.

Friday, July 4, 2014

George Takei @ TEDxKyoto: Why I love a country that once betrayed me

It seems appropriate to share this on the 4th of July. A friend just sent me George Takei's talk at TEDxKyoto last month in which he talks about his heroes - his dad who taught him about democracy and the nisei who fought in the 442nd. He started by talking about his incarceration by the US government when he was just five years old. I've heard him talk about it many times but I think this was the first time I heard him refer to the camps as "prisoner of war camps" (5:30 on the TED video and 5:33 on the YouTube video). George doesn't mince words when he talks about what happened to him, his family, and the 120,000 other Japanese and Japanese Americans who were imprisoned without cause during WWII. He portrays it as the terrible injustice is was.

Being American isn't about the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes, your religion, or what kind of utensils you eat with. It's not even about where you were born. It's important to keep this in mind as the immigration debate rages on and some Americans continue to believe you have to be straight, white, and Christian to be a true American.

Thanks, George, for continuing to remind the younger generations of Japanese Americans of the sacrifices the issei and nisei had to make for us to be here.

"They are my heroes. They clung to their belief in the shining ideals of this country, and they proved that being an American is not just for some people, that race is not how we define being an American. They expanded what it means to be an American, including Japanese-Americans that were feared and suspected and hated. They were change agents, and they left for me a legacy."
- George Takei on the 442nd

If you don't know about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, you may find my introductory post helpful.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

George Takei: It Got Better

I had wanted to write something for LGBT History Month but it’s the end of the month and I didn’t get my act together. Instead I’ll share a new It Gets Better Project video from a series called It Got Better in which George Takei tells his story from being incarcerated by the US government as a child to figuring out he was different from his straight friends shortly after getting out of camp to Stonewall and coming out to his mom. He talks about meeting Brad and his decision to come out to the general public in 2005 after being upset by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's failure to support equal marriage by vetoing a bill that would have made it legal in California. It’s all stuff he’s talked about before but his narration is intercut with family photos which I hadn't seen before. It's nice to see that context. One thing he talked about that I hadn't heard him discuss was how his career, which he'd been protecting all those years by not discussing his sexuality openly, took off after his public coming out.

George & Brad Takei @ Columbus Pride June 21, 2014
Photo courtesy of Rachel B.

Last weekend, George had the honor of being grand marshal at Columbus Pride. He and his husband, Brad, rode a float along with last year's grand marshals, Stephen and Joshua Snyder-Hill. My friend Rachel sent some photos of George talking to the crowd as he rode by! I wish I could have been there. Note that they are holding signs that say, "Takei Pride Parade" a nod to the time George offered to the people of Tennessee that they could use his last name as a synonym for the word "gay". (In 2012 the Tennessee legislature attempted to pass SB 49 & HB 229 which would have prevented teachers from discussing homosexuality in the classroom. It was nicknamed the "Don't Say 'Gay'" bill.)

In other news, I'd like to officially announce that I'm a contributor to Discover Nikkei, a project of the Japanese American National Museum. They approached me in January after someone on staff found my post about Hawaii Five-0's season 4 episode Ho'onani Makuakane. I didn't announce it then because I wasn't sure if I would become a regular contributor. This month I decided that for pride I would submit my coming out story. They accepted it and it was just posted! I hope to contribute more posts to Discover Nikkei in the coming months.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Film: Documented

So, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve paid virtually no attention to the immigration debate because I didn't think it had anything to do with me. My mom’s parents emigrated from Okinawa to Hawaii before it was even a state, but they did so legally. My dad also came to the US legally. On the Hawaii side of my family, I’m the only one of my generation who wasn’t born in the US, but because my mom was a US citizen and she registered my birth abroad, I am technically not an immigrant - I automatically got US citizenship. I didn't have to do anything for it. I did not realize how privileged that makes me.

After going to see Vincent Who? last month it seems the New England ADL automatically put me on their mailing list and a few weeks ago I got an invitation to a screening of Documented: a film by an illegal immigrant undocumented American. The trailer was captivating and Jose Antonio Vargas, the subject, writer, director, and producer of the film was going to be on hand for a Q&A so I went. I didn’t realize until the opening credits were rolling that Japanese American producer Kevin Iwashina (whose films I keep finding myself watching) co-executive produced the film!

Since Jose is a journalist I had expected a newsy documentary with lots of facts and figures and arguments with his personal story as a backdrop, but instead the film was a deeply personal narrative about how he came to be in the United States illegally and what happened after he found out. When he was 12, his grandfather (who had immigrated to the US legally) arranged for a smuggler to bring him to the US so he could live with his grandparents and have a better life than he could back in the Philippines. When he was taken to the airport, he was told the man was his uncle. It would be another four years before he found out that his documents were fake. After that he found it easier to come out of the gay closet than the undocumented closet and he spent years mostly hiding his immigration status (sharing it with only a few trusted mentors) before eventually coming out in the New York Times Magazine at age 30. At the time he'd been living in the US for 18 years - more than half his life. The Philippines was no longer home. He considered himself an American but he had no papers to back that up. His only paths to citizenship would be to go back to the Philippines, wait ten years, then apply to come back to the US or marry an American, which was complicated by us not having equal marriage in all states and the federal government not recognizing those marriages at the time. Since DOMA was overturned, the federal government has begun to allow people in same gender relationships to sponsor their spouses. Jose told us after the film that he has 16 lawyers and they think that marrying a man might be the solution, but they're not sure.
Jose is in a rare position. So far, ICE hasn't tried to deport him. He acknowledged afterwards that he knows he's the most privileged undocumented person in America. He's educated. He has a lot of support. He has a high profile because he worked as a journalist for many years. He has a lot of connections (not too many undocumented Americans can say they know Marc Zuckerberg). He even won a Pulitzer Prize. He was quick to emphasize that his story is only one of millions, but it was a story he felt he should tell because he's in a position to do so. Much of the film focuses on the difficulties he's had with his mom who was left behind in the Philippines. He hasn't seen her in person since he left and their relationship became strained over the years after Jose learned about her part in sending him here illegally and he was upset that she didn't follow him as promised. He sent a crew to film his mom in the Philippines so you get to see both her perspective and Jose's about what it's been like for them to be separated all these years and the ups and down their relationship has gone through. Jose hoped that people would be able to connect with his story on a human level. Everyone understands family.

I was struck by Jose's path to activism. In the film he talked about watching YouTube videos of young undocumented people who were speaking up as being "undocumented and unafraid". He began to feel guilty. Here were people younger than he risking deportation to try and change things so that they and others in the same boat could get citizenship and stay in the country they call home. It reminded me a lot of why I came out. I watched a lot of It Gets Better videos on YouTube mainly from people younger than I, and I felt guilty. If they could be brave, why couldn't I? During the Q&A Jose said he saw parallels between the battles for LGBT rights and immigrant rights. He thinks immigration reform will go like LGBT rights - state by state. Equal marriage has only been possible because the culture shifted before the politics did. He believes that stories and art have the power to liberate people which is why he made the film. For the past few years he's be traveling the country showing the film and hoping to change the dialogue about illegal immigration, proving it's never too late to become involved.

I wish the Q&A had been longer and better organized. We didn't get to hear much from Jose because questions weren't screened and most of the people who "asked questions" seemed to be more interested in hearing themselves talk than in hearing Jose speak. The last question was really excellent though. A young American man told Jose that his best friend was undocumented. His friend is smart and interested in politics but he's feeling hopeless because right now he doesn't see a way out of his situation or a way to achieve his goals. The young man wanted to know how he could encourage his friend. Jose commended him for being a great ally and said to pass on to his friend, " I just hope you don't say no to yourself."

I would imagine that undocumented Japanese numbers are pretty low these days given overall Japanese immigration numbers which are down (unfortunately I couldn’t find any stats), but certainly not all the issei who came here back in the day came here legally. But that was a long time ago. Why should we care? I found a great piece on Racialicious - Japanese Americans and Immigration: Where We Fit that explains why it's still relevant to Japanese Americans. It was written by yonsei Kristin Fukushima a few years ago when she was Public Policy Coordinator for the Japanese American Citizens League Pacific Southwest District.

Until now Documented has only been shown at private screenings, but if you have cable, you can watch it tomorrow on CNN. They snagged the US distribution rights and the film will have it's television premiere tomorrow, Sunday, June 29th at 9pm ET and will air again at 11pm ET. If you miss it tomorrow CNN will air it again next Saturday, July 5th at 9 and 11pm ET. Details here.

If you're not able to watch the film on CNN, they're currently taking pre-orders for streaming or download on the film's website.
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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

G Yamazawa schooled me on spoken word

The first time I was exposed to spoken word poetry was at my hippie liberal arts college. I didn’t get it. It seemed silly and pretentious. Annoying and boring. I found it embarrassing to watch. Over the years I'd occasionally get invited to a poetry slam or open mic night and I always said no because I thought that spoken word was an art form I just didn’t appreciate. As it turns out, that’s only because I’d never heard any Asian performers so I'd never heard any spoken word that spoke to me, about my life experience.

A few days ago I came across Japanese-North Carolinian spoken word artist, G Yamazawa’s incredibly powerful piece, "Home" via sansei writer Gil Asakawa’s blog, Nikkei View. (There's a less shaky video with better sound quality here if you can't watch shaky videos, but it's a less fiery performance than the one Gil linked to so I recommend listening to the one above.)

Listening to "Home" I felt a tightness in my chest and tears in my eyes as he talks about 3.11 and knowing something was wrong, feeling the 18-wheeler parked in his heart and seeing in his mom's eyes that she wanted to return to Japan (I did too) and about how his mom told him he couldn't understand because he wasn't born there.

She said: ジョージお 分からんと思う、そこで生まれてないから   "Jōji o wakaran to omou, sokode umare tenaikara," which G translates as, "I don’t think you’d understand. You’re not from there." My brain translated it as, "George, you don't understand, you weren't born there," which is a little closer the original. My friend who helped me with the Japanese (Thanks, Stacey!) said a direct translation would be, "I don't think you would understand, George, because you weren't born there."

The funny thing about getting older is that at some point you cross a line and all your teachers stop being older than you. This is the week that 23-year-old nisei G Yamazawa schooled me on spoken word. He may sound like a Southerner but he looks like he could be my cousin and although he's in a different generation both demographically and culturally (he's nisei, I was born in Japan but identify as sansei because my maternal grandparents came to the US in the early 1900s so I have a nisei mom), his experiences resonate. Perhaps growing up as an Asian in the South in the 90s/2000s was similar to growing up as an Asian in the Northeast in the 80s?

Some more of my favorites:


On a local note, I was surprised to learn recently that Cambridge is home to East Meets Words, the longest running Asian American open mic night series in the country. I had no idea we had a thriving Asian American arts community. They've been running since 2005. It happens the second Friday of every month at 8pm at East Meets World (934 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139), which used to be a Chinese-language bookstore called East Meets West. Next one is this Friday.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Photos: 2014 Japan Festival in Boston @ The Cambridge River Festival

I volunteered at the Tewassa booth at the third annual Japan Festival in Boston last Saturday, which was held in conjuction with The Cambridge River Festival.

I'm not sure that the festival within a festival concept worked all that well. This year's Japan Festival was really lacking in matsuri atmosphere. Although the River Festival had many stages none of the performers were Japanese so there was no Japanese music and due to the River Festival's vendor requirements matsuri games were not permitted (because it's an art festival, not a carnival, apparently). There also didn't seem to be that many Japanese people in attendance, although it could just be that it was hard to tell because so many people were there for the River Festival. I suppose it's better that something happened rather than nothing but I have to say I enjoyed this year's Sakura Matsuri much more even though it was smaller.

Anime Boston and some other Japan Festival booths

I only wandered around a little, although there wasn't much to see in the Japan Festival portion. There were 19 art and community booths, a far cry from what they had the first two years. They did at least cluster the Japanese booths together except for the two food booths which were way down on Sidney Street with the other food. 

Cooking okonomiyaki

The lines for hot food were crazy when I went down there so I didn't bother waiting. There was a booth listed on the website as JREX but they had Itadaki signs on the booth (they're a JREX member). I did spot Kazu Aotani (owner of Snappy Sushi & Snappy Ramen) manning the yakisoba grill so I guess it was a joint effort between JREX members. They were selling yakisoba, okonomiyaki, teriyaki corn, kakigouri (shaved ice), and Ramune.


Next to them was a booth listed on the website as "Cold Udon by Japan Block Fair". The booth was actually selling sōmen and appeared to be staffed by students from Showa Boston.

I thought Yume Wo Katare was not at the festival because they didn't have a food booth but I ran into a pack of Yume staff on the T and found out they had a non-food activity booth listed on the website as "Yume Festival" where they had a tanabata-like activity where people could write their dreams on a white board and have a Polaroid taken then hung up.

Japanese dolls @ Japanese Women's Club of Boston

There did appear to be a lot of activities for children although I didn't get near most of them and there were a lot of beautiful and ridiculously low-priced handmade goods at our booth, the Japanese Women's Club of Boston, and JB Line. JB Line had these adorable miniature macaron-like coin purses that I didn't manage to get a photo of. Apparently they're popular in Japan.

Tenugui @ wuhao newyork

One vendor came up from NYC: wuhao newyork. They primarily sell tenugui, a type of lightweight Japanese towel. They had some really beautiful ones as well as whimsical ones with maneki neko and dinosaurs!

Boston Special Needs was selling artwork by autistic and special needs children. They even had an artist working on site!

I do appreciate the hard work that the Japan Festival organizers put in to making this happen this year at all. I know people must be wondering what the plans are for next year's Japan Festival. I've heard some rumors but haven't confirmed anything yet. I'll post if I hear anything concrete.

Additional photos here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Photos: 2014 Sakura Matsuri @ Brookline High School

The Genki Spark

Today was the third annual Sakura Matsuri at Brookline High School. For the past two years, The Genki Spark and the Brookline High School Japanese Program have presented this small community-oriented matsuri at the high school. The first year it was two hours long. Last year Karen convinced her counterpart at BHS to make it three hours. This year was the biggest ever - four hours long with performances from five New England taiko groups (The Genki Spark, ShinDaiko, Mountain River Taiko, Odaiko New England, Boston Miyake Taiko), a dance troupe (Takahashi Minyo Kai), and shishimai (Stuart Paton of Burlington Taiko).

I have lived in New England longer than I've lived anywhere else and I can't say that I've ever really felt like I was part of the wider communities that I have lived in. I didn't realize until I worked for a summer program in California a few years ago what a huge difference it makes to see your culture reflected in the community around you. From the time I got off the plane at SFO, I was surrounded by reminders of the long history of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans in California (many of them Japanese American) from the Asian-inspired art to the names of donors on the wall at a local clinic to the restaurants to the people on the street. Although I've spent a lot of time in Hawaii and experienced the same there when visiting family, it's so different from the East Coast it often feels like visiting another country. Somehow experiencing it in California when I wasn't on vacation was a revelation. Ever since then I've been making more of an effort to connect with Japanese and Japanese Americans in Boston. Unfortunately, since we have no community center or single clearinghouse organization, it's often difficult to do.

I don't remember attending any matsuris as a child but I did go to Japanese school and camp so I learned obon dance, played Japanese children's games, and heard traditional Japanese music. I can't remember if I ever saw taiko performed live but when I hear it, it's very familiar and it's music I connect with in my bones in a way I don't connect with American folk music. Thanks to The Genki Spark and BHS, I got to put on my yukata and spend an afternoon feeling like I was part of a community.

Red bean ginger mochi
dusted with cinnamon
They had plenty of activities and games for kids (including yo-yo, origami, face painting, design your own hachimaki) and a nice range of food. Sadly Ittoku ran out of yakisoba early and then sold out of okonomiyaki but there was sushi and edamame from Hana Japan and lots of fresh mochi from Mochi Kitchen. BHS students sold onigiri and baked goods. I spoke with Chiki-san afterwards and he said Ittoku would definitely be happy to be back next year!

Tewassa table
Tewassa, The Genki Spark, and some of the other taiko groups sold new and used Japanese and Japanese-inspired goods, some of which were handmade. BHS students were also selling handmade origami earrings.

Karen Young, founder and artistic director of The Genki Spark, said in her thank yous that this matsuri is community-driven and wouldn't happen without the help of all the participating groups, organizations, and businesses and the volunteers. This year's matsuri was staged in partnership with: The Japan Society of Boston, Showa Boston, the New England chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and two other Brookline schools: the Amos A. Lawrence School and the William H. Lincoln School. Food vendors were: Hana Japan (Newburyport), Ittoku (Brighton), and Mochi Kitchen (Somerville). The matsuri was sponsored by the Brookline Commission for the Arts, Temple University Japan, The Japan Foundation, New York, and the Brookline High School PTO. If you're a member of a Japanese or Japanese American group and would like to participate next year or you'd just like to volunteer as an individual you should contact Karen!

Karen, Genki Spark members, Brookline High School teachers & students - otsukaresama desu!

Some photos below. Additional photos here.

Takahashi Minyo Kai

Miyano Takahashi, owner of Hana Japan, Newburport
and founder of Takahashi Minyo Kai

Right: Karen Young, founder and artistic director of The Genki Spark

Odaiko New England

Boston Miyake Taiko

Shishimai - Stuart Paton of Burlington Taiko

The Genki Spark

Finale - all groups

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Film: Vincent Who? @ Boston Public Library

I just heard about an interesting film screening next Thursday at the Boston Public Library. The Anti-Defamation League’s Asian-Jewish Roundtable will be screening Vincent Who?, a documentary about the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man whose attackers mistook him for Japanese. The film features interviews with many well-known Asian Americans, including a number of Japanese Americans. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with writer and producer, Curtis Chin (no relation).

Date & Time
Thursday, May 15, 2014
6pm - 8:30pm

Boston Public Library, Rabb Hall
700 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116


Registration is required. Please register by Thursday, May 15th at 5pm.

Vincent Who?

Directed by Tony Lam
2009 | 40 mins | Documentary

In 1982, at the height of anti-Japanese sentiments arising from massive layoffs in the auto industry, a Chinese-American named Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by two white autoworkers. Chin's killers, however, got off with a $3,000 fine and 3 years probation, but no jail time. Outraged by this injustice, Asian Americans around the country united for the first time across ethnic and socioeconomic lines to form a pan-Asian identity and civil rights movement.

Among its significant outcomes, the movement led to the historic broadening of federal civil rights protection to include all people in America regardless of immigrant status or ethnicity.

VINCENT WHO? explores this important legacy through interviews with the key players at the time as well as a whole new generation of activists whose lives were impacted by Vincent Chin. It also looks at the case in relation to the larger narrative of Asian American history, in such events as Chinese Exclusion, Japanese American Internment in WWII, the 1992 L.A. Riots, anti-Asian hate crimes, and post-9/11 racial profiling.

Ultimately, VINCENT WHO? asks how far Asian Americans have come since the case and how far they have yet to go.

For in spite of Vincent Chin’s monumental significance in both the Asian American experience and the civil rights history of America, the vast majority of people today (including most Asian Americans) have little or no knowledge of him.

By sparking interest in Vincent Chin with this film, we hope to contribute toward the day when "Vincent Chin" becomes a familiar name not only among Asian Americans, but all Americans. We believe that the Vincent Chin case and the resulting Asian American civil rights movement should assume an important place in this country’s history.

via Vincent Who? - The Film
See also: Director's Statement 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Upcoming festivals

Darn, I meant to get this up much sooner. May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month so there's a lot going on. Unfortunately, I missed Arlington's Ottoson Middle School's Cherry Blossom Festival which was on Friday.

In addition to the Japan Festival @ the Cambridge River Festival in June, we have a number of other Japanese festivals in the next couple of weeks.

Today, Sunday, May 6th, Kaji Aso Studio in Boston is having a Japan Festival from 1 - 6pm. Admission is $10 (students and seniors $8, children $4).

On Wednesday, May 7th from 5 - 7pm, the MFA is hosting the Gion Festival in Boston, celebrating Boston and Kyoto's 55th year as sister cities. Admission to the festival is included with museum admission. On Wednesdays after 4pm, admission to the MFA is by voluntary contribution ($25 is suggested).

Next weekend on Saturday, May 10th from noon - 4pm, the Brookline High School Japanese Program and The Genki Spark present their third annual Sakura Matsuri (scroll down for event details). This is a very reasonably sized family-friendly matsuri with great entertainment (there will be six groups performing). Last year they had lots of activities for children. This year they've stepped things up in the food department. Three popular Japanese businesses will be vending - Mochi Kitchen (Somerville), Ittoku (Brighton), and Hana Japan (Newburyport). Admission is free, however, a $10-$20 donation is suggested. Food and other items will be for sale. I will be there at the Tewassa table!

Hopefully Hana Japan will have their annual Natsu Matsuri again in August, but no info on that yet.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Totto Ramen opening soon in Allston

Photo courtesy Pete Lazar (aka CrazyPete)
My first hint that Totto Ramen from NYC was coming was when a friend texted me the photo to the left. He wrote "(Not the van…) :0" under the photo, but it made no sense and I got distracted and forgot to ask him why he was texting me a photo of a sketchy white van outside Inaka where he'd told me he was. When we met up for dinner later in the week he asked me if I saw the photo of the white van. At that point I'd completely forgotten about it and said no, you never sent me that. After finding the photo and zooming in I discovered I'd missed the most important part of the photo - the new Totto Ramen sign!


I didn't think Totto would open soon because the first time I went by in March there was a months-old layer of dust on everything and they hadn't started renovations.


When I went by three weeks later it looked much the same except for a few ladders, additional tables and chairs, and some shelves.


Then I saw that they were hiring. It seems they decided not to renovate. When I stopped by tonight it was too dark to take pictures but they look like they could open any day now. There were tables with flowers on them and it's all cleaned up. Unfortunately, no sign indicating an opening date, hours, or a menu. Some quick research turned up Boston Restaurant Talk reporting an opening date of Saturday, May 3rd. This is great news for those who love ramen but don't or can't eat pork. Totto's ramen broth is chicken-based and pork-free.

So, it seems that Camberville and Allston are battling it out to be the ramen capital of Boston. Who will win? It'll be interesting to see where Santouka Ramen lands. They might jump into the fray or they might decide these areas are too saturated with ramen and opt for another neighborhood.

Cambridge and Somerville have four Japanese-owned ramenyas, though two are the same business.

Davis Square
Snappy Ramen, 420 Highland Ave.
Owner: veteran restauranteur Kazu Aotani

Porter Square
Sapporo Ramen's original location, 1815 Mass Ave.
Owners: Manabu Ito and Taiji Mineo

Yume Wo Katare, 1923 Mass Ave.
Owner: Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Central Square
Sapporo Ramen's second location inside H Mart, 581 Mass Ave.
Owners: Manabu Ito and Taiji Mineo in partnership with José Garcia of Ebi Sushi

In Allston, if you get out at the Packard's Corner stop on the B Green Line, you'll find three ramenyas on Brighton Ave. Pikaichi and Totto are Japanese-owned. Inaka is owned by a Taiwanese-Japanese-American. 

Pikaichi, 1 Brighton Ave. 
Owners: Taka & Ritsuko Akatsu

Inaka, 72 Brighton Ave.
Owner: Jim Chen

Totto Ramen, 169 Brighton Ave.
Owner: Ryuichi "Bobby" Munekata (5/4/14: I'm actually no longer sure who owns the Allston Totto. Eater reported that the person behind the restaurant is Nghi Nguyen, a former lawyer.)

Curry Pan @ Ebi Sushi

Chef Sean Ikeda at Ebi Sushi tipped me off earlier in the week that he was introducing a new menu item last night. He's making a curry pan (curry patty covered in panko and deep fried) that he thinks will be a weekend-only item. The pan contains Ebi Sushi's house curry, beef, potatoes, and onions. They're currently slightly larger than a Jamaican patty and are priced at $5.50 but Chef Sean is still playing around so they may decrease in size. He noted that they were quite filling but my three friends and I managed to eat 6 before we even got to the sushi. My friend sartak said to tell everyone that he gives it, "2 thumbs up!" He's a huge fan of their curry. I prefer Pikaichi's curry but I enjoyed this deep fried variation on Ebi's curry. It came with mayo and shichimi which was attractive but unnecessary. The pan is plenty flavorful on it's own. The outside was crunchy and the filling was chunky and generous, though one may wish for more curry sauce. I'm actually a little surprised that sartak didn't order curry to go with his curry pan.

If you've been missing Japonaise Bakery's curry donuts (their deep frier broke months ago and they never managed to get another one up and running) these are not quite the same but might satisfy. I found it to be less rich than Japonaise's donut and was able to eat an entire pan myself. If you manage to get one, let me know what you think!

Friday, April 25, 2014

H Mart Japanese groceries

I made it back to H Mart tonight around 8pm to check out the grocery side. I take back what I've said about Ebisuya not needing to be worried about H Mart. It's been a long time since I went to the Burlington H Mart but my impression is that Cambridge has a much larger selection of Japanese groceries than I saw at Burlington. The only advantages Ebisuya has are proximity to 93 and the Saturday Japanese school, free parking, native Japanese-speaking staff (actually, I don't know whether H Mart has Japanese staff but I would think the likelihood is low), pre-made Japanese food (bento, onigiri, etc.), and a shopping experience that doesn't feel like a roller derby. I really hope that H Mart Cambridge won't drive them out of business since they're the last remaining exclusively Japanese store in the area.

Personally I'll continue to shop at Ebisuya and Reliable because I don't like a stressful shopping experience. Going through H Mart tonight was a lot like going to Market Basket in Somerville, although less rude.

I didn't take a very close look at the produce. I saw gobo and nagaimo that looked fine (the gobo was reasonably priced but my friend thought the nagaimo was expensive). We also spotted very mouldy Driscoll strawberries as soon as we entered the grocery side. They were on top of the stack - kind of surprised they didn't pull it since it was impossible to miss.

I didn't make a careful study of prices but most things seemed reasonable. Their snack selection seemed to be about on par with what you'd find at Hong Kong Supermarket (formerly Super 88) in Allston.

The store was packed but I think a lot of people may have just been window shopping because the lines at the checkouts were not as bad as what I saw on Wednesday.

Some surprises:

  • more natto than I can recall seeing in my entire life
  • very large Spam selection
  • large matcha selection (compared to other local stores)
  • a lot of mochi ice cream (I don't think I managed to get pictures of all of them - they had multiple brands)
  • a wider variety of American groceries than I was expecting (perhaps they're hoping to compete with Whole Foods and Shaws)

I took as many pictures of the Japanese groceries & products as I could with a few other random photos like Spam. There was a lot of fresh & frozen raw meat but that section was too mobbed to get photos. I also didn't bother with photos of rice cookers and other kitchen and household products.  A lot of them are hanging above your head so don't forget to look up. I didn't intentionally take any photos of Korean groceries. I know very little about Korean food so I have no comments. Photos begin here.

Over at Sapporo & Go Go Curry ramen & curry were entirely sold out as was much of the sushi menu. Paris Baguette also looked very well picked over. I did talk to José Garcia (partner in Sapporo Central) when I had dinner at Ebi Sushi tonight and he said they're going to figure that out. Sapporo and Go Go Curry's hours are officially 11am to 9pm. I'm going to guess tomorrow may be worse. If you want to go, go early.

4/26/14: I completely forgot to talk about parking last night. I got really lucky that seconds after I pulled in to Lot 5 and was wondering what to do because it looked full, a woman was walking to her car and waved indicating she was leaving. While I waited for her and her husband to put their child and groceries in the car, she came back and handed me her parking slip that she'd paid for until 9pm! I just love random acts of kindness. By the time I left though things were craaaazy in the parking lot. I tried to offer my space to someone in the same way the shopper before me had but somewhere in a crazy shuffle of 6 cars he disappeared, possibly because someone had come from the other side to steal the spot I was vacating.  I can't stress enough that if you can leave your car at home, you'll definitely want to do that.

See also: H Mart Cambridge is finally open!