Book tackles all-things JA


By Gil Asakawa (Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, second edition, 2015, 192 pages, $18.95, paperback)

This is a great sourcebook for all things Japanese American. In addition to being a good reference, it likely will make the reader think about what being JA means to him or her.

Asakawa calls this self-discovery. The margins of the book are filled with short quotes from JAs and JCs (Japanese Canadians) sharing what they felt about being both Japanese and American, about memories of Japanese family observances they have from different periods in their lives, discrimination and a wealth of other topics.

One feature of the book that I found useful is “Words and Phrases,” a mini Japanese vocabulary lesson perched in the bottom corner of some pages. Tsukareta (tired), shoganai (oh, well), and irasshai (welcome, come in) are three of the words I learned.

The book includes a bit of Japanese etiquette; an explanation of Japanese games; cultural pursuits such as ikebana (flower arranging) and kimekomi doll-making; traditions; music; communities; travel to Japan; pop culture (anime); emerging JA authors and actors and food. The pages covering travel to Japan include how JAs might feel either at home or foreign (or both) as they explore the land of their ancestors. Even though we may look like the natives, in Japan they know we are foreigners by the way we behave, even before they hear us speak in English or in our limited Nihongo (Japanese).

Asakawa addresses the term “hapa” versus “mixed race,” explaining that he now uses “mixed race” because some people find “hapa” offensive. However, the text of the book, originally published in 2004, uses the term “hapa.” By the way, did you know that according to the 2000 U.S. Census, nearly a third of JAs are mixed race?

Asakawa also discusses the terms “Asian” vs. “Oriental.” He says “Oriental” is a word for inanimate objects from Asia. “Asian” is the term for people with Asian ancestry. He points out that younger JAs feel less connected to Japan than to Asia. Today many Asians in America identify as Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) as Americans have explored Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Hmong cultures and formed alliances with other Asians. We are influenced by AAPI businesses, cuisine and role models.

The book also traces the history of JAs in the U.S., tracing us from immigration in the late 1800s through the World War II incarceration, the push for redress, to the present. I found one error in the section on JAs in World War II. Asakawa states that after Pearl Harbor JAs in the U.S. Army and Navy were discharged because they were enemy aliens. I know that my father-in-law was serving in the Army on Dec. 7, 1941, and he remained in the military, eventually serving in the Military Intelligence Service as a language instructor.

I found another error in the section on redress. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided for monetary compensation for only those we were incarcerated and still alive when the bill was signed. Asakawa incorrectly states that descendants also received monetary compensation.

One chapter of the book deals with recording your family history and preserving your family’s legacy. Practical suggestions are given for oral interviews and caring for artifacts.

The final chapter, “Staying Informed,” has a long list of newspapers, magazines, blogs, social media and organizations that will have current information about Japan, JAs, culture, entertainment, genealogy, hapa issues, wartime incarceration resources, shopping, travel, books, films and video. This is eye-popping.

All told, within this book you’ll find everything from Pokémon to Vincent Chin, from natto (fermented soybeans) to Yellow Power. Take a look. You’ll be hooked.

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