Manzanar Reflections, etc.

Note to readers:

I’m not sure I know anyone whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar, but if any such person is reading this, you should know my family was not incarcerated at Manzanar, and I write only from the perspective of someone whose family was incarcerated at other camps.

On Saturday, April 29, my parents and I arrived at Manzanar for the 48th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. My sister wanted to accompany us, but was unable to get time off from work. In the interests of preserving memories, I’ve tried to jot down some of my experiences and reflections here.

First, the logistics. Manzanar is about an eight-hour drive from my parents’ home in the Bay Area (less if you’re willing to drive over the speed limit and don’t get stuck in traffic). On Friday, we drove six hours to reach our hotel, in Mojave.* It was dusty and windy, but not as hot as we anticipated. When I wasn’t daydreaming, I was thinking about a recent conversation with Nikkei poet Brandon Shimoda** about concentration camps and the aftermath(s) of incarceration. I also wondered how different my experience of Manzanar would be/would have been if I hadn’t already been reading Nikkei writers and following Nikkei organizations on social media for some months prior to our trip.

Saturday morning, we drove two hours from Mojave to Manzanar (again, less if you’re willing to drive over the speed limit). The mountain desert landscape was (un)familiar, quite similar to what I’d see during our annual summer trips to Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Although I reread Farewell to Manzanar*** quite recently, for some reason I didn’t fully grasp Manzanar’s exact location until our visit. I was a little surprised to realize we spent so many summer weeks not far from a major landmark in Japanese American history. Even more surprisingly, during the drive my parents informed me this would technically be my second visit to Manzanar, since we once made a brief stop there when I was very young. According to my dad, the main entrance was located at Manzanar’s historic entrance, where a guardhouse still stands, and the visitors’ center had yet to come into existence. My mom recalled seeing the white memorial pillar, but not much else. Reconstruction and preservation work is ongoing at the site and I wonder how much will have changed by my next, as-yet-unplanned visit.

After parking in the front lot (there’s also parking near the cemetery and an unpaved loop for people taking the auto tour), we briefly toured the visitors’ center. My dad went to find the archaeologist currently leading one of the garden restorations, and my mom and I browsed the gift shop. Normally, archaeology interests me, but I believe the archaeologist on site that day was a white woman and I wasn’t in the mood to navigate a potentially othering conversation. It’s odd and not very pleasant to think of a white perspective dominating the restoration and reconstruction of physical elements of Japanese American history. To be fair, I don’t know if the white people on-site report to JA/Nikkei, but since Manzanar is a national historic site I assume at least some white people are involved in making the big decisions. Also, though I think this is true of US parks/historic sites in general, every ranger I saw was white. Even if the images and text of the exhibits are created and/or approved by JA/Nikkei – I mostly skimmed over the placards but I didn’t notice anything problematic, so I suspect JA/Nikkei were heavily involved behind the scenes – seeing only white faces in uniform is a reminder of who the gatekeepers really are, even or especially when it comes to (white-dominated) US government-sanctioned narratives of history. Note the ironic parallel of white people in uniform ‘guarding’ or gatekeeping sites like Manzanar in the present, and white people in uniform literally guarding incarcerated Japanese Americans at every concentration camp during the war. Some things never change? Or rather, haven’t changed yet even though they should…

Thanks to the long, slow-moving line, I had plenty of time to people-watch.**** Most of the people in the shop were either young Asian Americans or older Asian and white folks. There were also a fair number of young, non-Asian POC. Later, when I mentioned the demographics of the gift shop customers to my mom, especially my surprise at not seeing more JA/Nikkei folks, she suggested most probably didn’t feel a need or desire to purchase gifts at Manzanar. Her comment nudged me back to something I’d been pondering when we first decided to go to Manzanar – in what capacity were we making this trip?

I first learned about the Manzanar Pilgrimage when I started following the Manzanar Committee on Twitter. I’d been thinking it would be interesting to visit at least one of the camps, but I hadn’t given much thought to which one. At some point, I realized Manzanar might be my best bet because of its relative proximity to my parents’ place (when you don’t drive, these things matter). I floated the idea by my family and everybody agreed we should do it.

As the date of our departure approached, I began wondering what it meant for my family, specifically, to visit Manzanar. We were never incarcerated there and, as far as I knew, none of our relatives or friends had been incarcerated there, either. Did that make us tourists? I’m inclined to say yes and no, though I’m still thinking through it. On one hand, much of the experience felt similar to previous family road trips, where, for better or worse, our general goal was to visit places we thought might be interesting. On the other hand, Manzanar memorializes a life-changing era for thousands of JA/Nikkei (including us), a connection which sets it apart from our other family trips.

I kept, and keep, returning to the nature of this connection. I wouldn’t want any JA/Nikkei, either my own relatives, incarcerated (we think) at Topaz and Gila River,***** or those people who were incarcerated at Manzanar, to think I and other JA/Nikkei in my position who visit Manzanar are using it as a kind of stand-in for the other camps or attempting to lay some claim to the site which erases the experiences of those who were actually there. I suppose I shouldn’t speak for other JA/Nikkei, but to the rest of you who, like me, visited Manzanar but had no family there, I hope you’re all conscious and respectful of the distinction.

We eventually got to the front of the gift shop line, with just enough time to make our way to the event space. The meandering, unpaved trail reminded me of hiking through the desert brush near Mono Lake. (By the way, we found out later it’s about a mile from the visitors’ center to the event space, so if you plan to visit Manzanar and you have difficulty walking, I recommend driving the auto tour loop and parking along the road or in the back lot, if there’s space. The trail is not walker- or wheelchair-accessible.) By the time we arrived, a standing crowd was forming in a wide semicircle near the stage. There was seating under a canopy, as well as some unsheltered seating in front of the stage, and some people brought their own chairs. I assume some of the people seated had made prior arrangements, but I also saw some people in the unsheltered seating who looked like drop-in visitors, so I’m guessing there was a bit of first-come, first-served. (I highly recommend calling ahead about seating if you plan to attend the events but are unable to stand for long periods. I didn’t see any signage on site, or any notices on the Manzanar Committee website about disability accommodations, but I would hope accommodations would be made for anyone who needs them.)

Commemorative t-shirts were being sold at a couple of tables to the right of the “entrance” to the event space and my parents purchased a few for the family. I don’t recall if they paid via cash or card, but I believe each shirt was selling for ten or fifteen dollars. I also saw water coolers scattered around, and the website mentioned water would be provided, but I didn’t actually see anyone open a cooler. It kind of reminded me of those moments in Japanese socializing when someone offers something because that is the expected gesture, even though everyone also knows not to accept it. This event didn’t feel Nihonjin enough for such thinking, but it was what popped into my head.

Someone asked me later if I thought the pilgrimage felt well-organized. To me, it felt Japanese-American-organized, the same way Obon does, and in a different way from Nihonjin-organized or white-USian-organized. I suppose only JA/Nikkei whose event experiences are similar to mine will understand this statement, but I haven’t thought of a better way to phrase it.

People started talking on stage, but the first event I really paid attention to was UCLA Kyodo Taiko’s performance. By ‘paid attention to,’ I should specify, my attention caught, snagged, and throbbed uncomfortably at the sight of a white guy playing front and center. To be fair, he might have been an extremely white-looking, mixed-race JA/Nikkei, but since I know college taiko groups often allow anyone to join, I suspect he was just a plain old white guy. It was like coming across a microaggression in an otherwise enjoyable book – seeing the white guy kind of spoiled the performance for me. The only thing I ended up liking about that part of the pilgrimage was listening to my mom’s occasional commentary. She’s been part of a taiko class for about a year now, I think (maybe two?), and was able to assess the skills and experience of several players. Apparently, the performing groups were divided into a beginner set and an intermediate/advanced set, based on how and what they played. We also played a guessing game about which of them might be Japanese, and she recognized an uta called ‘Matsuri’ as one her own group played last year.

Kyodo Taiko left the stage, and some more people talked. At one point, a speaker asked if any Native people (I believe from the local Paiute people?) were present, but no one identified themselves. I hope they came later, or, if they chose not to attend, I hope it wasn’t because they had been made to feel unwelcome in previous years. I was glad to hear the official program acknowledge how Manzanar occupies Native land; I very rarely hear JA/Nikkei discussing settler colonialism in our spaces, so it’s good to know some people are aware.

The other two events I remember clearly are the camp flag procession and Ken Koshio’s performance. I didn’t realize each camp had its own flag until I saw the procession, but it immediately became an, ‘oh, あたりまえ’ moment. I spy a story in there, but first I need to finish my survey of camp literature to make sure no other JA/Nikkei has written it first (and if they have, I hope they are a former/current watcher of Japanese historical dramas).

Ken Koshio’s performance consisted of an original piece about EO 9066 and a rendition of ‘Sukiyaki.’ He also had a fellow performer, a former professional taiko player whose name I can’t recall. For ‘Sukiyaki,’ he invited the audience to sing along. My mom and I did – Sakamoto Kyu is a household name in our family****** – but I didn’t see very many others joining in. I’m no singer, but I tried to be as enthusiastic as possible in my efforts because I didn’t want Koshio-san to feel unappreciated. I mean, I doubt he would, since he’s a professional and all, but I didn’t want him to think everyone in the audience drew a blank since he picked a very well-known song.

After the taiko and musical performances, my mom and I reviewed the program and decided we were どうでもいい about the speakers (I know, I know, I missed Warren Furutani), so we took a quick look at the pillar, found my dad, and started walking back to the visitors’ center. (Before I actually got to Manzanar, I assumed the pillar would comprise a significant part of my write-up because, you know, it’s in all the photos on the website, but we couldn’t even get close to it because of the stuff arranged in front, so I don’t really have anything to say. Next time, I guess!) This walk ended up being one of my favorite parts of our Manzanar visit, though not for the reasons I might have told myself before I arrived.

There’s not much left of Manzanar. In archaeological terms, maybe, yes, but to the casual eye, no, not really. I’m very visual, so all the mountains, trees, sky, and brush I saw, instead of flat sand, barracks, and guard towers, made me feel very far from the people who were incarcerated there. Looking at the green – really, unexpectedly green – growth in the open space behind the signs reading, ‘such-and-such’s quarters,’ the disappearance is clear, but not so much the emotion. It was easier (weird way of putting it, right?) to find the feeling when we looked at the overgrown parks and gardens. The rocks in the garden, especially – I have photos, but WordPress allots only so much space to media files – but as to the why, there could be a lot of reasons. My parents’ and relatives’ yards, in California and Sagamihara and Miyazaki, my art history background, my dad’s stories about my grandfather…and おはか参り, the non sequitur, maybe, but it makes sense in my head. The rocks say, there were people here, and they cared, and they put us here. Kind of like ほこら, ね? I need practice at the bilingual writing flow, but hopefully fellow bilingual JA/Nikkei readers sort of understand what I’m trying to say.

I saw the toilets. I thought, even before arriving, to take a photo, but when I actually saw them, it felt wrong. Plus, there was an article on the website about the toilets…it’s weird and kind of uncomfortable to think of them used as a tourist selling point.

We made a more thorough circuit of the visitors’ center (though I still couldn’t find anything about Farewell to Manzanar). I started flipping through the records of incarcerated names – incarcerees, or something, but I also think of stolen, stifled, silenced language, so names, too – and a ranger, a white woman, approached to ask if I was looking for a particular person. My dad gave her the details and she went to search the electronic records to see if she had anything we didn’t already know. I sat on a nearby folding chair (yes, I checked first to make sure nobody who looked more in need of a chair was in the vicinity) and looked at the camp flag display across the way. My mom sat next to me. I don’t remember what we talked about. Eventually, I saw Ken Koshio in the crowd, stopping now and then to photograph exhibits. He came to the flags and stepped around my chair for a better angle. I thought, Japanese or English?, picked Japanese, and asked if he wanted me to move, though of course, having picked the language, I sort of knew the answer already. It was half-selfish, I wanted to see what sort of 日本人/日系人 he chose to be or had become or currently was, and his response was, as mostly expected, 日本人. But he also didn’t seem surprised, to hear it from me, a very un-日本人 dressed person, but of course, he must meet all kinds of us in his line of work. (Speaking of which, has anyone else looked at his website? The collaborations with Native musicians are interesting…I feel iffy about the way he’s attired in some of the photos, even if his collaborators ‘approved’ it.) Anyway, it was very cool to talk to someone like him, if only for a second.

There’s a lot I’m forgetting, or already forgot, but I think I jotted down the things I told myself to remember. I learned, after the fact, that Naomi Hirahara was there, somewhere. NAOMI HIRAHARA. And I missed her! My only major regret for this first trip, as far as I know. I have Bachi and Cranes in my pile, and hope to get to one or both sometime this summer.

For any fellow JA/Nikkei reading this, feel free to @ me on Twitter if you have questions, or if you were there, too! I look forward to chatting with you.

P.S. If this post feels truncated in places, or disjointed, it’s because there’s a lot more in my head which, for one reason or other, I didn’t include in the text. Rather than writing myself out, I tried to cover the first iteration of what I consider ‘salient points’ of my experience, with the expectation there will be additional iterations inspired (or not) by the first.

*The towns of Lone Pine and Independence are both closer to Manzanar, but my dad wasn’t able to find a room to accommodate all of us by the time he made the reservation.

**I don’t usually promote writers outside of my book-related posts, but Brandon is someone I admire a lot, so check out his poetry if you have a chance.

***I didn’t see any reference to Farewell to Manzanar in the visitor center exhibits. To my fellow JA/Nikkei who have visited Manzanar, did you notice any reference to the book? Considering how well-known it is, I expected to see at least a placard acknowledging its existence. Maybe I just missed that particular exhibit?

****They have a pretty decent selection of JA/Nikkei works on their shelves, for any fellow JA/Nikkei readers planning a visit.

*****On Twitter (and maybe on this blog), I previously stated my relatives were incarcerated at Poston. During this trip, I learned they were apparently at Topaz and Gila River, so I apologize to any JA/Nikkei confused by the discrepancy.

******Full disclosure: Sukiyaki is also an Obon staple – it was our kachi-kachi dance every year, so I can both sing and dance to it. Luckily, most people who read this probably won’t witness either one.

Book Spotlight: Grandfather’s Journey – Allen Say

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

Grandfather’s Journey is a picture book chronicling the life of writer/illustrator Allen Say’s* grandfather from his youth in Japan to raising a family in San Francisco, to his eventual return to Japan.

What I liked:

  • Say’s beautiful watercolor illustrations draw on both Japanese and European artistic traditions and, I believe, will appeal equally to US-based and Japan-based audiences. The directness of his compositions, juxtaposed with his quiet colors, produces a cultural blend that to me reads as one example of the unique work created by Nikkeijin/Nihonjin who have spent significant time inside and outside Japan.
  • Say presents traumatic moments – in both his personal life and in Japanese history – directly but in an understated way typical of how I feel Nihonjin/Nikkeijin often express themselves. I can only speak to my personal experience, but I definitely relate to the idea of presenting a difficult topic honestly while avoiding extraneous chatter as much as possible. To me, this is also different from our tendency to handle heavy topics via subtle allusions and nuanced comments. I don’t expect all Nikkeijin/Nihonjin to share these views, but hopefully something of what I said will strike a chord.
  • The very first illustration in the book, the watercolor of a photograph of Say’s grandfather, grabbed my attention immediately because of its striking resemblance to the black-and-white photographs of my mother’s father and grandparents on display in my grandmother’s house in Japan. That house has since been demolished, according to my mother, to make way for road development, but seeing Say’s illustration instantly brought back memories of my many visits.

What I learned:

  • I knew there were Issei who returned to Japan, but after reading Grandfather’s Journey I’d like to learn more about the ones who, like Say’s grandfather, returned because they wanted to, not because they were deported or because they found the US unwelcoming after the war.

Questions I had:

  • I wonder if Say ever considered creating a bilingual version of this book? Or perhaps he proposed it but his agent/editor/publisher rejected it? I think Japanese text would add another layer of engagement to the story without taking away from the English text, by mirroring Say’s grandfather’s experience of living in two cultures.
  • How does Say self-identify? Nikkeijin or Nihonjin? Issei? The question of generation seems especially interesting in his case, since his grandfather might be considered Issei, making his US-born mother Nisei, but then he himself was born in Japan and later moved to the US so…Issei again? Can Issei be descended from Nisei? I’d be interested in hearing from any fellow Nikkeijin with backgrounds similar to Say’s – how do you self-identify?
  • Who does Say write and illustrate his books for? Does his work have a wide audience among Nihonjin? The complexities of Nikkeijin/Nihonjin relationships aside, Say’s background and artistic style seem like a combination that would appeal to Nihonjin.

Follow-up:

  • Read Say’s other books – at least, the ones I can acquire. It looks like some may be out of print or difficult to purchase, but I hope I can get most of them!
  • See if I can find bilingual books authored by Nikkeijin. So many of us are bilingual that I hope at least one of us found the experience worth representing in a book.

*Say is a Romanization of 清井, his real family name. I looked this up because I only recently realized he is Japanese and I couldn’t figure out what name was meant to be represented by “Say.” I wonder who decided on this Romanization – as my fellow Japanese-speaking Nikkeijin/Nihonjin know, the spelling isn’t phonetically intuitive.

Book Spotlight: Cherry Blossoms in Twilight – Yaeko Sugama Weldon & Linda Austin

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

Cherry Blossoms in Twilight recounts the life of Yaeko Sugama Weldon, first as a child growing up in wartime Japan, and then as a wife and mother in the United States.

What I liked:

  • The mini illustrations accompanying the chapters, hand-drawn by Yaeko-san,* are lovely. They enhance the book’s intimate, familial feeling without distracting from the narrative. Also, I’m always fascinated by writers who illustrate their own work, since I think the act of doing so is quite different from having someone else illustrate your work.
  • The writing is accessible but not juvenile. Naturally, not everything is shared with the reader, but it felt to me that the things left unsaid were selected for personal reasons rather than to sugarcoat the story. I would have enjoyed reading this as a kid and I definitely enjoyed it as an adult. Readers who appreciate the writing style (though perhaps not the problematic subject matter) in the Little House series will find a similar voice in Cherry Blossoms in Twilight.
  • The extensive descriptions of everyday life in wartime Japan are essential reading for those of us (including me) whose classroom education about Japanese involvement in World War II focused almost exclusively on atomic bombs and camps. Yaeko-san’s story also complements narratives such as those presented in Miyazaki’s 風立ちぬ and Takahata’s 火垂るの墓. (I would actually love to see Miyazaki tackle a film addressing the relationships between Nihonjin and Nikkeijin, but I kind of doubt he would ever do this.)
  • In what to me feels like true Japanese/Nikkei spirit, Yaeko-san presents her many experiences, her accomplishments and struggles, without moralizing or attempting to coerce the reader into feeling a certain way about her. This particular way in which Nihonjin/Nikkeijin express ourselves to the world is something I have always loved and admired.

What I learned:

  • I knew there were Japanese women who married US servicemen (of all races) and immigrated to the US, but I think this is the first book I’ve read that centers on these experiences. I’m not sure if these women self-identified as Shin-Issei, but I’m interested in how they might have interacted with Nikkeijin who had already been living in the US for a generation or two.

Questions I had:

  • Did Yaeko-san ever consider creating a bilingual version of her memoir? It might just be my own bilingual Nikkei perspective, but I’m always interested to see how bilingual Japanese/Nikkeijin express themselves differently in English versus Japanese.**
  • How have other Japanese/Nikkei readers responded to Cherry Blossoms in Twilight?

Follow-up:

  • Read more Japanese/Nikkei memoirs!
  • Read more Japanese/Nikkei authors writing on wartime Japan in both fiction and nonfiction. (There are a ton on my TBR, I just need to get to them!)
  • See if I can find a comparative work on the experiences of Shin-Issei who came to the US at different times after the war. This would ideally be an anthology of writings by Shin-Issei themselves, as opposed to a topical piece by one person, but so far I haven’t come across such a work.

*I have never met Yaeko-san, but the impression I have of her after reading the book is very similar to how I feel around some of my older female relatives and family friends, whom my mother (and, learning from her, my sister and I) often refer to as [first name]-san, so I hope it’s all right if I call her Yaeko-san here.

**Or Japanese versus another language, especially for Nikkeijin who are not based in the US. The articles on Discover Nikkei about the evolution of the Japanese language among Brazilian Nikkeijin are particularly interesting in this regard.

“Small Asian Girl”

One summer in college, I came to campus early because I had volunteered to be a student leader for orientation. None of my friends signed up to be student leaders, so I was mostly alone outside of training sessions. I didn’t mind; I generally prefer to be alone and I’ve made most of my friends because they approached me, not vice versa. As other voluntary loners, probably know, though, this doesn’t mean you’ll be left alone.

I was in the dining hall for lunch, grabbing my food and getting ready to find a quiet table where I could eat alone. An Asian girl, an upperclassman I knew by sight, approached and asked if I wanted to eat lunch with her and her friend. I looked past her and saw her friend was another Asian upperclassman whom I knew by sight. I said ok. I was pretty sure they were both half-Japanese from the little I knew about them. I don’t remember if this factored into my decision to say yes, but I do remember thinking of it as I answered her. I do remember wondering why she asked me, since we’d never interacted before.

I turned aside to finish getting my food and heard her say to her friend, “I asked Small Asian Girl to eat with us.”

From the way she said Small Asian Girl, I realized instantly they’d already developed this label for me and had likely been using it for some time, given the ease with which it rolled off her tongue.

It was like a verbal slap to the face. It was realizing not only had the invitation been extended out of pity for my (perceived to be unhappy) situation, but also realizing how alienated I was from people I might have found community with. It was realizing other Japanese students chose to see and highlight my differences from them instead of looking for ways in which we might relate to each other – but that’s too black-and-white.

I sat down to eat with those girls anyway. I remember exchanging introductions and I think we talked about our Japanese backgrounds, but mostly what I remember is sitting there trying to figure out why I was sitting there. As I finished getting my food and joined them at their table, I was trying to think of how to back out without being obviously rude. Most of all, I didn’t want to say, “I don’t want to sit with you because of what you just called me,” even though it would have been the most honest and direct way of stating my feelings.

Eventually, we went our separate ways. I continued to see them around campus and occasionally we’d nod or wave or say hi, but we never ate together again.

To this day, and even then, I don’t believe the girls meant to be hurtful. I certainly don’t think she intended for me to hear her calling me, “Small Asian Girl.” In a twisted way, I think they did really want to reach out. I know this feeling because I felt the same when I saw Asian international students, especially Japanese ones, looking lost in the dining hall because their friends weren’t there. Unlike those girls, though, I would just go up and ask, “Do you want to sit with us?” And you know what? I made some great friends that way, including people who I still talk to, even though there’s an ocean between us.

I never forgave those two girls in the dining hall, but I think I understand at least part of where they were coming from. I’ve said some extremely ignorant things to Japanese nationals – including family and friends who, instead of calling me on it, let me figure it out on my own – so I know the learning process is different for everybody. I hope those girls know better now, as I do. And yeah, a tiny part of me does hope someone somewhere called them on it at least once.*

Now for a preface-type thing I’m putting at the end.

I got the idea for this post while browsing my alma mater’s website and realizing one of those girls is now the lead contact for the Alumni of Color (I hate that term) organization. Seeing her name and photo there was what told me I hadn’t forgiven her or her friend. It also pretty much guaranteed I’d never try to reconnect with my alma mater via Alumni of Color because I can’t stomach the thought of attempting civil interaction with this person.**

That said, I do wonder what kind of person she turned out to be. I wonder if she still refers to people with labels like, “Small Asian Girl,” or if she figured out at some point that this is not a thing she should do. I wonder if she works with marginalized groups and how she treats them. I wonder why she chose to become the lead contact for Alumni of Color. For the sake of my fellow nonwhite alumni who might try to reconnect via Alumni of Color, I really, really hope she isn’t the person she was in the dining hall that day.

All of this to say, prejudice doesn’t always come from outside groups. Sometimes it comes from the sources you (and I) least expect.

*It feels shitty to be called out, even if the person does it nicely, but I know I would’ve learned a lot more a lot faster if even one of my relatives or friends had said something instead of waiting (literally) years for me to get my shit together. Fortunately, Carl is pretty darn good at keeping me in check these days.

**I don’t know what would be worse – if she remembered our interaction, or if she didn’t and I’d have to relive the discomfort by explaining it to her. Either way, I’m not interested in finding out.

Interview Series – Manga #5

Welcome to my Interview Series. If you’re new, read this first. Today’s topic is manga and this is interview #5.

Name: RH

Self-identify as: Japanese

  1. 一番好きなマンガは何ですか?

−手塚治虫「火の鳥」Phoenix by Tedzuka Osamu

  1. マンガはいつ読み始めたんですか?何で読み始めたんですか?

−大学3年。長編マンガ、文芸作品を読みたかったから。Junior in university. I wanted to read long comics and literary works.

  1. マンガにとって何が一番面白いですか?

—絵と、ストーリーテリングの手法。Pictures, and the techniques of the story telling.

  1. どうやって次に読むマンガを選ぶんですか?

—同じ作家のシリーズ。the series of the same author.

  1. マンガを読んでない人にはどのマンガから読み始めたほうがいいと思いますか?

—好きなテーマ、もしくは好きな絵のタイプ。the themes that you’re interested in or your favorite types of pictures.

Interview Series – Manga #4

Welcome to my Interview Series. If you’re new, read this first. Today’s topic is manga and this is interview #4.

Name: AT

Self-identify as: Japanese American

  1. What is/are your favorite manga?

AT: I don’t have any favorites that I consistently go back to. I read manga in fits. I’ll find a series that I like (which I’ll usually find because many Japanese dramas tend to be live-action adaptations of manga series) I’ll read the first volume to start; if the story engages me, I’ll continue reading. If not, I’ll drop it pretty quickly.

  1. How or why did you start reading manga?

AT: The main reason I started reading manga was to improve my reading comprehension and kanji retention. I wanted to get my reading and writing comprehension up to par with my speaking skills, a goal that is very much still in progress.

  1. What is most compelling to you when reading manga? In other words, what aspects of the manga encourage you to read beyond volume 1?

AT: The story, hands down. If I find that I’m disliking a character’s development, or if the plotline is getting too shallow or predictable for my tastes, I tend to drop it like a hot potato. Like I mentioned earlier, I tend to read manga that have been adapted into films or drama serials. I’ve always been interested in filmmaking, and it’s interesting to see the process of adaptation, what filmmakers choose to discard or embellish, how they choose to tell the story in the limited time frame that they’re given. This is especially the case with dramas. If a drama REALLY interests me, for example (which, unfortunately is rare, because I tend to dislike shallow, predictable, cheesy romantic storylines), I will read the volumes that the drama episodes are based upon. If the storyline engages me beyond that, I might invest in volumes beyond the stopping point of the drama, but I may not.

  1. How do you choose what manga to read next?

AT: Sometimes I turn to recommendations from friends, manga series I’ve heard about during an interview or something similar. If I find the summary compelling after looking it up on Wikipedia, and it’s highly recommended by people I trust, I’ll go down that road.

  1. If you were recommending manga to someone who has never read it before, what would you recommend and why?

AT: I’d probably try to get a feel for what the person was interested in, for example, or if they have any manga series they’re keen to start. For example, if they saw a live-action adaptation of a manga in drama form and liked it, I would recommend they start there if they were interested. Having read very few volumes of manga up to this point, it’s hard to determine what my go-to manga is, especially since people have such varied interests.

Racism 101 – I’m Your Friend, Not Your Teacher

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my white friends. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how the experiences and opinions I document on this blog relate to my having white friends. Even more specifically, I’ve been considering the following question: should there be a line between friend and teacher? In case that’s confusing, I’ve added the missing descriptors below:

Should there be a line between (nonwhite) friend (of white person) and (Racism 101) teacher?

I imagine nonwhite people will have a range of responses to this question. I’m here to talk about my response only.*

My answer: yes, there should be and is a line. In my case, I draw the line at explicit teaching. Fellow nonwhite people will probably have a good sense of what I mean by this, but I’ve outlined some of the key points below. Keep in mind, the list is not comprehensive.**

Questions I will not answer:

  • Do you think [x] is racist?
  • Is it ok if I do/wear/use/write about [x]?
  • Do you think I am racist?
  • Have I ever been racist to you in the past? If so, can you tell me how?
  • Have you ever had [x] experience with racism?
  • How do you think I demonstrate my white privilege?
  • Will you teach me how not to be racist?
  • Why won’t you spend more time teaching me about racism?

Topics I will not discuss:

  • Identifying and explaining the ways in which you have been racist toward me
  • Identifying and explaining the ways in which you are/aren’t like other white people
  • Explaining how/why it is wrong for you to justify [x] by telling me that other Japanese/Asian person said it was ok
  • That time you or someone you knew studied Japanese or went to Japan (or studied a different Asian language and went to a different Asian country)

Long story short, I am not here to be anyone’s racism arbiter. I will not be the “token POC” friend or the face of Japan or the JA community. I am not interested in reliving and dissecting painful experiences to prove racism is real or to make you feel better about your whiteness. I give no prizes to people for treating me like a human being.

So. If those are the things I won’t talk about with white friends re: racism, what will I talk about? Well, all the things everyone talks about with their friends. Nonwhite people are people first, not [insert race/ethnicity/culture] first. We talk about any topic humans talk about. The key is how the discussions are framed.

In my experience, the most aggravating and harmful aspect of discussing race with white people is that, at some point, the discussion becomes personal. At some point, I am asked – or it is demanded of me – to give real-life examples to prove or justify something that, to the white interrogator, is difficult to grasp. I am expected to cite unpleasant personal experiences in order to satisfy white curiosity and “instruct” white ignorance. If I don’t, if I offer remarks only in the abstract, or cite external rather than personal examples, my perspective is discounted. I am talked down, dismissed, silenced. Why? Because it is easier to discount words (abstract) than actions (tangible). Because white privilege always looks for the quickest way to reassert control. Because if the discussion has already gone to this place, then the people asking the questions have no real interest in effecting change.

In my ideal world, every white person would sit down with a roomful of nonwhite people to discuss racism. One white person – the only white person – and every other face in the room, nonwhite.***

In the real world, the opposite is more often true. It’s fantastic to see nonwhite people volunteering to educate white people about race – and by extension, opening themselves up to white fragility, white tears, and white privilege at its most defensive. But when that educator is also the only nonwhite face in the room, or only one of a handful in a room of a hundred – has there really been a shift in the power dynamic? Can the nonwhite person’s role as educator versus the white people’s role as students transcend the sociocultural framework of systemic oppression? Do the numbers even matter, as long as the framework is in place?

Speaking again from personal experience, no, sometimes the numbers don’t mean anything. I can have a 1:1 conversation about racism with a white person and we won’t be on equal footing. Why? Because I am trying to explain histories and experiences that have largely been written out of the dominant US cultural narrative. Because, for all or most of their life, the white person I’m talking to has probably been exposed to ways of thinking and acting underlined – subtly or not – by a, “white is right” mentality. Because if I’m the first or one of only a handful of nonwhite people to have this conversation with this white person, my words are probably being weighted unfairly. In other words, most white people don’t know where to toe the line between, “you’re just one nonwhite voice, so I’ll dismiss you because you make me uncomfortable” and, “I will take your word as the be-all, end-all on racism because I can’t see past the color of your skin to understand that nonwhite people are not monolithic.” Both concepts sound fairly ridiculous when written in so many words – and yet, the majority of my discussions on racism with white people have culminated in one of these two ways. And always, always, the discussion cycles back to whiteness, whether it be defensiveness or entitlement to being taught. Not the most rewarding result for a situation that is already putting me under a lot of stress.

So, that said – where does it leave us?

Speaking for myself, I want and expect my white friends to acknowledge their white privilege. This does NOT mean I don’t expect them to slip up. Microaggressions will still happen and when they do, I’ll say something. I will not, however, necessarily provide the full background for why something is racist. I might – if I have time and feel so inclined – but I might also say, “you know, I think it’s better if you look into this yourself.” Whether they do or not is entirely up to them – personally, I think it’s a good way to identify who is willing to walk their talk and who is not. It also clearly sends the message that no white person, regardless of their relationship to me, is entitled to Racism 101 lessons from me. Let me say that again: no white person is entitled to Racism 101 lessons from me.

Lest someone raises the protest, “but a REAL friend would explain –!” – if that is your response after reading this far in this post, you have completely missed the point and I am not here to explain why or how.

For any white friends reading this, yes, we can still talk about racism – I’m merely saying, the conversation is not going to be in the form of you asking questions and me answering them. If you read an article or follow a blog or see a Twitter discussion and you think we could or should talk about it, by all means, let me know.**** If you want to talk about racism but aren’t sure where to start, I definitely recommend either looking up the folks I follow on Twitter or checking out the blogs/websites on the Resources page. As with many other topics, conversations about racism tend to be most productive if everyone involved has some amount of background knowledge.

Before I wrote this post, I considered approaching each of my white friends 1:1 to discuss racism. But then I realized – there’s not really a reason to do this apropos of nothing – and if racism isn’t already something they’ve been thinking about, they might not respond in a way conducive to future discussions. So, instead, I wrote this post. If and when racism comes up in conversation, I’ll ask my white friends to start by reading this post.

In closing, I’ll reiterate that this post reflects only my opinion on the line between friend and Racism 101 teacher and should not be assumed to apply to other nonwhite people’s views on the matter. Additionally, I am pretty much always willing to discuss race/representation with fellow nonwhite folks – just @ me on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

*I don’t speak for other nonwhite people. Nor am I interested in speaking over nonwhite people who may disagree with my perspective. If you’re interested in seeing what other nonwhite people have to say about “teaching” Racism 101, please check out the Resources page and/or the folks I follow on Twitter.

**Hint: If your approach to the list is to read it and search for loopholes, you are completely missing the point. Also, stop centering whiteness (which is what happens every time a white person tries to circumvent racism).

***If you’re white and the idea of doing this scares you, you might want to think about why.

****I will not, however, engage in racist-bashing with you; in other words, if you want me to read something that you know is harmful, so we can engage in shared righteous indignation about it – no thanks. To paraphrase some of my Twitter folks, I don’t need to know about every racist thing happening to Japanese/Asians – and I don’t want to know. I already encounter plenty of harmful material in my regular social media activity – I don’t need any more.

Interview Series – Manga #3

Welcome to my Interview Series. If you’re new, read this first. Today’s topic is manga and this is interview #3.

Name: YY

Self-identify as: Japanese

  1. 一番好きなマンガは何ですか?

「サザエさん」

  1. マンガはいつ読み始めたんですか?何で読み始めたんですか?

小学校低学年くらい?

よく覚えていません。

  1. マンガにとって何が一番面白いですか?

マンガが面白いとは思っていません。

  1. どうやって次に読むマンガを選ぶんですか?

私はマンガを読まないので次に読むマンガを選ぶ必要がありません。

  1. マンガを読んでない人にはどのマンガから読み始めたほうがいいと思いますか?

絵が上手な人が書いたマンガがいいと思います。でも、マンガを読まなくても困らないので無理に「読み始める」ことは必要ないと思います。

Interview Series – Manga #2

Welcome to my Interview Series. If you’re new, read this first. Today’s topic is manga and this is interview #2.

Name: YM

Self-identify as: Japanese

  1. What is/are your favorite manga?

YM: いじわるばあさん, サザエさん, 天才バカボン、おそまつ君

  1. How or why did you start reading manga?

YM: In 60’s and 70’s, weekly manga magazines were very popular and a lot of middle and high school students read them.  I was one of them.

  1. What is most compelling to you when reading manga? In other words, what aspects of the manga encourage you to read beyond volume 1?

YM: Most of manga had a good story line and entertaining just like any fiction.

  1. How do you choose what manga to read next?

YM: Author, pictures, story line

  1. If you were recommending manga to someone who has never read it before, what would you recommend and why?

YM: I recommend what I listed in 1, what are classified as “classic” and reflect the era.  You’d like them because they make you laugh.

Interview Series – Manga

Hi, welcome to my Interview Series, a new feature I’m trying on the blog. I highly recommend reading this before proceeding. Today’s topic and the first topic in this series is manga! In this very first interview, I will be interviewing myself.

Name: Me

Self-identify as: Japanese

  1. What is/are your favorite manga?

Me: My current favorites are よつばと! and 風光る. But I’m a relatively new manga reader, so my answers may change in the future!

  1. How or why did you start reading manga?

Me: I started reading manga for two reasons. One, after moving out of my parents’ house, I realized my Japanese skills were starting to get rusty because I no longer used it on a daily basis. Manga seemed like the perfect way to engage my brain while also entertaining me. Two, in the course of writing Japanese stories, I realized I needed to know more about how Japanese in Japan represent Japanese culture in its various iterations. Since manga is so widespread in Japan, I figured it would be a great introduction to reinterpretations of Japanese culture via writing and art. As a side note, I’ve since realized manga is also a way to connect with fellow Japanese because it’s an experience many of us share. Good incentive to keep reading!

  1. What is most compelling to you when reading manga? In other words, what aspects of the manga encourage you to read beyond volume 1?

Me: Both the story and the art need to engage me. They don’t need to be equally compelling, but if I don’t like at least one aspect of each, it’s very difficult for me to keep reading. For example, in 田中くんはいつもけだるげ, I really enjoy how Uda Nozomi draws Tanaka-kun and his classmates. The story is a bit slow at times (I believe this is intentional, considering Tanaka-kun’s character) and occasionally I put the book down to do something else, but the artwork keeps me committed to the series. By contrast, I recently purchased volume 1 of Naruto. I haven’t read it yet, but a cursory flip-through suggests neither the story nor the art are really to my taste. I still plan to read it, but nothing about the manga has really grabbed me yet.

  1. How do you choose what manga to read next?

Me: Usually I find my new reads by browsing at Kinokuniya. Sometimes I ask my relatives or friends for recommendations, but these can be hit-or-miss. Funnily enough, I think “judging by the cover” actually applies to choosing manga, especially if the volume is shrink-wrapped and the store will not open it. If I don’t like what I see on the cover, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to endure a 100+ pages of the same art style. Of course, there are always exceptions…

  1. If you were recommending manga to someone who has never read it before, what would you recommend and why?

Me: Ooh, I think this depends on who the person is. I know my own current favorites, よつばと! and 風光る, have received very high ratings in Japan, so I think it’s safe to say there’s a strong general appeal there. (Then again, my cousin said he thinks the plot of 風光る moves too slowly, so it isn’t universal.) I’ve heard of some other manga that are also very popular, but since I haven’t read them yet, I’ll reserve judgment for now!*

*See the Favorites page for a full list of manga I’ve read AND chosen to recommend.