Paper: Japan and Cultural (Mis)Appropriation

Ok, so one of the heated topics, particularly within stateside otaku culture is the issue of cultural (mis)appropriation.

This is a valid, sensitive topic that I know effects my fellow classmates, with deep roots in colonialism and I don’t want to assume anything or say/do anything offensive or be insensitive.

The presentation on Monday, thank you for everything you shared and helping me to begin to understand and change the way I think about the cultures, communities and people that make up PI(A) and the broader API(A) cultures.

Asian and Asian/American studies, combined with film and media studies are what my BA and MA focus are. I would be an idiot, “baka”, to assume (mis)appropriation effects different cultures the same way, to think that within these cultures that all of the populace views the issue the same way and there are too many important components to generalize, anything.

So that I don’t generalize and ignore the intricacies of this topic, I’m going to look at (mis)appropriation from the cultures I have the most familiarity with, which is otaku, Japanese, American and my growing understanding of Asian/American culture.

Also I’ve noticed that the words “misappropriation” and “appropriation” are used interchangeably, with “appropriation” being widely favored in the media, despite having different definitions initially, so I will be using the term “(mis)appropriation” to acknowledge the use of both words and their combined meanings.

So, one of the main things I am, finally, beginning to understand no longer in vague, broad strokes, is that Asian and Asian/American culture are different. I knew they were, I wasn’t completely ignorant and culturally isolated, but I didn’t know how and in what ways they were.

For a little background on what previously shaped my perspective, most of my actual, not otaku, experience with Asian culture was with recent first generation immigrants and international students at my previous college. The students I interacted with the most were learning English as a second language, mostly from Hong Kong and South Korea.

Outside of the college, I worked with first generation immigrants where I learned, mostly about the conflicts between Japan, Korea and China, within Japan, Korea and China and very little on the history colonialism had in them, which to me seems either odd now or the absence itself is evidence of that colonialism.

Normally I would be embarrassed to say this, but prior to coming to Evergreen, I really didn’t know anyone who identified as Asian/American because there wasn’t anyone. If there had been, along with diversity in general, coming to Evergreen would have been, less of an adjustment than it has been.

An adjustment I’m glad to be going through, finally growing as a human being instead of being stuck in the rotting wasteland of a former logging town. Cause before I was used to either “Asian” or “American” and pretty much knew nothing of the “/”.

I’m sorry if I have acted or have been acting like a complete idiot.

Anyways, to bring this back into the topic of (mis)appropriation, and where specifically in otaku culture with Japanese culture, I could start to see where the issue on three very basic levels: the Japanese point of view, the Japanese/American point of view and the colonialist American point of view.

Because of time and space, I can’t go as in-depth as I would like (and need), but I will do my best to be clear and percise with my words to avoid misunderstandings.

Instead of the previous example I used, the example I will use is from July 2015 with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the debate over whether providing guests with kimono to wear in conjunction with the exhibit of the painting below, was cultural (mis)appropriation – MFA backs down over kimono event in response to protests


Claude Monet, La Japonaise, 1876

Here in America, and given that the painting is of a white women in a kimono, I, as mixed raced and otaku that has grown up in America, say that this is cultural (mis)appropriation with the kimono event and was ignorant and disrespectful to Japanese/Americans.

If the painting was alone on a wall as part of a normal Claude Monet exhibition, and given it was painted in 1876, I would not view it as an issue or even use it as a talking point to educate the public, not only on Japanese/American history, but also APIA history like our text “Asian American History: A Very Short Introduction” does. Also an introduction that does not mash up all of the different countries and cultures like “Moana” does with IP(A).

But once the museum added the wear a kimono fun day event during that summer, without trying to educate on the history of the painting, Japanese culture, the Japanese people, Japanese/Americans, how they were viewed at the time of the painting and the issues with cultural (mis)appropriation in America now, any acknowledgement, it became cultural (mis)appropriation.

That is my stance on this exhibit.

As an otaku though, I have a general understanding that the Japanese, meaning Japanese living in Japan with their own distinct mindset, politics, experience and history that is different from Japanese/Americans since this painting was painted in 1876.

For this I have this video from YouTubers Rachel and Jun, a Japanese/American married couple who live and make videos about their lives in Japan.

This was the video that helped me to understand, specifically in stateside otaku culture, why cultural (mis)appropriation and where otaku stand on it in regards to anime, manga and Japanese culture, is all over the place.

It helped me to start to understand how the Japanese view seeing their culture shared outside of Japan, which also gave me a clearer insight on why some otaku are “it’s fine to wear a kimono, I know I’m doing nothing wrong” and some cry “weeaboo!”

It is also why I didn’t use the Japanese themed birthday party example again (as also my views on what is and isn’t (mis)appropriation have changed since then) and instead used the Claude Monet painting.

It automatically brings in that critical historical dialog that is present and can’t be ignored today America, where as in Japan there is a different historical dialog and different issues that are the focus of present day Japan.

Japan’s willingness and encouragement of their culture being shared is a common sentiment, which those in the otaku community are generally aware of, but because the stateside otaku culture is just that, stateside in America, it is difficult to know where the line is, for those not Japanese or Japanese/American, for what is and isn’t cultural (mis)appropriation.

For the most part, in the otaku community, for special events such as conventions, cosplaying as specific characters, food, music, media, merchandise (and cats), are generally not seen as (mis)appropriation. This would include wearing kimono and participating in traditional Japanese activities at cultural events where the history, people and culture are acknowledged. It is often an excellent opportunity to learn more, and have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the culture that is very openly being shared.

Where things get dicey are with the American otaku who, for simplicity, would wear a kimono everyday in public and are not Japanese or Japanese/American.

Do they have the freedom to wear a kimono everyday in America, so long as their reasons are non-harmful? Yes they do, but while they may have that freedom with permission from the country of origin and enough understanding of Japanese culture to put on a kimono and wear it everyday, that person must realize they are in a country that still to this day (mis)appropriates in mass, regularly does not acknowledge the histories (and the crimes) it has committed against the minorities it (mis)appropriates from and still actively engages in colonialism.

So while it may be welcomed in Japan, here in America it would be insensitive and inappropriate on an everyday basis due to its long history of colonialism, and from my perspective it would be better to reserve wearing it for special occasions, like conventions and cosplaying.


Paper: “Jab Tak Hai Jaan”

Poster for the 2012 Indiana film “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” or “As Long as I Live”

Over the past few years, whenever I would hear someone making fun of Bollywood movies, the usual Indian stereotypes about them being campy, cheesy musicals using technology that was backdated to the 1960’s, this is the film I would “Rick Roll” them with, showing them one of these two songs.

Normally, an uncomfortable silence would follow and they would awkwardly move onto another topic, without a word about what I showed them.

For some that might not seem like an accomplishment or as if anything significant had transpired, but the silence these two videos were met with from people who would normally say something to shut me down or rudely blow it off.

That they had nothing to say, says a lot.

While they may have not said that their previous comments were wrong (these are not the sort of people to apologize), but the fact that they didn’t try to fight or defend their comments either shows the effect of what a four minute video can have.

And while “Jab Tak Hai Jaan”, may not be considered director Yash Chopra’s best film, (though it was his final film before passing), the impact it had on people I showed it to demonstrates the power of film and the media influencing opinion. And I think most importantly, that this is a Bollywood made film, not a Hollywood one making this impact.

And its impact can be seen elsewhere too, such as through the internet.

I found out about “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” through a cover collaboration of “Jai Ho” done by Peter Hollands and Alaa Wardi, whose YouTube channel I visited and listened to his cover of “Jiya Re” and then sought out “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” from there.

Paper: “42” is A Life Well Lived

The book cover of “Dark Blue Suit” by Peter Bacho.

In “Dark Blue Suit”, I really wanted to talk about the character Charlie and the chapter “A Life Well Lived”.

In the book, this character and this chapter stood out to me the most, and out of all the books I glad it brought forward this topic and “the American Dream”.

A lot of the variations of what the “American Dream” is revolve around happiness, and that coming from “making it”.

But what is “making it”? Does it have to be monetary wealth? Reaching a higher class in society? Leaving your mark on the world? Having and raising a family?

Why does it have to be something physical? Something tangible to others? Something you can show and say, “Here’s the proof. I have the ‘American Dream’.”

That’s why I liked Charlie. As far as how most view the “American Dream”, he didn’t achieve it, but to myself he did, by not giving up on his values even though it would mean a life that much more closely resembled the typical “American Dream”.

He chose being able to live comfortably in himself/with himself, than to live comfortably in the physical world around him, which I think is more important.

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Paper: Otaku, Fandoms and Humor

Looking into the sources and solutions into otaku stigma alone has been multiple rabbits holes, but one thing I’ve noticed there is the ongoing reclamation of the word otaku stateside. An example of this that also ties into one of the topics covered in class is the, I think incongruity humor, that is a central part of otaku culture as it starts to take pride in the word, rather than shy away from it.

Shirt from the store Hot Topic with the definition of otaku on it.

Covering the different types of humor in class this week, which helped cement my project focus and “home”, which had gotten lost in an increasingly interconnected web of cross cultural currents within just the stateside otaku subculture. Continue reading →

Paper: Misused Misappropriation

In reading “Donald Duk”, there were many themes that were talked about and explored in the group discussions, from the coming of age story as a young adult novel, the concept of dreams and reality and the, often mouth watering, descriptions and roles food has to play.

To myself personally and with what my project revolves around, what stood out to me was Donald’s friend Arnold. A young white boy, invited in to celebrate the Chinese New Year and participate with Donald’s family and community. To myself, this exchange and sharing of culture is a wonderful thing to read and see. Arnold learns firsthand about Chinese American culture, to be specific, and gets to also engage in it, which fosters a deeper and richer understanding and respect for Donald’s culture, unlike their teacher (as far as I was able to read, I still need to finish the book).

But when it came to the part when Donald’s family gives Arnold a Chinese silk shirt to wear as well, I immediately thought to a photo that sparked a strong reaction in the American white community on cultural misappropriation. – Bored Panda – A Japanese Tea Party

The debate took place on Tumblr, centered on the photo of a young white girl, about nine or ten, in her home, proudly wearing the kimono her parents had gotten her while wearing geisha styled makeup for a Japanese tea party themed birthday party.

In this particular example, the subject of accusations of misappropriation being used as a form of racism is brought up (it is an internet debate on an open forum, so all things specifically claimed and assumed, are still claimed and assumed).

For myself though, this was not the first time I had come across white people using the justification of cultural misappropriation (often stated as just appropriation) to bash other white people participating in another culture, normally in a respectful and educational manner. It wasn’t the first time that kids were in the center of the debate.

More and more, this term and how it is being used in the white community, comes across as another mask of colonial based/typed racism. It very similar to the justifications that Christian missionary work was in the interest of “saving” souls, just as cultural misappropriation is being used to “save/preserve” other cultures and teaching white kids to respect other cultures via not sharing and participating in them.

Except the only thing this is accomplishing is the keeping the “purity” of white culture, teaching the next generation that it is not OK to share in other cultures and this sort of misuse of the term is only reinforcing racist barriers that more than likely will only aggravated the exclusion of all other nationalities, culture, class etc. from being included in American society.

Note – the United Nation laws on this give a much better understanding of the actual purpose of the term –

Paper: Water and too much Milk

Japanese milk advertisement.

In the text When the Emperor was Divine, I noticed the symbolism between water and milk. Taking a geographic perspective, I like how the symbolism of water for Japan or Japanese could refer to Japan being an island nation-state that is heavily dependent on the ocean. While milk for America, aside from it being white, could refer to America’s dependency on large areas of land, ranches and cows, which produce milk. Also the general cowboy/Wild West culture and milk is largely absent from traditional Japanese cuisine and is heavily seafood based and American cuisine is heavily dependent on it.

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Paper: “Kentucky Christmas”, Sugar and Evolution vs. Social Darwinism

In the assigned text Asian ​​American ​​History: ​​A​​ Very​​ Short​​ Introduction, I noticed some overall themes in regards to Western colonialism and that it hasn’t actually stopped, only that it has a new “face”. The idea and pursuit of Western culture being the pinnacle of all human cultures.

From the 1400’s – 1700’s direct military force and Christian missionaries were the main avenue via invasion of Asian territory. By the 1800’s to the mid 1900’s, racial and immigration policies in these countries and stateside were mainly used. After WW2 and during the Cold War, US educational institutions were deliberately used. And now, large US corporations have heavy influence through manufactured goods and American goods, such as processed foods, fast food and the heavy advertising that is typical in the US, but not abroad.

Where it can clearly seen, at least from my current area of knowledge, is Japan where English words are often used on product packaging to help sell the products better domestically and is not intended for marketing outside of Japan.

Also KFC’s influence, which is a major part of how the Christmas holiday is celebrated in Japan, thanks to heavy advertising of the Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii or “Kentucky for Christmas” bucket meals back in 1974.

A KFC Christmas advertisement. KFC Christmas meals normally ordered weeks in advance and cost between $30 and $60 dollars for the meal.

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