As a D.C. resident and Japanese Tamago student, I believe it is necessary to participate in supporting Asians and Asian Americans within my community through self-education and the education of others. Since I am learning the Japanese language, it is crucial that I support Japanese people, not just the language, and the first step that I need to take is by educating myself before I can take action in supporting any group; It is more effective to vocalize an injustice and know the reasoning behind it rather than blindly yelling for change. This will 1) demonstrate that I care enough to research the issues that affect a community rather than taking a shortcut and 2) prepare me for questions from others who would like to know more about current issues affecting a community. Additionally, as a non-Asian minority, I am responsible along with other minorities to collectively and actively support and advocate for the safety and civil treatment of Asians, especially within our local communities. By starting with the basics, I along with other Washingtonians and Americans will be able to generate lasting, positive change for Asian and Asian American communities.
It has been heartbreaking seeing what has been going on in the news. While George Floyd’s killer was charged on all three counts for killing George Floyd, Asian Americans have been fighting for their lives. It breaks my heart seeing the Asian Americans being beat to death because of their race. There are Asian Americans who have never seen China, whose family is not from China, who are being blamed for Covid-19. The intensity of the outbreak in the United States is not at the fault of the Asian community, it’s the fault of the selfish white people who make wearing a mask political. It’s the fault of the selfish white people who told themselves the pandemic was not real.
Everyone understands that there are problems in the world. Furthermore, there are inciting events and catalysts to those problems that create them, or make them worse. One of the issues my country, the United States of America, is currently facing is racism towards Asian Americans. The new surge of unwanted and violent actions towards this minority is due to the Coronavirus Pandemic currently plaguing our lives. However, from reading articles about the subject matter at hand, I realized there is a trend popping up in each of these sorts of events. There is always a political or social figure of importance influencing the opinions of the American people. More often than not, these people tend to sway the perception of the minority being targeted in a more negative light.
A modern example that comes to mind is Donald Trump calling the Covid-19 virus the “China Virus,” or “Kung-flu,” painting the Chinese people and Chinese Americans in a negative light. As Donald Trump is a former American president, he had a lot of power and influence over the civilians in our nation. This occurrence itself may not have started the wave of racism towards Asian-Americans, but it was one of many inciting incidents that rapidly increased the violent outbursts towards the community. However, this is nothing new. I read some articles speaking about many historical events that gave Asian Americans a bad name, especially at the time. One of these incidents is the Japanese internment camps during World War II, in which many Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were mistreated and hurt. Even Dr. Seuss, a popular children’s storybook writer, was the artist who drew racist cartoons about the Asian community, as shown below.
I decided to join Japanese Tamago because I was interested in Japan’s culture and I wanted to learn Japanese. I was also greatly encouraged to learn more about Japan because of the growing popularity of anime and ramen. I’ve continued with the program because I have learned a lot from the program, both the Japanese language and culture.
One thing that I learned from Japanese Tamago were the origins of Japanese chopsticks and their similarities and differences with Korea’s and China’s chopsticks. Chopsticks originated from the Shang Dynasty and both Korea and Japan adopted the chopsticks from China. There are some similarities between the three chopsticks, but China, Korea, and Japan have different customs that associate with their chopsticks.
As you can see, Chinese chopsticks are the longest out of the three, while Japan’s chopsticks are the shortest. Chinese chopsticks are usually made out of bamboo, plastic, or ivory and they are about 10 inches long. They have blunt ends and they are a rectangle shape. Chinese chopsticks are long because they could be used as cooking utensils and also for shared dishes. Korean chopsticks are usually made with metal and they are a rectangular shape. They could also be decorated at the ends. Japanese chopsticks are shorter and rounder than Korean and Chinese chopsticks. They also have a pointier end because it makes it easier to eat fish.
I encourage you to research the different customs and history for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean chopsticks. It is really interesting and engaging and I enjoyed learning about it.
Temples are considered to be places of worship for those who practice Japanese Buddhism. Because of this, almost every Japanese municipality has at least one temple. While you can find them many places, cities like Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura are the most popular places to go to temples. Popular temples include Osorezan, Kiyomizudera, the Todaiji Temple and Kinkakuji.
I chose this topic because we were learning about temples and a bit about temple etiquette in Japanese Tamago class. I think it’s important to adjust to your environment when you’re somewhere unfamiliar. That’s why I’ve taken a big interest in the culture in Japan because showing proper manners in a place you’re unfamiliar with is a great way to show your thoughtfulness. So I am here to share some of the things I learned about visiting a temple.
The structures you can usually find at a temple include:
-The main hall in which the sacred objects of worship are displayed
-The lecture hall where meetings and conferences take place
-The pagoda which stores the remains of the Buddha
-The gates mark the entrance to the temple
-On New Year’s Eve there is a bell that is rung 108 times for the Buddhist concept of worldly desires
-And a cemetery containing people’s ancestors
Because this is such a place of worship, there is proper etiquette when visiting a Japanese temple or shrine. I wanted to share some examples with you in the case that you decide to visit one of these beautiful places of worship.
To start off, there is no dress code when visiting one of these areas. However, it should go without saying that dressing modestly or appropriately is respectful. In temples they contain offering boxes in front of sacred objects of worship. You can show respect by throwing a coin into the offering box and then following it with a short prayer. In some temples you will find an incense burner for visitors. If you’d like you can purchase a bundle of incense and light it, waving it around with your hand and putting it in the incense burner. In temple buildings, it’s very possible you’ll be required to take off your shoes so make sure you’re wearing a pair of socks along with that and leave your shoes at the entrance. Make sure to take hats off as well. You may take photos on the temple grounds, but it’s often prohibited to take pictures inside the buildings. Overall, you should take into account that this is a peaceful and sacred place for many people so be respectful in the level of your voice and what you do with your body so as to not disturb others. As long as you’re showcasing proper manners and temple etiquette, enjoy your visit to these beautiful temples!
When I first joined Japanese Tamago, it was strictly for the language; after studying on my own, I wanted to start learning Japanese in a classroom setting. However, I’ve learned that the program is much more than just a language class, and I keep coming back just as much for the lessons on Japanese places, culture, and history as I do to further my study of the language. One thing that I was not expecting when I joined the class but really appreciate is the program’s involvement in current events, such as the recent anti-Asian hate crimes.
In Japanese Tamago, we have been discussing the recent rise in hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders due to the pandemic’s origins in China, and possible courses of action we could take as a class to stand in support of these groups. Because there are not many youth organizations, either independent or within the public school system, that are actively connected to Asia, we feel that it is important that we make the voices of people like us heard. Especially because we are studying Japanese culture, I feel that we have a responsibility to stand up for the people we are learning about. It is a way to further inform ourselves and others of what Asians are going through, engage with the community around us at a time when many of us are isolated, and make our voices heard in a way that will create change.
Recently during Tamago class, we focused on Okinawa for the cultural aspect of the lesson. This meant we did a Rajio-Taiso exercise that was filmed in Okinawa, learned about Okinawan food, and also learned about the US military bases on the island. There is a long history of American military interaction with Okinawa, starting off in World War II with the battle of Okinawa resulting in many casualties, a lot of whom were civilians. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the US occupied Japan up to 1952 and this meant Okinawa was in the control of the US. During the US occupation, military bases were constructed and used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The southern islands began to be returned to Japan in 1953 and all Ryukyu Islands were returned in 1971. After this, many military bases remained on Okinawa, playing roles in the War in Afghanistan, and Iraq War. Nowadays, there’s still a whopping 18% of Okinawa’s landmass that’s being used for the 32 American military bases on the island. And while Okinawa only constitutes 0.6% of Japan’s total landmass, 70% of all US military bases in Japan are on Okinawa.
The continued American military presence on Okinawa brings quite a bit of controversy among locals and authorities. This stems from the incidents that have happened at the main base in Okinawa, Kadena Air Base, and just the general intrusion. For example, there have been incidents of sexual violence committed by US servicemen. And there have been accidents involving civilians, like in 1959 when a fighter jet crashed into a local elementary school killing 17 people and injuring 210. Other accidents include a nuclear rocket being fired into a local harbor, nerve agents being leaked, and a lost hydrogen bomb in the nearby seas. Then in 2013, an accidental firing of the sprinkler systems spewed tens of thousands of chemical contaminants into the water system. This chemical, PFAS, has contaminated the drinking water of 450,000 people! Quite obviously, a military base comes with lots of risks for the residents.
One major controversy going on now is around the plans for the relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Base. Since the 1960s the US has had plans to relocate Futenma to the area of Henoko. The US military is now starting construction despite the opposition from locals where 72% of residents voted to reject the relocation. The reason there is so much opposition is that bases around Okinawa cause lots of trouble for the residents as evidenced above. In the case of Futenma, construction would require the destruction of coral reefs, which are prized in Okinawan culture. And the roars of Ospreys and other military aircraft have been connected to hearing loss among some of the elders. Protests and sit-ins are carried out to delay the construction of Futenma and yet the Japanese government continues to side with the US military, leaving protesters feeling unheard, adding to the frustration.
This is not to say that the majority of Okinawan residents want the US completely ejected. The opinions of residents are far more complex with surveys (Source) finding that half of the residents couldn’t decide whether US military presence was a good or bad thing. The majority of people think the US-Japan security treaty is a good thing with benefits for the island such as the tourism that comes with the bases and the strategic balance in Asia that the bases might bring. But the root of the problem is that there are too many bases in too small an area. Personally, I agree, and based on what I’ve read, it seems that the bases are a huge intrusion on residents. It feels like an extension of American imperialism, where the bases aren’t actual territories, but they allow the US to have so much influence around the world. The residents often have to pay the price for this through the horrible incidents that have happened. Then when people protest, they are not heard by the governments and by the wider world. If you’d like to read more about the US military bases in Okinawa, some articles are listed below, along with sources.
When I first started learning Japanese, I was very excited to hear the similarities when listening to spoken Japanese to how my dad talks on the phone to his family. Because of him, I’ve learned some Kiswahili, possibly with Meru influence, because his family is Meru. When taking heard Japanese onto writing in the Roman alphabet, spelling was quite easy because Bantu languages and Japanese can be very phonetically similar. Even with sounds that are less common in Japanese, like the “L” sound, similarities are still there in my mother’s heritage of Chilenge and Zambia’s Chichewa.
Pronunciation and Spelling
Immediately the similarities between the two can be seen in people’s names, how the names are spelled and how they’re pronounced. For example, my last name, Kaberia, the way my name is said is based off Meru language rules, that are very close to Kiswahili language rules, because my Dad is Kenyan. A lot of English speakers tend to struggle with saying it right, usually on the letter “e.” In English the letter “e” is mostly silent or pronounced as /ee/ like “each.” Also the letter “a” isn’t read by many as “ah,” but rather “uh” in American-English. So, a lot of people end up saying “Ka(bee)riuh” instead of “Kah-beh-ri-ah” how it’s supposed to be pronounced. In Swahili, the majority of the time vowels are consistent, A=ah E=eh I=ee O=oh U=oo(uu), rather than having many different pronunciations. With Japanese katakana the consistency is there and the pronunciations are similar, ア=ah エ=eh イ=ee オ=oh ウ=oo(uu), which also remains the same when you add a consonant before them.
Now with my mother’s last name, she has stories of people saying they thought she was Japanese based off her name. Her name is Zambian(Chilenge), Lusaka, which does follow the Chichewa/Nyanja rules for vowel pronunciation, that are the exact same as the ones for Swahili and Japanese katakana. When I learned to write my name in katakana it was very simple because the spelling and pronunciation of my last names lined up with the katakana.
Reduplication refers to words formed through repetition of sounds or entire words. Examples in English include okey-dokey, flim-flam, and pitter-patter. In Japanese the word “tsugi/つぎ” means next, and “tsugi-tsugi/つぎつぎ” means in succession. The word is repeated to mean an extension of that original word in this case. This can be compared to two different examples in Chichewa and Swahili. “Piga” meaning to strike, becomes “Pigapiga” to strike repeatedly in Swahili. In Chichewa “tambalalá” means to stretch one’s legs, “tambalalá- tambalalá” means to stretch one’s legs repeatedly.
Both Japanese and many Bantu languages share phonetic and grammatical similarities. The languages may not be directly related but they do share these similarities.
One common misconception many people have about Japan is that the majority of its culture consists of anime and other pop culture trends; however, with even a small amount of further research, one can see that one of the most beautiful things about Japan is its juxtaposition of old and new, of traditional and modern, of secluded temples and bustling cities. While these two elements seem to coexist peacefully, there is one part of Japan that has been somewhat left out of the balance: the Ainu.
During class in Japanese Tamago, we have been learning about different regions of Japan and their subcultures, and recently we “travelled” to the land of the indigenous Ainu people. The Ainu are descendants of migrants from what is now Mongolia and are the original inhabitants of Hokkaido, the northernmost of the major Japanese islands. Similarly to Native Americans’ experience in the United States, they have gone through harsh discrimination from the government: after the Jomon period, Japanese began to expand their territory northward from western Japan, and the Ainu were forced to either assimilate or be displaced to Hokkaido. More recently, during the Meiji period, they were granted the status of “former aboriginals,” but were still not treated equally. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, a series of progressive steps have been made, including a 1997 law for the provision of funds to promote and research Ainu culture, a 2014 manga featuring Ainu characters, and finally in 2019, the formal recognition of the Ainu as an indigenous people of Japan.
Although the Ainu have been discriminated against, they have maintained a unique culture. To start, their language is quite different from Japanese, and is classified as “nearly extinct” by the UN. Additionally, Ainu craftsmen are known for their beautiful wood carvings and traditional robes, which are made from the inner bark of elm trees.
One aspect of Ainu culture that I found particularly interesting was the practice of women tattooing their lips. The marks, called shinue, are started when a girl is young with just a small spot on the upper lip and are added to with age. While the reason women began applying shinue is unknown, some theories include that they are viewed as a symbol of beauty, a means of protecting the body after death, or even a way to prevent being kidnapped by Japanese. Unlike modern tattoos, they are created by rubbing soot of burnt tree bark into an incision in the skin. During the Meiji era, the practice was banned, and though it never recovered its former popularity among the Ainu, some modern women like Ainu artist Mayunkiki (see first link below) wear shinue to show and connect to their cultural heritage.
Despite the many struggles they have gone through, the Ainu still fight today to be acknowledged for the recognition that their unique and endangered culture deserves. If you’d like to learn more about the Ainu, here are some articles and videos:
Program Director’s Note: Working collectively, reflecting on the personalities and values of the group, our Japanese Tamago students have thoughtfully designed their own Japanese-style mascot for the program. Our student artist, Key’Mari Thompson, translated the concept into art. And so we are happy to have Key’Mari introduce Tamawan to our wider community. Kawaii!
By Key’Mari Thompson
Meet Tamawan, the official mascot of Japanese Tamago!
He is a scholarly dog who showcases the various different aspects and values of the class. Tamawan is a Shiba Inu, a very popular breed of dog in Japan, whose name combines “Tamago” and “wan-wan”, the Japanese onomatopoeia for dogs barking. His fur is red and white, representing the colors of both the DC flag and the Japanese flag, alongside symbolizing the cooperation and community between them. Since red is a very strong and passionate color, Tamawan’s fur shows off the strong dedication and passion that the students have for learning Japanese. He also sits inside of a cracked egg, not only representing the name “Tamago” in the literal sense, as Tamago means “egg” in Japanese, but it also shows off the open-minded attitude of the students necessary for language learning. As Tamawan himself is a student, he is excited to learn about the Japanese language, much like the students, and also like the alternative meaning of Tamago, apprentice. Much like an apprentice, Tamawan is always eager to grow and learn new skills.