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Koji's Column

Are you a true JA?

Since I’m yonsei (fourth generation) and work at the Japanese American National Museum, I’ve been asked on many occasions to explain what it means to be Japanese American (JA). I’ve always struggled with this. How do you explain an entire culture without boring the questioner to death? How do you define a culture without it sounding trite? How do you talk about anything Asian without making it exotic?

In my quest to find out what it meant to be JA, I began to question whether or not I was a true JA myself. Talk about an identity crisis! To test my own authenticity, I came up with a short quiz. If you want to find out whether or not you are a true JA too, take a moment to answer these simple yes or no questions:

1. I celebrate Oshogatsu every year.

2. I have participated in a mochizuki ceremony at least once.

3. Peanut butter manju is the best, but mochi ice-cream is even better!

4. I think spam musubi is the best comfort food.

5. I have been asked by more than one total stranger if I know where a good sushi restaurant is.

6. I go to at least one Obon a year.

7. At celebrations, I like to break into obondori dance spontaneously and can go around the circle for hours.

8. I played or have a child that played in a JA basketball league.

9. I have hit a taiko drum at least once.

10. I have done kendo, aikido, or some other martial art.

11. December 7th is a bad day.

12. I know the significance of February 19, 1942.

13. Someone in my family was in an American concentration camp.

14. 442 is not just a number.

15. I have been to the Japanese American National Museum or I have at least heard of it and would go if I moved/visited Los Angeles.

16. I have read the rafu shimpo or some other Japanese American newspaper.

17. I have named or currently have a doggie named Kuma, Kuro, or Shiro.

18. Someone in my family is a hapa or I at least know what a hapa means.

If you answered yes to all 18 questions (like I did) you are not only a true JA, you are a super JA and should receive some kind of prize. It’s in the mail. If you answered yes to at least 11 of the questions, you are a regular good old JA and deserve a firm (but non-threatening) pat on the back. Anything less than ten means that you are not a JA and should leave the room immediately. Just joking. This quiz is arbitrary and means absolutely nothing.

What was your score?


© 2007 Koji Steven Sakai

About this series

“Koji’s Column” is a column series contributed by Japanese American National Museum staff member, Koji Steven Sakai. His column explores Nikkei identity and culture from the standpoint of a second- and fourth-generation Japanese Americana American male from Southern California.