Mia Nakaji Monnier

Mia Nakaji Monnier is a writer in Los Angeles. Her journalism and essays have appeared in BuzzFeed News, Shondaland, The Washington Post, and more. She started her career in Little Tokyo at Discover Nikkei and The Rafu Shimpo. You can find her on Twitter @miagabb and read more of her work at mianakajimonnier.com.

Updated May 2021

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Nikkei Chronicles #4—Nikkei Family: Memories, Traditions, and Values

What Meeting My Long-lost Uncle Taught Me About Family

Until I went to Japan, I’d talked to my uncle only twice: once when my Japanese grandmother died, and again when my grandfather did. Only two people regularly called the house and spoke in Japanese, and I knew both their voices well: the elderly one was my great-aunt; the younger one with a British accent was Mayumi, an old friend of my mom’s, who Anglicized her name herself, as “Muh-you-me.” So when the “moshi-moshi”—that special phone version of “hello”—came across the line in a deep voice that sounded thoroughly Japanese without …

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MFA’s kimono controversy should spark deeper conversation

I work at a Japanese-American community newspaper where, every Halloween, we have the same conversation. Then something happens — like Katy Perry gives a performance, or a fraternity has a theme party — and we have the conversation again. If I had strong feelings in the beginning, they’ve been numbed by time and frequency. I just don’t have the energy to react each time a white person wears a kimono as a costume. But when the Boston Museum of Fine Arts launched and ultimately canceled an interactive event called “Kimono Wednesdays” — during which vis…

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One Beautiful, Unbearable Year in Japan

When I tell people about my year in Japan, I tell the best parts. The unexpected shrines in the middle of city blocks. The chestnut cakes that sweetened bitter tea. The wooden temples that stood so tall I could bend my neck back and barely see the place where they disappeared into the fog. There were so many best parts. I can’t think about Japan without romanticizing it, imagining the streets swallowed up by one color or another: yellow gingko, pink cherry blossoms, red maples, white snow. Jizo statues stand by the road, their eyes and mouths closed in a peaceful bliss, toys and tang…

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Funeral

One of my great aunts died this week [Note: This article was written in September 2010]. She was in her late 80s, an age that another of our elderly family friends once called something that translates like “an age you can’t complain about dying at,” and she had been sick for almost as long as I can remember. To me, the news didn’t come as a huge surprise and, through this point in my life, death has always felt so foreign that I think I barely know how to register it. But in just the past couple of years, it seems that news of a family friend or relative’s death…

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Part Asian, Not Hapa

My mother is Japanese from Osaka; my father, American from a small town in Western Oregon. There’s a word for people like me, used especially on the West Coast and popularized in recent years, maybe most notably by artist Kip Fulbeck:Hapa. From the Hawaiian phrase “hapa haole” (“half white”), the word “hapa” has come to be a label that many multiracial people with some Asian heritage incorporate into their identities, whether they wear it with pride or with ambivalence. I don’t wear it at all. It’s not that I think “hapa” is…

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