Koji's Column

“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.

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Besides Groundhog’s day, my favorite holiday is New Year’s. I look forward to it every year. I always forget though that most people just think it’s a day to watch football. For those who don’t know, New Year’s or “Oshogatsu” in Japan is the most important and elaborate holiday of the year.

When Japanese Americans talk about New Year’s, they usually just mention the “osechi” (New Year’s food). Things like: “soba” (buck wheat noodles) on New Year’s Eve for a long life, the zoni (soup) on New Year’s morning with kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts) and kinpira gobo …

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When I was a child, I wouldn’t eat anything that I thought was too “weird,” at least to my American sensibility. Of course, natto fell into that category. For those of you who don’t know, natto is fermented soybeans. Yes, fermented. It sounds about as appetizing as it looks and smells.

My first generation mom used to say that “real” Japanese people eat natto. I think it was just a trick to get me to try it. But either way, I took it to heart and eventually gave it a shot. The odd thing was that I actually liked it …

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Traveling Japanese / American

The best thing about being Japanese American is the travel benefits. When I leave North America and travel anywhere in the world, I can choose to be either Japanese or American depending on the political situation in that country at the time.

For example, if I’m pretty much anywhere in Asia I’m choosing to be American. Might even consider wearing an American bandana, if I had one. But if I were ever to go to the Middle East, I’m Japanese for sure.

The biggest problem with the above examples is that it assumes that I even have a choice. Unfortunately, …

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To the guy that bothered me at the mall

Since we are both humans, I assure you we are the same. The same DNA, RNA, and cells. If not exact copies, close replicas. Then what is it about me that causes you to treat me differently than one of your own?

Being here, standing in line with you at the store, walking behind you in this mall, sitting next to you at the food court, you act as though I am foreigner – when I know no other country. Your owl eyes follow me, acting as a subconscious messenger: telling me without words that I am an unwelcome neighbor. …

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My Grandfather: Takaichi Sakai

He burned sensitive files while working for a foreign government. He said that he was not willing to fight for the United States and would not give up his allegiance to a foreign power during a time of war. He renounced his American citizenship. Who was this enemy of the United States?

He was my grandfather on my dad’s side. Having died before I was born, he was and has always been an enigma to me. My Aunt, my father’s older sister, doesn’t remember her father being anti-American. To her, he was a true patriot. Any suggestion otherwise doesn’t fit …

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crystal city culture family food holidays identity japanese food natto new year's oshogatsu traditions tule lake World War II