Monday into Tuesday

Yet another work week.

NY Times’ City section on Sunday has an article on young Japanese in NYC. Jiro Adachi writes how the new issei are discovering NYC as a place to bring out their bohemian side – to be free and go outside Japanese tradition. Although, I do wonder – doesn’t that come at the expense of assimilating with American custom/commercialism? (well, then again, it’s NYC, so it’s not like it’s whitebread America):

HER arm locks like a robot’s, then pops from the shoulder, sending a wave through her body. Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” blares from a boombox in the Times Square subway station as a crowd of onlookers, heads bobbing, cheer on the performer.

The break dancer is female, which is unusual enough. Even more eye-opening is the fact that she is a 26-year-old Japanese woman with cornrows in Float Committee, the crew of young African-American men with whom she is performing on this day. [….]

To her family in the city of Nagoya, she is Kumi Naito. In her New York life and in the break-dance world, she is simply Q, and a wild departure from the stereotype of the Japanese immigrant, or issei, that New Yorkers have known in the past: the salaryman from a Japanese corporation with a wife in tow.

Q also typifies how the Japanese immigrant of today – young, artistically inclined, open to risks and twice as likely to be female than male – differs from the bulk of immigrants to New York, who come to take advantage of the city’s economic opportunities.

These Big Apple Issei, as they could be called, are cultural refugees, drawn to New York’s creative clamor and in search of freedom for their spirits.

This was certainly true of Q, who is thrilled to be able to pursue her passion for dancing on the streets and in the city’s subway stations; she even tours the country and Europe with a professional company.

For her, this independence is everything. “I can’t imagine being in Japan,” she said. “I couldn’t break dance there.”

A Place for Purple Hair

In the last two decades, thousands of young Japanese like Q have come to New York in search of the custom-tailored lifestyles that are hard to carve out in a homeland, where johshiki – traditional ways and morality – still exert a powerful influence. Such young people make up the majority of their fellow countrymen, or rather, countrywomen, living in the city. [….]

The Language of Adaptation

Simply coming to New York, of course, doesn’t guarantee success, and the path to happiness here is as fraught with complications and pitfalls for young Japanese as for any immigrant. And though the first obstacle for many of them is the language barrier, learning English often helps them ease into the city’s multicultural stew, and in fact can be a ticket to self-discovery.

In English-language classrooms around the city, Big Apple Issei mix with Latin Americans, Africans, Europeans and other Asians. At many private language schools and those attached to universities, Japanese students typically make up about 30 percent of the student body.

Caitlin Morgan, assistant director of the English language studies department at the New School, has noticed the physical transformations that many Japanese undergo while they are studying English: they change hair colors, get tattoos, acquire multiple piercings, use hair extensions and grow dreadlocks.

Even without these extreme changes, the physical changes are visually dramatic. “The women especially,” she explained, “their voices seem to get deeper, they put on a little weight and become fitter, they use less makeup, they become a little realer.”

“These foreign explorers,” she added, “seem to have an intuitive understanding that in New York, there are rewards to taking creative risks and trying new things.”

Sometimes, a student’s interests become a vehicle for personal change that would have been impossible in Japan. One afternoon, Ms. Morgan was advising a student who was so smitten with hip-hop culture, if you closed your eyes and listened to him talk, you’d have thought you were listening to a black hip-hop artist. [….]

In the end, even New York may not be big enough for some Big Apple Issei. Many aspire to become citizens of the world who can travel, work and live in a variety of locations. They are modern people born of an extremely traditional culture. This koan-like paradox is most clearly evident in the fact that, unlike their predecessors, most of these young Japanese immigrants are not trying to become United States citizens. They like being Japanese; they simply prefer to live in New York.

So they visit Japan at least once a year. And while they admit that once there, they again feel the claustrophobia of being in a conservative, homogeneous culture, they also relish the comforts of the familiar in the form of family, friends, language, food, and being around people who, unlike many New Yorkers, go out of their way to be polite.

Q is typical in that she returns to Japan once a year. But when she describes what she does during her stay, she sounds like the New York artist she is: “I just try to chill.”’s “Explainer” explains how Islam got to the predominantly Catholic Philippines. Fascinating.’s “Ad Report” grades the latest Quiznos tv ad campaign, wherein Quiznos’ new mascot is Baby Bob, the talking baby. Check that – the talking baby with the gravelly voice of a middle-aged man. One commercial has Bob treating a swimsuited model to one of Quiznos toasted sandwiches, bragging how he’s good to his woman, and the woman calling him “hunky.” Umm. I’d agree with’s Seth Stevenson – these Bob ads are “creepy and unsettling.” There’s something really sick about a woman calling a baby “hunky.” And, Bob’s voice is irritating. Come to think of it, I haven’t liked any of Quiznos’ ads prior to Bob, so I’d even grade the current ad campaign lower than Stevenson’s C; I’d give Quiznos a D.

I’ve been catching up on my magazine reading – January’s “Vanity Fair” – which, besides a fascinating profile of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (with some curiously amusing tidbits about the inner workings of his Shriver family in-laws as off-shoots of the Kennedys), has a really neat profile on NYS Attorney General-Democratic-gubernatorial-contender, Eliot Spitzer. Not only is he a wealthy, Princeton-Harvard Law-educated lawyer (who did stints with the Big Firms and the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan), he appears genuine in his intentions to do justice (while not hiding his political ambitions). Ok, I’ll salute him.

So the week goes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.