Mia Nakaji Monnier

Mia Nakaji Monnier is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. She was born in California to a Japanese mother and American father, and has lived in eleven different cities and towns, including Kyoto, Japan; small town Vermont; and suburban Texas. To contact her or see more of her work, visit mianakajimonnier.com

Updated July 2015

culture en

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 visitors could pose with Monet’s “La ...

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identity en

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 ...

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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 ...

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identity en ja es pt

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 an offensive word, though ...

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Japanese American National Museum Store Online

Hapa-ly Ever After: An Interview with Jeff Chiba Stearns

Growing up in the predominantly white city of Kelowna, British Columbia, Jeff Chiba Stearns felt very aware of being different from most of the people around him. Born to a Sansei mother and “Euro-mutt” father (of English, Scottish, German, and Russian descent), he was no stranger to the “What are you?” question.

Over the years, Stearns continued to reflect on his cultural identity until eventually he began to illustrate his thoughts (using a process he calls “animation meditation”). The result, in 2005, was “What Are You Anyway?” an animated short about his process of coming to terms with being mixed ...

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