Tim Asamen

Tim Asamen is the coordinator of the Japanese American Gallery, a permanent exhibit in the Imperial Valley Pioneers Museum. His grandparents, Zentaro and Eda Asamen, emigrated from Kami Ijuin-mura, Kagoshima Prefecture, in 1919 and settled in Westmorland, California, where Tim resides. He joined the Kagoshima Heritage Club in 1994, serving as president (1999-2002) and as the club's newsletter editor (2001-2011).

Updated August 2013

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The Issei Lexicon

For years I wanted to compile a list of Japanese American words and phrases. I am beginning a list for this article with words that, for the most part, came down to us from the Issei generation. I am not talking about standard Japanese terms, such as shoyu (soy sauce) or urusai (irritatingly noisy), which most Nikkei say or understand, because they have the same meaning in Japan today. My focus is on words or expressions that have become uniquely Japanese American for reasons that I explain below.

I should note that I am using italics for standard Japanese words ...

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Japanese American Name Culture - Part 2

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Cultural Heritage and Assimilation

The names that immigrant parents select for their American-born children say something about culture, customs, hopes, and dreams.

In a previous article I wrote about the popularity of the name George for Nisei boys. Most of them were named after George Washington. But some of them were actually named after the reigning sovereign of Great Britain at the time of their birth, such as actor and activist George Takei who was named after King George VI.

Names can reflect a desire among Issei to maintain a cultural connection and sense of pride in ...

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Japanese American Name Culture - Part 1

Is it Eisenhauer or Eisenhower? Gonzalez or Gonzales? Yasuzo or Yasudo? Whether they are misspellings, attempts at assimilation, or expressions of individualism, the variations in the spelling of immigrant names make up a distinctive feature of the American experience. (By the way, that is why I am not keen on the idea of standardizing the spelling of Nikkei names – say, in accordance with the modified Hepburn system – for bibliographies and even library and archival collections.)

Nikkei name culture begins with the romanization of Japanese names. Upon arriving in America, the Issei had to learn how to write their names in ...

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Coming to Terms with Tenchosetsu

On the front page of the English section of the December 24, 2016, issue of The Rafu Shimpo, there was a small photograph of the emperor and empress of Japan. The caption read in part, “Emperor Akihito, accompanied by his wife Empress Michiko, waves to the crowd at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on December 23, his 83rd birthday.” The Japanese American daily newspaper still deems the emperor’s birthday as newsworthy.

Until 1948 the reigning emperor’s birthday was a national holiday in Japan called Tenchōsetsu. Before the war, Tenchōsetsu was an important occasion in Nikkei communities as well ...

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What Made Them Such Good Farmers?

During the early days of agricultural development in California’s Imperial Valley, most of the cotton farmers hailed from Texas and other southern states. They grew cotton as an annual crop. That is, the crop was planted and nurtured only until the cotton was picked. Then the bare stalks were plowed under and a new crop was planted the following season. In 1909 a prominent local pioneer named Ira Aten boasted that he discovered through experimentation that when the stalks were pruned back after the initial harvest and the same plants were allowed to sprout new growth the following season ...

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