Of all the Japanese and Nikkei community groups in the islands, it is arguably the Japan-America Society of Hawaii that has most taken in stride the unwelcome visit of the coronavirus. In 2020, the cultural organization that was founded to “promote understanding and friendship between the people of Japan and the United States through the special … perspective of Hawai‘i” in 1976 (jashawaii.org/mission), did a quick turn to re-engage its student and community members, deftly transforming face-to-face activities into online and streaming ones. “With the inability to meet in person, our JASH team quickly pivoted to virtual programming, and we did not miss a beat in offering a variety of events online,” states JASH President Reyna Kaneko in an email interview with the Herald.

We at the Herald have written about JASH’s many rebooted virtual (or semi-virtual) activities since COVID-19 beset Hawai‘i, including July’s Virtual Origami Workshop for kids; October’s business-oriented webinar, “Economic Ties Between Hawai‘i and Japan in the Age of COVID”; and November’s “Mirai: Our New Future,” the ambitious online version of the organization’s Annual Gala (Re-Imagined). We also covered JASH’s November Friendship Golf Classic Tournament (rescheduled from its original April date), which added fun “ball-drop” prizes and Hole Sponsorships to allow more people and firms to participate virtually, when the socially distanced tournament quickly sold out of in-person player spots.

When the rest of the state headed towards a lockdown as COVID-19 numbers rose, JASH staffers went full speed ahead throughout summer 2020. Their strategy: forging a smart round of event co-sponsorships with Hawai‘i community and educational organizations. These partnerships extended JASH’s outreach globally through, for example, working with nutrition-education group Table for Two, a Japanese nonprofit with which it co-sponsored the online “WASHOKUIKU” cooking class series this past July. The staff also appealed to members statewide, by offering events about urgent Hawai‘i topics co-organized by scholarly organizations — it co-sponsored that July “Economic Ties” webinar for business and financial professionals with the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa College of Social Sciences. Lastly, it connected with O‘ahu-based groups to get to its local constituents; for instance, through the Honolulu Rose Society that created the “Roses in Japan” slideshow of beautiful rose gardens in Nippon promoted over JASH’s virtual resource webpage that summer. Through such robust, co-sponsored, one-time or limited-series activities (many recorded and now available online; see youtube.com/channel/UCSlsWhmErD053s5MwTA9uqQ), and through summer 2020’s Talk Story series and its ongoing Women Who Lead series, JASH leveraged its extensive Hawai‘i membership network and connections in Nihon, to keep the community posted on the latest Japan-Hawai‘i news and Japanese trends in culture and business.

“We are very proud that we were able to offer cultural and educational programs during the summer months, such as … ʻStorygami’ lessons and online cultural education for students, including a manga-drawing lesson with a professional manga artist from Japan,” reflects Kaneko. “For our members, our first ever Natsumatsuri held virtually and produced by our NextGen Committee, a committee of the next generation of JASH leaders, was held in August and was a huge success!”

An impressive example of the organization’s strong community ties is how it regularly works with Hawai‘i’s Japanese-studies teachers and other educators committed to teaching young students about the East-Asian nation. During the pandemic, JASH simply continued to evolve into a streaming or online format, its well-established slate of annual learning activities for families with children who love learning about Japanese culture. It also made a conscious effort to maintain aspects of its existing educational programs that could offer local kids the chance to study about, communicate with citizens of, or travel abroad, to that country, via JASH’s associate organizations in Japan.

“It is very important to stay connected with our community and in our case, with our partners and friends in Japan,” Kaneko reveals. “Relationships are key to the work we do, and we will lose so much if we don’t stay connected. We have really ramped up our use of social media (Facebook and Instagram) and that has made a huge impact on our reach outside of our immediate community.”

One key family-educational event, which JASH has transformed into a virtual rendition (much to its benefit!), is the Japan Wizards Statewide Academic Team Competition. Rather than canceling the event, JASH plans to still run JWC, which gives Hawaiʻi kids the chance to compete in showing off their “knowledge of Japan and Japan-related fields”—only it will be held in a streaming format this year, between Mar. 5 and 7, then on Mar. 13 for its Final Round (for more, see jashawaii.org/jwc2021). JASH staff turned COVID-19 lemons into lemonade by strongly encouraging neighbor-island participants to apply, as public and private K-12 schools and their Japanese-studies teachers in those areas no longer had to fundraise to get children from the outer islands to fly to Honolulu in order to join in on the competition. “Since the 2021 JWC will be held VIRTUALLY, there is no need for neighbor island participants to travel to Oʻahu. You can participate in this fun and educational program from the comfort of your home,” the application directions appealed.

What of the regular prizes of trips to Japan for JWC winners and for carefully chosen participants in similar cross-cultural events organized by JASH for children or teens—such as its Asian-Pacific Children’s Convention (jashawaii.org/apcc)? With the generous aid of local Japanese-run businesses, such as ABC Stores, JTB Hawaii and the non-profit  Tateuchi Foundation, JASH usually sends young participants from Hawaiʻi to visit the land of the rising sun; however this year, the organization adapted to the virus through cautious, but pragmatic, contingency planning backed up by virtual alternatives. For example, JASH’s JWC webpage specifies that winners will go “on a trip to Japan in the summer of 2021 or later when it is safe to travel,” while its APCC page cautions, “Please note that travel may or may not occur in 2021 depending on the health and travel circumstances in Hawaii, the US, and Japan.”

While the conversion of JWC from live to virtual is a “HUGE project,” Kaneko admits, the constant emphasis on program quality is what sees the organization through the hard work. “Our strategy at JASH not just through this COVID-19 era but in general is to provide high-quality programs for our members, the students who participate in our educational programs, and for our community,” explains Kaneko.

Two meaningful new activities lead what is sure to be a great 2021 programming slate for the highly active nonprofit (life hack: bookmark jashawaii.org/events to keep current with JASH’s latest events). First, JASH’s “Author Spotlight Talk Story” focuses on the intriguingly titled book, “Why Be Happy? The Japanese Way of Acceptance” (2020) and its writer, Scott Haas. To be held over Zoom on Thursday, Jan. 21, from noon-1 p.m., the talk story features Haas speaking on ukeireru, the Nipponese concept of acceptance, as a philosophical approach to handling life’s struggles in a relatively non-stressed, relaxed way, because one accepts relationships, communities—in short, others. Psychologist Haas provides a “sharp, insightful observation of … Japanese society,” according to Forbes reviewer Akiko Katayama (see her evaluation at bit.ly/2LvIWmP). Though the concept might have limited applicability in the U.S., where sensitivity to others is not as high a priority as individualism and self-assertion, ukeireru may offer a mindset to “reduce stress and anxiety, and boost your happiness and well-being,” says the event description.

Second, if you want to support JASH’s incredible range of educational efforts, there are a few days left to identify it as a grateful recipient of your charitable donations, to be supplemented by a bonus from a funding pool generated by the Friends of Hawaii Charities (from the 2021 Sony Open in Hawaii). By Jan. 20, 4 p.m., HST, go to the Aloha for Hawaii Charities website (friendsofhawaii.org/contribute/aloha-hawaii-charities), provide your contact information, then choose JASH from among the charities and enter your donation amount. The full donation amount plus the bonus will go to this cultural organization.

What lies in JASH’s future? Says Kaneko, “We are also in the process of producing Japanese cultural educational videos geared towards middle- and high-school students which we will offer to schools to use as supplemental educational tools. Our goal at JASH is to continue to serve our mission of building a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship via the unique perspective of Hawai‘i.”


Japanese Americans and Nikkei immigrants on the U.S. continent have “worked in, owned, and sustained restaurants in the U.S. for over a century and Japanese restaurants continue to be as integral a part of Japanese America as home cooking,” say the organizers of a Saturday, Jan. 17, 2 to 3:30 p.m. panel titled “A Taste of Home: Dining Out in Japanese America,” co-sponsored by the Japanese American National Museum and the Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles.

The FREE discussion, which makes up the third and final part of the “Taste of Home” series sponsored by the Consul General, will be held online. It features an examination of the “past, present, and future of Japanese American restaurants and dining through a conversation with Chef Akira Hirose and Jo Ann Maehara (Azay Little Tokyo) and Chef Niki Nakayama (n/naka), moderated by Professor Samuel Yamashita.”

Chef Hirose and his partner/spouse Maehara have offered Japanese, French, and Japanese-French fusion cuisine in Little Tokyo through their Azay (azaylittletokyo.com), a restaurant which Hirose originally established in Kyoto (see rafu.com/2019/10/meet-little-tokyo-azays-chef-akira-hirose/ for more). Chef Nakayama, founder/owner of n/naka (n-naka.com), a Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant in Los Angeles, is a female culinary artist modernizing a field of traditional Japanese cuisine known for its male-dominant culture (see mydomaine.com/n-naka-niki-nakayama-interview for Nakayama’s working and life partnership with sous chef Carole Iida Nakayama). Yamashita, Henry E. Sheffield Professor of History at Pomona College, has specialized in modern Japanese cultural history, Japanese during World War II and most recently, Japanese and fusion cuisine. He is the Hawai’i-born son of 100th Infantry Battalion veteran Hideo Yamashita.

Joining them will be indie comic-book artist Sam Nakihara (samnakahira.com), whose non-fiction graphic novel “Bill’s Quiet Revolution” (2019) has earned praise in the press for showing “how Asian Americans are an essential part of the history of the food and agriculture industry in California” (according to the International Examiner at iexaminer.org/graphic-novel-tells-the-story-of-how-asian-amercians-are-an-essential-part-of-the-history-of-the-food-and-agriculture-industry-in-california/). Her comic tells the story of “Bill Fujimoto, a Japanese American food retailer who played a pivotal role in the development of 1970s California cuisine. Through his influence on California cuisine, he has changed how Americans eat,” says Nakihara’s own summary of the book (available for sale at samnakahira.com/bills-quiet-revolution).

This book is part of Nakihara’s longer-term effort to use comic strips and the comics form to recognize Japanese American “Food Pioneers of California Cuisine,” who she says from the 1970s to the present day “play huge roles in the development of California cuisine and farm to table movements” (for more examples of her larger AJA food pioneer project, see aaww.org/japanese-american-food-pioneers-of-california-cuisine/).

To attend this virtual event, RSVP at discovernikkei.org/en/events/2021/01/17/6343/.


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