The Original 101 Ways to Tell If You’re Japanese American

by Jenni Emiko Kuida and Tony Osumi

Inspired by similar Chinese and Pilipino lists, we took a shot at creating one for Japanese Americans. Written from a Southern California Sansei and Yonsei perspective, we tried to include not only Issei, Nisei and older Sansei insights, but those from later post-WWII Shin Issei and Nisei. But creating an all inclusive list is impossible, so we see this as a work in progress and courage others to add to the list. There’s no reason why this can’t be a 1001 list, neh?

Although written in good fun, understanding what it means to be JA helps define who we are as a community and the issues we face. More importantly, as we further study Japanese/Asian American history, we might begin to see current issues like immigrant-bashing, attacks on civil rights/affirmative action and the growing concentration of wealth and resources upward to a select few, in new ways.

Yes, Buddhaheads, there is life after Redress.

We would like to thank all those who shared their suggestions and helped make this list possible.

1.You know that Camp doesn’t mean a cabin in the woods.

2.The men in your family were gardeners, farmers or produce workers.

3.The women in your family were seamstresses, domestic workers or farm laborers.

4.Your Issei grandparents had an arranged marriage.

5.One of your relatives was a “picture bride”

6.You have Nisei relatives named Keiko, Aiko, Sumi or Mary.

7.You have Nisei relatives named Tak, Tad, George, Harry or Shig.

8.You’re Sansei and your name is Janice, Glen, Brian, Bill or Kenji.

9.You’re thinking of naming your Yonsei child, Brittany, Jenny, Lauren, Garrett or Brett with a Japanese middle name.

10.All of your cousins are having hapa kids.

11.You have relatives who live in Hawaii.

12.You belong to a Japanese credit union.

13.Your parents or grandparents bought their first house through a tanomoshi.

14.The bushes in your front yard are trimmed into balls.

15.You have a kaki tree in the backyard.

16.You have at least one bag of sembei in the house at all times.

17.You have a Japanese doll in a glass case in your living room.

18.You have a Nekko cat in your house for good luck.

19.You have large Japanese platters in your china cabinet.

20.You have the family mon and Japanese needlepoint on the wall.

21.You own a multi-colored lime green polyester patchwork quilt.

22.Your grandma used to crochet all your blankets, potholders and dishtowels.

23.You check to see if you need to take off your shoes at your JA friends’ houses.

24.When you visit other JAs, you know that you should bring omiage.

25.When you visit another JAs, you give or receive a bag of fruits or vegetables.

26.When you leave a JA house, you take leftover food home on a paper plate or a styrofoam meat tray.

27.You keep a supply of rubber bands, twist ties, butter and tofu containers in the kitchen.

28.You have an air pump thermos covered with lilacs.

29.You’ve heard Warren Furutani speak at least once, somewhere.

30.You’ve been to the Manzanar Pilgrimage and danced the “Tanko Bushi.”

31.Where ever you live now, you always come home to the Obon festival in your old neighborhood.

32.You know that Pat Morita doesn’t really speak like Mr. Miyagi.

33.You’re mad because Kristi Yamaguchi should have gotten more commercial endorsements than Nancy Kerrigan.

34.You know someone who has run for the Nisei Week Queen Pageant.

35.The Japanese American National Museum has asked you for money.

36.If you’re under 20, the first thing you read in the Rafu Shimpo is the Sports Page.

37.If you’re over 60, the first thing you read in the Rafu Shimpo is the obituary column.

38.When your back is sore, you use Salonpas, Tiger Balm or that flexi-stick with the rubber ball on the end that goes, katonk, katonk.

39.You’ve played basketball in the Tigers Tournament.

40.You love to shop at Fedco.

41.You’ve bowled at the Holiday Bowl, or at least eaten there.

42.You’ve been to the Far East Cafe at least once.

43.You’ve eaten at Mago’s or Kenny’s Cafe on Centinela.

44.After funerals, you go for Chinameshi.

45.After giving koden, you get stamps in the mail.

46.You fight fiercely for the check after dinner.

47.You’ve hidden money in the pocket of the person who paid for dinner.

48.You don’t need to read the instructions on the proper use of hashi.

49.You know that Benihana’s and Yoshinoya Beef Bowl aren’t really Japanese food.

50.You eat soba on New Year’s Eve.

51.You start off the New Year with a bowl of ozoni soup for good luck and the mochi sticks to the roof of your mouth.

52.You know not to eat the tangerine on top of the mochi at New Year’s.

53.You have a 12-pack of mochi in your freezer-that you still refuse to throw away in July.

54.You pack bento for road trips.

55.You know that the last weekend in April is Opening Day at Crowley Lake.

56.You stop at Manzanar on the way to and from Mammoth.

57.You see your relatives at the California Club in Las Vegas more often than you see them in L.A.

58.Your grandma made the best sushi in town.

59.You cut all your carrots and hot dogs at an angle.

60.You know the virtues of SPAM.

61.You were eating Chinese chicken salad, years before everyone else.

62.You know what it means to eat “footballs.”

63.You grew up eating ambrosia, wontons and finger jello at family potlucks.

64.You always use Best Foods mayonnaise and like to mix it with shoyu to dip broccoli.

65.You use the “finger method” to measure the water for your rice cooker.

66.You grew up on rice: bacon fried rice, chili rice, curry rice or red rice (osekihan).

67.You like to eat rice with your spaghetti.

68.You like to eat rice in a chawan, not on a plate.

69.You can’t start eating until you have a bowl of rice.

70.You use plastic Cool Whip containers to hold day-old rice.

71.Along with salt and pepper, you have a shoyu dispenser at your table.

72.You have a jar of takuan in your fridge.

73.You buy rice 25-pounds at a time and shoyu a gallon at a time.

74.Natto: you either love it or you hate it.

75.As a kid you used to eat Botan rice candy.

76.You know the story of Momotaro-the Peach Boy.

77.You have had a pet named Chibi or Shiro.

78.Someone you know, owns an Akita or Shiba dog.

79.You went to J-school and your best subject was recess.

80.At school, you had those Hello Kitty pencil boxes and sweet smelling erasers.

81.When you’re sick, you eat okayu.

82.Milk makes you queasy and alcohol turns your face red.

83.Your dad owns a Member’s Only jacket.

84.Someone you know drives an Acura Integra, Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.

85.You used to own one of those miniature zori keychains.

86.You have a kaeru frog for good luck charm hanging in your car.

87.Your parents compare you to their friend’s kids.

88.You hang on the illusion that you are superior to other Asians.

89.Your dentist, doctor and optometrist is Japanese American.

90.You know what “S.J.” stands for.

91.You socialize with groups of eight or more people.

92.Whenever you’re with more than three people, it takes an hour to decide where to eat.

93.You and your friends call yourselves “Buddhaheads,” but don’t like it when White people do.

94.You’ve heard your name pronounced a half-dozen different ways.

95.You use the derogatory term Kuichi and Kurombo when you should be using Jewish and African American or Black.

96.You know what the acronyms M.I.S., 100th/442nd, J.A.C.L., C.Y.C., N.A.U., S.E.Y.O. and S.C.N.G.A. stand for.

97.The name Lillian Baker makes your fists clench.

98.You know that E.O. 9066 isn’t a zip code.

99.You’re not superstitious, buy you do believe in bachi.

100.You never take the last piece of food on a plate- but will cut it into smaller pieces.

101.As much as you want it, never ever take the last-anything. Enryo, enryo, enryo.

Copyright 1997 by Jenni Kuida and Tony Osumi
Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, March 23, 1996