Three Books About Asian American History

Everything I write about on this blog has to do with an Asian language, either Japanese or Cantonese. For this post, I want to bring the focus to Asian people, especially those with Asian heritage in the United States, my own country. Discrimination against Asian Americans and Asian people in America has increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, mainstream media covered the increase in violence for a brief moment after the murder of six women of Asian descent in Atlanta in March, but while the media coverage died down, the violence is an ongoing problem. has been collecting data about this increase in violence. When considering the number of incidents that occur, it is important to note that most incidents go unreported.

Many people in the United States are in denial about the severity of the issue. This makes it important to seek an understanding of the context for how we got here. We need to understand that the model minority myth is a calculated lie and that discrimination and violence against people of Asian descent is not new in our country but dates back into the mid-1800s when people first began to arrive from countries in Asia.

Besides the threat of targeted attacks, Asian Americans have to deal with the perpetual foreigner stereotype. This isn’t a problem limited to the occasional aggressor we can write off as ‘ignorant’ but extends to the highest levels of government leadership. One example is the assignment restriction of Andy Kim.

Violence and a refusal of full acceptance in society from the top down are not acceptable, and learning about the history of Asian Americans is one way to begin fighting to improve this national issue.

Here are three books on my reading list:

Strangers From A Different Shore – Ronald Takaki

The title of this detailed book refers to the different experiences of people arriving at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty vs those arriving at the detention facility at Angel Island, on the opposite shore. It talks about the past, starting with the Gold Rush, up to covering the model minority myth. This book includes stories and accounts from Takaki’s own family, bringing the history to a more personal level.

The Making of Asian America : A History – Erika Lee

Erika Lee is a leading historian researching Asian Americans and has many books on the subject. This book starts with Asians crossing the Pacific in the 1500s and covers the history of Asian Americans into the 21st century. It reveals the persistent racism faced by Asian Americans and its changing forms over the generations.

The Chinese in America – Iris Chang

Iris Chang is most popular for writing the Rape of Nanking, which brought the atrocities inflicted on Chinese People by the Japanese army during World War II. I’m interested in digging into this work because of her strong attention to detail and precedent of courageously uncovering the truth.

How to Create a Japanese Reading Account On Twitter

Twitter is an immensely popular social network in Japan. If you want to keep up, then it’s a great place to be. The usage of Twitter is very simple, 280 characters to express yourself, so there are countless ways to use the service. I want to focus on a particular subculture within Japanese language Twitter, the reading account, or the interestingly named 読書垢 (dokusho aka).

Why the Strange Name?

If you know Japanese, but are not already familiar with Twitter reading accounts, you may wonder why the word 垢 (dirt) is used. This is only used phonetically, as an abbreviation for “account” (aka). You may wonder why people don’t just use アカ to avoid confusion, but you have to remember, you only get 280 characters, so it’s best to save space in your #読書垢 hashtag!

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Three Amazing Cantonese Learning Resources

Stuck at home during the pandemic, I haven’t been reading as many Japanese books because I’ve been spending some extra time learning my family’s heritage language, Cantonese. You can read about how I got started here. There are not near as many resources available for learning Cantonese as there are for Japanese or English, so it takes a bit of extra effort. I hope to get back to writing about Japanese books eventually, but today I would like to introduce three resources that I find especially valuable.

Cantonese With Brittany

Brittany is a Canadian Youtuber who has been creating high quality videos, completely in Cantonese, that are targeted to both beginner and intermediate learners. Each video includes clear audio with jyutping, written Cantonese, and English Subtitles.

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A Man by Hirano Keiichiro

I just finished listening to my first novel by Hirano from The story mostly follows Kido, a lawyer looking into a strange case where a woman finds, upon his unexpected death, that her husband wasn’t using his real name.

This story explores several themes. One is the dilemma facing Kido as he tries to find a balance between caring about ideals and focusing on his family. He is at odds with his wife for his decision to volunteer to give legal counsel for victims of the Tohoku Earthquake and his attitudes underlying that decision.

Another theme is racial discrimination. Kido is a naturalized third-generation Korean. He was raised Japanese, but discrimination subtly shows up at different times in his life. As a Japanese citizen, he is caught between identifying as both the perpetrator and victim of discrimination, raising challenging questions about his identity.

The third theme in this novel was whether when you love someone, do you love them from the moment you meet them, or do you also love their past. If that past turns out to be fictional do you still love them? I liked the character Misuzu’s reply to Kido when he was getting too caught up in this theoretical dilemma. “If you fall in love with someone once, that’s not all there is to it. Over time, you just have to fall in love over and over again.”

With the variety of themes covered in this novel, I’m not sure how they are all connected, and I would have to listen to it again to get a better idea. Overall I think the themes may be loosely tied together by the question, “what is happiness?”

After listening to the novel, I found that an English translation is available. Also, I realized that the translator, Eli K. P. William actually writes English novels as well and has been interviewed recently by my friend and fellow blogger at Self Taught Japanese.






聴き終わったら、この作品はすでに英語に翻訳されていると気づきました。翻訳家のEli K. P. Williamは作家でもあります。それに去年、友達のブログにインタビューが載せていると気づきました。英語のみですけど、面白いですから読んでください。

Run, Melos! by Morimi Tomihiko

Morimi has re-written five Japanese modern-classic short stories with his own twist. He recreates the stories with his specialty, college students in Kyoto, bringing in references from his earlier works such as The Night Is Short Walk on Girl.

I was thrilled to see that one of Morimi’s works is available on This one is more challenging to understand than other audiobooks I have listened to because of some of the decorative phrasing used in descriptions, but even without 100% knowledge of some of the advanced vocabulary used, the stories are still understandable.

The Moon Over the Mountain

This first story of the collection one was my favorite. Not just for the story itself but for where it led me. This story was written by Nakajima Atsushi. I found that he wrote short stories in the early 20th century that are set in ancient China. I have been working on learning Chinese lately, and I have found learning about China from Japanese sources is quite rewarding. The original story is, although short, quite difficult to read, so I haven’t worked through it yet. Once I get to it, I’ll share my thoughts in another post.

Another neat aspect of this story is the incorporation of Daimonji Mountain, which shows up in many of Morimi’s works including The Tropics

In a Grove

This story is about a student in a university film-making club who creates a film featuring his girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend rekindling their love. It takes the perspective of several different characters describing the same situation.

The final narrator uses a lazy way of speaking, possibly with Kansai intonation—it’s hard for me to pick out accents in Japanese. It was difficult for me to understand, but with the many other descriptions of the same situation, I was better able to parse what he is saying. I have a very hard time understanding conversation, as opposed to something like an audiobook, which is relatively slow and deliberate. I think listening to the final narrator a few more times will be helpful for my listening comprehension of conversations, where you need to be able to understand a wide variety of speaking styles, which are not always clear and deliberate.

Run, Melos!

This feature story is also the most humorous and ridiculous. While the original, by Dazai, based on a Greek myth was probably not so humorous, peach-colored briefs play a prominent role in this updated version.

Under The Full-bloom Sakura Forest

This one had the least humor and seemed more serious to me. Quite possibly I’m missing humor if it is there though. I really liked the structure of this story, but I can’t give away the details.

One Hundred Ghost Stories

This is a great story to tie everything together. A mysterious character organizes an event where one hundred ghost stories are told, with one of 100 candles blown out after each story. When it becomes pitch dark, the real ghost is said to appear!

Final Thoughts

This work will probably be most enjoyable if you have read Morimi’s other older works that are based on university students in Kyoto, such as Walk on Girl The Night Is Young, Tatami Galaxy, and Tower of the Sun. I haven’t read the latter two, but I have a feeling I’m missing references from those works. Overall, this compilation of short stories is an enjoyable way to get some exposure to modern-classic short stories, all while never leaving Morimi-world, which has been fleshed out in his other works.

Image of Daimonji used under Creative Commons License 



















Scientific Taskforce – Murder in Moscow by Konno Bin

黒いモスクワ – 今野敏 has added two novels featuring the team of eccentric crime solvers called ST. I listened to Case File: Blue when it was the only one available and appreciated it as a straight forward mystery for listening practice, but I wasn’t too into the story as it centered around a ghost. It turns out a ghost comes into play in this one as well—I guess Konno likes ghosts—but I found this one had more to offer.

First, most of the book was set in Moscow. The Japanese investigators interacting with the FSB, former KGB, officers was an interesting dynamic. It raised the question of how much the organization has been influenced by its history versus how it has changed with Russia’s evolving political landscape.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Russian scenery, customs, and food. I have no idea if they were accurate, but I like having a window into another culture from a third culture. Even if there are stereotypes, they are likely subtly different from the stereotypes I would be exposed to in my own culture. Hopefully, this kind of interaction can slowly paint a more accurate picture.

The other reason I preferred this novel to Case File: Blue is the references to martial arts. ST member Kurosaki, is featured in this book as seen by the use of “black” in the Japanese title, which is one of the characters in Kurosaki’s name (they all happen to have colors in their names). Kurosaki is at an advanced level in several schools of martial arts. In this novel, he is a rising star in a fictional school. I couldn’t understand the details of the martial arts descriptions, but the part I could pick up was something fresh to listen to. If you are deep into martial arts maybe you would enjoy this aspect of the book, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

There is nothing else like Konno’s novels on, so I highly recommend them if you searching for a light and fun mystery story. Although the title is quite intense, I look forward to listening to the remaining book, Murder by Poison.






Does Learning Chinese Help Your Japanese?

After finding that my efforts to go deeper into Japanese were providing diminishing returns, I decided to start something new and began learning Chinese (Cantonese). I was thinking that I would have to be prepared to accept a decline in my ability to use and understand Japanese, and to some extent that has been true. I haven’t been able to read as many Japanese books as usual lately. However, to my surprise, I find that there are some instances where learning Chinese has actually improved my Japanese ability. I ran into a sentence today where I found two specific instances of the benefits of learning Chinese for my Japanese ability. For those of you that may have fears and concerns that starting another language is the simple tradeoff of giving up depth in your L2 for gaining breadth with a new language, I would like to introduce this discovery.

The sentence I ran into was part of the creed for a Japanese company:


I didn’t know the word 和衷 (harmony – but not like musical harmony) and I had never seen the character in Japanese before. But fortunately, I had just learned the word 折衷, in Chinese, which means, “to compromise”. I can’t say this completely solved the unknown for me, as I still didn’t know the exact meaning of the word or how to read it. It did, however, allow me to be more familiar with the characters than I would have been if I had not begun studying Chinese. I think that is a subjective benefit, which is very valuable. A more objective benefit was that I could type the word with Cantonese input and copy it into a Japanese dictionary to discover the meaning.

The second benefit was with the word 當る. In this case, a more traditional form of the character 当 had been chosen for the creed, probably to make it look better. This was easy to recognize as it is used in many common words in Chinese that have a direct correspondence in Japanese. One example would be 當日, which corresponds with 当日. If that isn’t enough, my Chinese dictionary, Pleco, shows the simplified version of characters next to the main entry, and I can see that 当 is the simplified version of 當 every time I look up a word including that character.

These are two concrete examples, but I think that a lot of the benefits are too vague to articulate. In conclusion, I think that the breadth you gain from learning Chinese will actually help you gain more depth in Japanese.

Finally, I also want to note that I recently saw a video from famous polyglot Steve Kaufman stating a similar observation. Now we can go on and learn that shiny new language and be sure that, assuming we are still actively using them, our other languages are not only safe from decline but may stand to benefit as well.

Japanese Audiobook Review: I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by Sumino Yoru

(君の膵臓を食べたい – 住野 よる)

This story starts with the funeral of a high school girl, so you know it’s going to be depressing from the beginning. However, preparing the reader at the beginning in some way makes it more light-hearted than if Sumino decided to spring it at the end.

Sakura, a buoyant and outgoing high school girl who is terminally ill, meets an introverted boy, who prefers to live out his life engrossed in novels rather than dealing with the world. They form a deep bond over their shared secret about her illness.

I like that the story involves a lot of daily life activities, such as school, eating, and travel. Not living in Japan myself, it is always fun to read about daily life. Also, the story’s focus on normal activities means there is a lot of every day back and forth conversation, which I enjoy even if it’s just because it’s in Japanese.

The best part of the book was the evolution of the relationship between Sakura and the main character, as well as their individual development. He’s not actually a true hikikomori, as Sakura calls him, although he may be on the path to becoming one. While she, on the other hand, is the kind of person that needs to have others around to realize she’s alive. They begin to learn from one another in a relationship that would have never happened under normal circumstances.

On the audiobook side, there were a couple of things about the recording I want to mention. Sakura calls the narrator nakayoshi-kun, meaning something like, “person I’m close to,” and there is always a pause before the kun. It seems like during the first reading an incorrect name was used, then they went and overlayed the correct name. It makes me wonder what they said before. Also, Sakura’s laugh is quite annoying, but maybe it’s supposed to be that way.

The language is simple, with lots of dialogue, and the story is filled with everyday interactions. This is a great candidate if you are looking to get into your first fiction audiobook in Japanese.

Japanese Nonfiction Review: A Rolling Hong Kong Gathers No Moss

(転がる香港に苔は生えない – 星野 博美)

Usually, I write about fiction books, but I’m making an exception for this nonfiction work by Hoshino Hiromi for three reasons. First, I’m beginning to learn Cantonese so I want to read books in Japanese that help me get a better understanding of the culture associated with the language. Second, I took a vacation to Hong Kong in the early 2000s and was fascinated by the lifestyle—Hoshino decided to actually live the lifestyle. Finally, I think it is an interesting and unique book and want to share it.

Hoshino’s goal was to live in Hong Kong surrounding the handover from England to China. She goes there on a student visa—though not particularly interested in the school part—and lives in a modest apartment. She meets all kinds of people, less of the elite bankers and cosmopolitan Hongkongers that Hong Kong may bring to mind, but the everyday middle-class or working-class people as well as new immigrants. Much of the book is her conversations and interactions with these people, shedding light on different aspects of the local culture.

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Japanese Book Review: The Tropics by Morimi Tomihiko

(熱帯 森見 登美彦)

I don’t normally write in-depth summaries of the books I read, but this one had an intricate enough plot that I wanted to do it for myself, and hopefully, someone else will come across this and find it helpful. This book has the most complicated plot I have read. Early on, we learn that one of the characters carries around a notebook to keep track everything that happens, a lesson he learned after his copy of The Tropics, a mysterious book that no one has ever finished, disappeared.

I took this as a hint and began writing down what happened as I read. If you plan to read this book I would suggest doing the same, or to save time, you can use my summary as a map.

Obviously, this includes spoilers, so if you plan on reading the book come back when you’re finished. Here goes:

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