8Books Review: “Being Japanese American, 2nd Edition,” by Gil Asakawa


Gil Asakawa’s newest edition of his JA sourcebook, Being Japanese American is chock full of information and anecdotes to guide anyone through Japanese American life, questions, issues, etc. I should say, of course, that I am not Japanese American, but I nevertheless found the book enlightening and enjoyable to read.

Reading this book is like having a conversation with the author, written in a personal style and tone that’s very accessible. And I have to say that in many ways it reminds of the kind of book you want to give a teenager who’s coming of age. It’s filled with answers to question that a young teenage JA or AAPI might not feel comfortable asking peers or parents about, and with quotes and life stories that make you feel less alone in the world–make you realize that your experience, while unique, is also shared.

The sourcebook is divided into sections relating to history, culture, food, language, JA communities today, traveling to Japan, and the Asian American identity. Each chapter includes the main narrative (which reads like you’re having a casual conversation with the author and contains a lot about his own life), pictures, and quotes from other Japanese Americans reflecting on their own (varied) experiences. The quoted voices help offset the author’s own experience to offer a wider view of the JA community–past, present, and future.

In moments, it feels like his narrative is lacking a level of complexity that I would like for a sourcebook (as someone who spends a good deal of time thinking about and talking about race and identity)–I sometimes felt language like “being more Japanese” and “being more American” and “being more Japanese American” played out in ways that felt a little restricting, but the book lays a foundation for those who may not yet have the vocabulary to talk or think about these things.

Asakawa’s personal voice shines through absolutely, and is funny and honest. Though as in any good conversation, sometimes rambles a bit off topic or isn’t quite as neatly organized as a guidebook, but it’s a easy to follow and you can pick it up at any thread (or chapter). I worry a little bit that some of the references interspersed throughout will get dated faster than is best for a handy guide like this, but readers will make it through and inevitably discover something they didn’t know before.

And as an added bonus, (totally unbiased, really) Being Japanese American shouts out 8Asians, so you got to give props where they’re due.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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