When I first started this blog, I wanted to write more about Jewpanese topics. This was something new —writing about a culture that was apart from my own—but it was exciting. Venturing out into the unknown, I did what any self-respecting blogger would do: I Googled my topic. Among the first pages that appeared was Paul Golin’s Jewpanese Facebook page. This page expanded the notions of the Jewpanese world for me. Recently, Paul agreed to a short email interview with me. Enjoy!
What does “Jewpanese” mean to you?
“Jewpanese” has a number of different meanings to me. For the Jewpanese Facebook page, I define it in what I think is the broadest possible way: “Where Jewish and Japanese Converge.” As you can see by some of what I post, that convergence can happen artistically, spiritually, historically, politically…culinarily.
There are Jews who are deeply interested in Japanese culture, and Japanese people deeply interested in Jewish culture or Judaism, or who have converted to Judaism or moved to Israel; I’d consider them all Jewpanese if they’d like to be. I consider myself part of a “Jewpanese couple,” because I am an Ashkenazi Jew and my wife is Japanese.
The most important meaning of Jewpanese, to me, though, is a person who is both Jewish and Japanese. My son could, if he chooses to, identify with both Jewish and Japanese identities when he grows up. I hope he will feel a connection to both heritages, along with his American identity. And also be a Yankees fan.
When was the first time you heard/thought of the word “Jewpanese?” What was its context and what was your reaction to the word?
I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard the expression “Jewpanese.” I registered the domain name in 2004, not long after I got engaged, when it was clearly becoming a permanent part of my identity. But I did not coin the term and at that time recall finding a number of individuals online who were describing themselves as Jewpanese. Later that same year I wrote a piece for InterfaithFamily.com called “Proud Jewpanese Americans.”
What are some of the cultural differences and similarities you see between Japanese and Jewish cultures?
It’s difficult to get into cultural differences and similarities without resorting to broad stereotypes. Jews have been a global people for thousands of years and are incredibly diverse. And even a supposedly “mono-ethnic” nation like Japan has great variety between different types of people. So to say that an emphasis on education, or obsession with food, is a key component of Jewish or Japanese culture is a bit silly when you can also say that about Chinese, Indian, and many other people.
That said, I did attempt a tongue-in-cheek piece about this very topic for the JET alumni newsletter some years back (page 5 of this PDF). I drew connections between ritual cleanliness (mikvah and onsen); ritualizing the mundane to raise it to a more sacred act; and the comic book art form, which both peoples can lay claim to revolutionizing. I also offered the following SAT-like analogy, Guilt : Jews :: Shame : Japanese.
Do you celebrate or participate in any Japanese cultural activities/events? What Jewish activities/events?
As a Jewpanese family, we participate in both Jewish and Japanese activities regularly. Living in New York City helps in this regard, as it is the largest Jewish city in the world (more Jews here than in Tel Aviv), and there is also a large (though often transient) Japanese community as well. I work in the organized Jewish community for Big Tent Judaism and my wife and I have both been involved with the Japanese volunteer group NY de Volunteer. We eat out at Japanese restaurants and (the few remaining) Jewish delis all the time. We attend Japanese cultural festivals and participate occasionally with a synagogue in our neighborhood. We also attend events at the 92nd Street Y and Japan Society, both world-class institutions.
Because my parents are nearby, we celebrate the major Jewish holidays with them, but we also try to visit my wife’s parents in Japan at least once a year, where we participate as fully as possible in Japanese life while we’re there.
Do you hybridize any Jewish or Japanese events?
I can think of just a few ways we hybridize Jewish and Japanese events. For Passover Seder, we use wasabi as a bitter herb to honor my wife’s background. My son is named for my maternal grandmother but his middle name is Japanese (my wife’s maiden name). For our wedding, even though it was in a synagogue and officiated by a rabbi, my wife’s parents wore amazingly beautiful kimono, and our ketubah (Jewish ritual marriage contract) was in Hebrew, English, and Japanese. I wrote about my Jewpanese Wedding here.
What’s your favorite Jewpanese food? Or do you “Jewpanese”-up your food?
I love Japanese food, and Jewish food, but I don’t see many ways to easily merge the two. The best folks doing it, that I know of, are the Jewpanese couple who run Shalom Japan in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They do things like a “Sake Kasu Challah” that is actually amazing. There’s another place in Brooklyn called Dassara Ramen that also hybridizes the two, and I really liked their matzah ball ramen. But other than that I’d be really curious to learn of more ways to combine the Jewish and Japanese culinary traditions.
How did you decided to create your Facebook page? How do you choose the material that goes up on it?
I’d been meaning to get a blog going at Jewpanese.com but never found the time to do it, and once Facebook came onto the scene it just made it so much easier to share this concept with more people than creating a whole separate website.
There’s no exact science to what I post on the page. I receive Google news alerts for key words and ask myself three basic questions when I see something new: Does this represent genuine convergence between Jewish and Japanese? Is it of interest to a Jewpanese audience? And have I not already posted enough about this yet? If all three answers are positive, I post it to the page.
What do you see as the future of Jewpanese culture? What kinds of stories would you like to see on your Facebook page?
I like to claim that there are more people alive today that are Jewish/Japanese than at any time in history. It’s still a tiny percentage of people, but I believe it’s growing. I would love to be able to post more personal stories onto the Jewpanese page. Every so often, someone writes about their personal experiences, but it’s few and far between. Maybe I should actively encourage folks to submit their photos and stories to the page.
Ultimately, in additional to providing folks with interesting content, I’d like Jewpanese to be a way to connect people who share this identity to one another socially. Right now we’re a little over 800 “likes.” Perhaps after we get to 1,000 or 1,500 likes we can do a picnic or something! Bring your own Jewish or Japanese or Jewpanese food.
Biography of Paul Golin
Paul Golin is associate executive director of Big Tent Judaism, an independent national organization dedicated to serving less-engaged Jews and unaffiliated intermarried households and helping the organized Jewish community better welcome them in. He is a frequent writer and speaker on Jewish engagement and intermarriage. The white Ashkenazi half of a Jewish-Japanese marriage, he maintains the Jewpanese Facebook page at http://Facebook.com/JewishJapanese.