I’m proud to present the next in my series of Jewpanese interviews. Today we’re talking with Kaguya of the blog, Notes of a Jewpanese Nomad. In our first interview, we talked with Paul Golin of Big Tent Judaism. Part of the purpose of this series is to highlight the diversity within the Jewpanese sphere, and with Kaguya’s interview, I think we’re well on our way.
What does “Jewpanese” mean to you?
A Jewish and Japanese person, food, or culture. I tend not to think of couples or families (i.e., a collective of people) as Jewpanese.
When was the first time you heard/thought of the word “Jewpanese?” What was its context and what was your reaction to the word?
My then boyfriend’s mom (current mother-in-law) used it to describe me when my then-boyfriend (current partner) was trying to explain how I wasn’t *just* Jewish or Japanese, but both. It was kind of liberating to hear a word that seemed to describe me perfectly.
What are some of the cultural differences and similarities you see between Japanese and Jewish cultures?
Similarities: Importance of academic achievement. Related to that, the prevalence of pedagogical songs. (Songs taught to teach something.) Importance of food to many Jews is similar to the western Japanese.
Differences: Depends on the exact Jewish group, but American Jews (in their 50s and above and culturally Orthodox Jews of all ages) tend to be more confrontational and outspoken than many Japanese of the same generation (in urban areas).
Do you celebrate or participate in any Japanese cultural activities/events? What Jewish activities/events?
Japanese: I celebrate Omisoka (the last day of the year) and New Year’s. It’s my favorite holiday. Since having children, we’ve tried to do Setsubun (Feb. 3) and Hina matsuri (March 3), but haven’t been good about it. We also try to do Tanabata (July 7).
Jewish: We are Orthoprax so we do it all: every Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret, Chanuka, Purim, Pesach/Passover, Shavuot, and Tisha B’Av. I grew up celebrating Passover, Chanukah and Sukkot. Purim, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur as timing permitted.
Do you hybridize any Jewish or Japanese events?
Hmmm…. Not sure how to answer this. My partner cooks Japanese food all the time for Shabbat. Does that count? I don’t think we mix events themselves together.
What’s your favorite Jewpanese food? Or do you “Jewpanese”-up your food?
If making a non-kosher recipe kosher makes it Jewpanese, my partner does that all the time. What he often does is serve sushi or sashimi for Shabbat or make a big Japanese/Korean (or Indian) meal for a holiday or something like that.
As a Jewpanese blogger, how do you choose your posts? Do you find it challenging to create new material for such a young culture?
I started the blog to talk about things I felt like the Jewish world (and people I was meeting) was unaware of. I also had the agenda of normalizing Jewpanese people since I was tired of hearing “that’s so unusual!” because in my experience, it really wasn’t. So I tended to choose posts that show that I (and other Jewpanese and Jews of Color) am just as normal as the Jewish person next-door. I haven’t posted there in such a long time though I might change the direction a bit.
What do you see as the future of Jewpanese culture? Can you tell us any ideas for Jewpanese posts or articles you’re working on?
I am not sure I see a specific future of Jewpanese culture. It just is and I happen to be one, no? I don’t have anything in particular that I am working on right now, but maybe answering these questions will inspire one!
What do you see the future of Jewpanese culture being?
We shall see.
Bio of Kaguya
Kaguya was born and raised in Japan as a member of the Tokyo Jewish Community Center. Since leaving her parents’ home in Japan at age 17, she has lived a nomadic existence, moving around North America and East Asia. She has lived in many cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley, Seoul (South Korea), Tokyo (Japan), and her true love, New York and some rural areas. She currently lives in San Diego as a freelance translator and interpreter (Japanese and English) and an independent scholar.