I Don’t Speak Japanese
This episode is supported by JapanCulture•NYC, the English-language website about all things Japanese in New York City.
What do Saitama Prefecture native Makoto Suzuki and self-proclaimed “Midwestern Asian” Fumi Abe have in common? They both came to New York to make people laugh. They also speak Japanese, but sometimes Fumi lies about it.
Makoto Suzuki is the owner of several Japanese restaurants in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, including Bozu and Samurai Mama. Toshiki visits Samurai Mama to talk with Makoto about his acting career that led him to New York, his eventual shift to the restaurant industry, and the unconventional inspiration to start an udon restaurant in 2010. Makoto’s upbringing in Saitama influences his admiration for the natural qualities of food and the unique style of udon and dashi that he serves at Samurai Mama.
Not only does Samurai Mama serve freshly made udon, but the restaurant also serves Japanese cocktails that Toshiki fancies. On a nice summer evening in the back patio, Toshiki has drinks with stand-up comedian Fumi Abe (@thefumiabe). A 1.5-generation Japanese American, Fumi is originally from Chiba Prefecture and grew up in Ohio. He moved to New York for college, and when he was 24, he discovered comedy and tried stand-up for the first time. Still striving to answer the question, “Who am I?” (currently “an Asian bro trying to be woke”) through his comedy routines and his podcast Asian, Not Asian, which he co-hosts with fellow comedian Mic Nguyen, he reflects on the importance of his Asian perspective in the US, where comedians can push political boundaries.
”Samurai Mama: Makato Suzuki's Awesome Second Act” by J. Kenji López-Alt (Serious Eats)
“'Fly Me to the Saitama': Tokyo takes on its revolting neighbors” by Mark Schilling (The Japan Times)
BLANK, architecture and interior design by Aki Miyazono
Hibana: Spark (Netflix)
“'Country of cowards': Comedy duo's political satire stands out in gun-shy Japan” by Tomohiro Osaki (The Japan Times)
Hack City Comedy (Eventbrite)
This episode was edited by Toshiki Nakashige and transcribed by Susan McCormac. Special thanks to Eiko Okamoto, Makoto Yutani, and Alysha Caine.
Toshiki Nakashige: This episode of The Big Root is supported by JapanCulture-NYC, the English-language website about all things Japanese in New York City. Discover your next favorite Japanese anything at JapanCulture-NYC.com.
TN: Welcome to The Big Root. A podcast about everywhere Japaneseness. My name is Toshiki Nakashige.
TN: Hey everyone, Susan is visiting North Carolina this week, so I’m here recording today’s episode solo. She’ll be back in two weeks where we’ll be cooking dinner together and featuring businesses based in the US that deliver Japanese food to your doorstep.
For this episode, I visited the Japanese restaurant Samurai Mama in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I talked with the owner of the restaurant, Makoto Suzuki, and the comedian Fumi Abe.
Makoto Suzuki owns and operates several restaurants in Brooklyn, that include Bozu, Samurai Mama, two Samurai Papa locations, and Brooklyn Ball Factory, as well as a restaurant in Tokyo called Kitade Shokudo. He came to the US to pursue a career in acting, and as you’ll hear, he has a way of emoting and telling stories. Before Fumi arrived, I sat down with Makoto in the back patio of Samurai Mama.
TN: Could you introduce yourself for the podcast?
Makoto Suzuki: Hello, my name is Makoto Suzuki. I’m from Japan, and what else?
TN: Yeah, what part of Japan are you from?
MS: I’m from Saitama Prefecture. Saitama is famous with a movie called Tonde Saitama. Do you know that?
TN: No, what is that?
MS: It came out six months ago. It’s kind of, you know. Saitama is a place usually you know all the time it’s teased by other regions. I mean, hey, Saitama? Oh, dasai. You know dasai?
TN: Makoto Suzuki is from Saitama Prefecture, and he self-deprecatingly refers to the slang word “dasai,” which means tacky or lame, that people use to describe the prefecture. He grew up there until he was 20 years old and remembers living like Tom Sawyer, exploring the outdoors and roasting chestnuts.
TN: Did you leave Japan when you were 20 or around 20?
MS: No, no, no, I left Japan when I was 30.
TN: 30. And so what did you do between leaving Saitama?
MS: I was an actor.
TN: Yeah? In Japan?
MS: In Japan.
TN: What did you?
MS: Mainly stage. I had an opportunity to come to New York to perform. I belonged to one of the kind of famous theater troupe, and that was my first time to come to New York, and I was really influenced, you know. Amazed, I mean, shocked by New York audience. They were always free, you know, very personal. I mean, if someone wants to laugh, regardless of story or whatever you know, laugh, right? It never happens in Japan the customers are free. And then so, I thought that kind of audience grow the artist. Japan is too, nan to iu ka? Kusamajime.
TN: Rigid, maybe too structured that you can’t…
MS: Deserved, like, not deserved. Reserved? I don’t know how to say.
TN: Reserved. Yeah, that makes sense. You can’t laugh out of place…
MS: Right, right. If somebody wants to laugh, they check both sides and if it’s the timing to laugh or not, you know?
TN: Makoto pursued acting in New York to seek freedom from the constraints of a Japanese theater audience.
MS: …in New York, maybe six months? I talked to my agent give me six months’ break, I want to do some performances in New York for six months. Six months became 26 years. And I never dreamed about doing restaurant business myself.
TN: Yeah, so how did you get into the restaurant business?
MS: That was an inevitable choice. I had to apply Green Card, otherwise without Green Card, no union. No union, no roles. Even passed the audition? Can’t get the role. So I had to get the Green Card. And only the Japanese restaurant would be my partner, I mean, sponsorship for my Green Card, so that’s why I had to work for the restaurant. And then I assumed maybe take only a year and a half or something, two years? That was what my lawyer said, but that was not true. It took me six years. Six years, and during this period, there was the Terror, you know? So that’s also the reason to . . .
MS: Yes, 9/11. So my application took a long time. So when I got the Green Card, I was already 40. You know, I was realistic, kind of. With my age of 40, going back to the theater, work for the restaurant as a part time, and taking auditions. I, you know, I was really easygoing, and optimistic, very. But a little bit I wanted to be realistic. So, then I thought, ‘What can I do know?’ I don’t want to work for anybody anymore. I want to do by myself something. The six years, last six years, you know, I learned how to run the restaurant business.
TN: Did you also prepare food?
MS: Mmm hmm.
TN: Did you have a background in that?
MS: No. But I was always cooking in my life. When I started cooking, it was probably six years old.
TN: Perhaps because of his upbringing in Saitama, I got the sense that Makoto has a spiritual connection to the outdoors. He explained the principle of fudo made up of the kanji characters for wind and earth, which describes the natural elements of something, and his wordplay with “food” in English. His restaurants celebrate the fudo of food.
TN: Could describe the concept of Samurai Mama?
MS: Mmm. I don’t know if it’s a concept, but the story. I tried to make a story about Samurai Mama. First of all, how I decided this name. One day I signed the lease, and I was eating dinner with my wife and my friends and friend’s husband. Her husband was German. Is German. And then this guy, Emmanuel, he said, ’Hey, Makoto, you guys are really great, huh? Now you open a second restaurant. You’re really great, man. Such a handsome guy, huh?’ I don’t know why he said ‘handsome,’ but I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not handsome.’ And he said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, Makoto, don’t misunderstand. I tried to say, you guys, Japanese are cool. You know, for us, Japanese guys look really cool. I mean, you guys are like, you know, Samurai Papa and Samurai Mama.’ You know? He said it that way. Oh, okay. And after we went home and I talked to my wife, ‘Hey, what about Samurai Mama? The name for the restaurant?’ And she said, ‘Oh, it’s good.’ As a matter of fact, my wife is crazy for udon noodle. She even go to, went to Japan to learn how to make noodle by herself. So all the udon recipe is hers.
TN: What’s special about the udon noodles here?
MS: What’s special?
MS: Most of the Japanese people…
TN: That’s Makoto’s phone quacking.
MS: …Somehow believes udon must be sanuki style. You know sanuki? Sanuki style, sanuki udon. I don’t know, you know. Sanuki udon is very kind of—anno, nantano, I don’t know how to say in English.
TN: Japanese, Nihongo de…
MS: Katai, katai. Nihongo de mo wakaranai. Nodo e to koshi ga tsuyoi.
TN: Sanuki udon is firm.
MS: When it comes to udon noodle, Japanese people say, ‘Oh, must be sanuki.’ Like, hey, hey, hey, wait a minute. Each region has a different type of udon noodle. Kyushu wa mo sugoku udon yaragai pinya-pinya.
TN: Unlike sanuki style, udon from Kyushu is soft.
MS: Anno, Fujiyoshida to…
TN: In Fujiyoshida City in Yamanashi Prefecture, they serve udon that’s even firmer.
MS: Musashino udon is famous. Musashino udon…
TN: The style of udon that Makoto prefers is called Musashino, which originated in Saitama Prefecture. It’s softer than sanuki, yet not as soft as Kyushu style.
MS: In between kanji de, de anno, Kansai, Kyushu wa usukuchi shoyu, de iriko dashi to ka…
TN: He also describes the differences in the ingredients used for the broth. Udon from Kansai and Kyushu typically uses light-colored soy sauce, whereas udon from Kanto uses dark-colored soy sauce, and each style uses different types of katsuo, or bonito, to flavor the soup. The udon at Samurai Mama uses a blend of dark and light colored soy sauce and a combination of all these different soup bases and also dried mackerel and sardines, and Makoto says that this udon and dashi probably can’t be found in Japan.
MS: So unique. Nihon ni mo tabenai. Ko dake no original.
TN: That’s cool. Thanks so much for being a part of this podcast…
TN: Makoto Suzuki is recognized for contributing to the thriving Japanese food scene in Brooklyn, opening his first restaurant, Bozu, in 2004 and his second, Samurai Mama, in 2010. His restaurants have been described as rustic, and when I asked him about the inspiration to create Samurai Mama, I quickly learned that his imagination has a lot to do with the success of his businesses. With architect and interior designer Aki Miyazono, who’s also known for working on other Japanese restaurants in New York, Makoto created a space for Samurai Mama that was reminiscent of an old Irish pub that was converted to a Japanese restaurant, now with its signature communal table.
After my interview with Makoto, I introduced him to our interview guest, Fumi Abe, who had just arrived. Fumi is a stand-up comedian, who I know lives in Brooklyn, so I thought Samurai Mama would be a fun local spot to have a drink. I knew that Fumi was a native Japanese speaker, but when Makoto asked him if he spoke Japanese, he said something like, “I speak a little bit of Japanese, but I prefer to speak in English.” I asked him about that interaction in our recorded interview. But first before we do that, let’s take a break.
TN: This episode of The Big Root is supported by JapanCulture-NYC, the English-language website about all things Japanese in New York City.
My podcast co-host, Susan McCormac, started the JapanCulture-NYC blog in 2011 to help promote Japanese-related events that take place in the city and to introduce New Yorkers to organizations that are dedicated to Japanese culture. She also writes feature articles that profile people, businesses, and activities in New York. Previous on The Big Root for an episode titled “Best Nail Art Erina Ever Had,” Susan took Beauty by Sunrise Founder Erina Yoshida to the Japanese nail salon Studio L. Inspired by Erina’s floral nail art design, Susan got her own Japanese nail art at a nail salon called RounGe in the Gramercy Park neighborhood in Manhattan. She documents her experience on JapanCulture-NYC in an article titled “The Beauty of Japanese Nail Art.” Check it out.
Also, September marks the beginning of fall, or aki in Japanese. While you’re sipping on pumpkin spice lattes, you can learn how to incorporate Japanese pumpkin, or kabocha, into homemade sweets. Cha-An Events is offering Kabocha Pumpkin Chiffon Cake classes above Cha-An Tea House in East Village. Their pastry chef Norie Uematsu teaches the classes. In a previous episode of The Big Root, I took a bread making class with professional baker Daichi Ebato, who taught us that “There Is No Melon in Melonpan.” You can learn more about their class offerings at JapanCulture-NYC.
Discover your next favorite Japanese anything at JapanCulture-NYC.com.
TN: We are back to The Big Root. Today I’m reflecting on my trip to Samurai Mama in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Before the break, I spoke with Makoto Suzuki, a former actor who came to the US to pursue theater and is now the owner of Samurai Mama and several other Japanese restaurants in Brooklyn. I had just met with Fumi Abe in the back patio of the restaurant.
I can’t go more than two episodes without drinking or talking about alcohol, so naturally, I had cocktails with today’s guest. Makoto Suzuki spoke about how special the udon noodles and broth are at Samurai Mama, but having had the Japanese-inspired cocktails there before, I knew that’s what I wanted to have with Fumi for the interview. He ordered a chu-hai or shochu highball, which is a popular drink in Japan, and I got cocktails with shiso and wasabi. The back patio area technically doesn’t have any seating, but it’s an extension of an indoor waiting area. So the restaurant let me pull out a couple chairs, and it was the perfect kind of summer evening to have a cold drink outdoors.
As I was listening back to the recording with Fumi, I decided to approach editing this episode a little differently than we do with other episodes. So instead of a narrated piece broken up by topic, you’ll hear basically the entire conversation at once, including my stumbling to recite questions between sips of alcohol and Fumi’s boisterous laugh.
As we’ll discuss, Fumi hosts a podcast called Asian, Not Asian with his friend and fellow comedian Mic Nguyen, and the format of their podcast is much more of a freeform conversation, which makes you feel like you’re just hanging out with them. I didn’t want to impose on Fumi’s candidness about Japanese identity and the political importance of comedy, so you’ll hear what happened as I started recording. Because of this editing, it’s a longer episode than what we typically produce, but I promise it’s entertaining. When Makoto Suzuki asked whether Fumi spoke Japanese, he said that he didn’t, and our conversation begins there.
As you’ve probably realized, we generally don’t use any profanity on The Big Root, but in the next segment, Fumi and I do use a couple words that might be considered offensive. We don’t discuss explicit content at length, just a couple words, just letting you know.
Fumi Abe: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m happy to do that. I actually lied; I’m fluent in Japanese. I just don’t like talking to old people in Japanese. [laughs]
TN: No, I thought so!
FA: I always lie! [laughs]
TN: I thought, I was like, he was born in Japan.
FA: It’s a power move. I’m happy to talk about why I do that; I do that a lot.
TN: No, no, tell me about that.
FA: Right now?!
FA: Yeah. I feel that…
TN: You talk so loud. I’m going to just adjust this.
FA: Oh, me? I speak super-loud. And I also have a maniacal laugh.
TN: Give me a count. Count to ten.
FA: Check, check, check two three. Hey, hey, hey! Check! Check! Check! Check one, two. Hello! Hello! Hellooooo! Hello! I probably won’t go louder than that.
TN: We’re good. Yeah, so why do you do that?
FA: I feel like I only know Japanese from watching my parents speak to like co-workers—like very politely—and also, like distant relatives, and so my Japanese, when I speak in Japanese, I like, my personality changes, and I become very shy. And sometimes I feel like it’s not advantageous, especially like in business settings, and so I’ve had to—because I work in advertising—so I’ve had, like, you know, we’ve worked with Japanese clients before. And I just tell them that I’m Japanese American, and I just speak English because then I can kind of say whatever I want.
FA: Oh, this is mine. Thank you so much. Wow! Look at this!
TN: I got you ginger.
FA: Hell yeah, that’s great. Oh my god. The best, thank you.
TN: Although I feel like a high ball should be in a thinner glass. That’s a shit-ton of alcohol. Oh, shit, I already cussed.
FA: Oh, we can NOT curse, that’s fine.
TN: No, but I don’t want to hold you back.
FA: But I really, I don’t mind.
TN: Although maybe the reason you always talk about how your podcast is not on like the Asian list, top ten whatever on iTunes? Because India doesn’t allow explicit-language podcasts.
FA: Oh, really?! Oh, that’s really, really, interesting.
TN: So maybe that’s a market that you’re missing, missing out on.
FA: No, I just meant like the American one. But, but, like, it’s fine. We got on some list recently, so like, we’re chilling. It’s all good. Yeah, we don’t need to be part of the APIA thing. But yeah, going back to the thing—so yeah, I feel like, just, I feel like weaker when I speak Japanese. Does that make sense?
FA: Because you’re just, the language is not very flexible. At least I don’t know how to use it enough to let it be flexible. Whereas English, when that guy was like, ‘Oh, do you speak Japanese?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, a little, but I prefer English. Sorry!’ Like that’s not ridiculous, say. Like, what if I said that in Japanese, right? That would just come off so rude and like, weird, but I said it in English, and so he was like, ‘Hahaha.’
TN: Does, like, keigo come out?
FA: Yeah, I can use keigo. I just…
TN: No, like, when you’re trying to be casual, but like something formal comes out.
FA: Yeah. You know what’s so weird is when I, like, so I only went to Japanese school up until like—and when I say Japanese school, I’m talking about, like, the once a week Hoshuko kind of thing—and I quit in, like, middle school, right? So, in class we always referred to each other like, ‘So-and-So san.’ Like, what’s your last name?
FA: So we’d say, ‘Nakashige-san,’ right? Even for female students, we’d say like, ‘Watanabe-san,’ whatever. So I, still today I don’t even feel comfortable calling somebody by their first name without having a san. And I found out that that’s a weird thing. Like I would do that, like I met other Japanese people in New York, and they’re like, ‘Why do you, we’re the same age, like why do you always say san? That’s kind of creepy. It’s kimochi warui.’ And I didn’t know that, you know? So, there’s definitely little things like that I didn’t, you know. The Japanese I’m used to is from school and like formal settings, and so I just feel more confident when I speak English. That may be partly because of the mastery of the language, but also I feel that in English you can just like be different people. You can talk aggressively but politely at the same time, but I feel like in Japanese…
TN: Maybe sarcasm reads better.
FA: Absolutely. I have Japanese friends who have children, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hire a Japanese nanny because if she does something wrong, I would hate to call her out on something because Japanese is so direct and strong.’ And these are Japanese people who are fluent in the language, right? So I’m like, if you feel that way, like it’s too strong, it’s too intense, right?
TN: Do you interact with Japanese Americans a lot? Like, Nissei like me?
FA: Mmm, oh, I didn’t even know you were second generation. You’re second generation?
TN: Yeah, so my parents emigrated.
FA: Ah, but you were born here?
TN: I was born in Texas, yeah.
FA: Oh, cool. I don’t even have a ton of Japanese friends, and like I feel like, you know, and this has been the story of my life, but I don’t even know who my community is because to be really specific, my community is children of expats who had lived in the US for like, three to five years. But everybody moves back, right? They’re all like, what’s the word? Chuzai—chuzaiin, right? So, all of my friends from that Japanese school, they all went back to Japan, and they’re all living there now, right? So I don’t quite connect with Japanese Japanese people because I’m too American for them. And then Japanese American people, I have no idea like, what you guys’ deal is because some of you guys are like, are you know. There are some people in California who are like fifth generation American, so they’re super-super American, they’re Christian. You know, their parents don’t even speak Japanese.
TN: I think that I agree with you, and I understand your sentiment. I think though, like, I don’t really interact with that many Japanese nationals, especially my age. Probably my, you know, using san, for example. One thing that I’ve you know that formality—it’s kimochi warui or whatever—like, I understand where that comes from, but the way I kind of code switch and use that is like if I’m meeting a Japanese person, like I signify that I’m Japanese American by using their first name and san. That it’s like less formal, but still formal.
FA: Duuude! That’s so nuanced!
TN: It is.
FA: That’s really nuanced!
TN: Yeah, so I would. Like, Yuki-san, Fumi-san. You know I’d be like, I’d introduce you as Fumi-san to a Japanese national. But I think I’m also very conscious of that, like I’ve been around enough Japanese and Japanese American people, that like I know when to kind of turn that on. And that’s also something that I don’t—like I probably couldn’t do that at all in Japan, that like I end up preferring to be just like, ‘Oh, Amerika-jin desu.’ Like I just say that I’m American. Yeah, but I think that also comes from the fact that I’ve interacted with many yonsei that relative to them, I’m very Japanese, but I’m like I think, I’m not that—I don’t feel that Japanese. But I think you’re also—maybe that actually goes into kind of the interview questions that I prepared, but what was your upbringing like? So, you were born in Japan.
FA: Yep, I was born in Funabashi, in Chiba. My whole family is from Chiba. And then when I was in the first grade, I moved to Singapore for just a year. But when I was in Singapore, I went to an all-Japanese school, so I didn’t learn any English there; I would go to Japanese school every day. And then I moved back to Chiba for a year, and then when I was eight, I moved to Ohio. So, it was interesting. I mean, I think my dad had like switched to like an international department or something where they’re just constantly sending him to different locations to sell business and stuff, so I moved around a lot as a kid, and then at a certain point, I think my mom thought it would be a good idea to just settle in one place in the US just because it would be tough for me and my sister in regards to school, right? I don’t want to keep moving around and keep losing friends and stuff, so I stayed in Ohio for the majority of my life, but my dad was gone most of the time, like he was in South Carolina, he was in Kentucky, he was in Texas, now they’re in Mexico. Basically, he works for a Japanese engineering company, and you know how Japanese always do business with each other, so he would build factories for like Honda or something. So if they, if Honda needs a factory that makes mufflers, his company would do something like that. So I was definitely like tied with like the Japanese ex-pat community, not necessarily the Japanese American community but the ex-pat community, from like a young age. I remember going to like Christmas parties, and then like some of my friends from the Japanese schools would be there because their father also worked for the same company that my dad worked at, or whatever. So, yeah, that was my tie to Japan, and I think I assimilated pretty quickly to American culture, A. because I lived in the Midwest, there were a lot of Japanese people, but in my school district there weren’t that many, and so you just have to learn very quickly. Also, I was eight, so I think when you’re eight, you’re not even really thinking about that kind of stuff; you’re just like, you want to play basketball with your friends. So I think it’s just like a really good age to learn a different language or like assimilate to a different culture, so yeah. Where should I go? Does that make sense?
TN: And then you were in Ohio until the end of high school?
FA: Yes, and when I was 18, I moved to New York to go to NYU. And then so I’ve been in New York for ten years now, yeah.
TN: It’s a theme that comes up in your stand-up a lot, about being from the Midwest and not having a lot of Japanese, or even other Asian, people around. Yeah, can you tell me a little about that?
FA: Yeah, so I think, so I grew up in this suburb called Hilliard. There’s a bunch of suburbs in, around Columbus, and people don’t live in Columbus because the school system is not very good, so everyone lives in the suburbs. And there are multiple suburbs where there is a decent Japanese population because of the ex-pat community. There’s Honda factory not too far away, so a lot of the kids go to this other city called Dublin, which is not too far away. So that’s where like most of my friends went from Japanese school, but in my particular high school, like there really weren’t that many. I actually think my parents, like, planned it that way because I think they didn’t want me to—They had heard rumors that if you send your kids to a school in Dublin, they’re just going to hang out with the Japanese kids and not learn English. And I don’t think they wanted that for me, so they just kind of stuck me into this school with like not a lot of Japanese kids, or even Asian kids. I mean, at that point I was so Japanese that like I would, I would even view like, Chinese Americans as a foreigner. I’m like, whoa, that’s crazy, like I’d never met a Chinese person before. I was eight years old, right? And I think when I was younger, it was fine. I mean, like, backyard, that was cool; we never had that, you know, in Japan. And like we took the school bus and stuff, and it was all fun. Yeah, in general it was a good time. I think, obviously, I think a lot of POC kids go through this. You know, at a certain age—probably around middle school maybe a little younger, maybe sixth grade—around the time you start liking girls and stuff and start becoming like insecure and more aware of like who’s cool and who’s not cool. I think, you know, you start to realize, ‘Oh, I’m different.’ I remember the first time somebody made like an Asian joke at me, and I was like really hurt because—not that I cared, but it was like, ‘Oh, I thought we were tight.’ You know? And I don’t even know if he meant it maliciously. It might be something he saw on TV or movie or a movie, which is like a whole different issue, but I remember like, right around when I started liking girls and stuff—probably around sixth or seventh grade, right?—you have crushes on girls and you’re talking about it. It would come up sometimes, and I really, I hated that—I felt like it was holding me back from certain social activities, or being invited to certain parties, or being perceived a certain way. I felt like I could never be like the popular kid because of, because I was Japanese, because I was different, you know. But luckily, like, I didn’t you know, I didn’t get like beat up or anything like that. It got a little more intense in high school. You know, with like Midwest there’s a big Bro culture there. So, I mean, I was on like the cross-country team and the tennis team and stuff and like. You know, like the small dick, small eyes, you have no hair on your legs, all that stuff, like that, that was like pretty common—not from my close friends, but like from just like the popular bros or whatever, right? But I, I don’t know, it, I guess it felt, build character. You know what’s interesting is I feel like other Asian Americans have a similar story except I took it differently because I still went to like Japanese school, and I went back to Japan every summer, I was born there. I know that there is a country full of people who look like me, and they don’t think my name weird, and I’m allowed to just walk around and nobody thinks I’m different. So that, in a weird way, that was a source of confidence, and so like no matter how much people made fun of me for like being Asian or whatever, like, I could always compartmentalize it. I was like, okay, like, this is not cool, but like, I know who I am. Like, it’s a Japanese name. I’m not going to change my name to like, Timmy or whatever for you, you know? I’m going to go by Masafumi. You can call me Fumi if you want. But like, it was, it was like a weird, in the end in a weird way, like though I was insecure, I was also secure at the same time because I had that foundation. And I feel that some of my Asian American friends didn’t have that and then that’s when they started like spiraling down, they get a little confused. They don’t know where they belong. Whereas like, it sucked that I was an outsider, but in my mind, I was like, I could just fly to Tokyo right now, and…
TN: Did you grow up going to Japan often?
FA: I would go back every summer.
TN: And for like an extended amount of time?
FA: When I was younger I’d go for like three months, from June until August or whatever.
TN: Did you go to school?
FA: No. My mom asked if I wanted to do that, but I didn’t want to. Not that I didn’t have anything against Japanese school; I just didn’t want to go to school. Because I was a little kid, you know? But yeah, that was interesting. I didn’t have any friends there because I moved so early, or like when I was so young, so I’d go back every summer, but I’m literally just hanging out with my grandma. I’m hanging out with my uncle, right, so I’m like waiting until he gets off from work and stuff, so. That was fun for me, but yeah, I mean, still today I don’t have a crew of friends that I can call in Japan. And I feel like—I’m almost 30, so I’m over it—but I feel like there’s always this part of my brain where it’s like, ‘Oh, I wonder like what it’s like to just go out with your boys in Japan.’ I mean, what is that like? I have no idea what it’s like, you know? And I think there’s a part of me that like will always miss that, yeah.
TN: Yeah. I’ve gone clubbing one time in Japan with, with some locals.
FA: I don't even know where they’re at! Because I went to Tokyo recently with my girlfriend, and we’re like in Tokyo, and I’m like, okay like do I see a line full of like girls dressed in like really, you know like in skimpy clothing? No. Like where, where are the clubs? Are they like in one specific neighborhood? Or like, because you know in the East Village if you’re walking around, you’re going to see a club. Right? Or Midtown, same thing.
TN: I think there are a few clubs that are more geared towards non-Japanese ex-pats in Tokyo that are in Roppongi Hills. But I think like the mega-clubs are kind of outside of Tokyo, and they actually have like shuttles that go from Tokyo.
FA: That’s the most Japanese thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Shuttle buses?! TO the club? That is not hot. [Maniacal laugh] Oh my god!
TN: A chaperoned trip to the club.
FA: I’m going to tell everybody; that’s so funny.
TN: If we’re ever in Tokyo together, I mean like, if we ever overlap, I’ll like introduce you to some people.
FA: Yo, hit me up, hit me up, dude.
[More drinks arrive]
TN: I actually got us a second round…
FA: Oh, hell yeah. Okay, that’s great.
TN: I know that you said you don’t…
FA: Oh my god. Toshiki’s trying to get me drunk on this podcast. Thank you so much.
Waiter: I have the Chu-hai this time…
FA: Oh, great. I’m still finishing this.
TN: No, take your time, take your time. Thank you.
Waiter: You okay?
FA: Yeah, we’re good.
TN: Thank you. Are highballs your go-to?
FA: You know what’s so funny? I was watching this Netflix show about comedians. Japanese comedians. It was really good. I actually don’t like a lot of Japanese TV because I feel like, like I don't, like Japanese dramas are just bad. The writing is corny. I like Terrace House. But the ones, the ones that I’ve seen on Netflix and stuff is like, meh. But there’s this movie on there called, in English it’s called Sparks. And I think in Japanese it’s called Hibana. Right? And it’s, it’s about a manzai group. They follow this manzai group for ten years, and it’s the trajectory of their career. And, you know, I’m a comedian, so it was like very relatable to me. But it was like the acting was so good, the writing was so good, and they just drink a lot of highballs. So it was like, oh, I’m into that. Like what is, I didn’t know what it was. I was like, oh, that sounds cool, so I started drinking it. See, that’s, that’s the thing is like I feel there’s a lot of cool Japanese shit out there kind, but the stuff that kind of surfaces to the top it’s not our best stuff, you know? You gotta, like keep digging. But like this specific show, I talked to my barber about it, who’s Japanese, and he was like, oh yeah, it’s like a fa—it used to be a famous manga or something like that. You should check it out. It’s really, really good.
TN: Yeah, that sounds interesting.
FA: It’s about like, how sad like Japanese comedians are. Which is very similar to American comedians; we’re also sad and poor. But it was just cool to see it like in a different country and a different language. This is why I love comedy because it was like, I watched that and I was like, ‘Oh, like, same, same thing, different cultures.’ That’s all it was. It’s like you know, they’re always thinking about writing bits. You know? They have a hard time keeping a relationship because they’re so focused on their career. You know, manzai’s done in two pairs, you know, pairs, right? So, that was an interesting dynamic to watch because they fight a lot sometimes. One person is the writer; the other person is like the actor or whatever. But you know, it’s the same stuff that like we go through in like New York and so like, but yes, that’s why I drink Chu-Hai.
TN: I want to circle back ton manzai because I have a question related to that, but so you went to NYU, and you didn’t study theater or anything like that?
FA: No, I actually majored in Music Business. Which is like a pretty unique program that only a few schools have. But yeah, I just, I played music all my life; my mom was a like piano teacher for a little bit. But I knew that like, I don’t know if this is just because like my parents were Asian and they’re like more practical than anything. I never had the confidence to be a like, ‘I want to be a performance major.’ So I was like, well, I probably can’t make money being a professional trumpet player, which was my main instrument back then. So I was like, well, you know what, I’m in a band, I love guitar, I just love being around music, it’s like the only thing I’m interested in, so maybe I can work in the music industry. So I went to NYU, I was majoring in Music Business, I was interning for like all these cool like record companies, and stuff. You know what was interesting, I graduated in 2012. That was around the time that like Spotify came out and stuff. The industry like really changed in those four years I was in school. And I really wanted to work for like a company like Spotify; I thought that would be cool. But, you know, startups hire like data people and stuff, you know? And like, like music business people, you could kind of like pick your focus, and I’m not saying you couldn’t have worked for Spotify, but like, I just kind of did a little of everything. I was more like in marketing and like artist relations and stuff, and like, that’s when the industry changed. And these companies like Spotify and like Shazam were like, ‘We don’t need that. Like, just need like mathematicians. We need programmers.’ And so like I couldn’t get a job at these places, and I’m like what am I going to do? Like, I don’t want to work for like Sony for—You know I got a job offer at Sony being like a glorified assistant, but it was like so little money. And I was like, I don’t want to do that. And I actually I got a job at the Apple Store, and I was going to take that. I was like, I’m just going to work at this Apple Store until I find…
TN: As a Genius Bar person?
FA: Something like that. I think you start out as like a concierge is what it’s called. But you get insurance and stuff. And I was like, I would rather work at the Apple Store looking for a better job, than working like 60 hours as a receptionist at Sony, so. I rejected the job at Sony, I took the job at Apple, but then some miracle happened where I got a job working at this advertising agency doing like brand strategy, which I think I got hired by mistake. The guy who hired me was like a crazy person, and I did not have the qualifications to work there. I’m not saying I’m stupid, and I learn very quickly on the job, and to be honest, like, within like a year or two, I was like one of their better employees. But, you know, I was like doing music stuff. Like, I didn’t know how to use like SBSS and all this statistical software. But he like liked me and he hired me. And he got fired in like three months. But I was already there, so they couldn’t fire me. And so that was a lot more money, so I was like, oh dude, I’m just going to keep this job. And I’m learning more about advertising and stuff, so. That’s kind of how like my career just kind of changed to advertising. But, again, like this whole time, even when I kind of gave up on music, I still wasn’t really passionate about anything. I thought that I would be passionate about music, but after my internships and stuff, I realized like working in music is very similar to working in fashion. They pay you in by like brand association, right? So it sounds cool to go to a party and be like, ‘Oh, I work for Epic Records’ or whatever, right? But dude, I can’t live in New York for like 35 thousand dollars a year, I can’t. It’s just impossible, right?
TN: And you didn’t want to leave New York?
FA: I don’t want to leave New York. And they work you like crazy. So, I was like, I don’t like this at all. Like long hours, crappy pay. And like, what skills am I actually gaining? You know? So then like I got this other job, and I got lucky, and I was like, cool. But like, I don’t know. We’re doing projects for like Pepper’s and Chili’s. And like, do I care about the marketing plan for Chili’s? No, I do not care! So I think I was like in this space where I was still young, so it didn’t really bother me, but it was starting to every year where it was like, you know, I’m in a good spot, but I feel like I’m not really like growing. And some of my friends were like, ‘I’m going back to business school.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want to go back to school; I don’t like school.’ And that’s when I was like 24. And that’s when I went to a bar with my friend, and there was an open mic happening. And that’s when I discovered comedy. And I was like, oh, that’s so cool you can just do that. Like I didn’t know you could just do comedy, right? I thought people like majored in comedy or something. I always thought like people like, you know, Dave Chappell and Jim Gaffigan, I thought they like studied it in college or something like that. I didn’t know you could just stand up and get up. So I saw that, and I’ve always a been big comedy fan—I used to go a lot when I was in college and been a big fan since the Chappell Show was out when we were kids—and I went back to that bar the next week by myself, and I signed up. And I did, I did like a five-minute act. And I bombed, but it was like absolutely thrilling because I’d never done anything like that before. I felt so alive. I was, I’m always terrified of like—I used to be afraid of like public speaking, so there was that aspect of that where it’s like, ‘Oh, wow! I just did a thing. I tried to be funny for five minutes, like, how crazy is that.’ And I got hooked. I just kept going; from that day on, I just kept going.
TN: What is your brand of comedy in one sentence? Elevator pitch.
FA: See, this is why I’m not famous, Toshiki, because I can’t answer this question. Yeah, I think like, and this is why I started my own podcast. And like simply having this conversation leads me closer to that answer. That’s really the main reason why I do the podcast—and comedy. It’s not even ‘What’s my brand of comedy?’ It’s, ‘Who am I?’ You know what I mean? And I’ve just struggled to answer that question for so long because I’ve been pulled in so many directions. I’ve denied so many aspects of myself, but now I’m at a point where I can just step back and embrace everything that I am: the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I don’t know if I can still answer that question. But stylistically, and the lifestyle that I’ve led, I’m like a bro. I’m like an Asian bro. Which like a thing that people don’t even know about. And it’s, it’s really interesting because I grew up in Ohio, I grew up around bros, and yes, I like read and I’m trying to be woke and all that stuff. I’m like an Asian bro trying to wake up, trying to be woke. That’s really my brand of comedy; I’m just trying to learn, you know? Because I realize I’m not like super-smart, but I can be honest with myself, and I’m at least curious, and I’m willing to learn. You know, and so. But yeah, I mean, my comedy’s all about like, you know. I think it’s what I just said, it’s like the balance of like bro stuff—like, I went to this party, and like this girl wouldn’t sleep with me, maah. And then it’s also like, you know, like what like what is this “…” culture all about; what is this woke culture all about, you know? I’m trying to write this bit about how I read about that Capital One hacker. Or like I’m doing a joke about like what I call ‘wokevision,’ where I try to be like woke all the time. And I feel like it’s an unhealthy way to read the news because I was reading the Capital One hacker, right? This person stole millions of Social Security numbers, and all that so terrible, but then I kept reading the article, and it was like, oh the hacker was a 33-year-old woman from Seattle. And then I was like, this is so horrible, but I’m so glad more women are working in STEM. Right? And it’s like what a weird way to read the news! Because essentially this person is a criminal, but I’m like, oh, representation for like women in male-dominated industries! But like that to me is interesting. You know, it’s like why did I, why did I think like that? Now a smart person would be like, ‘You're co-opting, and that’s stupid.’ But like, then I’m going back like, but that’s, maybe this is how—I realize that that’s stupid, but now I’m thinking, like how many other people had that thought when they read the article? You know what I mean? So like, it’s like…
TN: Yeah, I totally see that.
FA: That’s my brand of comedy. I’m trying to learn about stuff, but I’m dumb.
TN: Yeah, it’s like the Muslim, Muslim American comedians saying like, ‘Oh, I hope the terrorist wasn’t, like was white.’ But it’s like, it’s still terrorism.
FA: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Yes! Yes! That’s a great point!
TN: I think ah, no, but I totally, I mean. Okay, cool. Maybe in a year I’ll, we’ll have you on another podcast, and maybe your elevator pitch will be…
FA: Also, it’s a weird thing to think because I feel like the word ‘bro’ is like problematic now; some people don’t like it. But I just it’s interesting for Asian people because there’s so little representation for Asians that when I go up, and there’s an Asian audience member or like when I do like an Asian show or something, EVERYBODY expects to be represented from my message. And that is an impossible task, and that’s something still I struggle to do today. And I think, ultimately, that’s the one thing I still don’t know, I still struggle with is like, I can tell you what my brand of comedy is, you know, I can go do my jokes, but. Even on my podcast we’ve gotten so many emails that are like, ‘What you’re saying is not true for Korean adoptees.’ And I’m like, I don’t represent that lifestyle. I’m not Korean, and I’m not adopted. How can represent you?
TN: That’s Joel Kim Booster, I guess.
FA: Exactly! Exactly! So go listen to him! Right? But it’s like with Asian people there’s so little representation, and Asian people are so hungry in this country for like people who look like us doing comedy and all of these other alternative types of occupations. We’re in such a weird state because we want it, but if it’s not exactly what we want, we reject it. And that’s. Like white people have that privilege of being whatever it is that they want to, right? And Asian people, right now, we’re not allowing ourselves to be different. And that is causing us to not be so diverse. Does that make sense?
TN: I totally see that. Even, even, I mean, do you ever have a situation where you have to describe what you do outside of your day job to Japanese people?
FA: Yeah, I used to work at Ippudo, like which is a ramen restaurant on 4th Avenue—I don’t know if you’ve been.
TN: Yeah. As doing what?
FA: I was just like making desserts in the back. This was when I was in college. This was when I was in college. [Maniacal laugh] Yeah. So I have some Japanese like, I guess I’ll just call them my acquaintances because they were like my managers, and I run into them sometimes, and they’re like, ‘Oh I saw you on Instagram and you’re doing like comedy now.’ But comedy exists in Japan, just not standup. Actually there is. So like, I explain, I use the word mandan. Dan is like sōdan, nodan. I just means like “conversation.” And man means like “comedy.” Right? Which is not like a super-popular form of comedy in Japan, but it is a concept that does exist. It’s kind of similar to like rakugo or something like that. So they kind of get it. But it’s interesting because I have a lot of other Asian friends who are like Vietnamese or something, and they don't even have that occupation, so like they have a much harder time explaining to their family members like what that even is, you know? So like in a way I feel like I’m privileged because at least in Japan we have comedians, you know? Yeah, but then they’re always like, ‘What do you talk about?’ And then I have a hard time answering that question because like I want to talk about like, I don’t know, the Asian American experience or whatever, at least for me. A lot of them are Japanese Japanese so they don’t even, they don’t know, they couldn’t relate, you know?
TN: So you mentioned manzai before and then rakugo. So rakugo is like the seated comedy with like you’re sitting on like the pillows? What is it called?
TN: Futon, yeah.
FA: Oh, zabuton, zabuton.
TN: Zabuton, yeah. Do you draw from like when you watch these, maybe when you were watching Sparks, whatever. Do you, were you like, ‘Oh, I can, I can, I’m inspired by that. I can use that’? Like do you ever use kind of traditional forms of Japanese comedy in your brand, even in your sketch comedy, or whatever?
FA: I might be doing it like subconsciously from a facial expression or like a body movement perspective, but I can’t really be inspired content-wise because Japanese comedy is, it’s very funny. It’s a good way for me to keep my Japanese up. But it’s very slapstick, and it’s very, I feel that comedy in non-English speaking countries is still a little behind. As in, it’s just kind of dumb, like for…
TN: It’s almost cartoon-like.
FA: It’s just cartoonish, right? Like, you know, you watch the greats. You know? Like the Chappells, or like, you know, there’s just so many great stand-up specialists out there. I mean, you know, Louis CK obviously problematic, but I used to be like a big fan of his and umm. You know, he talked about like real stuff. Stand-up comedians talk about like, yo, let’s talk about like racism, let’s talk about white privilege. Let’s break it down, and let’s do it like in a funny way, but I hope at the end of this, you go home thinking twice about your life. But that stuff is, does not sell in Japan, right? There’s a group called Woman Rush Hour—ūmanrasshuawā, it’s a manzai group—and one of the guys started talking about Okinawa. And then he got in trouble, and now he’s kicked off TV because they’re like, you can’t talk about politics in comedy. But man, like how ridiculous does that sound to you in the US? Can you tell a comedian to stop talking about Trump? No. How could we not, right? How could we not talk about like this insane thing that’s happening every day?! And how it’s dividing the country, and all this stuff that kind of falls under that umbrella, right? So in a way I feel like I’m very fortunate to be doing stand-up comedy in America because we don’t have any like restrictions in terms of content. Now, there are consequences. If you talk about edgy stuff all the time, you’re going to be labeled certain ways and you might upset some people. You have to deal with that, but you can keep doing you. You know? But I feel like in Japan like you can’t even sell tickets if you want to talk about. You know, like I was just thinking about this like. Do you think there’s a comedian in Japan who’s talking about the Korean-Japanese relationship? Like the Zainichi people or whatever. I don’t even think we’re supposed to call them that anymore; I don’t even know what the word is, but like ethnically Korean, right? What a crazy but deep and fascinating topic that I would love to further explore and learn about. But do you think a comedian is going to be talking about that? No. Why? Because people get uncomfortable, and Japanese people hate being uncomfortable, right? But in America, like, dude, black comedians out there, talking about what’s going on, you know? Talking about police brutality. Stuff that makes even me—I’m not even white—makes me uncomfortable, but it’s like if they make it funny, I’m going to walk away learning something, you know? And like, yes, America is effed up, but in that way, it’s very beautiful because we’re allowed to have these—we’re allowed to have these conversations in public, and Manzai and Japanese comedians are not. And so, like, so like, I don’t, I’m not really inspired by a lot. I think it’s funny, but like to me it’s like, that’s not the comedy I’m trying to do. You know? I’m not, I’m not trying to be like, I would like to get to a point where I’m like saying things that matter and changing people’s opinions and stuff like that, yeah.
TN: So you host a podcast that we’ve been alluding to called Asian, Not Asian, and your co-host, Mic Nguyen, is Vietnamese American. It’s an Asian podcast, and you do bring in kind of your Japanese perspective in some circumstances when it’s appropriate or when there’s a need to differentiate. But in general, I would say that it kind of is broadly Asian, and maybe that’s also the appeal in terms of like kind of casting a broad net in terms of audience. But was it more natural for you to talk about like an Asian American experience versus a Japanese American experience specifically? Like, for me personally I would not feel equipped at all to create an Asian American podcast, but I feel like I have expertise in Japanese American experience or identity, in which, you know, The Big Root is kind of in that category. Yeah, what is your experience with that?
FA: That’s interesting. I would, first of all, just to clarify, we are not an Asian American podcast. We’re just Asian, so whatever we do is going to be perceived that way. We do not represent all Asian Americans, obviously. But people certainly do think that of us, like you did right? It’s only natural.
TN: Yeah, so what’s the what’s the tag line of your podcast again?
FA: I mean, our official description is ‘Two Asian guys not from Asia talking about American issues no American cares about.’ So the joke is like, I mean it all started because, well, first of all, you say that you don’t feel comfortable talking about the Asian American experience. At least for me, when I’m walking out there, nobody knows that I’m Japanese, and to be completely honest, I’ve had more Chinese slurs yelled at me than—Nobody has ever called me a Japanese slur, whatever that may be, right? People, because nobody knows that. If you’re not Asian, even if you’re Asian, you can’t tell. People just think we’re Chinese because statistically there’s more of them in America, right? So that’s another interesting thing. No matter what you are, we all kind of collectively experience similar things just because people in the society don’t care what kind of Asian you are, you know? And you may not care, either. So like, in a way I feel like you, too, also have the license to speak about the Asian American experience. At least relating back to your life, right? So, that’s, I guess that answers your first question. But also like the, going back to like the Japanese American thing—I have such a hard time even calling myself a Japanese American because A. I wasn’t even a citizen until like, 2015, and also like I have that Japanese foundation: I can read books in Japanese, like I went to Japanese school, and I feel like just in a, like I, my experience is probably very different from your experience.
TN: Yeah, I totally…
FA: Or, or somebody from California who’s fourth generation and right? And so like, I would love to talk to somebody who’s like eighth generation Japanese from Hawai’i or something; that sounds fascinating, right? But like, yeah, I mean, I think—I’m going back to the comedy thing—like no matter what me and Mic do, we’re going to be labeled Asian, but that, that’s why we call it Asian, Not Asian, is because I feel like Asian people, we struggle when we turn on Asian mode, and we turn it off. And we only turn it on when we want to, and we turn it off when we don’t want to. And it’s also, it’s also just like saying, ‘Hey, that’s okay. You don’t have to like be one way forever,’ you know? Don’t let other people tell you how to be Asian. Like, you do you, and it’s going to be Asian because you have a flat face. Okay? That’s really what it is! We have black hair, and we’ve got flat faces, and we dress cool, and that’s, and that’s why we’re Asian. So, it’s like I don’t want to like label anything. And that’s why I think like some people don’t like our podcast because it’s like, again, going back to like, ‘You’re misrepresenting us!’ But it’s like, I’m not representing anybody, dude; I’m just talking about my life! And if you relate to the things that we’re talking about, then that’s great. But I hope that if you’re a fan of my podcast, there’s some things you’re like, ‘I have no idea what he’s talking about.’ And, and that goes back to like us really, really honing the point that like Asian Americans, we’re not a monolith. Okay? Asian Americans can be Republicans. Asian Americans can vote for Trump. Asian Americans can get a low score on their SATs. Asian Americans can like dancing, they don’t always have to dance, they can be shy, they can be really outgoing. And that’s what our podcast tries to highlight. We just invite a bunch of weird, different people on the show just to highlight the point that like, ‘Look how different we are.’ And Mic and I, we’re very close, but we disagree on so many things. And so just by that, just by showcasing that, I feel like we’re sending some message out there, right? It’s like, oh, we’re both like in the white person’s eye, we’re both ‘Asian,’ ‘Asian American,’ but like, look how different we are just talking. Like we don’t agree on so many things, but we’re still friends, right? And so like, I think that’s kind of like our like mission is to just like bust this myth that we’re a monolith, which we’re not, you know? Yeah.
TN: In your podcast you talk a lot about, not maybe a lot, but it’s come up several times that your friends are getting married, having gender-reveal parties, having kids. My co-host, Susan, wanted to know would you teach your kids Japanese?
FA: I would really like to. This is something that I’ve struggled internally with for like a very long time. And this is going to sound so rude to my current girlfriend, but she already knows this, but like I feel that I cannot do that without having a Japanese wife. Because my Japanese is not even that good. Like I mean, it’s fine, but like it’s not good enough to teach somebody else, you know? Like I would have to—I don’t know. And like how do you even do that? Like I speak Japanese, and then my girlfriend is Bulgarian, so then what, she’s going to speak Bulgarian to the kids? And then they’re going to go to school and speak English? Like, how do I maintain all of that? But I would love for them to speak Japanese just because my parents don’t really speak English and stuff, so.
TN: My plan is to get my mom to babysit my kids, so.
FA: How good is your Japanese? Can you read?
TN: I, no. Listening is almost completely fine, but speaking, like I struggle, and usually it’s just like whatever word…
FA: You don’t really have an accent. That’s great.
TN: No, I grew up speaking it. I’m, I’m actually feeling the alcohol, so I’m actually not very clear.
FA: [maniacal laugh]
TN: But I just wanted to thank you for being part of this podcast.
FA: Yeah, thanks for having me.
TN: Yeah, this was a lot of fun. And I don’t want to like flatter you too much, but I feel like you’re at the brink of making it big…
FA: [maniacal laugh]
TN: That I want to be able to tell people like I knew Fumi before he was famous.
FA: Wow, thank you. I appreciate that. I really appreciate that.
TN: I think you are getting there.
FA: Dude, I better, man, I’m getting old, I’m losing my hair, like I gotta get famous now, dude!
TN: Or you’re going to be like the bald Asian comedian.
FA: The bald Asian guy, yeah, yeah, yeah.
TN: It may not work for your brand. Yeah, so yeah, thank you for this, and I’m excited to edit this…
TN: Fumi Abe is a stand-up comedian and started the podcast Asian, Not Asian in 2018 with Mic Nguyen. He and Mic also run a monthly comedy show co-branded with their podcast called Hack City Comedy at Canal Street Market in Downtown Manhattan. The next show is on Wednesday, September 18 at 8 pm, and you can find tickets on Eventbrite by searching Hack City Comedy. I attended the Hack City Comedy show in June, and I will personally recommend the show. It’s really funny, and they try to have comedians from underrepresented groups perform. You can follow Fumi Abe on Instagram @thefumiabe, that’s t-h-e-f-u-m-i-a-b-e, and subscribe to his and Mic’s podcast Asian, Not Asian wherever you like listening to podcasts.
Thanks to Eiko Okamoto for setting up the interviews at Samurai Mama and Makoto Yutani for additional help recording. And special thanks to Alysha Caine.
You can find more information about Samurai Mama, Makoto Suzuki, and Fumi Abe on our website, thebigrootpodcast.com. Please subscribe to The Big Root mailing list at thebigrootpodcast.com/subscribe, where we send news and updates about the podcast, including live events. We also set up an Explore page on our website, so if you’re new to the podcast and want to find other episodes to start listening to, or if you’ve listened to all of our episodes and just want more, you can find books that have influenced us and places and activities we’ve featured on the podcast at thebigrootpodcast.com/explore. You can also read the transcript of this episode on our website.
As always, we’re open to listener feedback, so please reach out to us if you have any topics you’d like us to cover on The Big Root. Finally, please support our podcast on Patreon. I’m finishing up my position as a postdoctoral researcher at The Rockefeller University in a month to delve into media production, including creating more content for The Big Root, so if you enjoy listening and want us to continue featuring more stories about everywhere Japaneseness, please become a patron at patreon.com/toshnaka. That’s t-o-s-h-n-a-k-a.
After drinks, Fumi and I went indoors to eat udon. Although he and I are the same age, we’ve had different experiences relating to our social identities, and our conversation made me think about how, as people of Japanese descent, we can effectively tell stories that are impactful. Like Fumi, I believe that there’s a need to diversify Asian American voices, and even within the Japanese American community, perspectives are multitude.
I spent my train ride back to Upper East Side Manhattan from Williamsburg thinking about the different ways we can communicate ideas and sometimes the limitations of our efforts. I know that many of the topics Fumi and I covered will resonate with my co-host Susan, and I can’t wait for her to get back from North Carolina to cook Japanese food for our next episode and to talk more about everywhere Japaneseness.
TN: The Big Root is an independently produced podcast. The theme song was performed by Kento Iwasaki, and this episode was edited by me, Toshiki Nakashige, and transcribed by Susan McCormac. For more information about the podcast, please visit thebigrootpodcast.com. My name is Toshiki Nakashige. Thanks for listening.