Ever wondered what Munch’s The Scream or Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring might look like if done in modern day Japan? If so, then this book is for you!
Eshi de Irodoru Sekai no Meiga by publisher Side Ranch is a new coffee table book that fuses the artistic sensibilities of centuries-old painters with those of modern illustrators from the manga, anime, and video game worlds of Japan.
In total, 43 masterpieces from the likes of Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh have been re-imagined by 43 different Japanese commercial artists, including smartphone game illustrator Kina Haruka and character designer for Medabots (Medarotin Japan) Rin Horuma. Classic Japanese artists like Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Tawaraya Sotatsu are also given an updated look in this book.
Each full page illustration is accompanied by a look at the original work and a commentary by the illustrator.
Eshi de Irodoru Sekai no Meiga will hit bookstores in Japan on 26 May for 2,200 yen (US$20). The first customers to buy over-the-counter may also receive a postcard depicting an interpretation of Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid.
It’s always fun to see pop culture and high culture collide in colorful ways like this book. So why not pick up a copy and brush up on both art history and current illustrators in Japan. We’ll leave you with a partial list of some of the works covered.
■ Girl with a Pearl Earring – Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
■ The Gleaners – Jean-Francois Millet, 1857
■ Sunflowers – Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
■ The Scream – Edvard Munch, 1893
■ Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – Pablo Picasso, 1907
■ The Snake Charmer – Henri Rousseau, 1907
■ The Milkmaid – Johannes Vermeer, c. 1657
■ The Birth of Venus – Sandro Botticelli, c. 1485
■ Primavera – Sandro Botticelli, c. 1482
■ Ophelia – John Everett Millais, 1852
■ Tahitian Women on the Beach – Paul Gauguin, 1891
■ The Night Watch – Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642
■ Fujin Raijin-zu – Tawaraya Sōtatsu, c. 1650
■ Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre – Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c. 1844
■ The Kiss – Gustav Klimt, 1908
■ Le Divan Japonais – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892
■ Woman with a Parasol: Madame Monet and Her Son – Claude Monet, 1875
Famed writer’s best-known novel served as basis for Studio Ghibli anime of the same name.
Born in the city of Kamakura in 1930, Akiyuki Nosaka didn’t have an easy childhood. His mother died two months after giving birth to him. His adoptive father was killed in an air raid on Kobe in the closing months of World War II, and growing up Nosaka would also lose an older sister to illness and a younger one to starvation after evacuating their home.
Nosaka would channel the pain of these experiences into his semi-autobiographical novel Grave of the Fireflies, which was published when the author was 37 and would be awarded the Naoki Prize for literature in 1967. While the novel has had limited exposure abroad, it was also adapted into an animated theatrical feature in 1988, which earned international acclaim for its powerful story, Studio Ghibli-produced animation, and direction by renowned anime icon Isao Takahata.
Nosaka suffered a stroke in 2003, and had been receiving convalescent care from his wife at their Tokyo home since then. On the morning of December 9, at roughly 10:30, Mrs. Nosaka discovered that her husband was not breathing. The 85-year-old author was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead by medical staff.
In addition to his wife, Nosaka is survived by his two daughters, both former members of the Takarazuka all-female stage troupe. The deeply respected writer’s passing brings great sorrow to fans of literature and animation alike, and its suddenness, like Nosaka’s signature work itself, is a solemn reminder of the preciousness of life.
Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Kazuo Inamori is the founder of electronics company Kyocera, the Honorary Chairman of Japan Airlines and a trained Buddhist priest.
The 83-year-old philanthropist also founded the Inamori Foundation which awards the annual Kyoto Prize, Japan’s version of the Nobel Prize, that honors individuals’ “extraordinary contributions to science, civilization, and the spirituality of humankind.”
From his 1995 book, “Passion For Success”, he shares his philosophy on success in life and in business.
1. Know what your true motives are.
“Zen, the Japanese word for ‘good,’ means being universally virtuous in anybody’s eyes. I cannot achieve something worthwhile by considering only my own interests, my own convenience, or how I may appear to others. The motive has to be good for others as well as myself.”
In whatever passion you pursue, if your motives aren’t just, you will surely fail. The most successful ideas and businesses today have flourished because they positively impact the lives of billions.
“If your motivation and methods are virtuous, you need not worry much about the result.”
2. Make a habit of being a perfectionist. “When it comes to work, I am a perfectionist.”
Perfection isn’t just something that is achieved, it is something that is practiced until it becomes your second nature.
“It is extremely difficult to begin demanding perfection of yourself in everyday life. However, once it becomes your second nature, you can easily live that way. Aerospace engineers know that it takes tremendous energy to launch a satellite against gravity. But once it is in orbit, the same satellite needs very little energy to remain there. A business leader must pursue perfection as an everyday habit.”
3. Think optimistically, plan pessimistically, execute optimistically. “The most important factor in starting any new project is having a dream and the passion to achieve it. In setting your vision, you need to be ultraoptimistic. You must first believe that you have unlimited potential. Continue telling yourself, ‘I can do it,’ and believe in yourself.”
“Once you begin making your plan, however, you must become a pessimist. You should review your concept conservatively. By this I mean that you must recognize every potential difficulty, and plan for all contingencies.”
“Equipped with such an ultraconservative plan, you should then move to execute it optimistically. Pessimism at this stage would prevent you from taking the bold action necessary to succeed.”
4. Your life or work = Attitude x Effort x Ability “The outcome of our life or work is the product of three factors: attitude, effort and ability. Effort and ability range from 0 to 100 points. As these two numbers are multiplied rather than simply added, it means that persons who exert unbeatable efforts to compensate for their only ‘average’ ability can accomplish more than geniuses who rely just on their ability while making only a minimal efforts.”
But effort and ability are nothing without the main driving force that every successful entrepreneur has mastered:
“Depending on our attitude, the outcome of our work and our life can change by 180 degrees. Thus, while ability and effort are important, it is our attitude that counts the most.”
5. Always aim higher than what you think you can achieve. “When choosing a long-term goal, I purposely select something beyond my ability. In other words, I choose a goal which is impossible for me to accomplish at the present time: no matter how hard I struggle now, I will not be able to reach it. Then I set a date in the future by which time I shall have achieved it.”
You really don’t know what you don’t know, and that applies for what you will be capable of in the future. With the right motivation, spirit and attitude, you almost can’t imagine what you are capable of until you finally achieve it.
“A person who wants to accomplish something new and worthwhile must assess his or her own ability from both present and future viewpoints.”
Takashi Shibayama’s typical day starts at 1 a.m. He wakes up, hurriedly throws on some clothes and sits down to eat the simple breakfast his wife prepares for him — a bowl of rice, miso soup and pickled Kishu ume.
His older brother, Shinichi, picks him up at 2 a.m. and, together, they travel to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market to work in Shibasen, a family-owned intermediate wholesaler that was founded by Shibayama’s grandfather and has been in operation for about 90 years.
The market is already in full swing when the brothers arrive, with traders unloading fish from vehicles by the dozen and turret trucks zipping between stores carrying piles of boxes full of seafood. While much of Japan is in a deep slumber, Tsukiji fish market is full of activity.
“This is Tsukiji,” says Shibayama, 62. “I dream about fish. I start thinking about fish as soon as I get up. I look forward to thinking about what sort of fish I can find for my clients.”
Tsukiji fish market is one of 11 wholesale markets in operation in Tokyo. Built in 1935, it is the oldest market in the city.
About 480 different varieties of fish and 270 varieties of fruit and vegetables are handled at the market on a daily basis. The market’s vendors distribute produce that is sourced from not only all over Japan but also from other countries. The market never sleeps — it is open 24/7, with about 42,000 people and 19,000 vehicles going in and out everyday. On average, the market logs total daily sales of about ¥1.8 billion, with around 1,800 tons of fish and 1,160 tons of fruit and vegetables sold daily.
Tsukiji fish market has over the years become more than just a market — it has become a cultural landmark. Around a year from now, on Nov. 2, 2016, the market will close the doors on its 80-year history as it prepares to move to a new site in the Toyosu district of Tokyo’s Koto Ward.
In announcing the Nov. 7, 2016, opening date of the new market, Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said the cultural legacy of Tsukiji must be continued. “The Tsukiji brand has become extremely well-established,” Masuzoe told reporters during a July news conference. “I want to create a new market that is just as good.”
Shibayama has worked at Tsukiji fish market for 40 years. He left Shibasen after being embroiled in some family squabbles and spent 30 years with another vendor in the market. He rejoined his family’s business in 2009.
Every morning, without fail, he scours wholesalers in the market in search of different varieties of fish. He makes his purchases based on quality and cost.
Shibayama is one of four traders at Shibasen, which also include his brother and his brother’s eldest son. They all buy and sell their produce independently of each other, servicing their own portfolio of clients. On the morning of my visit, Shibayama had assembled an eye-popping selection of conger eel, bonito, flounder, red snapper, mackerel and blue crab, among other things.
The seafood is packed in styrofoam boxes filled with ice and displayed to customers under bare incandescent bulbs that hang from the ceiling. Customers drop by one after another, and Shibayama isn’t slow to offer his recommendations. If the customer is interested in purchasing an item, they negotiate a price. Trust is obviously an important part of their relationship.
“What I love about Tsukiji is the one-to-one relationships,” Shibayama says. “It’s not just about profit, we help each other out. One day I might ask a client to buy any fish that are left over but I’ll be sure to return the favor another day. That’s how it works here.”
Like many other Tsukiji veterans, Shibayama was originally against moving the market to Toyosu but since the decision has been finalized, he wants to maintain a positive outlook.
In August, Shibayama published a book titled “Arigato-yo Tsukiji” (“Thanks Tsukiji”) by Kosaido Publishing, an autobiography about his experiences in the market over the past 40 years.
“I wanted to stay in Tsukiji but it’s also true that the market has aged significantly after 80 years,” he says. “We all carry some hope, anxiety and anticipation, but at the end of the day, we won’t know what lies ahead until we go there. We are lucky that we are able to relocate … so we now need to make sure we don’t regret this decision.”
“Time to move on”
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which oversees all markets in the capital, including Tsukiji, cites various reasons why a new location is necessary. The facilities at Tsukiji fish market are too old, it says, while also highlighting a lack of space and sanitation issues.
Eisuke Urawa, director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Fisheries Wholesale Association, says as much as he loves Tsukiji, he realizes the time has come to move on.
“Buyers have to come to Tsukiji even if they don’t want to because that is where all of the products are,” Urawa says. “It has been working until now because of the Tsukiji brand. However, everyone knows the existing sanitation levels are poor and relocating the market to a new site will help improve this to industry-standard levels.”
The existing 23-hectare Tsukiji market is going to be reborn in Toyosu on a multiple-floored 40-hectare site. The area will be divided into three separate buildings and, unlike the existing market, the auctioning space will be housed in one facility and intermediate wholesalers will be located in another. Construction on the new site is expected to be complete next spring.
The market will become completely closed off from outside, with temperature-controlled buildings to keep the produce in a cool, hygienic environment. The closed structure will also regulate public access, says Urawa, as people can wander about freely in the existing market space at Tsukiji.
“It’s going to be completely different,” Urawa says. “We still need to conduct simulations on the logistics and distribution. Markets are usually designed on a flat space on a ground floor; a multi-story market is unprecedented.”
Coordinating a move that involves hundreds of companies, however, is far from straight-forward. Urawa is responsible for coordinating discussions between the existing vendors at Tsukiji and the metropolitan government.
Urawa says plans have been drawn up to conduct a series of logistical simulations on the new site in the first six months after construction is complete. Once finished, the market’s entire sales network would be moved over the course of a few days in the beginning of November 2016.
“The people in the market love to do things their own way,” Urawa says. “However, we need to establish a set of fundamental rules. Without rules, there is no order. My focus right now is on establishing an infrastructure.”
The metropolitan government drafted a plan as early as 1985 to renovate Tsukiji, constructing a two-story building that would house seafood products on the ground floor, fruit and vegetables on the second floor, and a parking lot on the roof.
However, projected costs soon swelled from the initial forecast of ¥238 billion to around ¥340 billion by 1996, while the estimated period for construction was extended from 14 years to more than 20.
In the end, then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara decided to abandon plans to renovate the existing site and, instead, build a new market in another location.
“(Tsukiji’s) too old, small and dangerous to be used as Tokyo’s kitchen,” Ishihara noted when he visited the market in September 1999, the year he was first elected as Tokyo’s leader. Later, the outspoken governor added “dirty” to his list of adjectives. The municipal government officially dropped the renovation plan in 2001 and decided to move the market to Toyosu.
That was, however, easier said than done because the soil at the relocation site, formerly owned by Tokyo Gas Co., has been found to be contaminated.
The gas company revealed that the area contains a high level of chemicals, including benzene (which was 43,000 times above environmental safety standards) and cyanogens (860 times above environmental safety standards). Other toxins that were detected on the site include arsenic, mercury and cadmium.
The cost of cleaning up the contamination is now expected to be more than ¥84.9 billion, of which Tokyo Gas has contributed ¥7.8 billion. The total project cost swelled from what was estimated to be ¥392.6 billion in 2011 to the most recent figure of ¥588.4 billion.
Naturally, existing operators in the market have expressed concern over the move.
Makoto Nakazawa, secretary-general of the Tokyo Central Market labor union, is one of them. Nakazawa has worked inside Tsukiji fish market for about 30 years as a turret truck driver for an intermediate wholesaler. He claims there are a number of unresolved problems regarding Toyosu and believes the government should abandon its plan. “We have come this far because of this wonderful market and the system that our predecessors established,” Nakazawa says. “However, I don’t think the new facility is something that we can proudly hand over to the next generation. It’s like one big warehouse.”
The metropolitan government insists the contamination is contained, arguing that only 15 out of 4,122 areas in the soil and groundwater it checked were highly contaminated. Its website, however, also adds that areas where the level of contamination is 10 times higher than environmental safety standards or more actually makes up 36 percent of the whole area.
“I think the degree of contamination is very serious,” Nakazawa says.
Tokyo has already spent several years cleaning up the contaminated soil in Toyosu, announcing that decontamination work had been finished in October 2014.
A metropolitan government official says Tokyo is currently monitoring the groundwater at the Toyosu market to ease residents’ concern over the contamination. When the market opens on Nov. 7, 2016, the official says, a new monitoring system will commence operation.
According to Nakazawa and others who are against the move, however, the cleanup is far from done. Through their own research, they claim to have found that the metropolitan government failed to conduct tests that are necessary by law in 333 areas at the bottom of the aquifer. While Tokyo admits it didn’t check some of the aforementioned areas, it has no plans for further testing, arguing that it conducted all of the necessary tests that were recommended by Tokyo’s special panel in charge of the contamination.
“We can’t trust the government,” Nakazawa asks. “Who’s going to take responsibility if toxins are now found in Toyosu?”
Nakazawa has been organizing demonstrations with such organizations as the Consumers Union of Japan, opposing the relocation and calling on the municipal government to focus on renovating Tsukiji fish market instead.
As time ticks away, however, Nakazawa admits that most of the people openly opposing the relocation aren’t directly involved in the running of the market.
In February this year, Nakazawa surveyed 650 intermediate wholesalers regarding their views on the relocation. Out of the 254 respondents, 70 percent, or 179 shops, said construction for the new facility should be suspended until the area is completely toxin-free.
A further 55 percent said that the Tokyo Municipal Government gave little or no explanation on the details of the relocation to Toyosu. Their main concerns centered on the running costs of the new facility — the details of which, including the monthly expenses, have not been disclosed — and the contamination of the area.
“In truth, most people don’t want to move,” Nakazawa says. “I can, however, understand why many have given up. They may be experts on fish but fighting against the government is tough.”
Urawa, of the wholesale market association, says he understands why people don’t want to move because he himself has worked inside Tsukiji for 23 years. “For many, the existing Tsukiji facilities work just fine and they don’t see why we have to move,” he says. “I also understand because I am fond of this place as well. Now, however, we need to make sure that Toyosu becomes a market we can all be proud of.”
In July, the labor union for the fish market’s intermediate wholesalers revealed that 69 known companies have decided to end their businesses in Tsukiji. It is still unclear just how many companies will move to Toyosu out of the current 609, but the number of intermediate wholesalers is rapidly decreasing due to a lack of heirs who can continue their legacy.
Shibayama’s brother, Shinichi, had also considered closing Shibasen. The younger brother was going to respect whatever decision Shinichi made, because he comes from a very traditional family whose oldest son always inherits the shop and is the decision maker. When asked for his opinion, however, Shibayama expressed an eagerness to continue.
Shibasen is expected to continue, with Shinichi’s oldest son looking to eventually run operations. “I hope I can help my brother pass the baton of Shibasen on to his son,” Shibayama says.
At 7:30 a.m., most Styrofoam boxes at Shibasen have gone. Shibayama, however, still does not stop moving. He begins to mop the floors, washes the buckets and scrubs the walls clean. He may be the younger brother of the president but, at Shibasen, he’s still a newbie. Together with his nephew, they clean the shop in preparation for the next day.
“Cleaning is an important part of the job, regardless of one’s position,” Shibayama says. “I scrub everything clean so that the customers can feel good about buying fish from me when they come again tomorrow.”
By 8 a.m., the market has calmed down as an increasing number of people begin to scrub their stalls as well.
It is another beautiful fall day in Tokyo and shafts of sunlight begin to make their presence felt in the building. For the rest of Japan, the day has just begun.
Caswell “Cash” Harrison, the protagonist in this legal thriller set during World War II, is a fortunate young man. Fresh out of Columbia Law School, his family ties to the network of Philadelphia patricians promises him a cozy legal career. But having failed his military physical on a technicality, Harrison winds up in Washington, D.C., as a clerk to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Hugo Black, toiling at the mundane task of screening petitions of certiorari to determine the cases that are relevant for the court to hear.
Soon, however, Harrison finds himself caught in a web of intrigue, and what at first seems to be a typical Washington tug-of-war between conservatives and liberals transforms into something more sinister, including murder.
“Allegiance” shifts between the halls of power in wartime Washington to the gritty, isolated conditions of the Tule Lake internment camp in California. Through meticulous historical research, the author — a great-grandson of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt — touches on the plight of Japanese-Americans, and particularly the so-called “no-no boys,” U.S. citizens threatened with deportation due to their refusal to give loyalty oaths.
While Harrison is fictitious, the book is peopled with real-life historical figures, including Justices Black and Felix Frankfurter, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and unsung heroes like Masaaki Kuwabara, who refused military conscription until his rights as an American citizen were restored.
Although not as tightly spun as a John Grisham thriller, “Allegiance” is of particular interest for its depictions of Japanese-Americans’ struggles during the war years.
Anime/manga/tv series Death Note will be back with another live-action film in 2016.
The film, which will serve as a sequel to the two 2006 Death Note films, will star characters who “inherited the DNA of Light and L” who are set to battle over the six Death Notes in the world. The plot will also involve cyber-terrorism.
Death Note 2016will be directed by Shinsuke Sato, who previously directed the live-action Gantz and Library Wars films.
The teaser was first revealed after the final episode of the Death Note TV series Sunday. It’s unclear if any of the cast or crew from that series will be involved in the new film.
In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.
An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II.
Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.
Published to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has remade our “nation of immigrants,” this is a new and definitive history of Asian Americans. But more than that, it is a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.
People often refer to Tiger Woods as a black golfer but never an Asian golfer, despite his mother’s Thai heritage. Woods’ identity made professor Jennifer Ho think about the complicated ways society labels multiracial people.
And it also got her thinking about her own experience identifying as a Chinese Jamaican American.
Ho, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, turned those thoughts into a new book, “Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture” (Rutgers University Press/2015), which explores some of the social, cultural and historical perspectives on the lives of Asian Americans.
The sheer diversity of the Asian American populace makes them an ambiguous racial category. Indeed, the 2010 U.S. Census lists twenty-four Asian-ethnic groups, lumping together under one heading people with dramatically different historical backgrounds and cultures. In Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture, Jennifer Ann Ho shines a light on the hybrid and indeterminate aspects of race, revealing ambiguity to be paramount to a more nuanced understanding both of race and of what it means to be Asian American.
Exploring a variety of subjects and cultural artifacts, Ho reveals how Asian American subjects evince a deep racial ambiguity that unmoors the concept of race from any fixed or finite understanding. For example, the book examines the racial ambiguity of Japanese American nisei Yoshiko Nakamura deLeon, who during World War II underwent an abrupt transition from being an enemy alien to an assimilating American, via the Mixed Marriage Policy of 1942. It looks at the blogs of Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese Americans who were adopted as children by white American families and have conflicted feelings about their “honorary white” status. And it discusses Tiger Woods, the most famous mixed-race Asian American, whose description of himself as “Cablinasian”—reflecting his background as Black, Asian, Caucasian, and Native American—perfectly captures the ambiguity of racial classifications.
Race is an abstraction that we treat as concrete, a construct that reflects only our desires, fears, and anxieties. Jennifer Ho demonstrates in Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture that seeing race as ambiguous puts us one step closer to a potential antidote to racism.
The second generation Vietnamese American described herself as “not very intelligent,” someone who got straight Cs. She failed the exam to qualify for Advanced Placement classes at the end of Junior High.
But for reasons beyond her understanding, she was placed on the AP track when she got to high school. There, surrounded by ambitious peers and high expectations, “something clicked,” she told researcher Jennifer Lee.
“I wanted to work hard and prove I was a good student,” she said. “I think the competition kind of increases” the desire to “do better.”
Ophelia graduated with a 4.2 grade point average and an acceptance to a prestigious pharmacy program.
Lee, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine, is an author of the new book “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” which examines how stereotypes based on race can determine students’ chances for success. For their research, she and co-author Min Zhou surveyed hundreds of students like Ophelia — children of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants who felt they were treated differently because of their race.
“Teachers and guidance counselors and peers assumed that they were smart and disciplined and high achieving,” Lee told The Washington Post. “So they were more likely to be placed on advanced tracks, more likely to be directed toward selective colleges. Some admitted to getting grades they didn’t feel like they deserved.”
Paradoxically, though, this was one stereotype that served its targets well. Lee said students who were subject to irrationally high expectations usually rose to meet them. Surrounded by brainy classmates only happy with “As,” they adjusted their own notions of what it means to do well. Assumed to be a “smart Asian,” as Lee put it, they put extra effort into their coursework in order to live up to expectations of their ethnicity.
“What you have is a self-fulfilling prophesy where initially what is untrue becomes true,” Lee said. She calls it the “stereotype promise.”
Lee’s findings are the inverse of social science we’ve heard about before. For the past two decades, researchers have been investigating the “stereotype threat” — how negative assumptions about certain groups can undercut their performance. It’s been used to explain why high-achieving African American students sometimes struggle when they get to college, why talented women may underperform in STEM fields.
Social psychologist Claude Steele, who coined the term in 1995, explained how the stereotype threat affects members of groups that are seen as less able or intelligent.
“They know that they are especially likely to be seen as having limited ability,” he wrote in the Atlantic in 1999. “Groups not stereotyped in this way don’t experience this extra intimidation. And it is a serious intimidation, implying as it does that they may not belong in walks of life where the tested abilities are important — walks of life in which they are heavily invested. Like many pressures, it may not be experienced in a fully conscious way, but it may impair their best thinking.”
In the Los Angeles area, where Lee and her colleagues surveyed 4,800 first-generation Americans, the children of Mexican immigrants were most likely to be affected by the stereotype threat. These respondents told Lee that they were rarely taken seriously as students. They weren’t offered help preparing for the SAT and weren’t advised to apply for four-year colleges. If Mexican American students wanted to get into a selective school, they had to be their own tutors, their own guidance counselors.
“One of the questions it raises is how many students aren’t given the opportunity to meet their potential,” Lee said.
Lee’s finding challenges the assumption that gaps in achievement are purely cultural, that “tiger moms” and community regard for education entirely explain Asian American students’ success. The perception of a culture can be as influential as the culture itself.
That’s not to say that culture isn’t a factor — Lee has previously studied how raised expectations within the Asian American community drive high achievement. But when we adopt stereotypes about Asians and education, we’re crediting the wrong culture, she said. It’s not necessarily Chinese people who value education so highly (only 4 percent of China’s population has a college degree), it’s the highly educated Chinese immigrants who come to the United States, more than half of whom went to college.
“It’s not culture reduced to a certain ethnicity,” Lee said. “It’s about who immigrates to the U.S. and what sort of norms they’re bringing.”
Chinese and Korean immigrants are “hyper-selected,” as Lee put it. They are more likely to be highly skilled and more likely to hold an advanced degree than almost any other immigrant group. In fact, they are almost twice as likely to be college-educated than the general U.S. population — only 28 percent of Americans have graduated from college. Since parents’ level of educational attainment is one of the best predictors of their children’s achievement, it’s hardly surprising that academically successful Chinese immigrants will have academically successful kids.
Teachers’ assumptions about Asian culture — misplaced though they may be — affect how they perceive Asian American students. And Asian American students internalize those perceptions. They wind up achieving more than they normally would have based on a stereotype that isn’t even completely true.
“We think that grades and test scores and who gets into what colleges is objective, that it’s all about individual effort,” Lee said. “But our work reveals the hidden ways in which biases and stereotypes operate that make certain outcomes more possible for certain groups.”
Most of the students Lee spoke to said that the stereotype promise was a good thing. It helped them do well in school and get into good colleges.
But Lee warns that it can be a “double-edged sword.” Asian American students are also likely to feel a form of the intimidation Steele described in writing about the stereotype threat.
While black students may worry that their failures will reinforce negative assumptions about African American achievement, Asian American students who didn’t meet the high expectations set for them “didn’t feel Asian,” Lee said. One man told her that he was “the whitest Chinese guy she’ll ever meet,” because he didn’t fit the stereotype of a high-achieving Asian. The pressure can lead to mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.
And the positive stereotypes that serve Asian Americans well in school can act against them once they’re in the workforce. They have a harder time attaining leadership positions because they’re seen as diligent and thoughtful, rather than bold and creative, according to Lee. She noted that Asian Americans made up 6 percent of college students (slightly more than their proportion of the U.S. population) but 2 percent of college presidents. In Silicon Valley, Asian Americans are 27 percent of the workforce but just 14 percent of executives.
The stereotype promise may help Asian American students get a degree, Lee said, but the “bamboo ceiling” stops them from achieving as much as they could with it.