Naomi Hirahara Bids Farewell to Mas Arai at JANM

Naomi Hirahara

Naomi Hirahara, the acclaimed author of the Mas Arai mysteries, is coming to the Japanese American National Museum on March 17. She will be discussing and reading from her most recent book, Hiroshima Boy, the last in a series of seven mystery novels featuring the Japanese gardener detective. The following is an excerpt of a new article by Kimiko Medlock about the book and Hirahara on JANM’s Discover Nikkei website.

In this final installment of Mas Arai’s adventures, the sleuth is getting older. His friend Haruo has died, and he travels to Japan to deliver Haruo’s ashes to his family on the small island of Ino near Hiroshima. Mas originally plans to hand his friend’s ashes over to his family, turn around and return immediately to the States—but as so often happens, his best-laid plans go awry when he discovers the body of a young boy floating in the island harbor, and returns to his room to find his friend’s ashes missing. Mas decides to stay on the island to solve the twin mysteries of the murder and the missing ashes.

Critics are praising Hiroshima Boy as “a wonderful finale to a fine mystery series,” and many also continue to ask whether Hirahara will change her mind and bring back the much-beloved Mas Arai down the road. But the author herself spoke with Discover Nikkei, and she is satisfied with the series’ close. Hiroshima Boy, the title a reference to both the murder victim in the story and to the protagonist himself, is a fitting end as it brings Mas back to his roots. “I knew that the last mystery needed to be in Hiroshima,” Hirahara said in our interview. Readers learn in Mas’s very first case, Summer of the Big Bachi, that Mas’s experience growing up in wartime Hiroshima and surviving the atomic bomb form a large part of his identity, so it is appropriate that his last escapade brings him full circle back to the source of those memories.

Hiroshima was a difficult place to set a mystery tale, however. The author herself is not intimately familiar with the prefecture, nor with how the comparatively less transparent police force operates in Japan. The setting thus presented a sizable challenge to Hirahara’s research and writing process. “I knew that the last mystery needed to be in Hiroshima,” she says, “but I was wary about writing a novel set in a place I have visited, but is not my home.”

To find out how Hirahara solved this challenge, read the full article here.

The author discussion with Naomi Hirahara on March 17 starts at 2 p.m. It is included with JANM admission but RSVPs are recommended.

Hiroshima Boy and other Mas Arai by Naomi Hirahara are available for purchase at janmstore.com.

 

Naomi Hirahara fans will want to check out Trouble on Temple Street: An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery, available exclusively on Discover Nikkei. LAPD bicycle cop Ellie Rush, first introduced in Murder on Bamboo Lane (Berkley), returns in this special serial. Chapters 1–7 are online now, with new chapters released on the 4th of each month through August.

Guess Who Killed the Origamist and Win a Signed Copy of Naomi Hirahara’s New Novel

sayonara-slam-175Naomi Hirahara is an acclaimed writer who is best known for her award-winning mystery novels. The popular and long-running Mas Arai series features an aging, widowed Japanese American gardener from Altadena who solves mysteries in his spare time.

In Summer of the Big Bachi, the first Mas Arai mystery published in 2004, Mas reaches a crossroads in his life and has to deal with unresolved secrets from his past. The novel was praised not only for being a riveting mystery, but for accurately capturing the nuances of Japanese American life.

Sayonara Slam, the highly anticipated sixth book in the Mas Arai series, will be published in May. Set at Dodger Stadium during the Japan vs. Korea World Baseball Classic, the novel challenges its stoic protagonist with yet another multi-layered whodunit. Who is that strange woman throwing knuckleball pitches to warm up the Japanese team? Who sent thugs to threaten Mas and accuse him of treason? What was in the deleted files on the murdered sportswriter’s computer, and did they hold secrets that led to his death?

Want to win a signed copy of Hirahara’s new novel? Simply visit our Discover Nikkei website, where we are publishing an exclusive, original, serialized story by Hirahara called Death of an Origamist. Start with Chapter 1 and read through to the recently posted Chapter 9, at the end of which you will see our contest announcement. Guess who the killer is, and post your answer in the comments section of Chapter 9. Hirahara will randomly select the winner from those who guess correctly. It’s a win-win situation: you get a shot at winning a free signed book while reading a free, original murder mystery by an award-winning author!

Guesses must be posted in the comments section of Chapter 9 in order to be entered in the contest. You must state the murderer’s name, and you must submit your guess no later than Tuesday, May 3, 2016, at midnight PDT. The winner will be announced when Chapter 11 is published. The winner will be contacted via the email address used to register/comment on the Discover Nikkei site. If no response is received within 10 days, another winner will be selected. Please note that only residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia are eligible to enter this contest.

Naomi Hirahara
Naomi Hirahara

On Saturday, May 21, at 2 p.m., join us for an author discussion with Naomi Hirahara, in which she will read from and discuss Sayonara Slam. JANM members also have the opportunity to attend an intimate pre-event meet-and-greet with Hirahara at 1 p.m. Space is limited; RSVP by May 16 to memberevents@janm.org or 213.830.5646.

Select books by Naomi Hirahara are available for purchase at janmstore.com.

Author Lisa See’s Unexpected Connections to Japanese American History

ChinaDollsCover.final Lisa See’s bestselling novels—which have included Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan—are known for telling compelling stories of human relationships set against the rich backdrop of Chinese and Chinese American history. Her latest novel, released last June, is no different.

Set in San Francisco on the eve of World War II, China Dolls follows three independent young women as they revel in the city’s exciting and glamorous Chinatown nightclub scene. The women become close friends, sharing secrets and supporting one another through struggles and triumphs. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor however, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to change their lives forever.

One of the remarkable things about China Dolls is that it captures some key connections between Chinese American and Japanese American experiences. As in much of her work, See draws on her own family’s history to weave some of China Dolls’ narrative. During World War II, See’s grandparents lived in and took care of the home of the Oki family while they were imprisoned in camp. While many Japanese Americans lost everything after the war, the Oki family was able to return to their home and their belongings. In China Dolls, the incarceration of Japanese Americans plays a major role in the book, with vivid passages describing life in the camps.

Hideo Date Where South and North Winds Meet, ca. 1940, watercolor and gouache on paper. Japanese American National Museum, gift of Hideo Date.
Hideo Date, Where South and North Winds Meet, ca. 1940, watercolor and gouache on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of Hideo Date.

 

See’s family history intersected with Japanese American history in other significant ways. In 1935, Eddy and Stella See (Lisa’s grandparents) opened the Dragon’s Den restaurant in the basement of the F. Suie One Company, located in Los Angeles’ original Chinatown. Eddy See commissioned three artists, including his good friend Benji Okubo, to paint murals of mythical Asian figures like the Eight Immortals on the restaurant’s exposed brick walls. See had already been selling artworks by all his friends in a small gallery in the mezzanine. These included works by Okubo, Hideo Date, and Tyrus Wong, who went on to become an influential graphic artist after creating the signature look for Disney’s Bambi movie.

Benji Okubo, Portrait of Sissee See, c. 1927–45. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of Chisato Okubo.
Benji Okubo, Portrait of Sissee See, c. 1927–45. Japanese American National Museum.
Gift of Chisato Okubo.

The Dragon’s Den became a popular gathering spot for artists and actors, and See’s gallery now stands as an important early effort to show the work of Asian American artists. Many of these artists continued to exhibit together, earning a few different nicknames as a group, such as “the Orientalists.” Today, many works by Date and Okubo—along with those of the latter’s sister, Mine Okubo—are proudly featured in JANM’s permanent collection. (Pictured at right is Benji Okubo’s portrait of Lisa See’s great-aunt Florence See Leong, nicknamed “Sissee.”)

This Saturday, January 31, Lisa See will be at JANM to discuss China Dolls and her family’s connections to Japanese American history. She will also take questions from the audience.

China Dolls can be purchased from the JANM Store and online at janmstore.com. For a more in-depth profile of the author, check out this new feature story on Discover Nikkei.

Becoming American? Reintroducing Issei Artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi

Next Saturday, on September 24th at 2pm, Dr. ShiPu Wang will be at the Museum to talk about his book, Becoming American? The Art and Identity Crisis of Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi was one of the preeminent 20th century American artists. He was active in New York as a teacher and in both artist circles and Japanese American organizations from pre-war until his death in 1953. At the time, he was an internationally known painter and graphic artist, but sadly is not well known now, particularly in the Japanese American community.

Becoming American? is the first scholarly book in over two decades to offer a critical evaluation of the pivotal art of Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

We asked one of our volunteer writers to interview Dr. Wang about the book for our Discover Nikkei website:

Becoming American? Reintroducing Issei Artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi >>

For more info about the program on September 24 >>