Nancy Matsumoto

Nancy Matsumoto is a freelance writer and editor who covers agroecology, food and drink, the arts, and Japanese and Japanese American culture. She has been a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, Time, People, The Toronto Globe and Mail, Civil Eats, NPR’s The Salt,, and the online Densho Encyclopedia of the Japanese American Incarceration, among other publications. Her book, Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth, was published in May 2022. Another of her books, By the Shore of Lake Michigan, an English-language translation of Japanese tanka poetry written by her grandparents, is forthcoming from UCLA’s Asian American Studies Press.  Twitter/Instagram: @nancymatsumoto

Updated August 2022

business en

Bon Yagi: Emperor of New York’s Japanese East Village - Part 1

The first time I interviewed Bon Yagi, the New York City businessman who has built an empire of 13 Japanese specialty restaurants featuring everything from soba to sake, he tried to sell me something completely unexpected: a Toto Washlet toilet. Though the topic at hand was his sake specialty restaurant Sakagura, when I happened to mention I was in the midst of bathroom renovations at home he couldn’t resist the business opportunity. “Let me know if you’re interested in a Washlet,” he reminded me politely at the end of our conversation. Acting as the local agent for t…

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war en

A Mother's Farewell to Heart Mountain

Late last month I attended a pilgrimage to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, the former U.S. Government concentration camp where my mother and her family were placed for three years during World War II. My mother had not been back to Heart Mountain for 70 years, since she left as a girl of 12. She wanted to go, she told us, to see the mountain the camp was named after one more time. Its iconic shape, more like the angled smokestack of a cruise ship than a heart, had found a permanent home in her memory. While living in the prison camp she had even once had a nightmare about the mountain coming to life…

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food en

Plumbing the Mystique of Washoku Traditional Japanese Cuisine

Kyoto—In a well-appointed kitchen at the La Carriere Cooking School in Kyoto, Japan, Hawaii-born chef Aaron Pate carefully assembled the dish he hoped would win him gold at the Washoku World Challenge 2015 (WWC). A chef at Seattle’s Shiro’s Sushi, his idea was a tonyu (soy milk) shabu-shabu, into which judges would dip and gently cook fresh oysters, king crab leg, salmon, wild yellowtail, and maitake mushrooms. As each judge’s individual hot pot simmered over a flame, a layer of yuba, or tofu skin, would form on its surface. Next to Pate, an international roster of …

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culture en

The Nisei Project

The stories of the valiant all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Infantry Regiment of World War II have been told in art forms ranging from haiku to the graphic novel. But choreographer Marla Hirokawa may well be the first person to bring the tale of discrimination, imprisonment, and battlefield glory to life in the form of a ballet. Hirokawa, a Hawaiian-born Sansei and the artistic director of Covenant Ballet Theatre of Brooklyn and CBT Dance Academy, is readying her original ballet “Nisei” for its third public staging since its inception, as part of August’s …

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community en

JAJA: A Home Away From Home for Japanese Americans and Japanese in New York

I lived in Manhattan for 13 years before I went to my first JAJA meeting. An acronym for Japanese Americans and Japanese in America, JAJA is an informal group that meets monthly in a large and accommodating loft space near Union Square. On my first visit, I exited the elevator on the third floor of a former commercial building and heard a muffled din coming from behind a door to my right. I opened it and entered a boisterous world brimming with loud talk, a clatter of kitchen sounds, and the smell of good food. By virtue of existing for years without my knowledge, the place felt underground, …

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