Sensual Asian Women! Eastern Mystique!

December 6, 2004

So he took matters into his own hands and created a spoof using a photograph of his own face. He taped his posters up in Japantown and even managed to get his spoof brochures into the actual racks at the museum. Very clever.

Tsuchitani argues that the image the museum used perpetuates stereotypes. Sensual Asian women! Eastern mystique! I think he hits it right on the head. The ad campaign (created by the same agency that brought us the "Got Milk?" ads) had bothered me too. Seeing his spoof, I understand exactly why it did. Hmm, maybe we should ask him to do some work for Hyphen.


Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. She grew up in Texas, the eldest child of immigrants. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.



Zoinks! you scooped me. This is basically what i was going to say:The Chron article raises really interesting issues because i think most Asian Americans (or politically aware ones, anyway) have a knee-jerk reaction to even hearing the word "geisha." And not just because so many people mispronounce it. It's come to abbreviate everything that is wrong with the way we are represented --that we are somehow sexually magical, we're exotic, we're trained to please men and be submissive and coy and demure.But the curator of the geisha show wanted to go beyond that misconception of what geisha are --to show the reality of modern day geisha (it's a dying industry, should we care?) and to emphasize that it never has been primarily about the sex trade, and more about the entertainment and hospitality trade.The fact is, most Americans are interested in geisha, though they know little. So it was a brilliant move on the museum's part to create an exhibit with broad appeal, that would get white folks in as well as the Asians, and maybe try to destroy some misconceptions at the same time.But then it begs that question again, why are Asians in this country so often represented only wearing clothing from 300 years ago? Pacific Overtures, a broadway play starring lots of Asians, is opening in NY and i was so pissed off to see that everyone's in kimonos. I mean, that whole samurai thing is over, people. (that's also why it was sort of shocking to see modern Japan in "Lost in Translation" --we almost never see it with all the cars and buildings, the way it's been for 3 generations.) We are almost never shown as we are today, utterly unexotic, without silk brocade or accented English.Museum advocates could argue that it's merely continuing the discussion of all these issues -gender roles, sexual dynamics, representation, yadi yadi yadi. And some of us are getting pissed off because we want to have a different conversation, or at least move beyond stuff like geisha, which seems so tired.But Hyphen has been accused of the same thing --with the name Hyphen. LOTS of people have asked me about the name, and one journalist actually told me she refuses to write for us until we change it. Because the hyphen represents a big battle in Asian America, and simply by pointing at it we continue that discussion. We pick at the scab.So when do we get to retire a discussion and move on? Do we ever?
Scott Tsuchitani will be speaking on a panel moderated by Sharon Mizota, with fellow artists Betty Kano, Jun Ishimuro, and Toru Sugita, at a Symposium entitled, "Artists' Influences in a Multicultural World." This Saturday 12/11/04, 3:30-5pm, at Meridian Gallery, 545 Sutter nr. Powell, SF 94102. (415) 398-7729. info [at]
I'd be interested to know how well this exhibit did at the museum and how the attendance compared to other exhibits.Even though the conversation is a very tired one, I don't think people are done with it yet. There seems to be a need to still talk about these issues. If we never reach a point of post-identity, then Hyphen wouldn't really need to exist.