Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

“A Harvest of Hawaii Plantation Pidgin” by Myra Sachiko Ikeda

April 7, 2018

Spurred by the realization that erai means “tired” on Hawaii plantations, but means “great” or “excellent” in Japanese, Myra Sachiko Ikeda’s interest in Pidgin English began in the 1970s. She began to focus on the use of Pidgin English on Hawaii Island sugar cane plantations in the Japanese communities.

“Plantation talk was community talk,” Ikeda writes. She describes Pidgin English as a language that grew out of a need to communicate quickly between different communities, made of shorted or contracted words or phrases, built from many languages, characterized by rapid speech, and with many spelling variations. Pidgin English is not “broken” English, but rather “the foundations for the communication which helped build and forge the strong bonds among the people on the plantations,” Ikeda states proudly. “Pidgin is the language which identifies Hawaii as it reflects the shared knowledge and experiences of its people.”

Ikeda’s research is compiled in “A Harvest of Hawaii Plantation Pidgin: The Japanese Way” (2015), illustrated by Jeffery Kalehuakea DeCosta, which explores Pidgin English and its impact on Japanese people and the assimilation of lifestyles and cultures.

Ikeda describes plantation camp names, nicknames, children’s games (the enduring jan ken po gets its own chapter), plantation terms, food, and anecdotal stories, and includes a glossary of words and phrases in Pidgin, English, and Japanese.

She makes categorical distinctions between Japanese generations: issei (first-generation immigrants), nisei (second-generation), sansei (third-generation), yonsei, and gosei. She stresses that the Japanese people have a strong cultural identity, but that Japanese culture was “frozen” in the time of the Meiji Era, while the Japanese language in Hawaii has constantly evolved – or been suppressed during World War II, when Japanese language, culture, customs, and clothing disappeared.

My favorite parts of the book were the humorous conversations, with Pidgin English misunderstandings and mis-hearings. Thought my mother grew up on the Big Island, most of the Japanese words and Pidgin English in the book are unfamiliar to me; I don’t think she taught me the Pidgin English she might have heard growing up.

The one thing that seems enduring is jan ken po. I grew up with the rhyme “jan ken na po, I canna’ [cannot] show.” I didn’t even know that there were other verses! It didn’t surprise me to learn that my son learned this rhyme from his classmates, another generation of jan ken po players.


“The Art of Tough” by Barbara Boxer

March 3, 2018

From community organizing for better conditions, to her first campaign as Marin County Board of Supervisors, then to the California State House of Representatives and US Senator from California, Barbara Boxer’s career is extraordinary.

“The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life” (2016) gives us an insider look into “the everyday, behind-the-scene struggles that move our nation toward ‘a more perfect union.’” It is “a no-punches-pulled personal memoir about the personalities and shenanigans of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”

Boxer shares anecdotes from her childhood and reveals “the core values I’ve carried with me throughout all of my political career.” The first value she talks about: Never compromise about doing the right thing. And the guideline that matters most: Be authentic and stay authentic. Her love of singing, and the poetry and lyrics that she wrote, show us her more personal, everyday side.

Idealistic, passionate, and energetic, she writes candidly of personal victories and failures, as well as political allies and opponents. One of her biggest legislative accomplishments is federal funding for after-school programs. I admire her courage in taking a stand on unpopular issues and her conviction – even if I don’t always agree with her policies or her clear partisanship. Boxer rarely acknowledges the good choices or good intentions of Republicans, while highlighting Democrat achievements and downplaying their mistakes.

Throughout the book, Boxer offers practical advice for novice political candidates, as well as business and community leaders:

1) Don’t take defeat personally – run for election again.
2) Personal relationships matter in getting support for bills.
3) Keep your word, but listen very carefully to what others say – or don’t say. Listen for “yes.”
4) Be patient – it can take years for a bill to become a law.
5) Thank colleagues, share credit, and be gracious in victory.
6) Keep your sense of humor, especially when dealing with apparently intractable problems.
7) Don’t respond to your opponent’s garbage by slinging it back even harder.
8) Be forgiving and be willing to take risks working with colleagues.
9) When you hold a minority position on an issue of conscience, it’s your duty to speak out, even when you’re taunted, even when it looks hopeless.
10) Even after an emotional disagreement, we must come together for the good of the country.

In some ways, “The Art of Tough” is Boxer’s legacy autobiography; she includes her top 50 legislative accomplishments. She vows to continue to be active in public service, outlining a long list of “legacy issues” that she is committed to since her retirement from the US Senate in 2017.

For more information about “The Art of Tough,” visit the website at

“The Healers” by Kimo Armitage

February 3, 2018

“The Healers” (2016) by Kimo Armitage is a young adult novel about birth, death, transformation, faith, kindness (“kindness not wanted to unkindness”), the healing power of prayer, and learning that “as bad as the pain gets and as hard as the lesson is, if we succeed, the reward will be great.”

It tells the story of a family of healers: Mary Lei, Tutu (grandmother) who raised Keola and Pua; her twin brother Hanalei, the guardian of the family aumakua Kaleihepule, who accepted that it was his time to die (“He never regretted that he was a Hawaiian, and he knew that made all the difference in the world”); and cousins Keola and Pua, who were raised by Tutu to learn Native Hawaiian healing. Keola and Pua learn the healing effects of prayer, a connection with nature, and the power of hope (“if there is no hope, there is no cure”). Their paths diverge as Keola goes to Waianae for further training and Pua falls in love with Tiki and gets pregnant.

Set in contemporary times, there are stories within stories, as Tutu tells of Kawanana and Kealo of Waialua, who had faith in the gods; and her cousin Laka of Kalaupapa, who was born without arms and legs. Their stories are part of Keola and Pua’s history, giving them a connection with the past.

Their story is juxtaposed with the story of Tiki, the young man who falls in love with Pua. Tiki’s grandmother loved him so greatly that she saved his life by sacrificing his future wife and child. Tiki was never taught to connect with his healing abilities or his aumakua, and he shows both an angry, vengeful side and a devotion to Pua, as love makes him want to be a better person.

The writing is poetical, nostalgic, with a strong sense of spirituality, a connection with nature, and the truth of dreams. We see the importance of children who are a gift. We see the devastating impact of leprosy on families, as family members were exiled to Kalaupapa. We see how being disconnected from family and nature can lead to anger and vindictiveness.

There are Hawaiian chants and interpretations, which give us insight into the poetic and symbolic quality of the Hawaiian language. For example, Keola chants: “I am without a house, it has fallen in Luhi./The ridgepole is unsteady,/ The thatching has been undone by the Ahiu wind./There is no pilo grass, no sennit.” In this part of the chant, “He also gives the listener a reason for his visit: Keola was looking for a teacher. He was looking for someone who could repair a house. A man is a house and a house is a man.”

There is also insight into the symbolism of nature for healing: “Keola placed slips of morning glory in the car. He also placed fingers of bananas, coconut cordage, octopus, and spiderwebs in various gourds on the back seat. He was coming back with these symbols of knowledge. Kanaloa represented this deep knowledge. The physical shape of these things represented the connections that one makes in learning. A length of cordage between two people or between one person and knowledge was a pathway.”

Just as story-telling is a connection between two people, teaching understanding and possibilities.

“Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson et. al.

January 6, 2018

I don’t like confrontation. I have never asked for a raise – not because I think I don’t deserve one, but because I’m uncomfortable bringing up the subject. And I have never bought a car on my own – not because I don’t know which car I want, but because I’m not comfortable negotiating for it. I’m usually the peacemaker in my family and at work, too.

So I was very interested in reading “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” Second Edition (2012) by the co-founders of VitalSmarts, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. I wanted to learn how to handle risky situations, like asking for a raise, suggesting a change at work, or talking with a family member.

“Crucial Conversations” is a practical, easy to read handbook to help people identify and initiate crucial conversations, those day-to-day conversations that have a big impact on your life, where there are opposing opinions, high stakes, and strong emotions.

The book is based on two beliefs: first, the only person we can change is ourselves; and second, we create our own emotions. In effect, we are the ones who make ourselves angry, insulted, or uncomfortable, and we have the power to change how we feel.

With examples and scenarios, the authors lead us through a 7-step plan so that we can keep calm, keep others calm, and have successful crucial conversations.

  1. Start with heart: focus on what you really want. Don’t get distracted by winning an argument, punishing someone who disagrees, or keeping the peace. Look at challenges and skepticism as opportunities to convince others.
  2. Look for the moment a conversation becomes crucial. Lean to pay attention to your own physical, emotional, and behavioral signals, and watch for times when people react with aggression or silence.
  3. Make it safe to talk. When we react with aggression or silence, it is a sign that we feel unsafe. We can make people feel safe by apologizing when appropriate; using contracting don’t/do statements, like “I don’t want to suggest that the problem is yours. I do think it’s our problem;” and asking “Why do you want to do that?” to find the real reason why the two of you disagree.
  4. Separate fact from story. We tell ourselves stories about other people’s actions, often turning ourselves into victims (“It’s not my fault”), others into villains (“It’s all your fault”), or believing ourselves to be helpless (“There’s nothing else I can do”). Instead, stick to the facts and ask, “Why would a reasonable, decent person do what they are doing?” Then focus on what you really want and ask, “What would I do right now if I really wanted those results?”
  5. STATE your facts. Facts provide a safe beginning and are the more persuasive and less threatening than opinions.
  6. Explore others’ paths by asking what other people want. Use four listening tools: ask (“What do you mean? I’d really like to hear your opinion on this”), mirror (“You say you’re okay, but by the tone of your voice you seem upset” or “You look nervous. Are you sure?”), paraphrase (“Let me see if I have this right”), and, as a last resort, prime (“Are you thinking that maybe…?”).
  7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide (command, consult, vote, or consensus); assign specific tasks and deadlines, including what you don’t want; document decisions; and then follow up.

The sample scripts are really helpful and made me feel more prepared for stressful moments. For example, in response to criticism or negative feedback, you might say, “You know what? We need to talk about this. I’m glad you asked the question. Thank you for taking that risk. I appreciate the trust it shows in me.” Or when talking with an unenthusiastic patient or client, you might say “It sounds like you had a problem of some kind. Is that right?” Or when you disagree with someone else, you might say, “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”

There are also links to online videos and exclusive content, including Style Under Stress test (I scored about what I expected: high on silence, low on violence). The book ends with 17 tough cases and ways to change our reactions to those situations.

So far, I’ve had two chances to practice crucial conversations techniques. At work I suggested a business change and at home I attempted to mediate between two arguing relatives. Neither conversations turned out as I hoped (one was interrupted and the other was hijacked by the need to repeat their opinions), but I’m working on it. I just need to practice more crucial conversations skills.

“Uprooted” by Albert Marrin

December 2, 2017

“Our government failed in its duty to protect the rights of everyone living in the United States,” declares Albert Marrin, author of “Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II” (2016). “Uprooted” examines how the influences of history, racism, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He also acknowledges philosophical questions about balancing liberty and security, and whether “the end justifies the means.”

The book begins with a brief history of Japan and the Pacific from the 1100s, including the rise of modern Japan in the 1860s with the abolition of the samurai class and the devastating effects of opium addition in China. Historical facts come to life with historic photos and newspaper headlines, poignant descriptions of war and imprisonment, bleak poetry, drawings by uprooted Japanese Americans, and photos of “sanitized” internment camps.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. In Hawaii, 1,037 “enemy aliens” were arrested, but the book downplays the effects of internment in Hawaii and doesn’t mention Honouliuli Internment Camp in Hawaii at all, commenting that internment was less severe in Hawaii because Japanese Americans were needed as laborers and skilled engineers. On the West Coast, 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced to relocate, while other persecuted minorities (Jews, African Americans) focused on their own situations and did not speak out.

There are honest and unflinching recitations of prejudice, intolerance, fear-mongering, and a denial of humanity; racism sees only the collective, not the individual. Marrin is blunt about the prevalence of racism on all sides: In Japan, where they controlled information and speech, and used propaganda in schools to indoctrinate racial superiority (the Yamato Race); and in the West, where non-White races were inferior, interracial marriages were illegal, Native Americans were dehumanized, and Chinese immigrants were barred from citizenship.

Marrin shares stories of inspiring Hawaii-born nisei heroes, like Sergeant Hoichi “Bob” Kubo, a linguist who rescued 122 civilians who were captives of Japanese soldiers at Marpi Point, Saipan in 1944. He talks about Merrill’s Mauraders in India under General Frank D. Merrill; the 100th Infantry Battalion, with 1,432 Hawaii-born nisei who battled at Monte Casino, Italy in 1943; and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with 2,686 Hawaii-born Nisei and 1,200 mainlanders, including Captain Daniel Inouye (later a US Senator from Hawaii).

What really struck me about the “uprooting” was the power of words to shape reality. Words can be used to spare someone’s feelings or to deceive. The American government used innocuous names like “assembly centers” where Japanese Americans gathered, and “relocation camps” where Japanese Americans were imprisoned – which in reality were “concentration camps” or “internment camps,” surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

Marrin writes, “History is not destiny; it describes the past but does not decide the future.” Was your family impacted by the Japanese internment camps during World War II? Did learning about the internment camps change your perspective about individual rights and public safety?

“The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking

November 4, 2017

Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, according to studies and polls. Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, believes that this is because the Danish people are obsessed with Hygge (pronounced HOO-GA), a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. They create an atmosphere of Hygge in their homes and workplaces, seek out Hygge experiences, celebrate Hygge moments.

In the simple and forthright book, “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” (2017), Wiking shares the principles of Hygge and how we can bring Hygge into our lives. Each chapter focuses on ways to bring Hygge into our lives, such as the use of light (candles, soothing pools of light) and small gatherings to comfort food and casual clothes, illustrated with cozy, colorful drawings.

“The factor that has the biggest effect on our happiness is social support,” Wiking declares. Or put another way, “The best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” He highlights Denmark’s healthy work-life balance, a slower pace of life, free healthcare, free university education, and five weeks of paid holidays per year.

Wiking also includes polls and studies to backup the science of Hygge, as well as recipes, a Hygge emergency kit, and even directions to make woven heart decorations.

This is the Hygge Manifesto:

  1. Atmosphere. Turn down the lights.
  2. Presence. Be here now. Turn off the phone.
  3. Pleasure. Coffee, chocolate, cookies, cakes, candy.
  4. Equality. “We” over “me.” Share the tasks and the airtime.
  5. Gratitude. Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
  6. Harmony. It’s not a competition. We already like you.
  7. Comfort. Get comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
  8. Truce. No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
  9. Togetherness. Build relationships and narratives.
  10. Shelter. This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and serenity.

For me, the best Hygge tip is to link what you buy with good experiences. For example, save money to buy something you really want, but wait until you have something to celebrate, so that you will be reminded of it every time you use it or remember it.

Wiking begins and ends with a socialist-leaning political agenda. He states that “the welfare model turns our collective wealth into well-being. We are not paying taxes, we are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life.” He concludes that “One of the main reasons why Denmark does so well in international happiness surveys is the welfare state, as it reduces uncertainty, worries, and stress in the population.”

Denmark has cold winters, rainy days, and an abundance of darkness. Candles, lamps, fireplaces, warm sweaters, woolen socks, and hot soup can warm you inside and out. Hawaii, with its tropical weather, refreshing breezes, and abundance of sunshine is almost the complete opposite of Denmark.

What does Hygge mean to us in Hawaii? Could our ceiling fans, open lanais, tank tops, board shorts, slippers (flip-flops), scent of plumeria, and shaved ice, as stereotypical as they may be, reflect a Hawaii concept of Hygge?

“Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo

October 7, 2017

Two years ago, I read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” (2014). I tackled the clutter at home, donating 12 bags of gently-used clothes and 70 books; shredding 8 bags of old papers; and getting rid of 28 bags of trash. Tidying-up was only partly a success, because I could only tidy my things – everyone has to choose the things that make them happy.

Last year, I started a new job and I felt the need for some decluttering inspiration. I was happy to find that organization consultant and author Marie “KonMarie” Kondo wrote a follow-up book, “Spark Joy: Al Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up” (2016), translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano.

“Spark Joy” is “a comprehensive and wonderfully simple compilation of the KonMarie Method. It is based on the idea that we should choose those things in your home and life that spark joy.

According to Kondo, “Only two skills are necessary to successfully put your house in order: the ability to keep what sparks joy and chuck the rest, and the ability to decide where to keep each thing you choose and always put it back in its place.” There are six basic rules of tidying up: 1. Commit yourself to tidying up. 2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle. 3. Finish discarding first. 4. Tidy by category, not location. 5. Follow the right order: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany), then sentimental items. 6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy. “It might come in handy” is taboo.

Kondo takes us step-by-step to organizing our home, from the philosophical (tidying up is about facing ourselves) and the essential (fill your home with the things you love) to the basic (put everything in its place) and the practical (all clothes can be folded into squares). There are neat line drawings in calming pale blue (and cute white rabbits!) that illustrate tidying basics, like folding clothes and drawer organization. The graphics really help us visualize what an orderly space can look like. Kondo also shares her personal experiences and what she has learned from her clients.

Here are some “Spark Joy” tips for the rooms in your home:

* Personal space: Fill your personal space with the things you love.  “If it makes you happy, then the right choice is to keep it confidently, regardless of what anyone else says.” For small miscellany: place them on something, frame them, hang them somewhere unexpected, use them as wraps or covers. For posters or pictures: decorate storage spaces, closets, and cabinets.

* Closets: Fill your drawers to 90% full so you won’t feel compelled to fill up the space. Follow the four principles of storage: fold it, stand it upright, store in one spot, and divide your storage space into square compartments. Minimize storage furniture!

* Kitchen: Focus on the ease of cleaning, not the ease of use. Put nothing in the counters or around the sink and stove top. Put kitchen scraps for composting in the freezer. Sort kitchen komono into implements for eating, cooking tools, and food. Fill your refrigerator to about 70% full.

* Bathroom: “Store everything inside it in such a way that you won’t feel embarrassed if someone else happens to open it.”

* Entryway: Keep your entryway as clear as possible.

Kondo also offers sensible advice about living with others – and their stuff: “You don’t have to make yourself like someone else’s things. It’s enough just to be able to accept them.”

Slowly, between daily tasks and projects, I started to apply some of the tips and ideas in “Spark Joy” to my workspace and the office. I cleared the desktops and countertops, putting folders away before I go home. I learned to file papers right away, so that paperwork doesn’t accumulate. I added pictures of my family to remind me about why I work. Sparking joy at the office makes me I feel calmer and more in control.

How cluttered are your home and office? Do you surround yourself with the things that make you happy?