The Academic Life of Mimi: Ep. 1: "The Beginning of Everything" by Mimi Okabe

In anticipation for my thesis defense, which was scheduled on July 18th, I experienced a wave of emotions: from impending doom and doubt, to a state of euphoria, and RELIEF. This blog is motivated in part by my own experience of having successfully defended my thesis in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta, and to demystify the culture of fear and anxiety surrounding the “big day” because I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who was nervous going into it. Here are my top five pieces of advice that I hope will help you prep or relax. So grab your glass of wine, or cup of tea and be calm, and read on.

Finally some sunshine in Edmonton!….on the day that I’m scheduled to fly back to Toronto!

Finally some sunshine in Edmonton!….on the day that I’m scheduled to fly back to Toronto!

1. What Happens Behind Closed Doors is No Mystery.

I often found that when I asked about what happens during a defense it resulted in more questions and confusion than answers—as if there’s some secret tomb of knowledge that I’m not allowed to have access to until the day of the exam…

All the information about the defense procedures for the department of Modern Languages & Cultural Studies (MLCS) can be found here, here, or here !

In short, the thesis defense begins with your arrival to wherever you are scheduled to be. Arrive ten fifteen minutes early to set up a presentation, if you have one. Once everyone is present, the non-examining chair will ask you to leave the room briefly, and s/he will call you back in when the committee is ready. From there, you may be asked to give a short presentation if you’ve prepared one, and this is followed by the members of the committee asking you questions in order of the member least closest to you. There will be two rounds of questions, and you’ll be asked to spend approximately 10-12 minutes for each question. In-between the first and second rounds, the non-examining chair will ask if you’d like a break. My committee and I didn’t, so we proceeded with the second round. After the second round of questions, you’ll be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates. And, once they reach a decision they’ll call you back in and announce the results. My defense began at noon and it ended at around 2:30-2:35-ish.

2. How do you Prepare for the “Big Day?”

While getting advice from friends who have recently defended is most certainly useful, the best thing you can do is to consult with your supervisor first and ask him/her questions or concerns that you might have about the defense. They’ve supervised dozens of grad students and have lots of experience. Plan early and schedule a meeting with him/her, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your supervisor is your greatest supporter. In addition, give yourself some time between the day you submit your thesis to your non-internal external(s) and the day of the defense. My defense was scheduled two months after I submitted my thesis to the non-internal external, and during those two months, I worked on other projects, publications (and played some Zelda BOTW). Two weeks before the defense day, I re-read my thesis and took note of the kinds of questions that I thought I might be asked. For example, these questions stemmed out of the kinds of assumptions I made in my reading/interpretation of texts and theories. Reading my thesis with “fresh eyes” was effective because I was able to predict, or tailor my response to, three questions that were asked during the defense. So, channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and start looking for clues!

3. Treat the Defense with Respect, Not Fear.

It might seem impossible but try to relax. (I know this is easier said than done). I was so excited to defend; that is, until I landed in Edmonton …and then it all started to feel “real.” Several days prior to the defense, I think I may have gotten four to five hours sleep a day due to jet-lag and nervousness. There is no single solution to getting over your nerves, but perhaps the best advice I received was from a colleague that I ran into on my way back to my hotel. He told me, “Go into the exam with respect not fear or anxiety” (Thank you Andreas!). Remember that your committee and externals wouldn’t have agreed for you to defend, if they felt you weren’t ready. During my defense, I felt that my work was respected by everyone on the committee and though some questions were a bit harder than others to answer, the questions they asked all came from a genuine place of interest and inquiry. For me, the defense itself went much smoother than I had anticipated, so breathe!

4. During the Defense

Answer questions using the T-model. This is one piece of advice that my supervisor gave me, which I found incredibly helpful. Simply put, because you have such a limited time to answer questions, begin with a “general” statement, then, narrow it down by providing an example. Remember to be succinct and clear (though I must admit, the first question was the hardest one for me to answer only because my nerves got in the way, but I quickly found my rhythm).

5. After the Defense

If you’re not one of the lucky few who got a tenure track job straight out of your PhD program, then, you’ll want to be proactive about taking your next steps, especially for those who still want to pursue an academic career. As I mentioned before, schedule a meeting with your supervisor (or rather, who is now your colleague) and get tips about turning the thesis into a book, about collaborating with him/her on research/publication initiatives, and find ways to develop your teaching dossier.

Good luck! And remember to eat well and “relax.”

Pika, Pika Who? The Adventures of Detective Pikachu and His Strange Case of Identity Part 2 by Mimi Okabe

Cracking the case with Detective Pikachu.

Cracking the case with Detective Pikachu.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog that briefly addressed the limitations and potentialities of Detective Pikachu (2016 video game) as an “adaptation” of Sherlock Holmes. Recently, I watched the film adaptation of the game, and although I found it entertaining, I’m still puzzled as to the connection between Detective Pikachu and Sherlock Holmes.

Much has been said about the Holmes-Pikachu collab by Sherlockians and fans of Pokémon alike. Paul Thomas Miller sarcastically refers to Detective Pikachu as “the most canonical Sherlock ever and definitely not just a pokemon in a hat,” and fellow Sherlockian and author, Brad Keefauver, wrote an insightful blog about how the film can be interpreted as a John Watson story rather than a Sherlock Holmes story. I’m adding to this ongoing discussion about the film by comparing it to my experience of having played the game, and to argue that the film adaptation works to further distance itself from the world of Sherlock Holmes rather than paying an homage to it.

Here’s why:

1) The dynamic duo Holmes/Watson is undermined in the film compared to the game.

In my previous blog, I mentioned that one of Tim’s main tasks in the game is to provide illustrations of the crime scene, which are used to help the player decipher and solve mysteries. This method of “note-taking” is similar to how Watson documents his adventures with Holmes in the canon, but it’s omitted in the film. This might seem like a minor detail, but I think it’s an important aspect of Watson’s role as Holmes’s chronicler. In BBC Sherlock, for example, John Watson blogs about his adventures with Holmes, and in other stage/cinematic adaptations that feature the duo, Watson is often shown writing in his journal. There are similarities between Holmes/Pikachu and Watson/Tim, but with respect to Tim’s role as a chronicler, the Hollywood blockbuster chooses to leave out this detail.

2) Who’s the “world-class detective,” Pikachu or Harry?

In the film adaptation, Harry survives the car accident thanks to Mewtwo’s mind transfer technique, and at the end of the film, he is reunited with Tim and his partner Pikachu (who apparently loses all recollection of his adventures with Tim). However, the answer to the question of whether Pikachu is Tim’s father in disguise is left ambiguous at the end of game as the crime-solving duo continue their search for Harry Goodman (and for good reason). In other words, the film thwarts Pikachu’s role as a detective and demotes him to the role of Harry’s side-kick whereas the game leaves it more open-ended. If Harry is a world-class detective and if Tim is “Watson”...what’s Pikachu’s role in the future?

I’m Har…I mean Pikachu…a world-class detective

I’m Har…I mean Pikachu…a world-class detective

3) Do kids want to see the film because it’s an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, or for Pikachu?

I raise this question because there are so few references to Sherlock Holmes and to the canon in the film. Most kids, with exception to those who have read Doyle’s stories, may not be able to draw the connection between Pikachu and the Great Detective/Watson based on the film alone. Yes, Pikachu wears the iconic deerstalker hat, and at one point holds a magnifying glass in Howard Clifford’s office, but these subtle allusions to Holmes highlight a superficial connection to Doyle’s Victorian sleuth (as I mentioned in my previous blog). In the game, Pikachu has the option of wearing a cape to complete his look, which is not included in the film version, but clothes alone do not make a detective as Rob Nunn points out, “a deerstalker does not make someone Sherlock Holmes.” Perhaps the film could have benefited from incorporating popular quotes that most people might recognize as part of the canon such as “the game is afoot,” or something along these lines, but that still doesn’t solve the issue…

As a fan and scholar of Sherlock Holmes, I can’t say that Detective Pikachu (film) is an adaptation of Doyle’s Holmes, but there are aspects that I think the film does a lot better than the game, especially in terms of showcasing an ethnically diverse cast, and for incorporating assertive female characters such as Lucy Stevens played by Kathryn Newton.

I agree with Keefauver that Detective Pikachu is not for all Sherlockians, and I think that’s because the film is not meant to be an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes or Watson. Instead, like the game, the film capitalizes on the visual cues of Sherlock Holmes (or things that people would associate with mystery and detectives in general such as a magnifying glass) as well as on the Pokémon franchise in order to profit from a broad, cultural audience. In other words, the film offers something for everyone, but in trying to catch’em all, perhaps it reaches too far and too wide.

The Girl with the Antenna: Endgame and the question of Asian Representation by Mimi Okabe

Now that the spoiler ban has been lifted on the Avengers: Endgame, the #DontSpoilTheEndgame initiative seems to be a thing in the past with trolls taking to Twitter and Reddit by storm. At the same time, it opens up a space where we can finally have a deep (and maybe critical) discussion about the film.

As you continue reading, think about how many Asian superheroes, or characters in the Marvel Universe you can name because this blog is about why this matters.

“The Girl with the Antenna” refers to Mantis who is played by Pom Klementieff in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017). In Endgame, this line is mentioned by “build-a-bear” (ahem)—I mean Rocket Raccoon—in the scene when he recalls the names of his teammates whom he lost in the fight against Thanos. For some reason, he forgets Mantis’ name, and addresses her as the girl with the antenna. While this is intended for the purpose of comic relief, I can’t help but wonder why he was able to remember the names of everyone else, but hers. In Endgame, Mantis doesn’t play a major role compared to other heroines. Recall the epic battle scene that takes place after Spider-Man hands the infinity gauntlet over to Captain Marvel. He questions how she’s going to make it through the massive onslaught of enemies headed her way, but at that moment, Okoye appears alongside Shuri followed by Scarlet Witch, Pepper Pots, Valkyrie, the Wasp, Nebula, Gamora, and last but not least Mantis, who are all there to support Captain Marvel. This is such an epic moment in the film as it brings together almost all of the female cast in one powerful, action-filled scene (Girls know how to kick ass too!). I remember Scarlet Witch and Valkyrie fighting together to bring down the Leviathans, but I honestly can’t remember what Mantis does in this battle. This is not to undermine her role, but how come she only has ONE line in a film that is almost three hours long?

It’s true that casting has become more diverse in Hollywood (and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) than before. A succinct example of this is seen in the film Black Panther (2018), which according to Peter Kagwanja, “heralds an historic opportunity to depict a black ‘super hero’ at a grave moment when African-Americans and African immigrants are facing vilification and dehumanization across the post-liberal west, but also affirming their identities” (qtd in Omanga and Mainye, 20). The same thing can’t be said when it comes to the representation of Asian American characters in the Marvel franchise. The characterization of Shang-chi, for example, has received critical backlash in Chinese media. Spider-Man’s friend, Ned, might be one of the few exceptions to the rule when it comes to the representation of non-superhero-Asian characters, who are mostly depicted as villains, such as Akihiko, the yazuka boss killed by Hawkeye in Endgame. As I mentioned before, Mantis is featured but doesn’t really do, or say anything. And, in other films such as Deadpool 2 (2018), Shiori Kutsuna, who plays the role of Yukio, is not only doubly marginalized in terms of her race and sexuality, but she also upholds the Asian stereotype of being “cute” and “innocent,” which is reinforced every, single time she says her cringy one liner:“Hi Wade!”...

Despite these shortcomings, there are redeeming aspects of Endgame especially in terms of how the future of the Marvel franchise is envisioned. Both Captain America and Thor “retire” and pass on the torch to Falcon and Valkyrie, respectively. The film’s conclusion sends a powerful message about the limitations of hegemonic masculine ideals that have shaped and informed the identity of most American comic book heroes for so long. Instead, because the legacy of both Captain America and Thor will continue through the roles of Falcon and Valkyrie, the film tries to encourage a broader, cultural understanding of what constitutes heroism in the 21st century—one that is fluid in terms of its racial, gender, and/or sexual identity/identities—but this vision is a limited one.

So, let’s return to the question of why naming matters. The “girl with the antenna” is a reflection of me and every other Asian girl and boy out there who has a name that nobody can remember because it’s “too foreign,” or “too difficult to pronounce.” So we compensate by creating English nicknames. Marvel, as a cultural commodity, carries significant weight and currency. For this reason, the representation of strong, female Asian superheroes matters because its very lack impacts how others perceive me and how they make sense of my ethnicity. In other words, it speaks volumes about my marginalized status in the real world and the kinds of racial stereotypes that I have to deal with. For those who are familiar with Mantis, we know that she is a skilled fighter and a compassionate woman, and I hope that one day she gets the opportunity to show off her abilities in her own sequel.

So now that you’ve reached the end, how many Asian characters were you able to recall? Share your comments below.

Top 10 Places for Omurice in Japan: A Book Review of “Kissy’s I Love Omurice” by Mimi Okabe

IMG_5072.JPG

What’s yellow, red , and light as a cloud?

I’ll pretend that everyone guessed omurice… (^ o ^)

On March 19, 2019, Yoshihiro Kishimoto (who also goes by the name Kissy pronounced kisshī) published a book titled Kissy’s I Love Omurice! (kisshīno Omuraisu Daisuki) that commemorates his gastronomic, self-guided omurice journey for the past 23 years and counting! For those who don’t know what omurice is, click on this link (they say a picture is worth a thousand words).

Based on Kissy’s blog that he started in 1996, which has archived more than 1300 omurice dishes that he had eaten across Japan (and abroad), the book offers a glimpse into Kissy’s world as it features 160 kinds omurice (within a span of 127 pages) that you can find in restaurants across Tokyo, Japan.

About the Book

This book is filled with bright, colorful images of omurice that’ll tease your appetite and make you  regret that you’re not in Japan. So, before you book that flight, let’s go through what the book has to offer first. Chapter 1 titled “Omu-guide” begins by taking readers on a delectable tour of Kissy’s top ten restaurants, which is followed by a series of journal-like entries that document other places he’s eaten at. In this section, you’ll be surprised at just how many different types of omurice there are in Japan! In fact, according to the classification table created by omurice-guru Kissy, there are a total of 27 different flavor/texture combinations for omurice! (See page 89 for details!). Chapter 2 covers the basics of omurice (consider it like a crash course OMURICE 101). You’ll gain insight about the 100 year-old-history of omurice culture in Japan and how it changed across time. You’ll learn what distinguishes omurice from other popular Japanese food that use eggs and rice as mains such as tenshinhan and chakin sushi, as well as, the differences between omurice in Japan vs. abroad.

One of the most interesting segments of this chapter is the interview between Kissy and Satomi Era from Teikyō Heisei University where they discuss the psychology behind colors to understand why people are drawn to omurice. According to Era, “the reason why adults find omurice appealing to eat is because the yellow and red color scheme evokes a sense of nostalgia and, specifically, feelings of love that have been imprinted in our minds since we were babies.” (Who knew?!) Lastly, chapter 3 titled “Omu-recipes” provides 3 fun recipes that you can try out yourself and practice until you become an omurice master! (Omurice looks easy to make! But it requires some skill and technique!). I tired making the omu-hayashi, which is a combination of omurice and hayashi rice—a tomato based sauce with thin slices of beef—kind of like a curry. The egg was so hard to perfect T^T but it turned out very tasty!!

Overall, while this book seems playful and fun on the surface, it’s informative and useful. It’s also a book that contains lots of love (as if you couldn’t tell by the title by now). According to Kissy, he envisions a future where omurice will join the ranks of sushi and rāmen on a global scale where one day people will become so familiar with it and say “Of course, we love omurice!” (123).

Although the book isn’t translated (yet), you can purchase a hard copy here. Take it with you as food itinerary and use the index at the back of the book to rate and record your own omurice food adventure!

Do you eat omurice often at home? How do you like your omurice? Are there omurice restaurants near where you live? Share your comments below.


Let's get Cooking: "Canadian" Poems and Recipes by Mimi Okabe

In Canada (and especially in the city of Toronto), I get to indulge in food from all over the world—all within walking or driving distance. Downtown Toronto, for example, boasts of its many ethnic neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Portugal Village, Greek town, Little India, and Little Malta (just to list but five places) that offer “authentic” flavors and cuisines. Uptown districts such as Richmond Hill and Markham offer some of the city’s best Asian cuisines from hand-pulled noodles, to dim-sum, to Korean BBQ and fried-chicken.

All this talk about food is making me drool!

I must stay focused on today’s agenda...which is to introduce one of my recent collaborative projects!!

…TA-DA!!

On February 14th, The Polyglot Magazine launched its fourth issue titled Lunch Box, which I was honored to have been able to guest-edit. As it was my first project as a guest-editor, I learned many things along the way, but most importantly, I just had a blast putting it together with the Polyglot team.

What is this Issue all about?

The Polyglot celebrates poetry without linguistic borders and boundaries. It’s a powerful medium that celebrates Canada’s multilingualism and multiculturalism, so be prepared to embrace the “foreign” and the “other” as this collection challenges Anglocentric articulations of Canadian identity through food, recipes and poems. In other words, as I mention in the preface of this Issue: “Like trying something new for the first time, some readers may at first be intimidated by the non-English content of Lunch Box; but that is precisely what makes The Polyglot, and specifically this issue about memorable food experiences in Canada so dynamic and meaningful. I hope readers challenge themselves to recreate some of the delectable dishes and to use Lunch Box as a springboard to venture into the world of food (and languages) beyond their borders. Take a small bite. You might be in for a surprise!”

If you’d like to support the magazine, please purchase a copy of Lunch Box here!

Check out the previous issues here!

Thanks again to all of the contributors for making this happen ♡