Play Asian American Scrabble
by Tony Osumi

Are you looking for the perfect holiday gift? Something meaningful, yet affordable. Something fun, yet educational. How about a good game of Asian American Scrabble. You know Scrabble, the board game where you score points by creating words out of letter tiles.

Well my partner, Jenni Kuida and I decided to make Scrabble more interesting and create a way to popularize the learning of Asian American history.

Asian American Scrabble is played like regular Scrabble, but with a twist. If a player creates a word that has a connection to the Asian American experience, they get five extra bonus points on top of their regular score. If they can’t make a connection, but their opponent can. Then their opponent can steal the bonus points. It’s that simple.

But you say your knowledge of Asian American history is a little rusty. Never took an Asian American studies class? No problem. You can include your very own family history. By creating words that relate our family experiences, we do two important things. First, we remember, reflect, and celebrate our lives as Asian/Japanese Americans. Secondly, we pass on these stories across generational lines. Remember, transmitting culture and history is essential in maintaining an Asian/Japanese American identity. Our young Yonsei and Gosei won’t get that by playing Sega and Nintendo video games.

To give you a better idea of how the game is played, here are some highlights from what I believe was the first Asian American Scrabble game ever played.

I opened with the word BACON, but couldn’t think of an Asian American connection. Foolishly, I forgot all about Bacon Fried Rice, which is part of the Japanese American soul food experience. Jenni took those five bonus points by saying BACON referred to Bacon Sakatani, the Nisei Camp historian who helped bring an original Heart Mountain barrack to the Japanese American National Museum several years ago.

Other words we related to the Asian American experience were ROE--the tiny fish eggs used in sushi, SOY--as in soy sauce, ITO--for actor Robert Ito, Lee--for Bruce Lee, PINOY--word used to call Pilipinos, KOI--name for Japanese fish, and IDA--for the old Ida Market that used to be on First Street in Little Tokyo.

The game sounds fun, but you might be asking yourself, "What happens if two players can’t agree if a certain word is related to the Asian American/Family experience." My advice is to talk it out. Debate and discuss. That’s what Jenni and I did. She argued that the word CREW could be related to the mess halls in Internment Camp. She said that mess halls had work crews, where her Grandfather worked while in Gila River. I argued CREW was too far removed and with a smile she agreed.

With the holidays here, and relatives of all ages visiting, give Asian American Scrabble a try. Push the inari sushi and gobo aside and play a game on New Year’s Day. Who knows, it might become an Asian/Japanese American family tradition.

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, December 20, 1997

Updated: 8/17/02

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