gwen for webBy GWEN MURANAKA

I think many of us who have followed the up-and-down career of Mirai Nagasu thought the same thing after her third-place finish at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship on Saturday night: book her ticket to Sochi.

It was a composed, clean performance with all of the pressure on the 20-year-old from Pasadena. Nagasu has weathered injury and coaching changes to end up in Boston with this chance to earn her spot on the Olympic team. It was one of those come-from-behind, underdog moments that are made for the Olympics.

Only it didn’t turn out that way. U.S. Figure Skating, in an unprecedented move, selected Ashley Wagner, the fourth-place finisher, to represent the United States in Sochi. Nagasu, who initially hinted at appealing the ruling, is left as an alternate. For Mirai, whose name means “future,” another try in four years seems unlikely.

Mirai Nagasu collects donations for earthquake relief in Japan during Nisei Week in 2011. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
Mirai Nagasu collects donations for earthquake relief in Japan during Nisei Week in 2011. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

I’m not one of those who thinks that race was a factor in the decision by the skating association. While #MiraiEarnedIt is trending on Twitter, I think it’s a different “earn” (as in money) that may have played a factor.

Wagner has been one of the featured athletes in the run-up to the Games, with endorsements from Nike and CoverGirl. Corporate money is the fuel that keeps the Olympics going and, it’s hard to believe that didn’t play a role. But the optic of the lone Asian standing on the podium: left out, off the team, among a trio of photogenic blondes, is part of the outrage among many, particularly Asian Americans.

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 Thank you to Sakae Okuda, who sent a response to my last column on Japanese family names.

Okuda writes: “Our Japanese ancestors of the non-samurai class had no family names. Only in 1870 did the modern non-feudal Meiji government give permission to the populace to adopt family names.

“Since the majority of them were farmers, my guess is that they chose what was most familiar to them — the rice patch, ta (田), pronounced either ta, or da. Examples are Tanaka (田中), Nakata (中田) and Sumida (墨田).

“Incidentally, the blacks in the United States were allowed surnames after their emancipation in 1863.”

It’s true that for most of us, our surnames reveal our humble origins: a forest, a river, a mountain, or in my case, a village. The names evoke a simpler time, when life was spent tending the fields, or fishing the streams.

The one thing I’ve never understood is why Nakamura (中村) is such a common surname; while my family’s variant, Muranaka (村中), is relatively rare. Nakamura is the eighth most common name, according to a 2009 Japan Times article.

The top 10 are as follows:

1. Sato  (佐藤)

2. Suzuki (鈴木)

3. Takahashi (高橋)

4. Tanaka (田中)

5. Watanabe (渡辺)

6. Ito (伊藤)

7. Yamamoto (山本)

8. Nakamura (中村)

9. Kobayashi (小林)

10. Kato (加藤)

The article goes on to say that there are more than 100,000 names currently in use. Our Meiji ancestors were certainly a creative bunch!

Gwen Muranaka is the English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo and can be reached at Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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