Book Spotlight: The Long Defeat – Akiko Hashimoto

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

In The Long Defeat, Akiko Hashimoto examines the origins and manifestations of war memory in Japan, and its implications for the country’s future.

What I liked:

  • I think every Nikkei reader who has ever felt conflicted or curious about how the war affects their identity will find The Long Defeat an interesting and relevant book. Although Hashimoto focuses on what war memory means to Japanese nationals, I personally think Nikkei identity exists on a continuum with Japan at one end and non-Japan places at the other (or maybe a Venn diagram; I think the shape probably depends on the topic being discussed). In other words, our (Nikkei) understandings of how the war affects us are incomplete without taking into account how our families and ancestors in Japan were/are affected.
  • Hashimoto’s work verified and validated much of what I previously suspected or inferred about war memory in Japan. It’s difficult to put this into words, but I think any Nikkeijin with close ties to Japan will understand when I say it’s part of the known but not really discussed aspect of being Japanese. I don’t know if other Nikkei readers will experience the same feeling from this book, but personally it’s very comforting to know Japanese/Nikkei in various fields are thinking deeply about these topics.
  • Several times in the book, most notably in the final section on moral recovery and reconciliation, Hashimoto notes how so-called “global” methods of postwar recovery are actually heavily Euro/US/western/white-centric, with Germany as the base model, and raises the question of whether and/or how effectively such methods can be applied to peoples and nations whose cultural ideologies are non-Euro/US/western/white-centric. She also includes a (deliberately provocative?) one-liner, in which she observes China and South Korea are increasingly utilizing the so-called “global” framework to demand war reparations from Japan, but refrain from casting their own histories through the same lens. Hashimoto’s observations were particularly interesting to me insofar as they highlight yet another way white/Eurocentric/western influences create tension in Japanese culture, and the degree(s) to which these influences and tensions are/aren’t acknowledged by Japanese people.
  • Hashimoto’s writing is relatively accessible, though I think the format of the information might need to be changed to appeal to pre-college readers. Comprehensibility and accessibility are, I think, sometimes undervalued in academia, with its self-perpetuating aura of exclusivity. Readers outside academia should know scholars come with their own backgrounds, biases, opinions, etc., none of which should be automatically negated simply because someone has a doctorate or two. (This seems really self-evident to me, but I’ve learned “PhD” intimidates a lot of people into thinking they can’t or shouldn’t argue. That’s bullshit – having a degree does not make anyone immune to being wrong.) Likewise, those within academia should, if they really wish to change how people think, consistently gauge the needs and knowledge of their audiences. Just because someone doesn’t have the educational background or linguistic capability to wade through a dense volume on critical theory, doesn’t mean they are less worthy of being exposed to that knowledge. Is decolonization only for the privileged? I suppose this seems like a tangent, but Hashimoto’s book feels extremely relevant to any JA/Nikkei interested in identity formation, and I would hate to see any fellow readers miss out because of accessibility issues. To clarify, I’m not criticizing Hashimoto directly; I would be interested in knowing what she thinks about making her work more readily accessible to Japanese/Nikkei audiences outside academia.

What I learned:

  • Memory, specifically war and postwar memory, is significant to both Japanese and Nikkei writers. I suppose this is self-evident if one stops to think about it, but even though I’ve been reading up on camp memory in Nikkei communities, and I vaguely knew about the ongoing impacts of the war in Japan, I hadn’t connected the dots. I would love to see Hashimoto co-write a companion volume about war memory in Nikkei communities with one or more Nikkei scholars who specialize in camp memory. What would that be, transnational memory studies? As Eiichiro Azuma demonstrated in Between Two Empires (see my post here), Japanese and Nikkei history are not mutually exclusive.

Questions I had:

  • What is Hashimoto’s background and how did it shape the writing of this book? Based on her CV, it looks like she is probably 日系 (as opposed to 日本人), but I’m not sure. Fiction writers are often asked about the inspiration behind a particular book, but I don’t see this asked of academic writers nearly as often, even though I feel the question applies to any writer. Too often, I think, academic writers’ backgrounds go unexamined because of how academia conflates itself with a myth of omniscience, so to speak, and readers outside academia (or even within it) assume citing an academic source is tantamount to having the final ‘authoritative’ word on something. To me, it’s more useful to situate academic texts, like any book, within a broader context of materials dealing with the topic in question, as well as relative to the writer’s background, and to not be complacent (or complicit) in reading solely through the institutional hierarchy. (I would especially remind fellow USian readers and anyone else whose formative education was based in Eurocentric academia to keep this in mind. Forest versus the trees, right?) This isn’t a criticism of Hashimoto, by the way – rather, as a Nikkei reader interested in Nikkei writing across genres and forms, I always want to know why individual Nikkei writers choose to explore Nikkei-ness, or Japanese-ness, or whatnot, via a particular medium or field. In this case, since I’m uncertain of Hashimoto’s background, I mostly focused on what I perceived as the strengths and limitations of her analysis, and I tried to avoid interpreting the text based on assumptions about her ties to Japan. Her CV lists her languages as English, Japanese, and German, so I’m reasonably confident of some cultural and linguistic breadth to the sources she drew upon for this book (this is also supported by the notes and bibliography sections).
  • How would Hashimoto apply her analysis to the Shin-Nikkei generations? In community spaces, I often see lines (whether solid or dotted) drawn between 日本人 and 日系人, and while these distinctions are certainly real and important, I think sometimes they result in unnecessarily narrowly bounded definitions of each term. As I’ve noted previously on this blog, a Yonsei whose family came to the US before the war and had relatives incarcerated in concentration camps will have different experiences and understandings of Japanese-ness and Nikkei-ness than a Shin-Issei or Shin-Nisei whose family history doesn’t include the camps at all, yet both could technically claim the term 日系人 if they wished. That said, a Shin-Issei who came to the US in the 80s will theoretically have grown up absorbing the various forms of (post)war memory Hashimoto identifies in Japanese textbooks, pop culture, and national media…and it therefore follows that they will in some capacity be affected by the ambivalence Hashimoto observes to be the overarching Japanese approach to remembering the war. They will, of course, also be subject to the same forms of racism experienced by JA/Nikkei who have been in the US for much longer. Additionally, depending on the spaces they choose to occupy, they may or may not begin to perceive topics like history and social justice from a 日系 rather than a 日本 perspective, insofar as the two can be differentiated. I wonder, then, what Hashimoto might infer about the nature of transnational war memory in this case?
  • I read the paperback edition of the book, and as far as I can tell, the blurbs on the back are all by white people. I’m not sure how blurbs are acquired for academic texts, but I can’t help wondering why Hashimoto and/or her editor/publisher couldn’t find any POC, much less Japanese or Nikkei scholars, to blurb the book. In fiction, I know the bigger the blurb writer’s reputation, the better it is for the book from a marketing perspective, but I’m not sure the considerations are the same in academia. I suppose white supremacy’s continuing stranglehold on academia might also be the answer – I imagine the support of white men is useful and maybe even indispensable to WOC/POC in the ivory tower. At any rate, as someone who could easily never again hear a white-person-with-degree’s Opinion on Japan (and don’t get me started on the expats, much less the degreed expats), I’m disappointed not to see at least one Japanese name on the back cover.

Follow-up:

  • I hope Hashimoto continues to study and write about war memory in Japan. The holistic feel of this book is, I think, an extremely solid foundation for ongoing work on the nature of war memory in Japan, especially as successive generations in Japan are affected by increasing chronological distance from the war and changes in East Asian geopolitics.
  • I wonder if any non-Japanese Asian writers living in Japan, particularly Chinese or Korean writers, have produced a similar book. It would be interesting to read a Chinese or Korean perspective on war memory in Japan, especially from a writer who has grown up surrounded by the references to war memory in Japanese culture which Hashimoto identifies.

Book Spotlight: Baishakunin, Inc. – Naomi Hirahara

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

Baishakunin, Inc. chronicles the (mis)adventures of Caroline Mameda as she struggles to start her own Little Tokyo matchmaking business after unexpectedly losing her job.

What I liked:

  • This story is hilarious! I forgot how much I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy until I picked this up during some downtime at work. I had to make myself stop grinning so my colleagues wouldn’t ask what I was doing. Also, I think this would make a terrific manga because there are so many scenes which could be visually rendered. A good mangaka could probably do wonders drawing Jake, Oizumi-san, and Kyle, and I can just imagine Michele’s bitchiness in Japanese.
  • The Bean/Mameda thing made me think about other unique or unusual nicknames JA/Nikkei have created for themselves, and what sort of cultural space such names occupy. I’m thinking of other JA nicknames I’ve seen in literature, like Shig and Tak, and how these names embody a kind of ‘Japanese’ (or ‘English,’ depending on your perspective) which, paradoxically, is more intelligible to Nikkei than to Nihonjin. When I first saw the name Tak, I thought it was a weird English name until its origins were explained later in the text. Of course, then it seemed self-evident, but I think the reason I missed it is because my Japanese has been almost entirely lensed through my mom’s Nihonjin sensibilities, rather than through a JA/Nikkei or USian academic perspective. I could go on a tangent here about how my difficulty reading romanized Japanese probably stems from a similar place, but I’m getting off-topic!
  • Ginnie’s character is very interesting. I know there are non-Japanese Asians in Japan, but I’ve never met one who grew up in the US. The scene when Caroline notes Ginnie is ‘showing off’ her Japanese is such a concise, spot-on portrayal of imposter syndrome. Later in the story, when Caroline thinks Ginnie could almost be Japanese because of her wedding gift organizational system, I started thinking about the (uneasy?) balance between imposter syndrome and inclusivity. Considering the high (and maybe rising) rates of interracial/interethnic relationships among JA/Nikkei, I suspect this topic will be increasingly of interest to our community in the years ahead.

What I learned:

  • I’m a Bay Area JA rather than an LA/Little Tokyo/SoCal JA, but I also didn’t participate in many Nikkei community events growing up, so I’m not sure if the things I noticed in this story are SoCal-specific or JA/Nikkei-specific. For example, Caroline notes what generation the JAs around her are, which is something I don’t really think about beyond, ‘do they know Japanese or not?’ She also seems to view Yonsei in a less-than-flattering light, and I’m not sure if this is a commentary on intergenerational tensions or a quirk specific to her. At Ginnie’s wedding, she notes the presence of a Nisei couple, even though she doesn’t seem to know them personally, which was an interesting observation to me. I can usually distinguish Nihonjin/Issei/Shin-Issei from Nisei-and-later Nikkei by listening to how they speak, but I don’t think I could tell someone was Nisei just by looking at them. I wonder if Little Tokyo Nisei exhibit certain traits which make them easy to identify to other community members? I suppose Caroline might also be guessing based on the couple’s age…after all, while a Nihonjin/Shin-Issei couple could be similar in age to a Nisei couple, they would likely have different styles of dress…though this may depend on how long the former have been in the US. Fellow Nikkei who have observed the evolving fashion choices/behavioral patterns of a group of Nihonjin exchange students over the course of a semester or a year in the US might also know what I mean, ね?

Questions I had:

  • What happens to Oizumi-san? Elderly mentors are some of my favorite character types in Japanese/Nikkei stories and if Hirahara were to continue this story, I would definitely want to see how Oizumi-san’s arc progresses.
  • Are there other JA/Nikkei-written stories in the new adult/romance/contemporary genres? I can’t think of any offhand…all the ones coming to mind are mystery, historical fiction, or some type of YA/children’s lit…and of course there’s plenty of memoir and nonfiction out there.

Follow-up:

  • Hirahara has written two other serialized stories for Discover Nikkei and has a third in progress, so I have no doubt I’ll be reading those soon.

Book Spotlight: The Nihongo Papers – Naomi Hirahara

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

The Nihongo Papers tells the multigenerational story of the Shishido and Hamakawa families when they are brought together by a rare and deadly species of strawberry.

What I liked:

  • Sayuri’s character felt very familiar to me in some ways, probably because my mom is also Shin-Issei. It would be interesting to read a Japanese version of the parts of the story told from Sayuri’s POV, since personally I feel the Japanese-to-English shift often causes Nihonjin characters to lose some of their essence. Fellow JA/Nikkei who have witnessed a Nihonjin/Shin-Issei relative or friend communicating their thoughts in a language other than Japanese probably understand what I mean.
  • As an addendum, I also appreciate Sayuri’s mother – or what we learn of her via Sayuri’s thoughts. Hirahara’s portrayal of 日本人にとってアメリカ人は___ felt spot-on relative to my own experiences of how my Nihonjin family and friends perceive Japanese Americans and white people. So many intracommunity vibes!!
  • This story is a page-turner! (Metaphorically, anyway – it’s an e-serial.) I was a little surprised to see it described as a bio-thriller because from what little I know of Hirahara’s writing, it didn’t seem like her style – in fact, I can’t think of a nonwhite USian writer who specializes in what I’d consider a bio-thriller – but I very much enjoyed reading it. The focus on family ties and what people will – or won’t – do on behalf of their loved ones was, to me, much more compelling than the sci-fi-esque plot implied by the description. Although I dislike books pitched as, ‘it’s a good story where the characters just HAPPEN to be POC,’ because it seems to imply stories more focused on POC identities are somehow lesser, and I wouldn’t describe this story as such, I appreciate how Hirahara normalizes both the commonalities and diversities of JA/Nikkei experiences. The family dynamic among Bob, Greg, and Sayuri was especially interesting, since the generational/linguistic diversity reminded me of my own family.
  • Haru is one of my favorite characters – I wish she had more page time. The MC of 一の食卓, currently one of my favorite manga, is also Haru, so it was kind of fun to be reading Hirahara’s Haru while having this other Haru in the back of my mind. More specifically, I wonder if there’s a JA/Nikkei-written novel featuring a character like Hirahara’s Haru – a young Nikkei girl coming of age in early-twentieth-century California, in a farming family caught amidst cultural, racial, and economic turmoil.
  • I’m quite curious about Juanita…what’s her backstory?? I don’t believe we ever learn what her exact racial/ethnic background is, but there aren’t so many Okinawan Latinx(?) characters in English-language fiction that I can just glaze over her appearance without stopping to wonder. If Hirahara ever expanded The Nihongo Papers into a novella or even a novel, I would definitely want to learn more about Juanita. I didn’t get much of a sense of her character from the story, other than her competency as a PI, but I assume this is because she is a secondary character relative to characters like Sayuri or Carlos.
  • Saburo’s motives made sense to me. Of course, no one should be going around kidnapping or attempting to shoot people, and I suspect what Saburo needed was counseling and treatment for depression, but I can see why he did what he did. The only loose end here is the gap between how Haru and her parents view him, and the insight we receive into his thoughts toward the end of the story. In other words, I would have less sympathy for him if he actually mistreated his wife, but since this is never confirmed, I’m operating on the assumption he did not. Also, I wonder what was written in Japanese on Itsuko’s papers…and I wonder how the story ends for Phyllis. Anyway, to return to my original point, I prefer ‘villains’ whose actions are a response to some past injury done them, especially if said injury was inflicted by one of the ‘good’ characters, because it feels more realistic to remember everyone has done good and bad things in their lives. Enishi from るろうに剣心 is another example of this type of ‘villain’…at least, to some extent. Again, this doesn’t excuse the harm they inflict, but it does make for more balanced storytelling, in my opinion.

What I learned:

  • I’m not sure if this counts as learning, since I don’t know how true to life it is, but it was very interesting to consider international exchange among Nikkei farmers as depicted in Jorge’s journey to Shishido Farms. This is likely my Bay-Area-JA-bubble-experience speaking, but none of the JA/Nikkei I grew up around ever mentioned connections to JA/Nikkei in countries other than the US and Japan. I finally met a Nikkei woman from Brazil in college, at which point I realized there were long-established Nikkei communities outside the US. Currently, I have a book or two about Nikkei exchange between Japan and Latin America on my TBR, and I remember seeing a few more titles on Amazon which were only available in Spanish or Portuguese. I’d really like to find a book co-written from Nikkei, indigenous, and/or Latinx perspectives on the historical and ongoing relationships among Nikkei, indigenous, and/or Latinx communities in the so-called Americas. I think the closest I have right now are a few books on Asian settler colonialism, but considering the complex nature of indigenous/Latinx connections, it would be great to find a book with a more specific focus. Also, in general I feel indigenous and/or Latinx Nikkei are often erased from broader discussions of Nikkei history, so I would like to learn more about these communities from an ownvoices perspective.

Questions I had:

  • What was Hirahara’s inspiration for this story? It’s not every day I read about deliberately bred lethal strawberries.
  • Who is the intended audience for this story? I noticed every Japanese word is either followed by a translation or defined via context. In my own writing, I’m not a fan of providing in-text translations, but I also think providing some kind of translation is the most equitable way to anticipate non-Japanese-speaking Nikkei readers. Since Hirahara is also an established author, perhaps the translations are included for her non-Japanese readers as well. I’ll have to take a look when I start her Mas Arai series, which I plan to do later this summer.
  • To be honest, before we learned Bisabuelo was Saburo, I was concerned the ‘villain’ of the story would end up being someone associated with Latinx communities and/or Spanish speakers. I’m unclear on whether Jorge and Carlos are mixed-race – after all, Carlos’s mother was Japanese, and Jorge’s family name is Yamashita – or if, like many Japanese Americans, they are monoracial Nikkei with first names adopted from the dominant culture of their home communities. At any rate, because colorism and ethnic/cultural bias are ongoing issues in JA/Nikkei communities, and because Nikkei from Latin America often report experiencing inferior treatment in Japan relative to Japanese Americans, I feel it’s prudent for JA/Nikkei writers to tread carefully when depicting Nikkei communities outside the US.
  • What was the purpose of including Japanese Canadian characters like Phyllis Hamakawa? Maybe I’m missing a piece of history here – perhaps there was a significant movement of Nikkei agricultural workers from the US to Canada at some point – but I don’t see how Itsuko ending up in Canada as opposed to some other part of California or the US made a difference to the plot. It could also be Hirahara has some connection to Canadian Nikkei which made the inclusion of Hamakawa’s character significant to her for personal reasons. At any rate, while I know Nikkei in Latin America have a long history of being involved in agricultural work, as with Nikkei in the US, which to me provides the logic behind the Shishido and Yamashita characters, I don’t know why Phyllis had to be a politician in Toronto/Canada, specifically. To be clear, I don’t think Hamakawa’s presence weakened the story – I just feel I didn’t fully understand the reasoning behind her background.
  • Once or twice in the text, I felt the term ‘American’ was being interchanged with ‘white,’ particularly in passages describing Alex. I can’t tell if this reflects Hirahara’s perspective or if it was meant to show how many JA/Nikkei do this without thinking…or it could be something else!

Follow-up:

  • Hirahara has written several other serialized stories for Discover Nikkei, so I’ll be checking those out next!

Book Spotlight: Journey to Topaz – Yoshiko Uchida

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

Journey to Topaz is a semi-autobiographical novel chronicling the experiences of Yuki Sakane and her family when they are forcibly relocated from their Berkeley, CA home to the concentration camp at Topaz, UT.

What I liked:

  • Uchida’s prose reads very smoothly. The other two camp novels I’ve read thus far, Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar, proceeded much more slowly for me. I’m not sure if the difference is solely attributable to Uchida’s writing style, or if I’ve simply become accustomed to reading fiction about the camps. I guess I’ll have to read a fourth camp novel by a different author and see what happens. I don’t remember enjoying Uchida’s prose quite this much when I read her other novels in middle school, but since they’re sitting in my TBR pile, I should be able to do a comparison in a future post.
  • The ending felt much more…honest…than, for example, the ending of Uchida’s The Bracelet, which I wrote about in a previous post. I assume the target audience of each book determined the difference – The Bracelet is a picture book, whereas Journey to Topaz is in a short-chapter format suitable for independent and middle school readers. Although Yuki expresses relief at being released from camp, her trepidation about going to Salt Lake City indicates she is aware their post-camp lives may not be easy. I didn’t see any acknowledgment of the difficulties JA/Nikkei faced in ‘reintegrating’ after the war in The Bracelet, so I’m glad to see it here. Uchida also tailors each character’s closing arc to their circumstances – the uncertainty Yuki’s father expresses about his employment prospects in Salt Lake City, Mrs. Kurihara’s struggle to learn English, and Mr. Toda’s bitterness and resignation at being left behind. It’s important for today’s JA/Nikkei readers to understand the variety of situations in which JA/Nikkei found themselves after the camps closed. Personally, I think I’ll be moving Karen Inouye’s book a little farther up on my TBR, since the unknown fates of Uchida’s characters motivated me to learn more about JA/Nikkei experiences in the immediate postwar years.

What I learned:

  • When I was about halfway through Journey to Topaz, I went to California for a few days to visit Manzanar with my parents. I’ve written about my experiences in this post. During that trip, I learned my grandfather, whom I’d previously been told was incarcerated at Poston, AZ, was actually sent to Tanforan and Topaz, just like the Sakane family. When I returned to Portland and picked up Journey to Topaz again, I felt my relationship to the book should have changed, or had changed, but didn’t know exactly how. After all, my grandfather passed away before I was born and I’ve never spoken to the two uncles who were incarcerated with him, so it wasn’t as if I could compare my family’s experiences with those of the Sakanes. Our Manzanar visit motivated my dad and me to dig into our family history, so maybe one day I’ll read this book with more than a vague feeling of connections lost.
  • In my post on The Bracelet, I critiqued the uncritical portrayal of white people, which I felt erased their complicity in Japanese American incarceration. I still believe my critique is valid, but after reading Journey to Topaz, I wonder if Uchida’s portrayal of white people in The Bracelet was influenced by the support her family received from white friends during their incarceration. I know Journey to Topaz is autobiographical to some extent, but I don’t know if the Sakane family’s friendships with white characters like the Nelsons and Mrs. Jamieson are based on actual white people in Uchida’s life. At any rate, if my assumption is true, I can see why Uchida might focus on positively portraying her white characters.

Questions I had:

  • Uchida primarily uses terms like “internment” and “evacuation” in the book. I also noticed this in Farewell to Manzanar, and in older camp-related works written by JA/Nikkei. As a JA/Nikkei who was never actually incarcerated, I’m certainly not here to police the language my predecessors chose and choose to utilize in describing their own experiences. At the same time, I always wonder if the word choices of older generations have more to do with adapting the language of the times – we know, of course, that white people historically used “internment” and “evacuation” to euphemize the incarceration – than with individual agency. In other words, if those who were incarcerated were asked to decide, on their own terms, how they wanted to describe their experiences, would they still use “internment” or would they choose something like incarceration? At the risk of overgeneralizing – to be honest, I don’t think I am, since I am Japanese, too – the tendency of older generations to use “internment” and other such terms makes sense to me if I interpret it from a Japanese mentality. I don’t just mean 仕方がない (shikata ga nai) and 我慢 (gaman), which, I think, are sometimes utilized in rather reductive ways to describe our community’s response to incarceration – but also the many other terms, ideas, practices, etc., which come together in myriad ways to form our mentalities as Japanese people. It feels like I’m doing a poor job of putting my thought process into words…at any rate, I think fellow JA/Nikkei, maybe especially those who maintain close ties to Japan-based family and friends, will understand what I mean. Somewhere in my TBR, I’m sure there’s a book by a Nikkei writer analyzing the ways in which JA/Nikkei relationships to and understandings of Japan and Japanese culture have changed over time, the scope of which includes such major turning points like incarceration (those who were and weren’t), and the postwar immigrant (Shin) generation(s). Suffice to say, if we hypothesize the nature of the mentalities the Issei/Nisei (the bulk of those who were incarcerated, I believe) grew up with – which should not be wholly conflated with allegiance to Japan – it isn’t hard to see why they might make certain choices regarding terminology and other public-facing forms of memory. Alternatively, if we hypothesize in terms of a bloodline continuum, I could also see formerly incarcerated Issei/Nisei choosing non-euphemistic terms in the present if their Sansei/Yonsei/Gosei descendants encourage them to do so. There are interesting possibilities here for a discussion about the ways Japanese-ness is (re)made outside Japan, by Nikkeijin and Nihonjin of various backgrounds…maybe one of my fellow JA/Nikkei from Twitter will drop me a line and we can talk about it?

Follow-up:

  • I have plenty of Nikkei-written nonfiction about the camps on my TBR, but I’ll have to double-check for any books specifically about Topaz. Ditto for the fiction and memoir sections of my TBR – I’m sure I have at least one or two books written by or about JAs who were incarcerated there.
  • I’d like to visit Topaz one day, with my family…

If any fellow JA/Nikkei reading this have or had family and/or friends incarcerated at Topaz, I would love to chat with you. @ me on Twitter or send me an email!

Book Spotlight: Farewell to Manzanar – Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

Farewell to Manzanar recounts the experiences of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her family during their incarceration in the Manzanar concentration camp.

What I liked:

  • I first read Farewell to Manzanar when I was in grade school. My recollection is very fuzzy, but I remember finding it super boring. I may even have DNFed* it because I have no memory of reading the second half of the book. I’m happy to report it was much more interesting the second time around, probably because I’m older and know more about JA incarceration now.
  • I appreciate Houston’s decision to share her story. The camps were and are a sensitive topic in the JA community, and not everyone agrees about whether or how these experiences should be shared. I wonder what kind of responses Houston has received from JA readers over the years. In the afterword, the authors tell us responses have varied over time, but they don’t specifically detail how the JA community, especially different generations, have reacted to the story. I also wonder what postwar Japanese immigrants with no personal ties to the camps think of the story. I suppose I could ask my mom, but I doubt she’s read the book.
  • Houston’s first-person descriptions of camp life and how her family members, especially her father, responded to incarceration, are a deeply personal window into this era of Japanese American history. Although I’m sure Houston omitted or changed certain things to protect her privacy, the overall story felt much grittier and more painful than, for example, Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower. I don’t know enough about the creative processes behind either Houston’s or Kadohata’s book to attribute the difference solely to Houston’s book being a product of personal experience while Kadohata’s is not – I would imagine there are many more reasons contributing to the differences between the books – but I do wonder if the ‘less censored’ feel I get from reading Houston’s book has to do with it being a firsthand account. In other words, Houston didn’t need to imagine the difficulties of camp life because she experienced them and knew exactly how it felt. As fellow JA/Nikkei readers may note, Kadohata’s comparatively “restrained” approach to depicting camp life seems to engage with the value we (as Japanese people) place on the relationship between personal familiarity and use of familiar language. Personally, I would be rather taken aback if Sumiko (Kadohata’s POV character) was presented through a lens as intimate as what we see in Farewell to Manzanar, since, as far as I know, Sumiko’s fictional experiences are not based on Kadohata’s personal life. I imagine this may sound like splitting hairs to outsiders, but I think my fellow JA/Nikkeijin will understand the importance of the distinction I’m trying to make here. Keeping these points in mind, I’ll be paying close attention to first- versus secondhand accounts of camp life in the Nikkei books I read next.
  • Several times in the text, Houston compares Ko to samurai. Each time I wondered how the cultural conflicts experienced by Japanese immigrants (whether Issei or the more recent Shin-Issei) compared with the conflicts experienced by Nihonjin as more aspects of Eurocentric cultures found their way to Japan. I’ve found academic texts by Japanese/Nikkei writers which tackle each of these topics independently, but I’ve yet to find a work which considers these processes from a comparative perspective. Obviously, many differences exist in what was (and is) experienced by Nihonjin versus Nikkeijin with regard to Eurocentric influences, but since neither group exists wholly apart from the other, I’d be very interested in what Japanese/Nikkei scholars have made of these contemporaneous issues.**

What I learned:

  • According to the information provided at the end of the book, the Houstons didn’t originally conceive of Farewell to Manzanar as a children’s book. I wonder if this is part of why I found it so boring as a kid. At any rate, I do think US students, especially Japanese American students, should be educated about JA incarceration as part of the required curriculum. Given that the JA community has produced a ton of material about the camps, if I was an educator I would probably teach Farewell to Manzanar in conversation with other works, including multimedia works, to make the information more accessible to students. As I explain below, I don’t think Farewell to Manzanar should be students’ ONLY classroom exposure to JA incarceration because the text contains a number of issues which, if not critically examined and refuted, might lead to misguided perceptions of how World War II impacted the JA community.

Questions I had:

  • I wonder if the Japanese translation of Farewell to Manzanar has a wide readership in Japan. Based on my personal experiences, Nihonjin don’t generally know much about JA incarceration, so I’d be curious to know by what avenues Nihonjin have come to this book.
  • Houston utilizes terms such as “Oriental” and “Caucasian” throughout the text. There are occasional uses of the words “Asian” and “white,” but overall many more uses of Oriental and Caucasian. I’m well aware these terms would have been widely used by older Asian Americans, but given Farewell to Manzanar’s continuing circulation in contemporary classrooms, I think it would be highly advisable to include a note at the beginning or end of the text on the relative obsolescence of these terms among today’s Asian Americans. It would be unfortunate for students to believe it is still acceptable to refer to Asians as “Orientals” simply because it is never refuted or questioned in the text. I also noticed multiple editions of the book have been published since its original release in 1972 – do any of the other editions include an explanation/critique of the language used in the text? I find it odd the authors/publishing team saw fit to update the afterword with references to 9/11 and Islamophobia, but didn’t see the problem with leaving words like “Oriental” unchallenged.
  • “American” is used interchangeably with “white” and “Eurocentric” many times in the text. I noticed this especially in the final few chapters, when Houston discusses her struggles to reconcile her family’s Japanese values with what she describes as “American” culture. I don’t have an issue with Houston making this association as a child, of course – I’m sure many JAs/other POC have done this and continue to do so – but I do think it should be challenged in the author’s note. The US education system already reinforces the fiction of American = white in many ways, and students reading Farewell to Manzanar will absorb this fiction yet again if no one contradicts it. I also think a critical analysis of Houston’s use of “American,” as well as similar instances in other texts, is a useful introductory point for teaching students about settler colonialism. From my own conversations with fellow JAs, it seems not many often consider how the US is a settler colonialist nation/state. I think Japanese American students in particular should learn to be conscious of how we benefit from and participate in settler colonialism specifically, since most of the critical discussions I see in our community spaces seem to center on unpacking our complicity in the model minority myth.*** For example, the camps are often described as being in “middle-of-nowhere” type locations, which seems to indicate the lack of a human presence and erases the indigenous peoples who occupied (and continue to occupy) these spaces long before settlers came along with their colonialist notions of what is or isn’t “nowhere.”
  • Houston chooses to use terms such as, “internment” and “evacuation” – I don’t know whose decision this was, or if it was ever challenged, but as I’ll explain at length in an upcoming post about Yoshiko Uchida’s Journey to Topaz, I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised to learn this is Houston’s own word choice. That said, I do think the author’s note should include an explanation distinguishing the reasons formerly incarcerated JA/Nikkei might use “internment” from the problems arising when non-incarcerated JA/Nikkei and non-Japanese people try to euphemize history by using such terms. Just as terms such as genocide and settler colonialism should not be skipped over when teaching students about the ongoing violence toward and displacement of indigenous peoples on this continent, so too should Japanese American incarceration be named for what it was.
  • How much of the actual writing is in Houston’s own words? What exactly was her husband’s role in crafting the book? The afterword notes how the story began as a series of tape recordings of Jeanne recounting her experiences to her husband, but what happened after that? To be clear, I am not criticizing Houston’s decision to co-write the book with her husband. Between the story and the afterword, it seems Houston spent many years coming to terms with her experiences, and in deciding even to share her story, she took a step many camp survivors chose not to. It seems natural she would enlist the support of someone close to her in taking on what was likely a stressful project. I do, however, feel it’s equally important for readers to know whether any of the content being presented is through a white lens. Although Farewell to Manzanar is often touted as a “true” story and a firsthand account, I feel a book with such a wide readership inside and outside classrooms should contain a more transparent explanation of its creation.

Follow-up:

  • Houston has also written a novel, The Legend of Fire Horse Woman, which I forgot about until I saw it mentioned in the interview at the end of the book. As far as I know, the novel is her work alone, so it’ll be interesting to see if and how her writing style changes when she isn’t working with her husband.

*DNF = did not finish.

**I couldn’t think of a word which would reflect the non-contemporaneous aspects of this, namely that Eurocentric cultures were, as far as I know, having significant impacts on Nihonjin long before any JA/Nikkei communities were firmly established in Euro/white-dominant countries.

***Of course, the model minority myth is an important issue for the JA community to address, but even a discussion of model minority is incomplete without unpacking its connections to settler colonialism.

Book Spotlight: Between Two Empires – Eiichiro Azuma

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

In Between Two Empires, Eiichiro Azuma utilizes a transnational framework to chronicle how Issei and Nisei came to view themselves in terms of racial(ized) identities formulated out of their interactions with Japan and the US in the years before World War II.

What I liked:

  • When I started reading Between Two Empires, I immediately thought, “oh shit, this is way too complicated for my first book-length foray into Japanese American history,” but I’m very glad I kept going. Azuma’s writing is clear and concise, especially given the complexity of his chosen topic, and his arguments seem well-reasoned and nuanced without stretching the veracity of his sources.* In other words, if you’re a JA/Nikkei/Japanese reader with an interest in Japanese American history and you like reading academic work for fun, I think you’ll enjoy Azuma’s book.
  • I am so glad Azuma decided to focus on this period in Japanese American history. As stated above, this is the first nonfiction book I’ve read about our history, but from the other works on my TBR, I can see the years during and after World War II seem to receive more attention from JA/Nikkei/Japanese writers. My list does include a few works on Issei/Nisei history, which I look forward to comparing with Azuma’s book. I can’t help wondering how much of the narrative presented here reflects the experiences of my paternal grandparents, both of whom were in the US during the prewar years. They were both gone before I was born, so I’ve only ever heard bits and pieces of their stories via my dad and other relatives.
  • For the most part, Azuma is straightforward about the scope of his work. Although his argument relies on certain generalizations, he is clear about who he has omitted from the text, as well as underrepresented groups in his sources, like Japanese women who were often prevented or discouraged from contributing to Issei and Nisei narratives. Azuma’s identification of the limits of his work, in combination with his closing argument for applying transnationalism to Japanese American studies, suggests he sees his work as one possible foundation for an area he hopes future scholarship will expand upon.**
  • Azuma provides one of the more thorough overviews of Kibei experiences I’ve seen in accounts of Japanese American history, though to be sure, I’m far from having a complete grasp of the existing scholarship. I’ve been fascinated by Kibei experiences ever since reading the part in Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira where we learn some of Katie’s relatives went to Japan to learn chicken sexing. (I have to say, I’m glad Azuma’s work broadens the discussion, since chicken sexing isn’t my preferred lens for learning about Kibei history.) The idea of Nikkeijin having the fluidity to move between Japan and other places is important to me, since my own visits to family and friends have been an integral part of my life experiences. I wonder too if Azuma’s own apparent proximity to Japan (discussed in more detail below) influenced his decision to include Kibei in his analysis of Japanese American identity formations.
  • In the epilogue (or maybe it was in one of the chapters), Azuma notes how previous “master narratives” of Japanese American history are “mononational” in approach, as part of his argument for why a transnational/not-exclusively-US-centric approach to JA/Nikkei studies is more suitable to the subject matter. I appreciate his reference to “master narratives” (historiography ostensibly demonstrates how there is no one true account of “history,” but scholars and non-academics alike sometimes seem to forget this if it doesn’t serve their purposes) because it suggests he writes with an awareness of his own role in constructing a narrative instead of the narrative.
  • This final point is difficult to articulate, in part because it’s highly subjective, but one of the reasons I started my informal study of Japanese American history with this book is because it appeared to be a detailed examination of Japanese American identity formation, written by a Japanese (probably Nikkei) scholar with full access to sources in both Japanese and English. In other words, academia’s version of #ownvoices. As I’m writing this post, I still don’t know what Azuma’s exact background is (Nikkeijin v. Nihonjin, what generation he is, if applicable), but after reading his book I feel assured his conclusions about how Issei/Nisei formed racial(ized) identities were crafted by someone who, as an insider, knows how Japanese people think and act, as well as someone familiar with the ins and outs of being bilingual and moving between Japan and the US. Obviously, we aren’t a monolith, but I generally trust JA/Nikkei/Japanese writers to be attuned to nuances of behavior and culture, and, if they choose to omit or distort certain things, to do so with complete awareness of (and willingness to be held accountable for) how their actions affect our community’s understanding of itself.

What I learned:

  • There is a lot of agricultural history in this book. A lot. I see exactly why Azuma dedicated so many pages to it, but it did make for slow going at times. I’m not exactly entranced by crop statistics. I wonder if Azuma likes agricultural history, or if he inwardly groaned when he realized he couldn’t possibly complete the book without extensively discussing it.
  • This idea of “transnationalism” seems to hold interesting possibilities for Japanese American/Nikkei studies. I wonder if Azuma’s particular application of a transnational framework to Issei/Nisei history can also, with some adjustments, be utilized in studying postwar Japanese immigrant experiences. Since Japanese American/Nikkei studies still seems to be an emerging field, there are many gaps to be filled, but one I hope JA/Nikkei scholars take into account is how one’s proximity to Japan (obviously some parameters would need to be defined re: “proximity”) affects one’s real-life, real-time experiences in the US or other non-Japan country. In other words, someone with my background, or that of my haafu friend who grew up on Okinawa and moved to the US less than ten years ago, might be similar in age to JAs who self-identify as Yonsei/Gosei and might be familiar with some of the same aspects of Japanese culture, but will also have some experiences utterly different from those of someone whose family has been in the US for three or four or five generations already. As I read more JA/Nikkei nonfiction work on our histories and experiences, I’ll be looking for how and when these distinctions are explored.

Questions I had:

  • This is probably just my lack of familiarity with transnational studies, but I really didn’t see where Azuma was going in terms of his final argument until I read the epilogue. I wasn’t shocked by his conclusion, though – his emphasis on how Issei and Nisei existed in the interstitial spaces between the Japanese and US empires makes a strong case for expanding/revising the analytical frameworks applied to Japanese American history. It was a very, “what? – oh, duh!” moment for me.
  • I wonder how Azuma came to academia and, more specifically, to this field of study. Based on the brief reference to his parents at the beginning, I’m guessing he is either Shin-Nisei or a Japanese citizen. If I’m correct, I wonder what he thinks of himself, as part of the postwar Japanese immigrant community in the US, writing about the experiences of Issei and Nisei.*** I will say, my perception of Azuma’s proximity to Japan based on this information reassured me of his ability to access and interpret Japanese-language sources. I wonder if JA/Nikkei scholars ever convene to discuss their relationships with the Japanese language – especially those for whom Japanese is a native language and those who first learned it in school.
  • Who was Azuma’s intended audience? His closing argument suggests he is writing at least in part to fellow scholars of Japanese American and immigrant history, but was he also thinking of non-academic readers? In particular, I wonder if he hopes Japanese readers outside academia will engage with his work. I can definitely see non-academic JA/Nikkei readers with an interest in family/cultural history viewing his work as a useful resource, and I can only hope he would be receptive if such readers ever wished to interact with him. I would assume he understands how important these narratives are, not just for the purpose of expanding the body of scholarship, but also to the people whose personal stories are being (re)told.
  • Are there plans to translate Between Two Empires into Japanese? I didn’t check; it’s possible a translation has already been done. I wonder if Azuma was/hopes to be involved in any translation process. In light of the research he conducted in Japan, I assume he is well capable of navigating Japanese academic spaces and I wonder if he was/is interested in translating his own work. Considering the relative lack of knowledge of JA/Nikkei history among Japanese nationals, I feel it should be a priority to make JA/Nikkei scholarship accessible to Japanese readers of all backgrounds.**** Conversely, I would like to see more Japanese scholarship made accessible to non-Japanese-knowing Nikkei readers.

Follow-up:

  • Azuma’s extensive endnotes occupy almost half the book’s page count. I was too intellectually drained to read them after finishing the epilogue, but I’ll probably go back to them when I’ve had some time to reflect on his analysis.
  • I have no idea what Azuma is currently working on, but I hope I can read it when he’s done. His first book gives me confidence in his ability to construct sensitive, thorough narratives of Japanese American history.

*I think I’ve made this clear in other places on this blog, but for any new folks, I approach all of my book analyses as an “average” reader, i.e. someone not associated with academia or seeking to contribute to scholarship. I’m always interested in what JA/Nikkei/Japanese scholars have to say about each other’s work, but I’m also highly cognizant of the fact your average JA/Nikkei/Japanese reader is NOT going to have a PhD or be otherwise associated with academia. I reject the notion academic “credentials” are a prerequisite for having a “valid” opinion on a book because this argument equates “value” with the privileges required to be a part of academia. If you don’t see where I’m going by this point, google is right over there. I recommend starting with POC scholarship on decolonizing academia.

**In the course of reading Between Two Empires, I started wondering if JA/Nikkei scholars have tackled certain other aspects of Issei/Nisei history, particularly non-west-coast-based Japanese American agricultural history and the history of Japanese colonialism in relation to indigenous peoples. This isn’t a comment on Azuma’s scholarship – it’s clear both of these topics are well beyond the scope of his book – but rather my personal interest in elements of Japanese/Nikkei history which few people seem to discuss. I noticed Azuma’s analysis relies heavily on case studies of Japanese American agriculture in California, with occasional references to Oregon and Washington. All of my farmer relatives (as far as I know), currently live in Colorado and Nebraska, but I don’t know how long they’ve been there. I’m not sure when Issei first started living and working in parts of the US other than the west coast and Hawaii, but I’d be interested in reading any JA/Nikkei scholarship on the topic. I’ve also been wondering for a while if any collaborative Nikkeijin/Nihonjin scholarship exists on how Japanese people have interacted with indigenous peoples around the world, from the Ainu on Hokkaido to indigenous peoples in North America (US/Canada/Mexico), Peru, and Brazil. I’m pretty sure my TBR includes a couple of works on Japanese/Asian settler colonialism in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen much discussion about other areas. I do wish Azuma had included some discussion of the indigenous peoples displaced from the lands where Issei and Nisei took up farming. Perhaps they’re mentioned in the endnotes (shouldn’t they be given space in the actual text, though?) – I’ll have to keep an eye out. I assume most of the actual displacing (land stealing, genocide, etc.) occurred before Issei and Nisei arrived, since in most cases they were working land “owned” by white people, but I imagine there were still everyday interactions between Japanese immigrants and indigenous peoples in some areas. Where did indigenous peoples rank in Issei/Nisei perceptions of the racial hierarchy?

***I’m in an odd position to be assessing his standpoint, since I’m Shin-Nisei on one side and Sansei-Yonsei on the other. Would a scholar with a background similar to mine approach Issei/Nisei history in a way significantly different from Azuma’s method?

****I don’t think simply making JA/Nikkei history accessible to Japanese nationals would resolve tensions between Nihonjin and Nikkejin when it comes to matters like racism, but I do think it’s a step toward an eventual mutual resistance to global white supremacy. Although I think Japanese nationals should be made more aware of the everyday realities of being Japanese outside Japan, particularly in white-dominant spaces, I also hope diaspora Japanese make an effort to understand all the factors which shape Japanese nationals’ relationship with and response to white supremacy and other outside forces.

Book Spotlight: Baseball Saved Us – Ken Mochizuki

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

Baseball Saved Us, written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee, tells the story of an unnamed Japanese American boy who finds strength in baseball during and after his time in a US concentration camp.

What I liked:

  • Mochizuki never uses “concentration camp” or “incarceration” in the text – which makes sense, since young readers might not know what those words mean, but he does use the capitalized “Camp” throughout the story and the MC* tells us early on how “Camp” is not the same as summer camp. If I had read this book as a kid, I’d probably have gone to my dad and asked him to tell me more about why “Camp” is capitalized, and I can imagine other JA/Nikkei kids doing the same. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but I appreciate Mochizuki creating the space for these conversations via a single terminology choice.
  • The MC is never named in the text.** I actually read the entire book without realizing it and only noticed as I was reviewing details in preparation for this post. I’m not sure why Mochizuki left the MC nameless, but I think it worked for this story (also, I believe this is more common in picture books than in novels). First, while many formerly incarcerated JAs have shared their experiences, others have either passed away or chosen to keep their memories private. Mochizuki’s nameless MC could thus be read as a stand-in for the many JAs whose stories we will never hear. I also wonder if Mochizuki intended the story to be an homage/testament to everyone who endured the camps, a way of saying, ‘regardless of whether you shared your story, your experiences were/are valid and we will remember you.’ Second, the story’s first-person POV combined with the MC’s unknown name might help draw young readers into the narrative. Although I’m not usually a fan of nameless MCs, in this case I imagine my younger self easily ‘stepping’ into the MC’s shoes and seeing the camp through his eyes. Encouraging empathy is key, especially for young readers whose first exposure to camp history might very well be this book.
  • Dom Lee’s illustrations are perfect for the story and subject matter. (Side note: I recommend reading the note at the beginning, which details how the illustrations were created; it’s listed after the acknowledgments on the back of the title page.) Lee’s mostly-brown palette simultaneously evokes old photographs (not surprising, since some of the illustrations were apparently inspired by Lange’s camp photos), dusty baseball diamonds, and camps in the desert. Message: these camps were historic and being in them involved dust and dirt. It’s quite a contrast from Joanna Yardley’s brightly colored illustrations in Yoshiko Uchida’s camp narrative, The Bracelet.*** At the same time, Lee’s dynamic compositions and multiple double-page spreads keep the visual narrative active and interesting. The many baseball-playing scenes probably help with the pacing – Lee is a master at rendering active poses and animated facial expressions.
  • One of my favorite illustrations is the scene when Teddy defies their father’s request for a cup of water. I’ve heard multiple JAs comment on how some of the worst aspects of the camps have been glossed over or omitted in firsthand accounts, for various reasons. Similarly, as I’m sure my fellow JAs know, the choices we make about how much we reveal when telling our stories can change how our community views and treats us. Knowing all this, I’m glad whenever I see a fellow JA take a straightforward, non-euphemistic approach to portraying certain conditions in the camps. For example, I didn’t know about non-partitioned toilets until recently, when I saw a photo on the Manzanar Committee website. Granted, I’ve barely brushed the surface of camp-related media and literature, but I’m surprised I didn’t know this until now.
  • This has nothing whatsoever to do with camps, but did any fellow JA/Nikkei readers connect the ‘glinting glasses’ to the same motif often found in manga and anime? Lee is Korean and, I imagine, has some knowledge of Japanese drawing styles, so when I saw the first reference to the glasses of the man in the tower, I immediately wondered if Lee and/or Mochizuki was intentionally engaging in dialogue with Japanese art. I’ve personally always found the use of ‘glinting glasses’ by Japanese artists hilarious (fellow JA/Nikkei readers, ask me about my love of signature manga style quirks sometime), so I’d like to imagine the connection exists, but I might be totally wrong. I don’t even know if Mochizuki reads manga or watches anime!
  • Mochizuki is straightforward about the difficulties of reintegration for Japanese Americans after the camps closed. (If you read my post about Uchida’s The Bracelet, you’ll see I was critical of the omission in that case.) For any JA kids reading this book, I think this brief reference toward the end creates another space for conversations about our family histories, much like Mochizuki’s use of “Camp,” discussed above.

What I learned:

  • I vaguely knew sports were one of the pastimes Japanese Americans had access to in the camps, but this is the first book I’ve read dedicated solely to the topic. I don’t personally know any Japanese Americans who play baseball and I’m not sure if it continues to be a significant activity in the JA community. I think I’ll add ‘history of baseball in Japanese America’ to my TBR. I’d really like to know if it continued to be a source of community building after the war, or if it petered out as formerly incarcerated JAs went their separate ways.

Questions I had:

  • Per the points raised above, I’d also like to know what kind of role, if any, baseball played in the Japanese American community prior to the war. The MC in Baseball Saved Us tells us he played some sports before being incarcerated, but it sounds like he did so in predominantly white/non-Japanese spaces, like P.E. or after-school teams. I wonder if any JA/Nikkei teams existed before the war, and if so, how and why they formed.
  • Is there a connection between JAs playing baseball and the history of baseball in Japan? My knowledge of sports history is approximately zero, so I’m not even sure which came first – baseball in Japan or baseball in JA communities. I’ve been thinking a bit about Kibei Nisei because I’m currently also reading Eiichiro Azuma’s Between Two Empires,**** and I wonder if they played any kind of role in introducing/mediating aspects of US/white culture to Japan. To tangent on a tangent, I’d love to see Nikkei/Nihonjin collaborate on a manga about the experiences of Kibei Nisei in pre-war/wartime Japan. (I know, I know, too many roads lead to manga in my world.) Interactions between diaspora Japanese and Japanese nationals have always fascinated me, probably because they’re a formative part of my own experiences, and I wish there was more Japanese-produced popular media on the topic.
  • What was the creation process of this book? Lee & Low Books, the publisher, has been one of the more vocal parties on the industry side in terms of advocating for marginalized writers and respectful representation. What was it like for Mochizuki to work with them? Were any major changes made to the story before publication?
  • What kind of preparation did Mochizuki do before writing this story? I believe his family was incarcerated (or perhaps interned, if they were Issei) at Minidoka. Did he rely mostly on family history and anecdotes, or did he also interview other formerly incarcerated JAs and consult JA/Nikkei-produced nonfiction sources? I’m not challenging the veracity of the story at all – I just have a personal interest in knowing how fellow JAs/Nikkeijin go about creating and telling our stories.
  • Who was Mochizuki’s intended audience? I mean, kids, sure, but I wonder if he was writing specifically for JA/Nikkei kids, or for non-Japanese audiences, or both? I didn’t see much of what I would label ‘pandering to whiteness’ in the text, except for omission of the word “white,” and this could have as much to do with the age of the audience as with their racial/cultural backgrounds.

Follow-up:

  • Mochizuki has written at least two other picture books, which I plan to purchase and read as finances allow. I also really need to finish his novel, Beacon Hill Boys, which I read about a third of before getting distracted by other books.
  • I should probably start reading some adult-focused JA/Nikkei fiction about the camps. My reading block for long-form, English-language prose fiction hasn’t gone away yet, so I’ve been sticking to children’s books, graphic novels, and a bit of nonfiction, but hopefully one of these days I feel like picking up a novel again. I have so many novels by Nikkei writers, both historical and contemporary, on my TBR!

*Main character, for anyone unfamiliar with book community lingo.

**His nickname is “Shorty,” but as a fellow short person, I find this way of referring to someone extremely dehumanizing and I won’t be using it in reference to him.

***See my post on The Bracelet for some concerns I raised about Yardley’s artistic choices.

****Eventually I’ll have a post about this book, but first I have to finish it. The sheer amount of information packed into each page is kind of destroying my brain right now.

Book Spotlight: Yellow Peril – Jamie Noguchi

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

Yellow Peril is a comic drawn and written by Jamie Noguchi, and follows the adventures of nerdy designer Kane Takeshi Hongo and his misfit friends in work, life, and love.

What I liked:

  • I believe this is the first Nikkei-produced work I’ve come across starring a Nikkei (I assume Kane is Japanese American, but I need to revisit Noguchi’s commentary – included at the bottom of each strip in the webcomic version – to see if he ever confirms this) character in a contemporary US setting, with a focus on the day-to-day lives of young adults. Although the timeframe is slightly different from my own – Noguchi’s characters are probably about ten years older than I am because they reference things like the 80s – the representations of working life and complicated relationships (and how these things sometimes intertwine) felt completely relatable. In short, Yellow Peril is the perfect thing to read while sitting at my desk waiting for the day to be over.
  • The non-romantic relationships in this comic are so fun to follow. Family relationships are often the ones I find most compelling when reading, and while only Kane and Lance are (apparently) related by blood, I enjoy the various techniques Noguchi uses to portray his characters’ close bonds. Some of my favorites, apart from Kane and Lance, are Julie and Kane (the high school flashbacks are so cute), and Bodie and Kane (so many comics/anime references!).
  • Noguchi comments on numerous issues without making the comic an explicit social justice work. I actually enjoy work centered on activism, but I appreciate how Noguchi leaves the level of engagement open-ended for the reader – it would be relatively easy to glaze over the social commentary if one was so inclined, but it’s definitely there if you look for it.
  • The Pit Lords! I hope we see more of them as Noguchi continues the comic. iRate and Killer Queen are hilarious – and I really want to know what Doctor No looks like. Killer Queen is one of my favorite characters, even though we haven’t seen a whole lot of her. I often gravitate toward characters who are so skilled at something not only do they kick ass, but they can literally become a fearsome enemy because of their skill, as in her case. The whole part about what it means to “owe” Killer Queen was THE BEST.
  • Yellow Peril is set in Maryland – I’ve never read a Nikkei work set in Maryland. I wonder if there’s a substantial Nikkei community there. It sounds like the location is based on Noguchi’s own life experiences. I’d like to know if there are other Nikkei creators producing autobiographical or semi-autobiographical work about being Nikkei on the east coast.
  • The Apocalypse Belles! I’ve never heard of a metal band composed exclusively of Black women in real life – does anyone know if this is a thing? I wonder what Black readers – especially Black women – thought of the Apocalypse Belles, not to mention Noguchi’s portrayal of Jezzi. I really liked seeing Jezzi as Lance’s mentor and maternal/parental figure, as well as Lance admitting he should have been there for Jezzi much sooner than he actually showed up. To me, their relationship evokes some of the historic (and ongoing) patterns of interactions between Black and Asian American social justice activists – Asian Americans owe a great deal to Black people, especially Black women, for leading and shaping our engagements with social justice, and we haven’t always been great at showing up for Black people in return. I’m probably reading way too deeply into the subplot at this point, but in line with my interpretation, I appreciate how Lance owns his failure without saying or acting as if he can “undo” what he did. (In other words, you can apologize and commit to doing better next time, but none of that actually undoes the harm you caused in the first place.)
  • Asian men who feel like real people! Ok, this is not exactly “novel” to me because I read plenty of manga depicting believable men, but in light of recent US discussions about representations of Asian masculinity, I thought I’d point this out. One of my favorite things about Kane and Lance is their unapologetic love of video games (and comics and anime). At one point, Kane mentions Julie was the only other kid in school who liked giant robot anime, which brought back memories of how being an Asian who enjoys Asian things in a predominantly white classroom often results in ridicule and exclusion*, but in general the Asians in Yellow Peril own their love of Asian things and are accepted by the non-Asians around them. In other words, even though Kane’s interests could be read as a “stereotype,” this isn’t how he is presented and it isn’t how his peers treat him. Along the same lines, even though I find it weird how race is mostly not discussed in the comic (is Noguchi a proponent of “colorblind” practices?), I’m glad none of the men (and none of the characters, as far as I saw) are fetishized for their race/appearance. I do wonder about the motives of some of Lance’s audiences (do they like him because he’s Asian?)…but so far this hasn’t been addressed.

What I learned:

  • There are a lot of comics/anime references I don’t know! Haha, I already knew this, but I don’t usually read work so laden with references that not knowing them starts to impede my understanding of the content. Not that I missed anything vital – I don’t think – but I have a feeling I skipped over a few jokes because I didn’t know the context. For example, I didn’t realize all the characters on the train were comic/anime characters until I read Noguchi’s commentary about that panel. I still don’t know who all those characters are, but I imagine the panel is a lot funnier to someone who does know. Anyway, I hope some comics- and anime-loving Nikkei reader comes across Yellow Peril – I bet they’ll love it.

Questions I had:

  • What is Lance’s ethnicity? I believe we’re told his surname is Li, which is definitely not Japanese and sounds rather Chinese to me. I’d really like to know more about the familial connections between Lance and Kane. I’ve met a few Japanese/Chinese people and my cousin’s kids are Japanese/Chinese (in other words, it’s possible for Kane to be Japanese and to have a Chinese cousin – seems self-evident, but in my experience, outsiders get really confused about this), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “mainstream” Japanese/Chinese character. Also, if Noguchi himself isn’t Japanese/Chinese, I’d be interested in why he created a (potentially) Japanese/Chinese character.
  • Will the female characters be getting more fully developed storylines as the comic progresses? Up to this point, Ally has gotten significantly more panel space than the other women and while I do find her an entertaining character, it’d be nice to see a WOC receive the same amount of attention. (Side note: I feel ok discussing this comic in the context of US conversations on gender because Noguchi seems much more in dialogue with US social values than, say, Japanese ones.)
  • Why did Noguchi make Ally, the (initial) love interest, a white woman? I’m not sure this was a conscious choice – in the same way many POC writers start out writing white characters without really realizing they’re doing it – but if so, why? Sure, white women are marginalized relative to white men in US society, but I’ve never been a fan of “POC has white love interest” storylines because I feel too many of them cater to white audiences, much like the symbolic “biracial” MC. I’m not saying Noguchi made Ally white in order to attract white readers, but it’s definitely something I always wonder when a POC creator chooses to include a prominent white character in a mostly-POC cast. For that matter, it would have been interesting if Noguchi had made Ally, say, half-Japanese and half-white. From what I’ve heard, JAs have high rates of interracial marriage, so mixed race Nikkeijin definitely have a place in contemporary and future Nikkei narratives. I do like where Kane’s relationship with Tara seems to be headed…
  • On the flip side of my previous point, it’s true a fair number of JAs marry white people, so I suppose Noguchi might have made Ally white to reflect reality. I suspect it’s outside the scope of this work to examine how interracial marriages with white people relate to the role of assimilation in JA history, but I would love it if Noguchi addressed this later in the comic, especially if Kane and Ally actually end up together at some point.
  • What was the purpose of the cooking competition subplot? It felt like an attempt to give Julie more on-page time, but I didn’t think it added much to the overall narrative. I do like the idea of dueling with kitchenware – in fact, Noguchi seems to have many quirky ideas which he drops in at intervals and I admire his creativity.
  • What is Kane’s relationship to his heritage? I’m not sure if he’s bilingual or if he just knows a few words of Japanese, but from what I recall of Noguchi’s commentary, we really aren’t told much about Kane’s connections to Japan outside of his interest in anime. This isn’t a criticism – I have met JAs who are far removed from Japan either because of a generational gap or for other reasons – I’m just curious about how Kane came to be as a character and if there will be any in-depth discussion of his heritage in later parts of the comic.
  • On a related note, do non-Japanese people often get Kane’s name wrong? I know many fellow Nikkeijin (and Asian Americans with Asian names in general) have encountered this problem in real life, but I didn’t notice it ever being mentioned in the comic.
  • Ally’s growing relationship with Annie gets a lot of page time – unsurprising, since Ally is one of the main characters – but I couldn’t help notice Killer Queen’s having a girlfriend was very much glossed over by comparison and seemed mostly to serve as comic relief in the story of how Kane can’t successfully land a date. This is another reason I hope we see more of Killer Queen as the comic progresses – white women aren’t the only women who get to date women.

Follow-up:

  • I’ve read the webcomic in its entirety and hope Noguchi keeps updating because I’m now very invested in some of the characters. I ordered volume 1 of the physical copy for an easier reread in preparation for this post, and I plan to order the other volumes soon.
  • I was skimming Noguchi’s website while writing this post and saw a passing reference to Stan Sakai, which reminds me – Sakai has been on my TBR forever, so I should probably get reading soon! I wonder if there’s a “secret” group of Nikkei creators where they talk shit about industry problems, etc. I say “secret” because I haven’t found many Nikkei creators in online activist spaces like Twitter, but I find it hard to believe nobody is saying anything. Since most of the Nikkei creators I know of are older, I imagine they communicate via other means. I wonder if there’s a non-physical space where Nikkei creators of varying ages and backgrounds can exchange ideas.

*Thanks to Soojin (@skimlines) for frequently discussing this topic on Twitter. I hadn’t thought much about how to articulate my off-and-on relationship with certain aspects of Japanese culture growing up until I read her tweets about Asians being marginalized simply for trying to enjoy our own things on our own terms.

Book Spotlight: The Bracelet – Yoshiko Uchida

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

The Bracelet follows the story of Emi, a Japanese American second-grader who is sent to a concentration camp with her mother and sister.

What I liked:

  • Uchida is (was) one of the best-known Nikkei authors writing about JA incarceration, but before coming across The Bracelet I thought she had only written middle-grade historical fiction. It’s nice to see she also produced work for younger readers.
  • Joanna Yardley’s artist note at the beginning of the book states she used a Japanese American model, presumably for her depictions of Emi. My initial impression of the cover illustration was, ‘wow, this girl actually looks Japanese,’ so it’s great to hear the artist put in the work of finding a model. Sometimes, I see white artists creating very white-looking Asians and other POC – I’m glad that wasn’t the case with Yardley.
  • Uchida’s narrative style reminds me of Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower – clear, honest, and concise. The reader is not spared Emi’s distress and confusion at being incarcerated, nor the harsh conditions of the Tanforan Racetrack. As Kadohata does with Sumiko in Weedflower, Uchida filters the information provided to the reader via the lens of Emi’s youth. I did find the ending a little too tidy – Emi’s faith in her friend Laurie was hard to view as realistic, given the difficulties Japanese Americans faced reintegrating into society after their release. I can see why Uchida and/or her editor might want to close on a hopeful note – the target audience is children, after all – but when I compare this ending to Allen Say’s books where he depicts his experiences with racism head-on, I don’t think it would be too “adult” to imply Emi’s postwar future might hold obstacles. Kadohata also doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of post-camp life in Weedflower.
  • Yardley’s illustrations are vividly colorful. Aesthetically, I found them wonderful. In light of the book’s subject matter, not so much. Color often sets the mood of a picture book and in this case, the brightness of Yardley’s palette is difficult to read as anything but happy and joyful. It’s difficult to reconcile these subliminal (or overt, depending on your interpretation) messages with the serious content being presented. If Yardley’s intent was to convey the strength and hope of Japanese Americans in the face of racism and incarceration – well, I still think it could have been done with a subtler palette. One illustration, probably my least favorite in the book, depicts the buses carrying Emi and other JAs to Tanforan as they cross the Bay Bridge. The scene is sunny, the colors warm and vibrant. Take this illustration and plunk it into a picture book about some kids going on a field trip and it wouldn’t look out of place at all. Although some JAs who went to camp at a very young age recollect not knowing what was going on and thinking they were on a field trip, in The Bracelet we already know from the previous scenes that Emi is very aware this is not a field trip. Who, then, are the colors for? Why the false optimism? On whose behalf, exactly, is the narrative being softened?

What I learned:

  • Emi and her family live in Berkeley before their forced removal. I don’t know the history of Berkeley, but now I wonder if there was a significant JA community there before the war. It’s not a location I’ve seen mentioned in discussions of historic JA communities, so I’ll have to do a bit of digging.

Questions I had:

  • Words like “incarceration” and “concentration camp” are never used in the book – instead, we have “internment,” “relocation,” and “evacuation.” Did Uchida use this terminology in her original draft, or was it an editorial decision? This terminology also appears in Uchida’s afterword. I’ll have to take a look at her other books to see which words she uses there. I’m always curious about the word choices Nikkeijin make when discussing the camps. I personally favor the more straightforward “incarceration,” but given the emotional history of the era, as well as the subsequent pressures (internal and external) to conform to “model minority” standards, I can see why other Nikkeijin might lean toward the softer terminology (or prefer not to discuss their experiences at all).
  • Who was Uchida’s intended audience? Although the history of incarceration continues to be a sensitive topic in the JA community, I think most Japanese American children reading this book would already know the aftermath of incarceration doesn’t match the tone of the book’s ending. Additionally, Uchida’s portrayal of white characters like Laurie and Mrs. Simpson seems to let white Americans completely off the hook regarding incarceration. Yes, there were white people who looked after their Japanese neighbors’ properties and belongings during the incarceration, but there were also plenty of white people who supported incarceration and openly expressed anti-Japanese sentiments. None of the latter type of white people are shown in the book, which to me is a dishonest omission. (It should also be noted, white people who did/said nothing about incarceration were complicit in anti-Japanese racism. There is no ‘neutral.’) Children shouldn’t be shielded from racism – instead, authors and other media creators should be finding ways to present race and other complicated topics in ways children will understand.

Follow-up:

  • I have a bunch of Uchida’s other books sitting in my TBR pile, so I will be reading those for comparison, hopefully in the near future. I want to say I also have a biography or autobiography of Uchida on my list somewhere, but I might just be making that up.*

*If no such book exists yet, I would love to see a Nikkei writer tackle this project!

Book Spotlight: When Blossoms Fall – Masako Fukui

To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.

When Blossoms Fall is a novella chronicling the lives of kamikaze pilot Hajime, his wife, Michiko, and his daughter, Yuri, after they relocate to Australia in the postwar era.

What I liked:

  • I think this might be the first fiction piece I’ve read about 神風特別攻撃隊 – certainly the first I’ve read highlighting postwar memory and family experiences. I know very little about this era of Japanese history, but as far as introductions go, When Blossoms Fall definitely motivated me to read up. Several of the works by Japanese scholars on my TBR focus on wartime and postwar Japan, so I might give this novella a second read after I have a broader understanding of the historical context.
  • The alternating POVs – Hajime, Michiko, and Yuri – are integral to the overall shape and flow of the narrative. It seemed to me the differences in the three characters’ perspectives functioned partly to counter any external presumptions of a monolithic, fanatic Japanese nationalism during this period. To be sure, I’m a US-based Nikkei reader commenting on the fictionalized experiences of Australia-based Nikkeijin/Nihonjin, but I remember my white classmates yelling, “COMMA-CAUSE-E” when running into the opposing team’s zone during our P.E. sessions of Capture the Flag.* I had to ask my white friend what she was yelling because it was unintelligible by Japanese pronunciation standards. These incidents no doubt stemmed from the negligent coverage of Japanese wartime experiences in our textbooks, which for many of my white classmates were likely their only exposure to non-US/European aspects of the war. All that to say, I’m so glad Fukui’s novella complicates this portrait of Japanese people during/after the war.
  • FUKUI IS A BILINGUAL NIKKEI WRITER!! (Yes, I’ll probably react this way for every bilingual Nikkei writer whose work I feature on here.) I’ve stated in other places on this blog, as well as on Twitter, why I think Nihonjin/Nikkeijin need to retain ownership over our stories, and I deeply appreciate Fukui telling this story. It means so much to see a bilingual Nikkei writer depicting bilingual Nikkei experiences.**
  • In dialogue with my previous point, the macro- and microaggressions (and experiences of assimilation) are spot-on. Hajime’s transformation into “Jim” thanks to Don, Ally’s white-lensed portrayal of Japanese culture being prioritized over Yuri’s #ownvoices perspective – I’ve experienced variations of both of these and reading these scenes I thought, YES THIS IS IT SHE GETS IT.
  • Fukui also doesn’t gloss over Yuri’s difficulty fitting into school when the family returns to Japan for the first time since moving to Australia. I always love to see Nikkei writers tackling the ever-present question, “what does it mean to be Japanese?” with regard to our experiences.
  • Manga, Japanese feminism, and memory – three topics which particularly interest me – play significant roles in the story. I haven’t done much nonfiction reading on any of them, though, so it was also a good reminder to revisit my TBR. One of my favorite aspects of the story is how Fukui intertwines these topics – Yuri’s use of drawing as a way of reconstructing/recollecting/reshaping her memories and Tokugawa’s nationalistic war manga are a few notable examples.
  • There are two female narrators – Michiko and Yuri, compared to one male narrator, Hajime, but overall there are more male characters. I wonder if this is Fukui’s acknowledgment of the gender imbalances/prejudices of Japanese society. Interestingly, while Hajime’s POV shifts between second- and third-person throughout the story, Michiko’s and Yuri’s POVs remain in third-person until the very end, when Yuri’s POV shifts into first-person. Perhaps this is a nod to the changing generation – Hajime has passed and it is Yuri’s turn to be the “head” of the family – and makes me wonder if generation terminology is as important to Australia-based Nikkeijin as it sometimes is to US-based Nikkeijin. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard non-US-based Nikkeijin utilize terms like Issei, Nisei, Sansei, etc.
  • Michiko reminds me of many of the Japanese mothers I’ve met – those meticulously crafted dishes! I could see non-Japanese readers perceiving her as too compliant, too quiet, but it makes perfect sense in the context of Japanese maternal values. She also embodies the spirit of hardworking immigrant parents who sacrifice on behalf of their children, which I think many fellow Nikkeijin and other diaspora folks will find familiar. Fukui even makes a point of telling us, through Hajime’s eyes I believe, how Michiko cleaves to custom on the surface but grooms Yuri for a different path.
  • Hajime! I really liked Hajime (“Majime Hajime” lol). Fukui gives him many of the “quintessential” traits of Japanese men, which is interesting – and I imagine, deliberate – in light of his rather unusual relationship to the war. Even though he isn’t the most straightforward person, the straightforward narrative presentation of his personality and motives make him interesting rather than unlikeable. On a personal side note, I’ve also been reading several manga featuring 斎藤一 of 新選組 fame, so it was funny to read about such a different character with the same (given) name.
  • “When Blossoms Fall” is such a visual title. I’m a very visual reader (hence all the manga) and as I was reading, I was thinking about the ways in which I’ve seen falling blossoms utilized as a motif in Japanese media. Two examples that stood out were the song, 千本桜, and the parts in 風光る where connections are drawn between warriors and sakura. These comparisons, along with the role of sakura – and other flowers – in Japanese culture/nationalism, made me wonder just how many layers of symbolism Fukui intended when she chose the title. Flowers appear in various parts of the novella, too, but this isn’t really unusual in context and I’m not sure if they were integrated for symbolic effect or simply to help set the scene (or both). I’m also not entirely convinced the title isn’t drawn from a real-life inspiration, but I don’t have the background knowledge yet to confirm this.
  • It’s kind of mind-blowing to read a war-related Nikkei story where JA incarceration doesn’t play a role. Now I’m quite curious about the history of Nikkei communities in Australia – when did the first Japanese people arrive? How were they affected by the war?
  • I briefly addressed this point above, but Fukui humanizes her characters without letting the story become a literary apology for or rosy-hued portrait of Japanese imperialism. None of them are let off the hook – Fukui makes it clear they each proceed through life imperfectly – but she also makes clear they weren’t all Tokugawa Kens.*** I especially enjoy Fukui’s attention to the effects of generation on shaping perspectives of the war (very relevant for those of us familiar with JA incarceration) and her diverse representations of Nikkei experiences. It might be I’m spending too much time on Twitter lately, but I often feel discussions of the Asian diaspora, particularly Asian Americans, fall into “us versus them” models without accounting for nuances on both sides. In other words, even though we as Nikkeijin may share many experiences and in some cases histories, we aren’t monolithic – and the same goes for Nihonjin.

What I learned:

  • I think the other parts of this post make abundantly clear what I learned – which mostly consists of realizing how much I don’t know yet – so I won’t write anything else here.

Questions I had:

  • Before reading the novella, I knew there were pilots who never flew their missions, but I hadn’t thought much about what happened to them after the war. I wonder how many of them left Japan (whether because they were relocated for work, like Hajime, or for other reasons) and what their destinations were, apart from Australia. I wonder especially if any of them made it to the US, considering JA incarceration and anti-Japanese sentiment were fresh in the minds of the US population. Clearly, I have a lot of reading ahead of me!
  • I’m not sure what the rights situation is with this novella, but I would love to see it reissued one day in a standalone volume, a la Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. If it does get reissued, it would be awesome to see some accompanying illustrations by a Japanese artist. There are many moments I feel could be beautifully captured in a spare, black-and-white sketch – or possibly quiet watercolors or 墨絵, especially the final scene and the part about Michiko’s persimmons.
  • Is Fukui planning to write another novella or a novel? I would love to see a novel about this topic, whether it expands on the existing novella or employs a whole new cast. Along similar lines, does Fukui plan to write a Japanese version of the novella? From the bio page on her website, it appears she has the linguistic qualifications to do so. It would be so interesting to see how the characters’ voices change when rendered in Japanese!
  • How did Fukui come to write this story? Did she have an intended audience in mind? I think my fellow Nikkeijin will find much to relate to in this work, but perhaps we weren’t the audience Fukui envisioned. I could also see it being of interest to Nihonjin, though I’m not sure how many would read it if there is no Japanese version.
  • Is the Tokugawa/Ms M controversy based on a true event? I couldn’t help but wonder about Fukui’s choice in naming Tokugawa, considering the logical historical association and the trajectory Tokugawa himself follows over the course of the story. Maybe I’ve been reading too many 幕末 and 新選組 manga!
  • What is the Australian Nikkei community like? I’ve met a few Australia-based Nikkeijin on Twitter, but none in real life. I wonder if there’s a novel or novella or short story out there, by an Australia-based Nikkei writer, about Australian Nikkei interactions with POC/indigenous communities in Australia. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve seen a US-based Nikkei writer center a work on interactions between US Nikkeijin and other POC/indigenous communities in the US (with the exception of scholarship on the connections between Asian American civil rights movements and Black civil rights movements, i.e. Yuri Kochiyama and Malcolm X)…but maybe I need to look harder…
  • This novella made me think about a lot of different things, but as I’m writing this super long post, I also wonder if all my assumptions about the text are off the mark. After all, I did read from a very specific and personal perspective, which is no doubt very different from the lens Fukui brought to bear when writing the novella. It would be interesting to hear how my reflections compare with Fukui’s thoughts, but I doubt she’ll ever read this!

Follow-up:

  • Reading this novella exposed so many knowledge gaps for me! I’m super motivated to add to my shelf of nonfiction books on Japan, though it’ll take some time (and money).
  • I’ll be keeping an eye out for Fukui’s future work!

There’s a lot more I could say about When Blossoms Fall and I’m sure my post has some glaring omissions which I’ll notice right after publishing it, but I’ll wrap up here for the sake of word count. I’d love to know if any Nikkei writers or scholars, particularly anyone specializing in wartime or postwar Japan (or Australia-based Nikkei), have looked at this novella – fellow Nikkeijin, if you come across anything, please let me know!

*I don’t suppose this sentence will make sense to anyone who grew up outside the US education system, and maybe not even to some of my fellow US-based Nikkeijin!

**Come to think of it, I’m not sure how Hajime, Michiko, and Yuri self-identify by the end of the story, since they do move back and forth between Japan and Australia. I don’t mean the label itself is particularly important, but I wonder if the characters themselves feel more affinity with Nihonjin or with Nikkeijin – or maybe both. A friend of mine who lived in Japan and Okinawa until high school recently told me he “now” identifies as Japanese American, making me wonder if Hajime, Michiko, and Yuri also experience shifting understandings of their selves over time.

***I know Fukui writes him into the text as Ken Tokugawa, but his nationalistic inclinations make him very much Tokugawa Ken in my mind. I wonder if any Nikkei writers have tackled the connections between Nikkei/Nihonjin status and name order – and code-switching, and…yup, that’ll have to be a separate post.