This meticulously researched book by Pamela Rotner Sakomoto is a compelling story of a Japanese-American family finding themselves on opposite sides during World War II. The book opens with scenes from one of America’s darkest days, December 7, 1941, following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Harry Fukuhara, twenty-one years old and living in Los Angeles, finds it hard to comprehend the news. Meanwhile his seventeen year-old brother, thousands of miles away in Japan, had just boarded a train for a school track meet when he heard someone speak of “our victorious assault on Hawaii”. Little did these two brothers realize they would eventually serve on opposite sides.
Katsuji and Kinu Fukuhara, Japanese immigrants to America (he in 1900 and she in 1911 after marrying Katsuji sight-unseen – a picture bride), had five children – four sons and one daughter. The oldest two children, Victor and Mary, were sent back to Japan at an early age to avoid discrimination and, ostensibly, to immerse them in the Japanese culture. They both returned in 1929. However, their three younger children – Harry, Pierce and Frank – were all born and raised in the Pacific Northwest where Katsuji worked hard to provide for his family, despite often being shunned because of his ethnicity.
The Depression years were difficult and when Katsuji died Kinu decided to return to Japan, taking all her children back to her ancestral home of Hiroshima. Harry, however, vowed from the start to someday return to America – he was, after all, an American by birth and proudly so.
First Mary and then Harry returned to America, determined to go back and make their own way. Harry worked hard, attended school, trying to make ends meet. Then, Pearl Harbor happened. Mary had married (later separated and divorced) and had a young daughter.
Harry and Mary were among the hundreds of Japanese transported away from the West Coast to internment camps. Even though many Japanese Americans – nisei they were called with Japanese parents and American citizenship – were forced to leave military service after Pearl Harbor, a unique opportunity opened up for Harry to join a special task force which would be assisting the war effort as front-line interpreters in the Pacific theater.
While Harry expected his brothers would likely be conscripted to serve with the Japanese military, he nevertheless worked diligently to support the American war effort, rising from a private to a full colonel and later a diplomat. His immediate family in Japan, of course, suffered when Hiroshima was attacked on August 6, 1945.
The book alternates between the American and Japanese sides of the family. More than just biographical in nature it’s a well-written history of the challenges faced by the Japanese before, during and after World War II. Each member of the Fukuhara family faced his or her own challenges and Ms. Sakomoto does a splendid job of tying it all together and writing a compelling narrative.
It’s a unique glimpse into the American-Japanese conflict seen through the eyes of the Fukuhara family. Anyone interested in knowing more about the plight of Japanese immigrants during World War II would find this a great read. Highly recommended.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!