ALAN v25n3 - Japanese and Japanese American Youth in Literature
Japanese and Japanese American Youth in Literature
Connie S. Zitlow and Lois Stover
Although Asians Americans, including those of Japanese heritage, have lived in the United States for over 150 years, too little about their experiences, their history, the country of their heritage, and their literature is reflected in the curriculum of the public schools. Given the existence of many educational, commercial, and cultural alliances between Japan and the United States, it is vital that the knowledge students acquire, both about Japan as a country and about Americans of Japanese heritage, is accurate, current, and moves beyond isolated facts. While some teachers might use social studies textbooks and view informational books as appropriate classroom materials useful for independent research, many do not also consider using the many fine works of literature that include interesting and accurate information about Japan and Japanese Americans in achieving objectives related to the history and culture of these people so important to the heritage of the United States.
This article includes selections of outstanding literary works in which aspects of Japanese life are embedded in the narrative, an example of how literature and writing can be used as the basis for a history unit focusing on Japanese Americans, a summary of curricular and literary issues to consider, and an annotated bibliography of literary works appropriate for use in secondary classrooms.
Japan in Literature
Sometimes looking at social and cultural expectations about everyday life is an interesting way to begin learning about a country and its people. As the following excerpt shows, the perspective of a person telling a story or writing a memoir brings to light aspects of life in one country as contrasted with daily life in another:
The man picks up the big silver stamp and readjusts the dates, rolling forward the days. I watch him as he stamps my pass: 5/25/90 . He pushes the stamped pass toward me without speaking or even smiling. As I nod and turn to go, I realize how different this transaction has been from what I am used to: The man said nothing to me except what strictly pertained to the business at hand; he didn't ask me what I was doing in Japan. He made no small talk . For once, I miss what I am mildly irritated by in the American Midwest . Here a person could be isolated in polite silence for days. (Mori, 1995, p. 40)
At age 33 after being away for 13 years, Kyoko Mori returned to Japan where she was born. During May 1990 she traveled around the country on a personal journey of discovery that was also an exploration of cultural differences between Japan and Wisconsin, where she is currently an associate professor of English and Creative Writing. One thing she discovered as a result of her trip was how her expectations about the nature of human interactions had changed. The autobiographical account of her journey, The Dream of Water (1995), and her fictional works Shizuko's Daughter (1993) and One Bird (1995) are examples of fine literature that help readers empathetically comprehend the emotional lives of the modern Japanese. (Cart, 1996, p. 133)
Although Mori has said she thinks being an outsider is a universal theme of young adult life and literature, her literary works are intensely personal accounts of her own experiences as an "outsider." As such they show how literature can help us understand mind-sets, customs, and expectations of a group of people in a way textbooks and other nonfiction books cannot. With her fine writing she takes readers into her world and shows them her own view of it. The opportunity and ability to see how others experience life is especially important for young adults who are in the process of becoming independent participants in a world much larger than their own school and community.
For example, in The Dream of Water Kyoko Mori writes about a visit with her cousin Kazumi. She wonders how she can tell Kazumi about her job or about her writing. Her life in the States is something her cousin cannot imagine:
But how can this be when all of my present life actually stems from the one she and I once started? How can I not tell her about my writing when she remembers the very things that motivate itmy mother's love of beauty I want to find a way to tell her what is important to me now, but I don't know how. (p. 142)
Mori felt like an outsider in both the Midwest and in her remembered landscape of Japan. With her writing, she brings them together to create her own landscape and finds a balance between belonging and not belonging. This tension is one that most young adults, trying to determine a place for themselves in a sometimes alien adult world, have experienced. With her powerful works, as with all fine literature, readers can find out about others and learn about themselves as well a vital part of education for all young people. In the case of The Dream of Water , readers see an example of how one young woman deals with these tensions, and they see what could be an option for their own lives that they might not have recognized prior to the reading experience. At the very least, young adults who read The Dream of Water will recognize that they are not alone in their quest to understand others and to explain themselves to those about whom they care.
At the same time, books can inspire further study and offer pictures of worlds not previously known or understood, a point Mary Bernson makes in her article "Stories are Not Frills," which is a discussion of the use of children's books about Asia in the elementary classroom. Reading literature, which offers the closest approach to living through the actual experiences of life, is the way to come to know something about a country and its people whether they remain in that country or move to another.
There are many books appropriate for classroom use in which the protagonists are Japanese or Americans whose heritage is Japanese. This body of literature offers a medium through which to explore whether the experiences of the youth in Japan are different from those of the Japanese immigrant, or of the Japanese American youth, or of young people anywhere. In many of the books, such as those by Mori, Japanese American authors write to discover for themselves more about the country of their heritage, to learn about their own past and present lives, and to learn about the lives of others in Japan and America. They do not, however, write to be representative of all Japanese or Japanese Americans or all Asian Americans. Their fiction is not written with a predefined purpose to teach others; yet readers do learn as they are involved in reading, which is an act of co-creating a literary work of art.
There are questions young people all over the world ask: "Who am I?" or "What is the meaning of life?" or "What is my place in the word?" Novels set in other countries point out similarities of young people's questions and concerns and the issues facing young people of many cultures as they move out of childhood into an adult world. They also show the unique role one's cultural heritage plays in making decisions. As readers compare and contrast the experiences, feelings, and reactions to events of the young protagonists in the fiction, they can imaginatively enter another world, a world that may be very different from their own, yet have some surprising similarities. In addition, when readers discuss their interpretations with others and expand their initial response, they come to know something about other people and places. Mori's works are fine examples of books that offer such an opportunity.
Shizuko's Daughter, Kyoko Mori's first novel, is set in modern Japan, primarily in Kobe. The story focuses on a teenage girl's struggle to deal with the loss of her mother, who committed suicide, and with her father's emotional distance. The book is full of haunting, moving images, and colors that are like mental snapshots conveying the many ways the main character, Yuki, feels like an outsider. The language at the end of each chapter is particularly poetic and striking. Because of Mori's skill as an author, she takes readers inside the hearts and minds of nonwestern people. In the process of entering Yuki's frame of reference, the reader learns about the Japanese rituals Yuki observes, particularly with her grandparents; about the Japanese attitude toward nature in beautiful scenes where Yuki's grandparents tend their gardens; about the way the land reform after World War II changed their lives; and about Yuki's awareness that she must abide by her father's wishes no matter how difficult they are. In addition to notes about the setting included at the end of the novel, Mori provides brief explanations about objects familiar to the Japanese, such as tempura, futons, pottery villages, and haori jackets. Yuki also remembers Japanese folktales her mother would tell, and through the narrative in her books, she refers to cultural expectations and beliefs: in Japan one does not smile at or talk to total strangers; in conversation formality, not emotions, governs encounters with people; only women hug each other; and there is an established custom about initially declining food offered by others. When Mori returned to Japan, she honored the tradition of seeing her father first when she was in his village, a custom she says that is changing, and she refers to the difficulty of growing up in a culture that she says does not value the intelligence of women.
The protagonist in Mori's novel One Bird , Megumi, is 15 years old when her mother leaves to return to her own home in a small village north of Kyoto. Life for Megumi's mother had become too difficult with Megumi's father, who is often in Hiroshima with his girlfriend. Neither Megumi's father nor his cranky mother seem to care for Megumi, but she knows why she must stay with them and obey them. If they disown her, she would have to live with her maternal grandfather and mother. Because they are poor, she would be a burden to them, and they would blame themselves for not being able to give her everything her father can provide. Megumi knows the difference between her life and education and that of the young people in her grandfather's village. Megumi, however, is very lonely. As she helps a woman veterinarian heal wild birds, Megumi learns how she can become more than a lone bird who barely endures. She also discovers her talent as a writer and comes to understand why her mother had to leave.
Both Shizuko's Daughter and One Bird, named American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, are well-told coming-of-age stories that are filled with the images of Japan. It is interesting to note that many events and places in the fictional works , Shizuko's Daughter and One Bird, are also in Mori's memoir Dream of Water . Individually or together the books can be used for literary study and appreciation while simultaneously acquainting readers with knowledge about Japan. The works invite discussion about Japanese customs that are similar to those in other cultures and traditions that are currently changing.
Mori's books would work well paired with another book about an independent, determined youth, Allen Say, whose autobiographical novel
The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice was originally published in 1979 and reissued in 1994. The book is set in Tokyo, where Say served as an apprentice to the great teacher and famous cartoonist, Noro Shingei. While learning that drawing is discovering, Say also has many adventures, including seeing riots with his fellow apprentice and attending classes with his karate teacher. Say, an author and illustrator of many highly acclaimed picture books, won the Caldecott Medal for Grandfather's Journey (1993). This book is an example of how a beautifully told story in picture book format can be used with students of any age. In words and scenes, it shows how a person born in Japan who comes to the United States can love both countries. Embedded in Say's work, as in those of Mori, are cultural contrasts conveyed by authors who lived in Japan until they came to the United States as teens. There is also a fine body of historical fiction in which the main characters are young Japanese Americans born in the United States. As a citizen of the United States, they must reconcile the cultural differences of their new country as they live with expectations of their Japanese parents and grandparents and learn about the country of their heritage as one who has not lived there.
Historical Fiction for Young Adults
Graham Salisbury's recent book of historical fiction, Under the Blood-Red Sun , is set on Oahu, Hawaii, in the time just prior to and immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This book offers the perspective of one who is not Japanese American but who is the descendent of some of the first missionaries in Hawaii and "grew up with kids of all kinds of races . . . including Japanese. We were all these strange but beautiful hybrids, swirling around in a stew of cultural interminglings. But we all shared a common voice . . . and point of view" (Benton, p. 8). Before writing the book, Salisbury did a great deal of research and had a Japanese woman help with the accuracy of his cultural facts so readers can trust his narrator's point of view.
Although the story is primarily about friendship, loyalty, courage, and adolescent boys dealing with a life-changing situation, readers see Tomi's view of what it means to be Japanese. His mother had come to Hawaii from Japan as a picture bride; his Grampa proudly waves his Japanese flag; and his father, Papa, is always worried about losing face. When the bully Keet hurts Papa's birds, Tomi knows he must not bring shame to the Nakaji name by fighting back. He always hears Papa's words, " Don't disgrace us " (Salisbury, p. 7). "We are Americans, it is true . . . but inside we are also Japanese" (p. 14). He knows Grampa feels Papa should beat him into "a boy of suitable devotion" (p. 6). Tomi feels the old way was fair and honorable, which was good, but so inflexible. Life for Tomi and his family changes dramatically after he and his friend Billy see the swarm of amber planes circling Pearl Harbor, planes with blood-red suns, the symbol of Japan, on the fuselage and wings. Tomi wonders how can his mother and grandfather say " Shikata ga nai It can't be helped" (p. 171) when his father the fisherman is taken prisoner because people do not draw the distinction between those of Japanese ancestry who are citizens of the United States and those who are part of the imperial Japanese military.
There are many American authors of Japanese heritage whose stories contain similar responses to their own family's internment, responses with various translations but similar meaning: It cannot be helped. We must make the best of it. It is the only way.
Learning about Japan includes learning about the history of the people of Japanese heritage who became Americans. Autobiographies and works of historical fiction can be compared and contrasted with nonfiction works, even those such as Ronald Takaki's works Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (1989), a powerful work geared for an older audience that blends narrative history, personal recollections, and oral testimony; and his 1993 work A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's The Japanese American Family Album is a description of life in Japan that led to the first immigration to Hawaii in the late 1800s and continues through to the life of Japanese Americans in the present day. The historical events are accompanied by photographs and personal accounts, including some written by authors of literature for children and young adults such as Yoshiko Uchida and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.
How does looking at the history of the Japanese Americans help one learn about Japan? In the early 1900s the Issei (first generation immigrants) family resembled its counterpart in Japan, and clubs in America kept alive the traditions of the old country. The family was the center of life for Japanese Americans. The father, firmly entrenched as the head of the family, demanded and expected steadfast discipline. His primary concern was to maintain family unity, which he did by emphasizing traditional patterns: respect and unquestioned obedience. The good order of the household was the responsibility of the mother. Schools were founded where the Nisei (second generation) learned Japanese customs and language.
It may be interesting for students to explore the historical basis of the distinctive features of Japanese society that occur in different works of literature such as the culture's preference for suggestion rather than direct statement. The respect for authority, devotion to duty, and family loyalty, for example, stem from Confucian ideals that have been a part of Japanese society from the seventh century. Other elements, including the deep appreciation for nature and the preference for simplicity, originated from the indigenous Japanese religion, Shinto. There are questions to explore and discuss as students learn more about Japan through various works of literature: Is there a difference between contemporary Japan and what Japanese Americans recall as the customs and traditions of Japan? What similarities and differences are there for the young people who grow up in Japan but later become U. S. citizens and those of Japanese ancestry born in the United States?
In the Classroom: Growing Up as a Japanese American
One aspect of learning about Japan is looking at the long history of the people of Japanese heritage in America. What follows is a suggested approach to the topic of "Growing up as a Japanese American" as taught in a unit divided into four sections: 1) The 1880s, 2) Early 1900s, 3) The "Twoness," and 4) "The Military Necessity." Each begins with questions addressed to students for their initial free writing to help them find out what they do or do not know and to encourage them to hypothesize potential situations and reactions. We know from studies of reader response to texts that readers who are able to make personal connections with the characters and their situations as a starting point will then be more open to learning from those characters. These readers will also be more able to move into critical and interpretive discussions about how an author creates a specific response and how the craftsmanship of a particular piece affects reaction to it. Therefore, starting each segment of the unit with opportunities for students to think about the related issues in a personal way should set the stage for future learning about the historical, cultural, and artistic aspects of the texts to be read. Discussion and exploration of related works of literature that illustrate the concept would follow the initial writing.
The 1800s . Free Write Question: You are either a young man who is the second son of a landowner in Japan in 1880, or you are a young woman who has been promised in marriage to a second son of a landowner in Japan in 1880. Describe your future. What can you hope for? Where will you be living in ten years? What will your life be like?
Concept to explore in literature and discussion: The lack of a future in Japan. Thousands of Japanese emigrated when the future in Japan seemed bleak for the financially distressed, but not desperately poor, farmers. Their goal was to work hard in order to return home in glory after three years and use their savings to buy land or regain land lost to debtors. This identity, that of a sojourner who hoped to make money and return to Japan, contributed to anti-Japanese feelings. Yet because of Japan's system of compulsory education, migrants were comparatively well-educated and had a higher literacy rate than their European counterparts. Having been screened to ensure that as healthy and literate individuals they would maintain Japan's honor, they viewed themselves as representatives of their homeland. The Japanese system of inheritance affected who emigrated: the first son stayed in Japan, the second would go abroad. Whether a Japanese woman went to America was determined by which one she married.
Examples of literature in which authors have written about the history of their own families who emigrated from Japan to America include Samurai of Gold Hill by Yoshiko Uchida; and parts of Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei by David Mura.
Early 1900s . Question: Your family is from Japan, but you have lived in the United States for years. But, in 1913, legal ownership of property is prohibited "to aliens ineligible for citizenship." Then, in 1924, the "National Origins Act" prohibits further immigration to the U.S. from Japan. How will you and your community react to these changing circumstances?
Concept: Communal identity/solidarity. In the early 1900s, many Japanese immigrants had become farmers or owners of small businesses whose success reflected ethnic solidarity. The principle of group cooperation, embedded in Japanese culture, led to organized cooperatives that made them appear clannish. They were denied acceptance in the larger community, but many felt they could not go back to Japan when America was the home of their children. They also had to use their American-born children's names when it became unlawful for Japanese immigrants to own property. Racial discrimination was manifested in many ways: signs reading "No More Japs Wanted Here," Japanese were spit upon, rocks were thrown at them, their businesses were vandalized and their barns burned. Such details are a part of some stories in Growing up Asian American: An Anthology edited by Maria Hong.
If men had a lease on land, they could send for a "picture bride." Before 1921 when the "Ladies Agreement" terminated the emigration of picture brides, 20,000 picture brides had arrived. After 1924, however, even if they were U.S. citizens, men could no longer bring Asian wives into the country. Yoshiko Uchida in her book Picture Bride tells the story about a picture bride and her life in America.
The "Twoness." Question: Remember being 13 or 14 years old. Recall a group to which you belonged or to which you wanted to belong the cheerleading squad, the "gifted" section, the athletic team of your choice, etc. How did you feel if you weren't part of that group, and what did you do to belong? How did you feel if you were a barely tolerated member of the group? How did you act to try to ensure continued membership? How did you feel if you were a member of the group who didn't make the team or didn't get a part in the school play?
Concept: The desire for assimilation. The Issei (first generation immigrants), who tried to give their children (the Nisei) strength and confidence, saved money to send them to college. In addition, the Japanese American Citizens League was organized to demonstrate the worth of Nisei as patriotic sons. Even though the Nisei learned about Japanese values of honor, loyalty, service, and obligation at home and in Japanese-language school, they did not understand Japanese concepts the way their parents did. Their educational experience split their culture and personality; they felt the "twoness" as both Japanese and American. With two names, one for home and an American name for school, along with their American life background yet Japanese looks, many Nisei wondered who they were.
The novels Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida, Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, and portions of Turning Japanese by David Mura portray the concern of parents and the desire of the children to assimilate. Farewell to Manzanar is a particularly outstanding example of young adult literature that is very appropriate for high school classrooms.
"The Military Necessity." Question for males: You're a Japanese-American man of 18 years. You have been living in an internment camp, but you have been spending more time with your friends than with your family. There is a meeting tonight. Rumor has it that you will be asked to sign a U.S. government document asking you to choose between allegiance to America or to Japan. How do you feel? What will you do?
Question for females: You're a Japanese-American mother living with several children in Topaz, an internment camp. What do you say when they ask why the family is living in the camp, why things are the way they are? How do you feel about America at this point in your life?
Concepts: Fear, conflicts, resignation, changes in family life. The details of the forced evacuation are described in many fine works of literature, often told from the perspective of a child: being permitted to take only what they could carry; prize possessions lost or sold for a pittance; long hours on trains; crowded, filthy assembly centers; horse stalls as homes; the desert with sand storms and extremes of temperature; rushing to the wash room and the dining hall; the break-up of families who no longer sat around a table to eat together; worry about fathers who were imprisoned in other states; and the little Bonsai gardens in the sand. The dignity, self-reliance and independence of the Japanese Americans were threatened and many times destroyed.
Uchida writes in Journey to Topaz that fear made the country do something it would one day regret but Japanese Americans could not let it poison their hearts and destroy them. Many internees resigned themselves to the situation saying they should make the best of it because it was the only way. Houston writes about a pair of traits that collided: the subordination of personal desires to those for family or community because of the need to cooperate and survive versus the high premium on person privacy, which was respected in others and insisted upon for the self. Many young males were torn as they pondered the question of loyalty to a country that imprisoned their families. Nonfiction that work well along with historical fiction include The Children of Topaz: The Story of a Japanese-American Internment Camp by Mike Tunnell and George W. Chilcoat and I Am an American: The True Story of Japanese Internment by Jerry Stanley. More sophisticated readers will appreciate the beauty of the contemporary novel filled with references to the camp era, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.
There are several themes that are part of much of the literature about young Japanese and Japanese Americans: the loneliness of those who feel like intruders in the United States while trying hard to make their farms or small businesses a success; conflicts especially when the young Nisei feel caught between cultures; the pride of both the young and their parents and also the restraint, particularly of the parents; the continued loyalty to the United States and remarkable acceptance of situations such as the internment. Most of the literature written by first generation American-born Japanese (Nisei) focuses on the shock of Pearl Harbor, the internment years, and the anti-Japanese feelings that continued after the war.
Preserving the Tradition and Looking Ahead. This unit might conclude with a discussion about the redress movement, which aimed somehow to make up for the suffering of those interned during World War II, and what Ronald Takaki refers to as the "second wave" of immigration. Since 1965 many of the newcomers have come to the U.S. as professionals with families who immigrate with them. By 1980 over 70% of Japanese Americans were U. S. citizens by birth, and many of the third and fourth generation (Sansei and Yonsei) could no longer speak Japanese. As conveyed in The Japanese American Family Album by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, they maintain a strong sense of pride in their heritage but with a modern viewpoint. They also are faced with a different kind of stereotype, the "model minority" that excels in school and succeeds in high-tech, high-paying jobs. In classrooms throughout the year, not just as a part of a unit, students should have the opportunity to read literary works by talented young Japanese American writers such as Cynthia Kadohata's The Floating World and stories in the Hong collection Growing Up Asian American: An Anthology, where authors explore issues of identity, language, generational differences, assimilation, and heritage.
Curricular and Literary Issues
Inclusion of "minority" works of literature in a Eurocentric curriculum is no guarantee that the voices it represents will be respected. As Sau-ling C. Wong points out in her work, Asians in the United States have been customarily linked to Asians in Asia with scant regard for the role they have played in the building of this country and the dynamic cultural transformations they have undergone as immigrants and settlers. In selecting texts, teachers should stress the Americanness of the group's cultural expressions as integral parts of America's history and contemporary life. The criteria for teaching any text should include looking closely at the literary content, especially the accuracy of detail and the portrayal of contemporary images that do not overgeneralize. Disregarding the quality of the literary content and interest can damage students' engagement with any literature. Because the literature chosen for classroom use must represent a variety of writers and include different literary genres, a work's potential for resonating with other texts, the intertextual compatibility, is another factor in choosing books. It is important to look at the historical and cultural distinctiveness of various groups of people and also consider the commonalities between ethnic groups.
With carefully chosen works, teachers can ensure that the curriculum centers on real human experiences as illustrated through well-written literary works, rather than selecting bland stories and meaningless activities merely to satisfy mandates for adding cultural diversity to the classroom. Teachers must focus on offering students complex, problematic, realistic, and well-developed characterization within a work that reflects a balance of positive and negative perspectives and male and female individuals, and that transcends stereotypical portrayals of all people. Works chosen must confront historical and contemporary issues and concerns with which students can relate (Duff & Tomgchinsub, p. 238). As Sleeter and Grant suggest, the curriculum design process might begin by selecting concepts, experiences, images, and contributions that are taught about various representative racial, gender, and social groups and that can be woven into the fabric of instruction throughout the school year. With such an approach, literature about various cultures and by diverse writers becomes an integral part of the curriculum. It is not only important to realize books can help ease the process of assimilation for immigrants, "books are also immeasurably important to established' Americans who urgently need a crash course in understanding the new crazy quilt of cultures covering them in the nineties" (Cart, p. 126). It is also crucial that students develop an interest in and understanding of a world beyond their own.
Growing Up in Japan
Albury, Nobuku. Balloon Top . Pantheon, 1978.
Kana is on a quest to determine who she is, a quest complicated by the conflicts between her very traditional Japanese family values and her own sense of the world as colored by participation, in a limited way, in the political uprisings of the 1960s, as well as by conflicts between her desire for others to tell her who to be and her frustrations when she is not allowed to determine this for herself.
All Japan: The Catalogue of Everything Japanese . Morrow, 1984.
Color photos illuminate double-page essays, well-researched and well-crafted on topics from calligraphy to gardening to music and clothing, that provide insight and information about daily life in Japan.
Cobb, Vicki. This Place Is Crowded: Japan . Walker, 1992.
This book in the Series "Imagine Living Here" includes information about the lives and customs of people in Japan.
Coerr, Elanor. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes . Illustrated by Ronald Himler. Dell Yearling, 1977.
The biography tells about Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who died of leukemia ten years after the bombing of Hiroshima.
Clement, Claude. The Painter and the Wild Swan . Dutton/Dial, 1986.
Using Japanese triptych style illustrations, the story of a painter who falls in love with the beauty of wild swans in winter is told. Actually, the story is told four times: there is a Japanese poem, an English translation, an English text, and the illustrations. Each version of the story enhances and illuminates the others.
Crofford, Emily. Born in the Year of Courage . Carhorhoda, 1991.
At fifteen, Manjiro goes fishing with some friends and becomes stranded on a barren island. An American ship rescues them, but their lives are completely changed. Manjiro in particular is befriended by the captain, who takes the young man to America in spite of the fact that Japan, in the mid 1800s, did not allow any contact with the world outside. Based on true events, Crofford then tells the story of how Manjiro wants to return to his homeland and ease those restrictions in order to allow trade to develop.
Hamanaka, Sheila, ed. On the Wings of Peace: Writers and Illustrators Speak Out for Peace, in Memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Orchard Books, 1995.
This book includes nonfiction, short stories, poems, essays, and works of art in memory of the atomic bombing victims of 1945.
Haugaard, Erik Christian. The Samurai's Tale . Houghton Mifflin, 1984.
Taro was born in the "Period of the Civil Wars," a turbulent and dangerous time. After his samurai father is killed, Taro goes to live in the house of an enemy samurai, who soon becomes the object of the boy's devotion; as he works to emulate his master, he also works his way to becoming a samurai like his own father. More reluctant readers will appreciate this tale of battles and of the code and honor of the samurai.
_____. Boy and the Samurai . Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Saru, an orphan, finds a home with a priest in a large, feudal Japanese town. When a samurai comes to the priest requesting help because his wife is being held hostage, Saru and the priest begin their adventures.
Kuklin, Susan. Kodomo: Children of Japan. Putnam, 1995.
Through beautiful photographs and text conveying a young person's point of view, readers are immersed in the contemporary lives of Japanese children and their participation in cultural traditions. Three children lead the way through everyday activities in Hiroshima in part one. In the second part, children from the ancient capital Kyoto demonstrate traditional activities.
Kuroyanagi, Tetsuko. Totto Chan: the Little Girl in the Window . Kodansha International, 1981.
Totto Chan is looking forward to going to school. But, she is a very divergent thinker, and her approach to life is not valued in the regimented Japanese school she first attends. Fortunately, her family is supportive of her, and she eventually finds a school environment in which she can thrive and grow.
Maruki, Toshi. Hiroshima No Pika . Lothrup, 1982. (Picture book)
Haunting illustrations and spare prose describe the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and the effects of that event on one little girl and her family.
Martin, Rafe. Mysterious Tales of Japan . G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1996.
As a long-time student of Japanese culture, Martin here presents his own retellings of classic folk and fairy tales of Japan, evoking the mystery and understated elegance of the Japanese storytelling style.
Mori, Kyoko. Dream of Water: A Memoir . Henry Holt and Company, 1995.
As a teenager, Mori fled Japan to escape from an abusive father and a cruel stepmother. As an adult, a writer and teacher, Mori returns to her homeland to determine whether the divisiveness in her family can be healed. This autobiographical work, which is a story of personal discovery, is also an exploration of the contrast of her life in the U.S. and life in Japan.
_____. One Bird . Fawcett Juniper, 1995.
Megumi is 15 years old when her mother leaves, because she can no longer bear life with Megumi's father, who is often in Hiroshima with his girlfriend. Neither Megumi's father nor his cranky mother seem to care for Megumi; but when she helps a woman veterinarian heal wild birds, Megumi learns how she can do more than endure. She also discovers her talent as a writer.
_____. Shizuko's Daughter . Henry Holt and Company, 1993.
Yuki and her mother have always been close; from her mother Yuki learns to love all the colors and tastes and patterns of beauty in the world. That makes it all the more difficult for Yuki to accept her mother's suicide, an act Shizuko commits in an effort to afford her daughter a better future by getting out of the way. But life isn't better. Yuki now lives in a colorless house with a distant father and a stepmother who is always concerned about what the neighbors think. Eventually, through her painting and photography, Yuki is able to begin the process of becoming the strong woman her mother wanted her to be.
Namioka, Lensey. Island of Ogres . HarperCollins, 1989.
Mistaken identities, new love affairs, traitors, spies, struggles for power, and marriages of convenience are all part of this plot about samurai in sixteenth century Japan, which also provides insight into the spirted nature of the adolescents and their courtship battles of the time.
Say, Allen. The Feast of Lanterns . HarperCollins, 1976.
Bozo and Kozo can see the mainland from their little fishing village on a Japanese island. They love to hear Uncle Toji tell stories of what it is like "over there," and eventually they take a fishing boat, determined to experience it for themselves. As they explore, the older boy tells the younger one, as well as the reader, about traditional and modern Japan.
_____. The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice . Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Say is the narrator of this autobiographical novel set in Tokyo, where he served as an apprentice to the great teacher and famous cartoonist, Noro Shingei. From his teacher, Say learned that "to draw is to discover. . . and to be astonished." His adventures include drawing classes with nude models, participating in riots with his fellow apprentice, and learning karate.
Watkins, Yoko Kawashima. My Brother, My Sister and I . Bradbury, 1994.
In post WWII Japan, thirteen-year-old Yoko, her brother, and her sister, Ko, seventeen, survive as refugees while searching for their long-missing father. Yoko's life is complicated by a warehouse fire that severely injures Ko and by the terrorism she faces each day at school, where she is resented for being a scholarship student.
______. So Far from the Bamboo Grove . Lothrup, Lee, and Shepard, 1986.
Based on actual events, Watkins tells the story of a Japanese girl whose family lived in northern Korea while her father worked across the border in Manchuria just before WWII. When Japan invaded Korea, the family had to flee to save their lives. The book follows their progress on foot, across the whole length of Korea as they tried to evade Korean soldiers and leave messages for the brother. The female family members pose as boys to avoid being molested; the family digs through garbage heaps in quest for food in this hauntingly vivid account of refugee life.
Yumoto, Kazumi. The Friends . Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996.
Three friends, Kiyama, Kawabe, and Yamashita spend the summer before their school entrance exams trying to determine the meaning of death after Yamashita's grandmother dies. They decide to watch an old man whom they believe to be on the brink of death in an effort to satisfy their curiosity about what distinguishes life from death, but he begins watching themand they end up learning more about living than about dying.
Yep, Laurence. Hiroshima . Scholastic, 1995.
The world of twelve-year-old Sachi and her older sister is torn apart on August 6, 1945, when, as they are walking to school, the atom bomb is dropped on Japan. Based on true-life accounts of survivors, Yep's novella describes the events of that day in Hiroshima and the effects of it in a world in which nuclear weapons have become a reality.
Growing Up as a Japanese-American
Armor, John, and Peter Wright. Manzanar . Times Books, 1988.
With photographs by Ansel Adams and a commentary by John Hersey, this nonfiction work includes many photographs not previously published. It would be a meaningful companion piece to Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar .
Ashabranner, Brent. Into a Strange Land: Unaccompanied Refugee Youth in America . Putnam, 1987.
Ashabranner created this book for young adult readers to introduce them to the adjustments unaccompanied minors from various Asian countries have to make when they arrive in the United States.
Carlson, Lori M., Ed. American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults . Henry Holt, 1994.
Although the stories collected in this anthology speak to the entire realm of Asian-American experience, several stories are by Japanese-American authors. Each story allows the reader to see how these Americans both view the United States and rethink their cultural traditions within the context of the American experience in our common country.
Daniel, Roger. Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese-Americans in World War II . Hill & Wang, 1993.
The story of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry and the barbed-wire internment camps where many lived after 1942.
Davis, Daniel S. Behind Barbed Wire: The Imprisonment of Japanese Americans During World War II . Dutton, 1982.
Davis points out the United States was not the only country where Japanese Americans were interned; it also occurred in Canada. This book is particularly readable for young adults.
Drinnon, Richard. Keeper of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism . University of California Press, 1987.
Myer, ignorant of Japanese culture and history, was put in charge of relocation camps. Although he knew little about the cultures and history of Native Americans, he was also named to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1950. This book tells how these appointments happened.
Garrigue, Sheila. The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito . Bradbury, 1985.
This story tell about a Japanese Canadian family shipped from their home in Vancouver to a remote settlement in Canada.
Hamanaka, Sheila. Journey: Japanese Americans, Racism, and Renewal . Orchard Books/Franklin Watts, 1990.
This photo essay was inspired by a twenty-five foot mural documenting the experiences of Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. The Japanese American Family Album . Oxford University Press, 1996.
Beginning with historical events that are followed by personal accounts and accompanied by photographs, the chapters trace the Japanese immigration from the 1800s to the present day. The books includes a timeline and suggestions for further reading about Japanese American history, first-person accounts, and stories, novels, and poems written by Japanese Americans.
Hong, Maria, ed. Growing Up Asian American: An Anthology . William Morrow, 1993.
An example of the strong narrative tradition within Asian American literature, this collection includes thirty-two classic stories, portions of novels, and essays by some of America's most respected authors and also by many new and lesser-known writers. The authors explore issues of identity, language, generational differences, assimilation, and heritage. Especially appropriate for older young adults in high school and college.
Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki, and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar . Bantam, 1983.
Houston recounts her personal experiences of coming of age while interned in Manzanar, a Japanese American camp, during WWII.
Inada, Lawson Fusao. Drawing the Line . 1997.
Inada's poems reflect the anger felt upon revisiting Heart Mountain concentration camp, reveal the pride in his elders, describe his passion for jazz music, and show evidence of a sense of humor that provides the reader with a feeling of hope about the future of Japanese Americans.
Irwin, Hadley. Kim/Kimi . Atheneum, 1987.
Kim, sixteen, is self conscious because she looks different than her peers. That is because her birth father was Japanese and was disowned by his family for marrying a white woman. Although Kim has been reared by a loving mother and step-father, she now is determined to learn more about her heritage and flies to California to meet her father's family, learning about recent Japanese American history and about many customs and traditions in the process.
Kadohata, Cynthia. The Floating World . Viking, 1989.
Although rather slow moving, this novel describes the coming of age experiences of a Japanese American adolescent, Olivia, as she and her family travel the U.S. during the 1950s, experiencing anti-Japanese sentiment and prejudice during their life on the road.
Kessler, Lauren. Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese American Family . Plume, 1994.
The Yasuis came to the U.S. from Japan in the early 1900s, seeking the American dream. Just as they achieved some success, they were interned in a relocation camp. Ashamed of his fate, Masuo Yasui committed suicide, but his family endured and tell their story in these pages.
Levine, Ellen. A Fence Away from Freedom: Japanese Americans and World War II. Putnam, 1995.
In this nonfiction work Levine has used photographs and memoirs to compile a comprehensive history of internment camps as told by those who were young Japanese Americans during the war.
Masaoka, Mike. They Call Me Moses Masaoka . Mowwow, 1987.
A veteran of both an internment camp and the army, Masaoka works for the good of Japanese American and Caucasian relationships.
Means, Florence Crannell. The Moved Outers . Houghton Mifflin, 1945.
Although this book was written when racial prejudice concerning Japanese Americans as related to World War II was still existent, Means' words are still powerful as she tells about a family forced into the relocation camps during World War II.
Miklowitz, Gloria D. The War Between the Classes . Delacorte, 1985.
When Japanese-American Emiko Sumoto (Amy) is assigned to a higher social class than her white boyfriend, Adam, during a school project, the two teenagers have to struggle to deal with both class and racial prejudices.
Mura, David. Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei . Doubleday, 1969.
Mura, a third generation Japanese American, grew up in a primarily Jewish Chicago suburb. This book is his memoir of his early life in America and of a year (1984) when he returned to Japan and traveled in the country with his wife. Appropriate for older and adult readers.
Noda, Gloria. The Asian Face: A Styling Guide . Kodansha International, 1986.
This book offers useful tips, advice on make-up, hair styling, skin care for Asian women.
Okimoto, Jean Davies. Molly by Any Other Name . Scholastic, 1990.
Molly was adopted as an infant by a white family; but now, at seventeen, she wants to learn more about her birth heritage. Eventually she meets her Japanese Canadian birth mother, and she develops a romantic relationship with Japanese American Raymond in the process.
_____. Talent Night . Scholastic, Inc., 1995.
Rodney Suyama wants to become an Asian rapper, and with the encouragement of Ivy, he enters a talent contest. In between classes, dances, and school projects, Rodney and Ivy fall in love. Rodney's mother, who was born in an internment camp during WWII, and his traditional Japanese uncle, who comes to visit, add suspense to this story as Rodney tries to come to terms with his mixed heritage.
Salisbury, Graham. Under the Blood-Red Sun . Delacorte, 1994
Tomi's father believes Hawaii is a good place for their Japanese family, but it is 1941, and Tomi is beginning to be aware of the distrust aimed at his race as WWII divides the world. His family is poor but proud, and they are shamed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but others view them as responsible for the tragedy and the tough times turn out to be just at their beginning point.
Savin, Marcia. Moon Bridge . Scholastic, 1992.
The friendship of two girls is changed when one family is forced into internment camp.
Smith, Page. Democracy on Trial: The Japanese American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II . Simon & Schuster, 1995.
This book talks about why ten centers were chosen to house Japanese Americans in the West and how officials rationalized that necessity during the war.
Stanley, Jerry. I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment . Crown, 1994.
Illustrated with photographs and with moving quotations, this book tells about the life of Shi Nomura from the bombing of Pearl Harbor through life in an internment camp, the return after the war to find continued racial prejudices, and finally the recent official apology by the American government. The work includes a useful index.
Tateishi, John. And Justice for All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps . Randon House, 1984.
This work includes true stories of what the camps were like.
Uchida, Yoshiko. A Jar of Dreams . Atheneum, 1981.
Rinko, at age eleven, wants nothing more than to have an ordinary American life, but that is difficult because she is Japanese. During time spent with Aunt Waka, visiting from Japan, Rinko becomes more appreciative of her native culture. (Rinko also appears in The Best Bad Thing , Atheneum, 1983, and The Happiest Ending , Atheneum, 1985.)
_____. Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family . University of Washington Press, 1982.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Yoshiko Uchida was in college at Berkeley. But life changed quickly; her father was seized and held incommunicado by the FBI, and she, her mother, and sister were installed in horse stables at a nearby race track until they could be sent to "Topaz," a concentration camp in the Utah desert.
_____. The Invisible Thread . Beech Tree Paperbacks, 1995.
When her much loved dog, Brownie, died, Uchida used an entire page in her diary to draw a picture of his tombstone, and thus began her love affair with writing as a tool for "holding on" to special moments and for "finding comfort" from pain as well. This autobiography tells how she developed as a writer and what she hopes to accomplish as she writes for young people today.
_____. Journey Home . Atheneum, 1978.
In Journey to Topaz (Scribner, 1971), readers learn about an American girl, Yuri, and her family who are interned in Topaz, a WWII concentration camp. In this sequel, Yuri begins to realize that even though the war is over, being of Japanese descent and living in America still is difficult. Her brother, Ken, returns home, wounded and embittered from his experiences serving the U.S. in the war, and the family draws together in its efforts to cope with the cruelty they face.
_____. Picture Bride . Northland Press, 1987.
Hana Omiya has arrived in San Francisco in 1917 as a "picture bride" for a man she has never met. Uchida tells the story of Hana's life as wife and mother, of her eventual internment in "Topaz," and of the relationships that sustain her throughout her life.
Wartski, Maureen. Candle in the Wind . Fawcett Juniper, 1995.
When Harris Mizuno, a Japanese American, is shot and killed by an older white man who mistook him for an intruder, his younger sister Terri becomes the target of bigotry and violence as the town is divided over the issue of racial hatred. Terri must try to pull her family and the community back together.
Yep, Laurence, Ed. American Dragons: Twenty-five Asian American Voices . HarperTrophy, 1993.
These stories are grouped by themes introduced by Yep: Identity, In the Shadow of Giants, The Wise Child, World War Two, Love, Guides. Each story includes brief autobiographical information about the author.
Selected Resources for Teaching about Japan
Bernson, Mary Hammond and Betsy Goolian. Modern Japan: An Idea Book for K-12 Teachers . Indiana University, Bloomington, IN: National Clearinghouse for United States-Japan Studies, Social Studies Development Center, 1992.
Bernson, Mary Hammond and Linda S. Wojtan, eds. Teaching About Japan: Lessons and Resources . Indiana University, Bloomington, IN: National Clearinghouse for United States-Japan Studies, 1996.
Bishop, Rudine Sims, Ed. Kaleidoscope: A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8 . Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1994.
Blake, Barbara. A Guide to Children's Books about Asian Americans . Scholar, 1995.
Fiction and nonfiction books published from 1970-1993, many appropriate for middle school readers and listed in this book, which includes brief bibliographic information, name of culture represented, a short plot summary, and ideas for classroom use.
Daniels, Roger., Ed. Asian Americans: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. University of Washington Press, 1988.
Daniels presents accounts of the contributions to various Americans from both China and Japan to the culture and history of their adopted country.
Duff, Ogle B., and Helen J. Tongchinsub. "Expanding the Secondary Literature Curriculum: Annotated Bibliographies of American Indian, Asian American, and Hispanic American Literature." English Education , Vol. 22 (4), (December 1990), 221-240.
Irons, Peter., Ed. Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese American Internment Cases . Wesleyan University Press, 1989.
Irons describes in detail the court cases of three young men who challenged the military curfew and exclusion orders in place before the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and he details the events of Pearl Harbor, focusing on the consequences for Japanese Americans in the U.S.
Jenkins, Esther C., and Mary C. Austin. Literature for Children about Asians and Asian Americans: Analysis and Annotated Bibliography with Additional Readings for Adults . Greenwood, 1987.
The authors explore Asian and Asian American folk and contemporary literature for children, provide a history and overview of the trends and issues related to its use, and include a section focusing on readings about Japanese and Japanese Americans for adult readers.
Morey, Janet Nomura, and Wendy Dunn. Famous Asian Americans . Dutton, 1992.
The achievements of Asian Americans in fields as diverse as literature and physics, theater and the space program, music and sports are profiled.
Severns, Karen. Hirohito . Chelsea House, 1988.
In this volume, which is part of the "World Leaders Past and Present" series, Severns outlines the rise of Hirohito and discusses his contributions to the build-up of the Japanese economy after World War II.
Stover, Lois, and Eileen Tway. "Cultural Diversity and the Young Adult Novel." In Reading Their World: The Young Adult Novel in the Classroom. Edited by Virginia Monseau and Gary Salvner. Boyton/Cook, 1992. 132-153.
This chapter provides criteria for selecting books reflective of cultural diversity in general, discusses several works about growing up either in Japan or as a Japanese-American in particular, and presents many suggestions for using such titles in the classroom once they have been found.
Bernson, Mary. "Stories Are Not Frills: Literature about Asia in the Elementary Classroom." Education About Asia, v. 2, n.1 (Spring 1997), 37-39.
Benton, Janet. "Writing My Way Home': An Interview with Graham Salisbury." The ALAN Review (Winter 1997), 6-10.
Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature . HarperCollins, 1996.
Duff, Ogle B., and Helen J. Tongchinsub. "Expanding the Secondary Literature Curriculum: Annotated Bibliographies of American Indian, Asian American, and Hispanic American Literature. English Education , (December 1990), 221-240.
Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars . Vintage Books, 1995.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. The Japanese American Family Album . Oxford University Press, 1996.
Hong, Maria, Ed. Growing Up Asian American: An Anthology . William Morrow, 1993.
Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki, and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar . Bantam, 1983.
Kadohata, Cynthia. The Floating World . Viking, 1989.
Mori, Kyoko. Dream of Water: A Memoir . Henry Holt and Company, 1995.
_____. One Bird . Fawcett Juniper, 1995.
_____. Shizuko's Daughter . Henry Holt and Company, 1993.
Mura, David. Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei . Doubleday, 1969.
Salisbury, Graham. Under the Blood-Red Sun . Delacorte, 1994.
Sleeter, Christine E., and Carl A. Grant. "Race, Class, Gender, and Disability in Current Textbooks." In The Politics of the Textbook. Edited by Michael W. Apple and Linda K. Christian-Smith. Routledge, 1991.
Stanley, Jerry. I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment . Crown, 1994.
Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America . Little, Brown, 1993.
_____. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans . Penguin Books, 1989.
Tunnell, Mike, and George W. Chilcoat. The Children of Topaz: The Story of a Japanese- American Internment Camp . Holiday House, 1996.
Uchida, Yoshiko. Journey to Topaz . Scribner, 1971.
_____. Picture Bride. Northland Press, 1987.
_____. Samari of Gold Hill . Creative Arts Book Company, 1985.
Wong, Sau-ling C. "Promises, Pitfalls, and Principles of Text Selection in Curricular Diversification." In Freedom's Plow: Teaching in the Multicultural Classrooms. Edited by Theresa Perr and James W. Fraser. Routledge. 1993.
Editors' Note: The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of Gary DeCoker, Chair of the Education Department at Ohio Wesleyan and a Japanese scholar fluent in Japanese, who read and commented on this manuscript.
Connie Zitlow is an associate professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she teaches young adult literature. Lois Stover, Chair of Educational Studies at St. Mary's College of Maryland, has written Young Adult Literature: The Heart of the Middle School Curriculum.