Sketches of an unusual life

Oh! Poston, Why Don’t You Cry for Me?

By Paul M. Okimoto (Bloomington, Ind.: Xlibris Corporation, 2011, 203 pp., $19.99, paperback)

Paul M. Okimoto’s new self-published volume is less an autobiography than a series of sketches from his unusual life path. In fact, if the phrase “Adventures of a Curious Character” had not already been used as the subtitle for a volume of stories by the physicist Richard Feynmann, it would have served ideally as a descriptor for Okimoto’s memoirs. Okimoto displays an attractive curiosity about people, ideas and art, as well as a thoughtful ability to examine his life for meaning.

Born in Japan (which makes him technically an Issei — a rare survivor of that bygone generation!) Paul Okimoto came to the United States as a tyke, after his father, the Rev. Tameichi Okimoto, was named minister of a church in San Diego — his religious profession exempted him from exclusionary immigration laws. The elder Okimoto had embraced Christianity out of obligation after being nursed by a missionary following an attack of tuberculosis, then met his future wife Kirie (an educated woman who had briefly taught school in Hawai‘i) while at seminary in Tokyo.

The Okimotos had barely time to become established in their new home before their lives were turned over by Executive Order 9066. The family was delayed in being moved because of an outbreak of measles among the Okimoto children. Once the quarantine was lifted, they were driven in Army trucks to Santa Anita, Calif., where Paul’s youngest brother was born, and subsequently on to Poston, Ariz.

The book presents some brief but compelling images of Japanese American removal and camp life, viewed through a young boy’s eyes. In one tender episode, Okimoto describes his bewilderment (and retrospective gratitude) at the appearance of a teacher from San Diego, who travelled all the way to Poston to check on her former pupil. One poignant story reveals how Okimoto’s father, who long refused to talk about his wartime experience, continued long after the war to have nightmares about it and shout in his sleep.