A fuller understanding of the complexity of WWII on Hawai‘i’s Nikkei community


Japanese_Eyes_American_HeartJapanese Eyes, American Heart: Voices From the Home Front in World War II Hawaii (Vol. 2)
Compiled by the Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board (Honolulu: Watermark Publishing, 2012, 232 pp., $24.95, hardcover)

“Japanese Eyes, American Heart Vol. 2” builds upon the first volume, which documented the voices and experiences of Japanese American soldiers from Hawai‘i during World War II, by offering another perspective of the war in the Japanese American community in Hawai‘i: the home front. The Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board presents the stories of other historical actors, which consists of roughly half of the entries from the perspectives of Issei and Nisei women — the wives, daughters, sisters, and young women whose experience of the war sheds new insights of the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i.

The book is organized around kachikan, traditional Japanese moral values, which include sacrifice, duty, honor, pride, responsibility, loyalty, gratitude, acceptance with resignation, persistence, quiet endurance, debt of gratitude and filial piety. For each of the moral values, the Editorial Board assigned different personal-life stories in order to show how specific moral values informed their experiences.

The book provides a fuller understanding of the complexity of World War II on the Japanese American community in Hawai‘i, and an important contribution is the addition of the voices of women. The field of Japanese American history and World War II is predominantly focused on analyzing the sacrifices and heroics of the Nisei veterans or within the past decade, the budding field of examining the draft resisters. In comparison, “Japanese Eyes, American Heart Vol. 2” gives the reader access to the experiences of Issei and Nisei women who participated in roles ranging from the Women’s Army Corps to maintaining the family and family business. The strength and struggle of these particular individuals shines through in the different chapters. Thus, highlighting their sacrifices to preserve their family and community while the men were off fighting in the military or incarcerated by the government.

This second volume is a great addition to the literature on Japanese Americans during World War II in Hawai‘i because while it centers new historical actors like the voices of women, the book shows the importance of recognizing the role of Hawai‘i in Japanese American history. Without the dominant incarceration narrative in Hawai‘i — because only about a thousand Japanese Americans were removed — this book displays the geographical influence of the islands in the narratives of the different individuals. In one of the personal stories, Kimi Matsuda explains that she was part of a group after World War II that aimed to use the Democratic Party in order to politically lead Hawai‘i into the future. The book presents the unique experiences of the Japanese American community in Hawai‘i, which complements the experiences of the Japanese American community on the mainland and their relationship with incarceration.

Ultimately, the “Japanese Eyes, American Heart Vol. 2” is an accessible book for both the academic and casual reader interested in Japanese American history. It will pique your interest in the Japanese American community in Hawai‘i while exposing personal stories that will show the struggle, persistence, and triumph of individuals living in the home front.

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