Exploring the wartime Kibei-Nisei struggles


Show Me the Way to Go Home

Show Me the Way to Go Home
Show Me the Way to Go Home

SHOW ME THE WAY TO GO HOME: The Moral Dilemma of Kibei No No Boys in World War II Incarceration Camps

By Takako Day (Middlebury, Vt.: Wren Song Press, 2014, 222 pp., $19.95, paperback)

“What I have attempted to introduce in (‘Show Me the Way Home’),” writes Takako Day in the preface to her brilliant, bold, highly significant, if rather sprawling book, “are the lives and the struggles of Japanese-speaking Japanese Americans (known as ‘Kibei Nisei,’ a minority within a minority) who survived the tempestuous period of World War II when Japanese was an enemy language.” She then proceeds to say that particularly the “No-No’s” within the Kibei population, owing to prejudice, have been silenced, and follows up this shrewd observation with a ringing declaration: “The stories of these men must not remain buried like a dirty secret in Japanese American history. Their voices should be heard.”


Let me say first off that I entirely agree with Day. I felt this way as long ago as the mid-1970s when I co-transacted the tape-recorded narratives of two iconic Kibei men who were bitter wartime enemies within the Manzanar, Calif. concentration camp: Karl Yoneda (1906-1999) and Harry Ueno (1907-2004). It pleased me greatly both to witness the 1983 publication of Yoneda’s autobiography, “Ganbatte: Sixty-year Struggle of a Kibei Worker.” and to be involved as a co-editor of Ueno’s 1986 life history, “Manzanar Martyr.” I also experienced elation at the appearance in print of Kibei Minoru Kiyota’s 1997 memoir, “Beyond Loyalty: The Story of a Kibei,” which had been translated from Japanese into English. Then, in 2013, I was delighted to discover an unpublished University of California, Santa Cruz dissertation by Michael Jin entitled “Beyond Two Homelands: Migration and Transnationalism of Japanese Americans in the Pacific 1930-1955,” particularly since it contains a fascinating biographical portrait of the enigmatic prewar journalist and wartime Manzanar inmate David Akira Itami, a Kibei who, a few years after supervising court interpreters assigned to indicted Japanese war criminals at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East held in Tokyo, committed suicide at age 39.


So I was truly excited to read that Takako Day had identified 15 men within the U.S. and Japan who had been “considered ‘troublemakers,’ ‘disloyal’ to the U.S. during the war, and long stigmatized in the Japanese American community,” and that she had not only tape-recorded their recollections, but also had translated them into English. However, I became confused somewhat by her characterizing them as “Nisei” rather than “Kibei Nisei,” and her providing a list of these men (either properly named or indicated with a pseudonym) that added up, not to 15 interviewees, but instead to 10. Since their stories presumably formed the book’s documentary core, I was disconcerted, too, by her listing interviewees’ names unaccompanied by a description of any sort as to who they were and how their lives had played out. As it turns out, their stories are distributed throughout the entire text, but it is left to the reader to assemble full biographical portraits. That the book lacks an index makes this assembly process inordinately time-consuming and exasperatingly inefficient. It is disappointing, as well, that Day does not offer her readers more precise overall information as to when and where and under what conditions her interviews were transacted, whether or not they were transcribed in both English and Japanese, and whether they have been deposited in a public archive (or at least plans made for such deposit) so that researchers can avail themselves of their contents for purposes other than Day’s and/or to assess the context in which she has selectively adduced this material to advance her interpretive argument.


It has pained me to have to dwell on the above shortcoming in what is otherwise a magnificent piece of historical scholarship, one which consumed 10 years to materialize and enlisted the services of two professional translators and the skilled editing of her husband Michael Day and still another person. Although the organization of the book’s chapters are problematic, the matter within them is consistently pertinent, intelligently approached, richly developed, amply documented, and artfully expressed in clear and compelling prose. One learns a great deal about such previously underdeveloped yet profoundly important topics as: why Kibei-Nisei have largely been left out of the master narrative of the World War II Japanese American story; the extent of the Kibei-Nisei population and the diversity contained within it; the relationship of Kibei-Nisei to the general Japanese American community and, specifically, to the Japanese American Citizens League; the short- and long-range impact of the 1943 registration’s loyalty questions on Kibei-Nisei; the roles played by family and citizenship in relationship to Kibei-Nisei “loyalty” and “disloyalty”; the political climate and cultural dynamics at the Tule Lake Segregation Center and the implications they had for Kibei-Nisei in respect to the “resegregation movement” and U.S. citizenship renunciation; and the wartime and postwar experience of Kibei-Nisei renunciants, both in the U.S. and Japan, who opted for whatever reasons to sustain their changed status or to restore their U.S. citizenship.


Given the very high-profile importance these days of the Kibei-Nisei experience, especially in relationship to the conjoined issues of the Tule Lake Segregation Center and U.S. citizenship renunciation/restoration, “Show Me the Way to Go Home” demands an engaged readership both inside and outside of the Japanese American community.

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