Keiko’s Journey: A World War II Memoir
By Kay Hirai (Seattle: Chin Music Press, 2015, 97 pp., $17.95, paperback)
Here is the personal story of a young girl born in Japan who survived the difficult war years before relocating to the United States with her Nisei mother at the age of 11.
Keiko’s story begins in Kokura, Japan in 1945. She and her mother are living with her Ojiichan. Food is scarce. Japan is occupied by American soldiers. Keiko is startled by news that her father is returning from a POW camp in Manchuria. He left to fight in the war when she was only 2 years old, so she does not remember him.
When he returns, she discovers that he is abusive to her mother. She consoles herself with her dog. When her dog is killed, she is bereft. Classmates taunt her because her mother is American, thus regarded as a traitor.
Keiko and her mother book passage to America for a two-month visit with relatives. Keiko is thrilled to meet her grandmother and delights in the company of a cousin in whom she finds the “sister” that she longed for.
After arriving in the U.S. Keiko learns that the man she believed to be her father was actually a stepfather. Her birth father had died in the war. Keiko’s mother confesses that they will not be returning to Japan. She has escaped her abusive husband. They will create a new life in America. Keiko has difficulty learning English, but feels encouraged by her artistic success in class.
In the epilogue it is revealed that Keiko’s mother suffered from tuberculosis after returning to the U.S. Young Keiko, then a teenager, turned to her grandmother for support as her mother became incapacitated and passed away.
Author Kay (Keiko) Hirai recounts years of feeling that she did not belong in America until she put these feelings to rest by traveling to Japan to reconnect with her paternal relatives and to visit the grave of her pet dog. The author’s feeling of gratitude shines through when she describes her return to America. She is relieved, free of painful memories, and ready to “pursue a purpose-driven life.” Presently, Keiko (Kay) is a successful artist and businesswoman in the Seattle area.