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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 4, 2006

Eye on Asians: New books that document how bravery prevails

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Book Editor

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ON THE WEB:

Online outlets for books not in local stores; books may be special-ordered from local bookstores.

"Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years," www.washington.edu/uwpress/index.html

"Teaching Mikadoism: The Attack on Japanese Language Schools in Hawaii, California and Washington, 1919-1927," www.uhpress.hawaii.edu

"Leaves From an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese," www.amazon.com

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"JUST AMERICANS: HOW JAPANESE AMERICANS WON A WAR AT HOME AND ABROAD" BY ROBERT ASAHINA; GOTHAM BOOKS, HARDBACK, $27.50

Most of the key facts of this book will be familiar to Islanders, but it is in pairing past with present, and showing how the deeds of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Unit affected political and social structures at home that Asahina treads newer ground.

He begins the book not in the 1940s, but in 2004, with a prologue about one woman's battle to have the name of a rural Texas lane changed from the offensive Jap Road. In the end, it was with the help of 100th/ 442nd veterans that opponents of the road name were able to prevail. The incident illustrates both the veterans' accomplishments, and the lingering nature of bigotry in this country.

Throughout, in a smooth-reading storytelling style, Asahina reminds readers why the sacrifice of this most-awarded military unit was particularly poignant, and particularly unlikely. They were fighting not just to defeat the enemy but to defeat those who believed they had no right to the name "American." It's a battle, this book warns, that's not yet fully over.

"NISEI MEMORIES: MY PARENTS TALK ABOUT THE WAR YEARS" BY PAUL HOWARD TAKEMOTO; UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON PRESS, PAPER, $22.50

The roots of this book are in a Kaua'i graveyard, an unplanned stop during a Hawai'i vacation. That's where reporter Paul Howard Takemoto learned the source of his middle name for the first time, and heard his father, Kaname (Ken) Takemoto, a former Islander who had served in the 100th Battalion/ 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy, speak about his war experiences. Takemoto was intrigued and this book is the result.

"Nisei Memories" is a series of stark Q-and-A interviews with his at-first reluctant parents his mother, a Californian, had been interned; her father, a Japanese language-school teacher, arrested buttressed by documents. The style is effective, because it presents the information in black-and-white relief, heightening the poignancy of these memories and the sense of lives abruptly and permanently changed. Among the most powerful passages: Takemoto's mother, Alice, denying any memory whatsoever of the day she was picked up for transport to internment camp.

"TEACHING MIKADOISM: THE ATTACK ON JAPANESE LANGUAGE SCHOOLS IN HAWAII, CALIFORNIA AND WASHINGTON, 1919-1927" BY NORIKO ASATO; UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI'I PRESS, HARDBACK, $40

At one time, almost every Japanese child in Hawai'i attended Japanese school after their daily classes in public or private elementary schools. Scholarly in approach but readable in style, this book explains how and why Japanese language schools became a controversial topic with business and government leaders in the early 20th century.

After Japanese workers participated in a 1920 labor strike, plantation management began to see the schools as pro-labor, providing a gathering place and community center where workers might organize. For this reason, they condemned the schools they had once supported, charging that the curriculum inculcated "foreign" values and was "anti-American." Here and elsewhere, attempts were made to regulate the schools as a way of harassing them out of existence. A specialized subject, but one that will interest many Islanders.

"HIDDEN TREASURES: LIVES OF FIRST-GENERATION KOREAN WOMEN IN JAPAN" BY JACKIE J. KIM, ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD, PAPER, $29.95

Jackie Kim, a freelance writer who divides her time between Hawai'i and Germany, spent many hours between 1994 and 2000 interviewing elderly zai-nichi women ethnically Korean women living in Japan. These expatriates, who have endured many forms of prejudice and oppression in addition to the pain of separation from their original homeland or that of their parents, speak of their lives, lives that are largely invisible to mainstream Japan and the rest of the world. These women came to Japan during the time of Korean colonialism.

Kim weaves into her stories her interactions with and reactions to these women, and this layering adds interest. When Kim first proposed this project to leaders of Japan's Korean expatriate community, the men discouraged her, declaring that these women were uneducated, mere drudges and gossips, wouldn't understand her questions and would have nothing of value to say. She has, and they have, eloquently answered these naysayers.

"LEAVES FROM AN AUTUMN OF EMERGENCIES: SELECTIONS FROM THE WARTIME DIARIES OF ORDINARY JAPANESE" BY SAMUEL HIDEO YAMASHITA; UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI'I PRESS, PAPER, $26

Before he presents selections from the wartime diaries of eight ordinary Japanese citizens, Samuel Yamashita, a professor of history at Pomona College, places them in context. He explores the use of such material or lack of it in previous English-language histories. He offers a look at Japan in wartime. And he suggests ways that the diaries are more than just glimpses into individual minds; they offer insights into the viewpoints of Japanese citizens during the war, and how those views were shaped.

Each diary excerpt begins with a biography of the individual and the excerpts also are introduced with helpful headlines and locations, making the action easier to follow. A fascinating book that reads as readily as fiction.

Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.