Hisaye Yamamoto

Post by Megumi Corley

Executive Order 9066 issued by Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 14th, 1942 removed thousands of Japanese Americans from their homes and displaced them into internment camps across the United States. Though the displacement of the Japanese were considered justified in order to protect the other citizens of the country, over two-thirds of the Japanese were citizens themselves. One citizen who was displaced when she was twenty years old is Hisaye Yamamoto. Her relocation to the camps inspired her to write short stories, reflecting on her experiences during internment and discovering her own identity. Yamamoto’s stories involve themes of oppression of women, the relationship between Issei and Nisei, and the struggle of being Japanese in America. Her writings reveal the harsh realities of being seen as an outsider whether it is because of gender or race, and encourage readers to reflect on the pain of internment and speak up in times of great injustice.

From the time she was born on August 23rd, 1921, Yamamoto and her family had faced the oppressing, racist laws implemented by the U.S. government with the California Alien Land Law. The California Alien Land Law, aimed at Japanese immigrants, prevented aliens who were ineligible for citizenship from owning land. This law forced Yamamoto’s family and many others to live a nomadic lifestyle. In the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907, Japan agreed to stop issuing passports to people wanting to immigrate to the U.S. in exchange for less discriminatory laws for Japanese people already living in the United States. While the Immigration Act of 1924 was not targeted specifically at the Japanese, it implemented a quota on how many immigrants could enter the U.S. from any one country, reinforcing the Gentleman’s Agreement. These laws and treatment from local police and authorities established clear differences between the daily lives of whites living in America and minorities. Her early life experiences of persecution inspired her to write in the English section of the Japanese-American newspaper, Kashu Mainichi, where she could express herself in a way that could reach many people. When she was placed in internment, she continued to write in order to display the lives Japanese Americans.

Though Yamamoto’s stories deal with a range of topics from the Japanese American experience, one of the main themes seen throughout her short stories is the repression of women and how they feel trapped within society. In the story “Seventeen Syllables”, issei Tome Hayashi lives on an isolated farm with her family. Tome is confined by her standing as an immigrant and her lack of the english language. As a farm worker and wife, she is isolated from other people and must obey her husband’s wishes. She escapes this constraint by writing haikus and even winning a contest for her works. In “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara”, a young woman named Kiku tells the story of Mari Sasagawara, a woman Kiku knew while at an internment camp. Kiku says that everyone at the camp thought Mari was crazy to the point where she was admitted to an asylum several times. It is not until after the war is over that Kiku finds a poem published by Mari revealing the agony she felt living with her father, a buddhist minister that was unaware of human emotions. Just like Yamamoto herself, both characters in the story are able to express their true emotions through creative works. Because they are not allowed to speak up publicly, they must find other ways to conquer their oppression.

Yamamoto’s stories exhibit the limitations of women and the ways they must maneuver sexism and xenophobia in America. Though the stories are explicitly written about Japanese characters, many of the stories can apply to people of other minorities. The stories of women can even apply to the oppression white women felt by their husbands during this time period. Her writings  inspire others to tell their story and encourage those who feel powerless to speak up. Without the contribution of her stories to the world, the true feelings of Japanese Americans during the time of internment may still be concealed. She reveals the reality of minority life in the U.S. and her works are a reminder of how far this country must still go in order to reach equality.

Creative Piece: Haikus


People who say that

They are not feminists

Need dictionaries


Courage is needed

If you do not have any

There will be no change



White superiority

Trump needs to sit down


Learn your history

Protest listen engage talk

Be agitated


We can overcome

Race gender class religion

World domination


Hisaye is bae

She inspires me all day

Feminist power


Works Cited

Cheung, King-Kok. “Double-Telling: Intertextual Silence in Hisaye Yamamoto’s Fiction.”American Literary History 3, no. 2 (1991): 277-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/490053.

Cheung, King-Kok. “Thrice Muted Tale: Interplay of Art and Politics in Hisaye Yamamoto’s “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara”” MELUS 17, no. 3 (1991): 109-25.

Elliott, Matthew. “Sins of Omission: Hisaye Yamamoto’s Vision of History.” MELUS 34, no.1 (2009): 47-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20485358.

Hong, Grace Kyungwon. “”Something Forgotten Which Should Have Been Remembered”: Private Property and Cross-Racial Solidarity in the Work of Hisaye Yamamoto.” American Literature 71, no. 2 (1999): 291-310. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2902812.

McDonald, Dorothy Ritsuko, and Newman Katharine. “Relocation and Dislocation: The Writings of Hisaye Yamamoto and Wakako Yamauchi.” MELUS 7, no. 3 (1980): 21-38.

Sugiyama, Naoko. “Issei Mother’s Silence, Nisei Daughter’s Stories: The Short Fiction of Hisaye Yamamoto.” Comparative Literature Studies 33, no. 1 (1996): 1-14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40247035.



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