Japanese and WWII
Guterson describes people who've been familiar with each other over a long time and live in a very isolated locale. Given this setting, what new were you perhaps able to learn about the interactions between JapaneseAmericans and their neighbors that the other books and the class have not pointed out to you yet. David Guterson’s
Snow Falling on Cedars takes place on San Piedro Island, a tiny community located off the coast of mainland Washington in the Pacific Northwest. Here, a
JapaneseAmerican fisherman named Kabuo Miyamoto is on trial for the murder of Carl
Heine, a respected local fisherman and war veteran. The trial begins, not coincidentally, on
December 6, 1954 a day before the thirteenth anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl
Because San Piedro is a small, isolated island, its residents aren’t interested in sowing enmity within their community, preferring instead to forgive when possible and, when not, forbear. This reservation has cultivated a sort of second isolation, the people becoming islands unto themselves. Carl Heine is the quintessential example of the twice isolated San
Piedro native, hiding his feelings and words having returned from World War II with the troubled silence of a veteran.
By contrast, Ishmael Chambers, the editor of the town newspaper, makes his living through words. Ismael is, himself, a war veteran who is nearly the same age as Carl. Yet, while Ishmael is vocal by way of his job at the San Piedro Review, he still retains a secret the romantic relationship he once had with a young JapaneseAmerican girl named Hatsue, now married to Kabuo. Throughout the novel, Ishmael struggles to understand why his lover would suddenly call off the relationship and, more than that, treat him with cold indifference
Kabuo faces the courtroom silently and with a stiff, upright posture, which the white residents of San Piedro in the courtroom interpret as a sign of Kabuo’s coldblooded remorselessness. He and his wife, Hatsue, don’t believe that it is possible for him to receive a fair trial. Complicating matters futher, Kabuo thinks himself in some ways a murderer.
Likewise a veteran of World War II himself, he is tortured by the memories of the people he killed during the war.
While there is little explicit racism during the trial, it is clear that racism pervades the proceedings. During the war, the white residents of San Piedro stood in silence as their
JapaneseAmerican neighbors were sent to internment camps. The war, far from instigating antiJapanese feeling, simply “justified” decadesold prejudices that had previously been suppressed by San Piedro’s tradition of nonconfrontation.
During the trial, the novel flashes back in time to episodes that took place years before. By way pf flashback, we learn that, Etta Heine, Carl’s antiJapanese mother, took advantage of the Miyamoto family’s absence to break an agreement her husband made.
Etta’s husband, Carl Heine Sr., had agreed to sell seven acres of his land to Kabuo’s father,
Zenhichi. Since the law prevented Japanese from owning land, the agreement had been informal. Zenhichi faithfully made his biannual payments for the land but his family was sent to an internment camp with only two payment remaining. Carl Sr. passed away shortly after the
Miyamotos were interned. Etta took the opportunity to sell the land to a white farmer, Ole
Jurgensen, at a higher price than the Miyamotos had paid. Kabuo returned from the war to discover that Ole Jurgensen now owned the land his family was right entitled to, leaving
Kabuo no choice but to wait until Ole was ready to sell. When, after a stroke, Ole finally put the farm up sale, Kabuo again rushed to reclaim what was his, only to find that that Carl Heine
Jr. had beaten him to it. While Carl agreed to consider selling Kabuo a portion of the land, the small plot that…