Essay on Japanese Americans During World War II

In chapter six “We Are the Outcasts” of Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter, the author explains some of the hardships that the Nisei generation encounters as Japanese-Americans. The beginning of the chapter starts off by telling the readers how Sumiko has fallen ill. The author explains that she has asthma and gets asthma attacks every winter. Sumiko was very weak and started coughing up some blood. The blood really concerned the family so they called a doctor to come check her out. The doctor became very concerned about Sumiko’s cough and ordered them to see a specialist.

The specialists came and then ordered an X-ray and informed the family that there is a very high chance that Sumiko has tuberculosis based on her symptoms. The specialist gave the family a pamphlet to North Pines Sanitarium, a place that Sumiko would have to go to if her tuberculosis test came back positive. That evening, Dr. Stimson came back with the diagnosis. Sumiko did not have tuberculosis. The doctor said she needed plenty of milk, rest, and sunlight. Sumiko’s treatment inspired the family to move to the beach. Sumiko’s health was hard enough on the family, however the family had to face further obstacles to due to racial tensions and prejudice against Japanese-Americans.  

During this time period, America was in World War II. One of the major opponents in the war was Japan. After Japan orchestrated a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the American and Japanese relationship became very tense. After Sumiko’s tuberculosis scare, her family was determined to have a house by the beach to help improve Sumiko’s health. “But Sumiko and I dreamed about a little white cottage by the beach, planning in detail how we would spend our days,” (111). The sisters dreamed of waking up and running to the beach, helping their mom with the daily chores and cleaning of the house, and then for their dad to build them a nice massive bonfire to watch the sunset by. Kazuko and her mom went to neighborhoods near Alki Beach for the hope that they will find the perfect house for them and their family.

The first house was a gray house with luxurious green grass and an abundant of roses on the side. The pair instantly fell in love. But what they did not know, knocking on this door would open them up to a world full of tension and racial discrimination. “Well, I’m asking fifty dollars, but I’m afraid you’re a little too late. I just promised this place to another party,” (112). This quote is what the landlord told the family. An answer that sounds so innocent, but yet holds so much hatred to it. Kazuko could not figure out why their family kept getting turned down. She was completely oblivious to the fact of racial prejudice against Japanese-Americans. They combed the neighborhood for the rest of the day for houses but came up short in the end. Later on, Kazuko overheard her parents talking in a separate room. She heard her mother say to her father, “Yes, there were some nice places, but I don’t think they wanted to rent to Japanese,” (113).

Kazuko sat up instantly and wondered if it was that bad to be a Japanese. A few days later, the family went searching for a house again near Alki Beach again. This time, Sumiko’s family witnessed the racial prejudice first hand. They found a Cape Cod house and decided to walk up to it. A lady answered the door but said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t want no Japs around here,” (114). Sumiko’s mother lectured to her sister. She explained that as Japs they had to accept the unpleasant facts of life. The family got a call one day from a lady who said she allowed Orientals to stay at her apartments. Throughout their whole house search, the family was exposed to racial prejudice. The family was just as capable as any other family to live in some of the houses, but they were denied just because of their race. 

After Japan’s army suddenly thrusted into Shanghai, men and women city officials shouted for a boycott of all Japanese goods. Americans and other began boycotting Japanese shops. The Chinese who worked at Japanese stores began to quit one by one. Japanese were talked about everywhere they went in public. Kazuko hated going through Chinatown because of the embarrassment she felt as the Chinese talked about her. “The Chinese shopkeepers, gossiping and sunning themselves in front of their stores, invariably stopped their chatter to give me pointed, icicled glares,” (119).

The embarrassment did not end with gossip. The editorial section of local and national newspapers caricatured Japanese people. “The Japanese was always caricatured with enormous, moon-shaped spectacles and beady, myopic eyes,” (119). The editors also made the Japanese characters look more botched than normal characters. “A small mustache was perched arrogantly over massive, square buck teeth, and his bow-legged posture suggested a simian character,” (119). The newspapers also always published stories about the Japanese army. Each time a new story was published, people would always stare at Sumiko’s family in public. One of the most embarrassing moments Sumiko’s sisters remembers is when the family loaded up in the car to go to Antler’s Lodge. “One beautiful Sunday afternoon a carload of us drove out into the country to swim at Antler’s Lodge,” (119). The family was then greeted by the manager that blocked the entrance from them. The manager informed them that they did not want any Japanese around there. The family tried to fight back and explain that they are American citizens and not Japanese. Eventually the family gave up and left.

During World War II, Japanese were looked highly down upon. It was hard for Japanese people to find jobs anywhere no matter how high of a degree they had. If Japanese citizens wanted to go back to Japan to work, they were also looked down by some. In the chapter, Matsui’s son, Dicku, wanted to go back to Japan and work because he was unable to find a job in America. “Dicku had studied electrical engineering through the International Correspondence Course and had just accepted an important job with the Goto firm in Japan,” (120). The town folk loved when people would beat the odds and go back to Japan and work. Kazuko recalled the moment her dad and her were out eating lunch with friends when their friends had a heated argument over Dicku’s decision to go back to Japan. Mr. Sakaguchi was excited and happy for Dicku.

He personally knew that Dicku would never be able to find a job in America so it was best that he went to Japan. “Where else could Dicku get a real man’s job? Certainly not here!” (120). Mr. Sawada believed that his parents should have thought twice before letting him go. “It’s Dicku’s own decision, but if I were his parents, I would advise him to think twice about it. After all, Dicku’s an American citizen; his future is here,” (120). Many Nisei people were happy for Dicku to get out because they knew personally what kind of jobs that Nisei people got in America. “Our Nisei engineers push lawn mowers. Men with degrees in chemistry and physics do research in the fruit stands of the public market,” (121).

Some Japanese people like Dicku were ready to go back to Japan for personal reasons. Japanese Americans were trying to live their normal lives but they still got tormented by white people in public. One day Dicku was at Pike Public Market looking around when one white man told him that the Japs needed to go back to where they belong because they were cluttering America. Japanese Americans did not have a doing in what Japan’s actions were during World War II. Japanese Americans were just trying to live their daily lives in America. On daily basis, the Nisei faced racial remarks, racial jokes in the newspapers, and were seen as a disappointment to certain Japanese for trying to leave America for a better life.

The World War II era made it hard for all Japanese Americans to live their daily lives. The Nisei generation of Japanese Americans experienced many different racist things. Sumiko’s family was not permitted to rent out most houses because they were Japanese, they had to endure many racial jokes and slurs in public, and they also had to deal with there being no jobs for them in America. They also had to endure disappointing some people if they went back to Japan to work. Over all, Japanese Americans and the Nisei generation dealt with many occurrences of racism between themselves and the Americans because of the action Japan was doing during war. Sumiko’s family tried to not get involved with the racism and prejudice. However, when Sumiko became sick and needed special treatment, it opened the family to a world full of hatred and racism.



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