Category Archives: John Okada

“JOHN OKADA” book launch at Asian American Studies conference

Greg speakingMany thanks to all the students and scholars who came to our book launch for JOHN OKADA at the Association for Asian American Studies conference at San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel — whether to our panel on Saturday morning in the Grand Ballroom, or visiting the University of Washington Press table in the exhibit hall.

Greg Robinson opened our panel by reading the paper authored by contributor Jeff Yamashita reviewing two generations of critical literature on No-No Boy. Jeff was regrettably called away at the last minute
Frank at podium and unable to speak in person. I presented the life and rediscovered works of John Okada, with the help of 40-plus photographs, only a few of which appear in the book. Floyd Cheung spoke about Okada’s studies in creative writing with Professor Grant Redford at the University of Washington after coming back from the war, showing how Okada experimented with various storytelling devices in his five long-unseen short stories and how he later deployed those devices in No-No Boy. We then pulled the chairs into a panel roundtablecircle for a roundtable discussion of how we discovered the new Okada material, and other literary influences that might have gone into No-No Boy.

book editors holding bookAt the UW Press table, editor-in-chief Larin McLaughlin and assistant editor Mike Baccam talked up the book to everyone who stopped by. Our production editor Margaret Sullivan worked furiously over the last several weeks to produce the bound galleys that Larin Frank holding bookand Mike were pleased to bring to the conference. As Greg observed, no matter how many times he’s published, there’s nothing like the moment of finally holding a new book in one’s hand. We hope to have the finished books ready to ship in time for the Tule Lake and Minidoka Pilgrimages this summer. You can still preorder the book and get the conference special of 30 percent off and free domestic shipping, with the presale code of W812.  

The #AAAS2018 conference marks the start of a long journey over the next year to share our new research with the community, with a stop already planned for #AAAS2019 in Madison, Wisconsin and possibly the nearby Chicago area. See you on the road.

Pre-publication book events for “JOHN OKADA”

John Okada at desk in New York City, 1949The pages have been proofed, the index has been complied, and our book presenting new information on the life and unknown works of novelist John Okada is set to go to press in a few short weeks. But before you get a chance in July to see what’s inside, we are previewing the book at four upcoming special events this spring and summer.

JOHN OKADA is being launched with the academic community this weekend at the Association for Asian American Studies conference at the Westin St. Francis Hotel on San Francisco’s Union Square. The University of Washington Press is supporting us with the presence of editor-in-chief Larin McLaughlin and assistant editor Mike Baccam. They’ll have flyers at the Association for Asian American Studies logoUW Press table in the exhibit hall offering a conference special 30 percent discount with free shipping on preorders (hint for blog readers: use this new presale code of W812 when using the ordering page).

Conferees, please get an early start on your Saturday morning by joining co-editor Floyd Cheung, contributor Jeffrey Yamashita, and myself at 8:00 am in the Ascot Room for our panel on “The Life and Rediscovered Work of John Okada.” Co-editor Greg Robinson will moderate.  I will present the new information from my biography of Okada, supported with a gallery of images drawn from the author’s life. Cheung will investigate the influence of Okada’s college writing instructor on the creation of several previously unknown short stories which show the young writer experimenting with genre a decade before No-No Boy. And Yamashita will review two generations of critical literature on No-No Boy, reflecting shifts in approaches by the academic community. It’s Panel S-12 in your program.

The hotel on Union Square is a return to the place where this “search for John Okada” started for me forty-five years ago. It’s a block from the Geary Theater and the American Conservatory Theater, which sponsored the Asian American Theater Workshop where I first met Frank Chin and the Combined Asian-American Resources Project and was introduced to Asian American history, Asian American literature, and the then-recent rediscovery of John Okada’s No-No Boy.  It’s where I tried out Ichiro’s spinning interior monologue as a theater audition piece, and was caught  in a photograph that book designer Bob Onodera used to design the cover for the 1976 CARP paperback reprint of No-No Boy.

I’ll return to San Francisco on Friday, May 25 for the 29th annual conference of the American Literature Association, a coalition of societies devoted to the study of American authors.  Session 12-B at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Embaradero Center is titled Okada and Beyond,” and it’s organized by The Circle for Asian American Literary Studies (CAALS). Chairs for our panel are Christine Kitano of Ithaca College and David Cho of Hope College. David helped us very early in our project with research into reviews and transcriptions of interviews.

At the Tule Lake Pilgrimage from June 29 to July 2, book contributor Martha Nakagawa and I will present a workshop on “John Okada, No-No Boy, and Reframing the False Constructions of Loyalty at Tule Lake.” Drawing from the argument in Martha’s chapter for our book, this workshop will  and reject old stereotypes about the no-no’s and break down the government’s creation of “disloyals” through successive registration, segregation, and renunciation programs that were specific to Tule Lake. We will also reevaluate the way that Okada’s novel has popularized the term “no-no boy” in the public and inside our own community, and how the resistance of the no-no’s has been misunderstood over the years. Prof. Art Hansen will moderate.

Lastly, for the Minidoka Pilgrimage on July 5-8, I’m Minidoka PIlgrimage logodeveloping a workshop with the working title of “John Okada, No-No Boy, and the Draft Resistance at Minidoka, with a special focus on the many connections between Okada and Minidoka resister Jim Akutsu that inspired the character of Ichiro Yamada in No-No Boy.

Once the book is available in July, we’ll share a schedule of public events now being planned for Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, and perhaps New York. More to come on those. If you’d like to invite one of the co-editors for a book event in your city, please contact us now.

John Okada: His life and unknown work revealed in forthcoming book

UW Press book coverWe’re pleased to announce the publication in July 2018 of a new book  from the University of Washington Press that reveals new information about the life of John Okada and brings to light his unknown works.

Preorder now through the UW Press and use the promo code WST30 to get a 30% discount.

Here’s the synopsis just released by the UW Press on page 8 of its new Spring 2018 catalog. Continue reading John Okada: His life and unknown work revealed in forthcoming book

New translation of “NO-NO BOY” for the 21st century

Ryusuke KawaiJournalist Ryusuke Kawai says he decided to re-translate John Okada’s No-No Boy because readers found the previous rendering in Japanese to be filled with archaic words and incorrect grammar that made them put down the book. Kawai spoke to an attentive audience in Seattle on March 11, as a guest of former Uwajimaya CEO Tomio Moriguchi.
Continue reading New translation of “NO-NO BOY” for the 21st century

When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

Thanks to theSuyama Project panelists 60 who joined us on March 12 at the Suyama Project panel to hear about the life of John Okada and how he wove his experiences into his landmark novel NO-NO BOY.

At the panel, historian Roger Daniels asked a provocative question: “When does the term ‘no-no boy’ first appear in print?” No one in the room could say.  Continue reading When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

Thanks to theSuyama Project panelists 60 who joined us on March 12 at the Suyama Project panel to hear about the life of John Okada and how he wove his experiences into his landmark novel NO-NO BOY.

At the panel, historian Roger Daniels asked a provocative question: “When does the term ‘no-no boy’ first appear in print?” No one in the room could say.  Continue reading When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

Upcoming program on no-no boys and “NO-NO BOY,” the novel

Suyama panel flyerPreparing my remarks now for a discussion in Seattle on March 12 with noted historians Roger Daniels and Barbara Takei on a topic that still opens wounds today. Register for free here.  

As we’ve written before, the goal of  the Eji Suyama, 100th Battalion/442nd RCT Draftees, No-Nos, Draft Resisters and Renunciants Archival Collection Endowment at UCLA is to preserve the history of the entire range of dissidence and resistance to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

The project is coming to Seattle for Roger and Barbara to preview their much-anticipated new book on Tule Lake and the notorious Segregation Center, while I will talk about the life of novelist John Okada, author of the foundational novel, No-No Boy, and how he drew upon the story of the draft resisters and set it against the places he grew up in here in postwar Seattle. Read more in the Suyama Project news release. I’ll share new research and insights into the life of Okada, and some of the inspirations that went into his work.

Continue reading Upcoming program on no-no boys and “NO-NO BOY,” the novel

REVIEW: A jarring addition to new edition of “No-No Boy”

No-No Boy cover illustrationWhen the University of Washington Press republished one of its most enduring titles with a new cover and introduction, editor Alan Lau of the International Examiner’s Pacific Reader section asked me to critique the new edition, to report on whether the book still stands the test of time after nearly 60 years, and what it says to us now. What I found was a jarring and misguided addition made by the Press to John Okada’s text, in its otherwise fine new paperback edition.

** UPDATE April 3, 2018: Through the magic of digital printing, the John Okada “signature” has now been removed from the Preface on new press runs of No-No Boy. Thanks to UW Press for its responsiveness to this issue.

Still the Great Japanese American Tragedy

No-No Boy by John Okada
the new University of Washington Press edition

reviewed by Frank Abe
special to the International Examiner, July 15-August 4, 2015

The appearance of the first new edition of John Okada’s No-No Boy in nearly 40 years offers the chance for re-evaluation of his work. As someone with a long connection with the novel, I find there’s much to like about the new edition – and one thing profoundly wrong.

After more than 100,000 copies in 13 printings, the University of Washington Press has republished this foundational work along with five others in its “Classics of Asian American Literature” series, with new covers and introductions.

First, the good. The new cover illustration reflects a lot of thought. I’ll miss the menace of the 1976 design by Bob Onodera of San Francisco, with the flags of the U.S. and Imperial Japan peering from the eyes of draft resister Ichiro Yamada’s surly face, partly because Bob based it on a photograph of myself taken the year before at the Asian American Theater Workshop. He designed the title with Army stencil font against a brown background that suggests the texture of a paper grocery bag of the kind used at Yamada grocery …

So here’s the problem with this new edition: At the end of the Preface, someone added the name “John Okada,” as if he had signed it as a statement from the author.

This attribution never existed in the original Tuttle hardcover overseen by Okada, or the CARP paperback reprint. It was not authorized by the Okada family. It interrupts the dream woven by Okada’s fiction, and violates Okada’s artistic intent. Read more …

page from newspaper

How happy ending in staged “NO-NO BOY” bowdlerizes Okada’s novel

Successfully adapting any work to the stage presents a challenge. The fact that it isn’t easy doesn’t justify violating the author’s intent.

Pan Asian Rep posterIn response to our commentary about the slapping of a happy ending on the staged version of No-No Boy that is still being pitched for a national tour by the Pan Asian Repertory Theater of New York, dramatist Ken Narasaki acknowledges in a recent Discover Nikkei blog that he couldn’t find a way to make the original ending work onstage. He also says we cannot criticize his ending without having seen the script.

John Okada’s No-No Boy is the great Japanese American tragedy. Much of its power stems from its open-ended conclusion that sends draft resister Ichiro Yamada into the darkness of postwar Japanese America, searching for answers not just for himself but for all those in his world.

The last scene of this stage adaptation reduces Okada’s epic vision to sentiment and schmaltz, so as to leave the audience with a comfortable feeling of tidy resolution, complete with callbacks to isolated lines from earlier in the novel to support an outcome never intended by Okada.

As Mr. Narasaki permits scrutiny of his adaptation only by those who have seen or read it, here then is the last scene. It is as we described it:

Lights shift:

Ichiro and Emi dance, slowly, close together.
Ichiro laughs.

EMI:  What’s so funny?

ICHIRO:  I don’t know. I was … enjoying this, you know? And then, a funny thought came into my head.

EMI:  What?

ICHIRO:  Nobody’s looking twice at us.

EMI:  They’re busy.

ICHIRO:  Yeah. I know. They’re livin’.

EMI:  You know, there’s something about this place.

ICHIRO:  There’s something here, huh? What is it?

EMI:   I don’t know.

Ma and Pa enter:

PA:  Maybe it is done. Maybe…

MA:  …you can hold your head high. Maybe…

Freddie enters.

FREDDIE :  …you can be proud of what you done. Maybe…

Taro enters.

TARO:  …because we were born here, we’re gonna have kids here.  Maybe…

Kumasaka-san enters.

KUMASAKA-SAN:  …you can finally understand. Maybe…

Kenji enters.

KENJI:  (to Ichiro)  …we’re just people. Maybe…

Mrs. Kanno enters.

MRS. KANNO:  …it doesn’t figure but that’s how it is:

Jun enters.

JUN: Ping!

ICHIRO:  …and I’m alive.

He kisses Emi.  She kisses him.

Slow fade to black.

The sight of Ichiro and Emi dancing occurs four-fifths of the way into the novel. Through the character of Emi, Okada suggests the chance for Ichiro of love and salvation. Emi is lonely and frustrated in her marriage, and takes Ichiro as a lover. Okada then frees up her marital status by having her absent husband ask for a divorce. Emi expresses a wish for Ichiro to take her dancing, and he impulsively takes her to a roadhouse south of Seattle. That’s the scene above. But here’s the rub: Okada places this second romantic interlude 40 pages and two chapters from the end of Ichiro’s journey.

Through his brilliant organization of the material, Okada states clearly his artistic intent. He refuses the idea of a happy ending for Ichiro. Emi and Ichiro go dancing, but it’s not enough to redeem the young resister. Newly released from “two years in camp and two years in prison,” Ichiro is far from ready to pursue his American dream. He needs time to sort out who he is and where he stands in the rearranged and distorted new landscape for Japanese America through which he has just passed. Love itself cannot cure all. As Ichiro might say, “the problem is bigger,” and with his ending Okada makes it clear it is something that Itchy will have to fight through for years to come.

Bringing Ma back from the dead to encourage Ichiro to “hold your head high” twists her words from their original meaning and changes her character. The line is from an early scene in which she recites from memory a letter from a fellow fanatic who relays news that Japan won the war, exhorting followers to “hold their heads high” in this delusion. Repeating it at the end as Ichiro and Emi cling to each other makes Ma appear approving or forgiving. She was neither; she killed herself because she was incapable of approval or forgiveness.

It is not a question of staging the original ending as written on the page; it’s a question of what you do to create “an entirely new solution” for ending the play on stage. The problem here is not the artistic difficulty of adaptation; it’s a problem of the artistic integrity of the result.

The hopeful, happy ending of the stage adaptation cheapens the work. It’s now mush. The power of Ichiro’s emotional journey is that he is unable or unwilling to settle for the easy answer; in this adaptation, he settles. In a 2009 essay, Mr. Narasaki acknowledges he changed Ichiro’s journey and the author’s intent, in order to coddle his audience:

“… audiences usually desire, if not require, some sense of resolution.  In this case, knowing what we know now, I think it’s possible to end this play on a note of hope, rather than despair…  How much change is sacrilege?  How much change constitutes a desecration?

“I suspect people will let us know.”

Sacrilege? Desecration? Reject this adaptation for what it is: a bowdlerizing of the work of John Okada.

REVIEW: Frank Chin’s Great Chinese American Novel

Confessions coverThis 1970s-era novel by Frank Chin, published for the first time today by the University of Hawaii Press, predates his work with the Heart Mountain resisters who are the subject of this blog. But as a Friend of the Fair Play Committee, the surprise recovery and restoration of Frank’s unpublished first novel is a story as notable as his recovery of the buried history of the resisters.

For the occasion, I wrote a review of the book for International Examiner arts editor Alan Lau:

A first look at Frank Chin’s Great Chinese American Novel

The Confessions of a Number One Son by Frank Chin
edited with an introduction by Calvin McMillin

reviewed by Frank Abe
special to the International Examiner, April 1-April 14, 2015

newspaper coverThe emergence 40 years later of a tightly edited, slimmed-down version of a long-lost novel from the writer who first defined Asian American literature is an unexpected gift.

That’s because to read The Confessions of a Number One Son in 2015 is to peel back the decades and discover the creative foundation of the plays and later fiction of Frank Chin, in the moment before he became consumed with the polemics of separating the real from the fakery in the work of others.

In an early 1970s America where the postwar generation was just coming of age—where the world still celebrated the model minority, the Chinese Christian autobiographies of Betty Lee Sung and Pardee Lowe, and the movie stereotype of Charlie Chan—Frank Chin was putting a self-proclaimed Chinaman voice at the center of his stories. It was an act of self-invention he was perfecting in tandem with his better-known stage plays, The Chickencoop Chinaman and Year of the Dragon.  Read more …

Chin review