South China Morning Post

Original review of the 1957 publication of No-No Boy

June 13, 1957

“No-No Boy” Powerful Story of Japanese Americans
A First Novel

“No-No Boy,” by John Okada. Charles E. Tuttle Company. Tokyo. 308 Pages. US$1.50 or Y540.

How did the Japanese fare in the United States during the last war?

According to Mr. John Okada, whose first novel, “No-No Boy,” has just come off the press, a few months after the “Day of Infamy” the only Japanese remaining in the western coast of the United States was one Matsusaburo Inabukuro who picked up an “I am Chinese” button and found himself a job in a shipyard. All others were either repatriated or put in concentration camps in the hinterland.

What of the American-born Japanese? “The indignation, the hatred, the patriotism of the American people shifted into full-throated condemnation of the Japanese who blotted their land” and they made no exception for those “Japanese who were born Americans…because biology does not know the meaning of patriotism…”

“No-No Boy” is the story of one of these Japanese-Americans “adrift in his own country, fighting his own private war of conflicting loyalties,” and of his struggle to find recognition for himself as a human being in an America which he had failed to fight to defend.

The hero, Ichiro Yamada, returns home from re-location camp and from imprisonment after the war’s end to find his mother still waiting for Tojo to send a ship to fetch her home to a victorious Japan. With a few exceptions, he finds himself despised by everyone. The exceptions include a boyhood friend, Kenji Kanno, who fought and lost a leg in the Italian campaign and who would be glad to exchange places with him.

Using the stream-of-consciousness device to a great extent, Mr. Okada tells the story with understanding and sympathy and sometimes with great feeling and gusto, although one finds the “tough-guy dead-end-kid” kind of dialogue somewhat irritating at times. One wonders if his characters would be less American had he employed pidgin English.

However, the Japanese in the United States will find an adequate spokesman in Mr. Okada who was born in Seattle and who during the last war, made many flights over Japan as a voice interceptor.

Mr. Okada is certain that “the bigotry and meanness and ugliness” in the United States will one day pass, for “there is a sense of unity and purpose which inspires one to hope and optimism. One encounters obstacles but the wedge of the persecuted is not without patience and intelligence and humility and the opposition weakens and wavers and disperses. And one who is the Negro or Japanese or Chinese or Jew is further fortified and gladdened with the knowledge that the democracy which is America is on his side and, therefore, only time is needed before the democracy is a democracy in fact for all of them.”


The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration