No-No Boy Summary

No-No Boy is a novel by John Okada in which a Japanese-American man named Ichiro Yamada must reconcile his Japanese and American identities in the wake of World War II.

  • Ichiro Yamada is relocated to an internment camp during World War II. 
  • Upon his release, Ichiro moves back to Seattle. Many other Japanese-Americans look down on him for having refused to pledge his allegiance to the United States.
  • One of Ichiro's close friends, Kenji, joins the American military during the war.
  • Kenji introduces Ichiro to Emi, whose brother and father repatriated to Japan. Emi's husband Mike left her, and she and Ichiro bond.

Summary

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Ichiro Yamada, a twenty-five-year-old Japanese American, is a “no-no boy” during World War II: That is, he refuses to serve in the U.S. armed forces if drafted and to swear unqualified allegiance to the United States. As a result, he spends two years in federal prison. After being released from prison, he returns home to Seattle to live with his mother and father. Like all Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens, the Yamadas had been forced to spend the war years in American internment camps; only those who were drafted into or joined the armed services were spared the relocation camps. Ichiro’s refusal to fight for his country was his protest against this unjust treatment of Japanese Americans. His mother, who speaks very little English and who considers herself Japanese, even though she has lived in the United States for thirty-five years, is proud of Ichiro for going to prison. However, Taro, Ichiro’s younger brother, detests him for not serving. Ichiro himself has conflicted feelings about his decision.

After Ichiro returns to Seattle, he meets a former friend, Eto, who had fought in the war. When he learns that Ichiro was a no-no boy, Eto spits on him. Ichiro visits the University of Washington, where he had been an engineering student before the war. He wants to return to school, but he feels that he has forfeited the right to do so. Ichiro then meets Kenji Kanno, his good friend from his university days. Though he shares Ichiro’s anger about the internment camps, Kenji had chosen to fight in the war. He is a hero and had lost a leg in battle; his wound has not completely healed and his health is deteriorating. Ichiro envies Kenji and wishes he could change places with him. Kenji respects Ichiro for having followed his conscience and gone to prison.

Bull, a Japanese American friend of Kenji, insults Ichiro; later, two of Taro’s friends assault Ichiro. Kenji takes Ichiro to meet his girlfriend, Emi. She is married to one of Kenji’s Japanese American friends in the U.S. Army, but he has left her. Ichiro and Emi have a brief affair, with Kenji’s knowledge; she knows that Kenji is dying. She encourages Ichiro to put his past behind him and not feel despondent.

Ichiro observes many examples of racial prejudice among all ethnic groups. Hatred and bigotry are everywhere, but there also are many good people, among them Mr. Carrick. He is a white man who has many Japanese American friends and is ashamed of his country for its mistreatment of Japanese American citizens during the war. He offers Ichiro a job, but Ichiro decides not to accept it. Mr. Carrick’s kindness gives Ichiro reason to hope that he might be able to resume a normal life.

Kenji’s condition grows worse, and he is hospitalized. When Ichiro visits him, Kenji is angry and depressed. He argues that the “melting pot” does not exist; ethnic strife dominates American life. He urges Ichiro to forget that he is Japanese American and to leave Seattle. Kenji dies in the hospital and is buried in a section of the community graveyard set aside for Japanese Americans. Ichiro returns from the funeral to find that his mother has committed suicide. He feels pity for her, but he still blames her for having tried to make him a Japanese rather than an American. Ichiro finds his weak-willed father in an alcoholic stupor.

Ichiro meets up with Freddie, a fellow no-no boy with a hot temper. Ichiro visits Emi again, who informs him that she is getting a divorce. They go dancing....

(This entire section contains 791 words.)

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Ichiro begins to feel less depressed and more hopeful about the future. A Mr. Morris offers him a job at the Christian Rehabilitation Center, and Ichiro considers taking it. Another no-no boy, Gary, who works there, relates that he had been harassed by Japanese American veterans at a former job; an African American friend had often defended him against the taunters. Gary eventually is able to make peace with himself, and he starts a new life as an artist. The conversation with Gary gives Ichiro further hope that he can renew his life.

Freddie remains filled with self-hatred and is unpredictable. When he and Ichiro go to a bar, they run into Bull again. Bull and Freddie get into a fight, and Ichiro tries to break it up. Bull chases Freddie to his car, and Freddie wildly speeds off; he loses control and dies in the crash. Ichiro is upset by the tragic incident, but his experiences with caring people such as Kenji, Emi, Mr. Carrick, and Gary allow him to face the future with hope for himself and his country.

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