Historical Context

World War II and Japanese Internment
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered (through Executive Order 9066) the arrest of Japanese Americans, primarily those living on the West Coast. Violating the basic rights of citizens, as provided by the U.S. Constitution, President Roosevelt ordered the U.S. military to build detention camps and then to transport Japanese American citizens and legal aliens to the make-shift quarters. Roosevelt reportedly did so in the name of national security. It has been estimated that 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated, most of them under the age of eighteen. According to the Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, some students were released to go to college or to enlist in the U.S. Army. However, a large number of people were held in these camps until World War II ended. This means some people spent up to four years in these camps. No one in these camps was given the benefit of due process. They could not protest these illegal laws that sent them to prison.

In 1980, when the commission published its results, it was declared that none of the detainees had been proven to be a spy, which had been the government’s stated reason for the detention. Rather, the commission concluded the detention of Japanese Americans was the result of racism and wartime hysteria. Eight years later, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which stated that an injustice had been done to the Japanese Americans and suggested that these people were owed a presidential apology and a token sum of $20,000, paid to every detainee.

There were ten major designated relocation camps, most located in isolated and desolate desert or swampland areas: Tule Lake and Manzanar in California; Minidoka in Idaho; Topaz in Utah; Heart Mountain in Wyoming; Granada in Colorado; Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas; and Poston and Gila River in Arizona. In addition, there were several temporary so-called assembly areas (such as the Tanforan Race Track) and many isolation centers, totaling over twenty different camps. Tule Lake in the mountains of California was reserved for those people suspected of or convicted of crimes. Also, many who would not sign oaths of loyalty to the United States ended up at Tule Lake.

Japanese Immigration to the United States
In 1869, Japanese immigrants came to California to work at the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony. Their plan to grow tea and...

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Literary Style

Timeframe Divisions
Picture Bride is divided into large periods of time. Each section presents a specific time period in Hana’s life. The first section is devoted to 1917 and 1918, a time when there were numerous picture brides. During this time, many women came to the United States, prepared to marry men they had seen only in a photograph. These women, like Hana in Uchida’s story, had big dreams about the United States and their new lives in what they believed to be a prosperous country. Like Hana, many of these women lost their ideal hopes when they faced the man behind the photograph. As Kiku comments in this story, most men sent photographs taken when they were much younger. Many of these men also exaggerated their financial status in order to attract the best wife. Many of these women had no idea of the hardships that faced them.

The second segment, 1920 to 1921, depicts Hana as a new mother and as the victim of racism against Japanese. Having a child makes Hana and Taro more aware of the society around them, the people and the community in which their daughter will grow up. This section also introduces Kenji, a young man who is a significant character in the rest of the novel, a sort of surrogate son for the child that Hana and Taro lose.

The third part covers the 1930s. During these years Mary matures. As she grows up, she distances herself from her parents because she wants to be American and not be...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Caylor, Arthur, “Behind the News with Arthur Caylor,” in San Francisco News, April 29, 1942, http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/caylor1.html (accessed January 27, 2006).

Fazioli, Carol, Review of The Invisible Thread, in School Library Journal, Vol. 49, No. 11, November 2003, p. 83.

Livingston, Nancy, and Catherine Kurkjian, Review of Jar of Dreams, in Reading Teacher, Vol. 57, No. 1, September 2003, p. 102.

McDiffett, Danton, “Prejudice and Pride: Japanese Americans in the Young Adult Novels of Yoshiko Uchida,” in English Journal, Vol. 90, No. 3, January 2001, p. 60.

Okubo, Miné, Citizen 13660,...

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Compare and Contrast

  • 1940s: According to the 1940 U.S. Census, the population of Japanese Americans in the United States totals 285,116. Most live in Hawaii or in California.

    Today: Japanese Americans are not singled out in the U.S. Census. They are grouped under a general category of people who are of Asian descent. There are about 7 millions Asian Americans living in the United States. The majority live in New York, California, and Hawaii.

  • 1940s: About 120,000 Japanese American citizens living along the West Coast are sent to internment camps following the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor for what the government calls security reasons.

    Today: Many Arab Americans in the United States are detained by the U.S. government for what are termed security reasons after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. From 2002 through 2006, approximately five hundred Muslims arrested in Afghanistan and elsewhere are detained at a U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo, Cuba, because they are suspected by the Bush administration of being possible al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives. The majority are held without being charged or having access to legal counsel. In June 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the Bush administration, stating that prisoners at Guantanamo are subject to protections guaranteed by the Geneva Convention.

  • ...

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Topics for Further Study

Compose letters from a prospective Picture Bride and her intended future husband. Write two sets of three letters, one answering the other. In these letters describe yourself. For one letter, you might, as the prospective husband, tell your Picture Bride what kind of work you do and what you expect from her as your wife. Then respond as the Picture Bride, telling your future husband what you expect from him. You can write these letters in a serious tone or use your comedic side and make the whole series funny. Read the letters to your class.

Create two display charts or slide shows for your class. On one display, show a typical wardrobe for a Japanese man and woman for the early period of the twentieth century. Learn the Japanese names of the different pieces of clothing. On the other display, present a wardrobe for an American man and woman contemporary to those same times. Use actual photographs to make the display more informative.

Conduct research on the Internet or in your local library about the Japanese internment camps. Collect photographs and details of daily life for a teenager in one of the internment camps. Put together a display that shows what a typical day might have been like. Include information on the weather in different seasons, the landscape, what kind of classes children attended each day, what chores they did, what kinds of food they had, and a description of the living quarters. Present this information to your class....

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What Do I Read Next?

Uchida’s Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family (1982) tells of the real experiences of her own family during World War II. In this book, Uchida covers the history of her family before and during the war, including her family’s confinement in the Topaz internment camp in central Utah.

Joy Kogawa’s Obasan (1994) relates the story of a Japanese-American woman named Naomi who decides to explore her past, which forces her to confront how her mother disappeared from her life when she was just a little girl. Naomi grew up in Canada, which also interned Japanese immigrants during World War II.

Hisaye Yamamoto’s short story collection Seventeen Syllables (revised edition, 2001) tells about growing up as a Japanese American. Her stories explore the acculturation process and the hardships of living in an internment camp.

The Loom and Other Stories (1991), a collection of short stories by R. A. Sasaki, tells about Japanese-American experiences in the San Francisco area in the late twentieth century.

Set in the 1950s, Cynthia Kadohata’s coming-of-age novel Floating World (1989) follows the experiences of a Japanese-American family as they move from one town to another in search of work. Olivia Ann Osaka, a teenager, is the focal character, who is forced to continually make up a new life each time her family takes to the road.

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