Snakeskin Shamisen (book)
Creators: Naomi Hirahara
Book cover. Courtesy of Bantam/Dell
View in the Densho Encyclopedia
The third novel in Naomi Hirahara's "Mas Arai Mysteries" series finds the gardener/detective back in Southern California in 2002 where he tackles a murder case in the Okinawan American community.
Snakeskin Shamisen begins with the murder of Randy Yamashiro, a Vietnam veteran buddy of Mas's friend, G. I. Hasuike, shortly after he had won a $500,000 jackpot in Las Vegas. A sanshin—an Okinawan stringed instrument—found at the scene proves to be a key clue. Through his friendship with G. I., Mas gets dragged into solving the crime, whose roots lie in the unique history and culture of Okinawan Americans and of Okinawa during World War II and in the cold war politics of the early postwar years. The book introduces (or greatly expands the role of) several characters, including G.I., a long-haired Sansei lawyer who tells Mas he had gone into law because of what was done to Japanese Americans during World War II. Juanita Gushiken, G. I.'s girlfriend, is a private investigator who works with Mas on the case. Her parents are Japanese Peruvian , among the group that was brought into the U.S. and interned during World War II. They consult with a UCLA professor named Genessee Howard about the finer points of Okinawan music and culture crucial to solving the case. Born in Okinawa to an African-American father and Okinawan mother, the widower Mas finds himself drawn to her.
As with the other Mas Arai books, Snakeskin Shamisen is filled with references to Japanese American history during World War II and the early postwar years. The shamisen of the title turns out to have been purchased in the Jerome , Arkansas concentration camp, and there are multiple references to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team , Terminal Island , and the Immigration Act of 1952 . Juanita also has occasion to tell Mas about her family's wartime travails