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Beyond Loyalty: The Story of a Kibei (book)

Creators: Minoru Kiyota

Memoir of Kibei scholar Minoru Kiyota (1923–2013) that focuses on the difficult World War II years that saw him incarcerated in American concentration camps and eventually renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Originally published as a Japanese language autobiographical novel in 1990, it was translated and reworked into an English language memoir published in 1997 by the University of Hawai'i Press.


After a brief opening chapter about Pearl Harbor day, the story begins with Kiyota's earliest memories of his boyhood in San Francisco. Though born in Seattle, the only child of Issei parents from Kanagawa Prefecture, his first memories are of moving to San Francisco where the family lived in a dingy hotel. His father worked as a live-in domestic who came home just once a week; his absences grew longer until he more or less abandons the family. His mother cleans houses, often taking young Minoru with her, where he witnesses her mistreatment by wealthy clients. When he is eleven, he goes to Japan with his mother, and she leaves him with her parents in Hiratsuka, who are relatively well-off. Though he is initially taunted by other children for being American, he soon adjusts and makes many friends. He is nonetheless glad when his mother returns to retrieve him, and they return to San Francisco in the spring of 1938.

His relatively happy life there comes to an end with the mass removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, which takes place during his senior year at Lowell High School. He and his mother go first to Tanforan Assembly Center , where he works in the block mess hall, then to Topaz . When he applies for leave intending to go to college, he rebuffed by a smarmy FBI agent who accuses him of being in a pro-Japanese organization due to his prewar kendo training. Embittered by his inability to leave, he first tries to plot an escape, then answers the loyalty questionnaire negatively, resulting in his banishment to Tule Lake . At Tule Lake, he is shot at by guards and beaten by pro-Japan radicals, leading him to renounce his U.S. citizenship. His miserable existence there is interrupted by kindly Christian missionaries and by the camp's community analyst, Marvin K. Opler , who hires him as an assistant and who later introduces him to attorney Wayne Collins when he seeks to to annul his renunciation.

Upon finally being released from Tule Lake in March 1946, he enrolls at the College of Ozarks in Arkansas, where he is well received. He later transfers to the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduates. Wanting to study Buddhism, he applies for a position with U.S. Air Force Intelligence and is sent to Japan where he works as a translator and interrogator. But three years in, they discover his status as a renunciant, he is immediately fired, and has his passport taken. He enrolls at the University of Tokyo, and finishes master's and Ph.D. degrees in Indian philosophy before returning the U.S. to take a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin as the main narrative of the book ends in January 1962. (With Collins' assistance, he eventually regains his U.S. citizenship.) He also manages to work in two romances—one with a fellow Nisei intellectual he meets at Topaz and who ends up at Tule Lake and one with a liberal-minded white student he meets in Arkansas—though he eventually abandons both story lines. Two short final chapters provide an update on some of the main characters and on Japanese Americans after the war.

Background and Reaction

Kiyota went on to a long career as a scholar at the University of Wisconsin publishing widely on Buddhism and on kendo before his retirement in 1999. He writes in the Afterword that he wrote the book hoping to "convey the frustration and anxiety, the fear and uncertainty, the hope and aspirations of an individual who is subjected to government-sponsored harassment and injustice." He wrote the book originally in Japanese as a novel, which was published in 1990 at Nikkei hangyakuji [Japanese American Rebel]. According to 's Translator's Note by Linda Klepinger Keenan, the protagonist was named Keiichi, and the book was written in the third person, which "allowed him a needed sense of detachment to describe events that he still found extremely painful to discuss." Keenen writes that she worked closely with Kiyota on the translation, converting it into a first person narrative and making other edits. [1]

Academic reviews of the book were largely positive. In the Journal of Asian Studies , Franklin S. Odo calls it "a fascinating account, readable and valuable, for anyone interested in Asian Americans, World War II, the occupation of Japan, and the impact of nationalism and demands for political loyalty on individual identities," while Keiko Yamanaka in Pacific Affairs praises the "lucid prose charged with the powerful emotions which run through the mind of this young and idealistic man" and calls it a "valuable contribution to Japanese American literature/of that era which heretofore has been dominated by assimilationist perspectives." [2] In Pacific Historical Review , Roger Daniels finds that it is unable to shed its origins a a novel, calling "the characters, especially the women,... one-dimensional." However, he also finds value in Kiyota's depiction of Tule Lake, citing it as "further evidence that the notion put forth in The Spoilage , of Tule Lake as an essentially bifurcated camp—divided between dissidents and Old Tuleans—needs to be revised." [3]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. Quotes from pages 247 and xi.
  2. Franklin S. Odo, Journal of Asian Studies 57.3 (Aug. 1998), 886; Keiko Yamanaka, Pacific Affairs 71.4 (Winter 1998–1999), 609–10.
  3. Roger Daniels, Pacific Historical Review 67.4 (Nov. 1998), 635.
Media Details
Author Minoru Kiyota, Linda Klepinger Keenan (translator)
Publication Date 1997


Daniels, Roger. Pacific Historical Review 67.4 (Nov. 1998): 634–36. ["… I would call it an autobiographical novel. It is full of direct discourse, and except for the protagonist, the characters, especially the women, are one-dimensional."]

Kan, Katharine L. Library Journal , Oct. 15, 1997, 74. ["Kiyota's eloquent fury at his wartime treatment and the aftermath is compelling reading."]

Odo, Franklin S. Journal of Asian Studies 57.3 (Aug. 1998): 885–86. ["This is a fascinating account, readable and valuable, for anyone interested in Asian Americans, World War II, the occupation of Japan, and the impact of nationalism and demands for political loyalty on individual identities."]

Yamanaka, Keiko. Pacific Affairs 71.4 (Winter 1998–1999): 608–10. ["By vividly portraying the personal pain caused by diverse and unyielding views during the period of the internees' collective suffering, Minoru Kiyota makes a valuable contribution to Japanese American literature of that era which heretofore has been dominated by assimilationist perspectives."]