Eyes of the Emperor (book)
Creators: Graham Salisbury
Book cover. Courtesy of Wendy Lamb Books
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Historical novel aimed at middle school readers based on the true story of Nisei solders from Hawai'i who were made to serve as "bait" in a program that attempted to train dogs to recognize and attack the supposed distinctive smell of "Japanese" during World War II.
Eyes of the Emperor is told in the voice of Eddy Okubo, a sixteen-year-old Nisei who lives in the Kaka'ako neighborhood of Honolulu with his father Koji, a boatbuilder, his mother, and his thirteen-year-old brother Herbie when the narrative begins in August of 1941. Having graduated early from McKinley High School , Eddy wants to join the army like his two good friends, Nick "Chik" Matsumura and Takei "Cobra" Uehara. When vandals torch a boat his father had worked hard to build, he decides to take action and alters his birth certificate so that he can enlist. Having not told his family beforehand, his father refuses to speak to him.
Initially assigned to Schofield Barracks alongside Chik and Cobra, Eddy is home on leave when Pearl Harbor is attacked . Rushing back to duty after the attack, he and the other Nisei soldiers face one humiliation after another from distrustful commanding officers: having their guns taken away and being put under armed guard, being assigned menial labor tasks, and guarding a beach in Waimanalo while white troops are positioned above to guard them. After five months, they finally ship out, landing in San Francisco, then heading to Camp McCoy , where they see interned Japanese Americans. One night, about twenty-five of the Nisei are woken up and flown to Mississippi, where they become the bait in an ill-advised scheme to train dogs to recognize the "Japanese scent." The sometimes harrowing duty with the dogs builds a bond between the Nisei men, though the venture predictably fails. At novel's end, the men are sent to Camp Shelby to rejoin the other members of the 100th Infantry Battalion . An author's note provides a brief summary of the real history of dog training and the Nisei involved in it on which the story is based.
Eddy and his brother Herbie are minor characters in Salisbury's first novel about Japanese Americans, Under the Blood-Red Sun , with the latter being the second baseman for the Kaka'ako Boys baseball team, the rival of protagonist Tomi Nakaji's team, the Rats. Captain Parrish, mechanical drawing teacher turned supportive commanding officer, was modeled after Major James Lovell, the much admired real life executive officer of the 100th Infantry Battalion. A subplot in the book involves one of Eddy's compatriots rescuing a Japanese sailor named Sakamaki while patrolling Waimanalo Beach and Eddy later encountering him as a POW. This character is based on Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, the first Japanese captured in the attack on Pearl Harbor, though the exact circumstances of his capture and internment are slightly different than what is presented in the book.
Background of Book
Author Graham Salisbury (1944– ) was born in Philadelphia, but mostly raised in Hawai'i, where his family has long roots going back to the early 1800s. His father, Henry Forester Graham, was a naval officer who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but who was later killed when his plane was shot down in the Pacific on Graham's first birthday. Salisbury grew up the windward side of O'ahu and also in Kailua-Kona and Kamuela on the Big Island where he boarded at Hawaii Preparatory Academy from the 7th grade. Taken by music at a young age, her pursued a music career in the 1960s, recording as part of the well-known Sunshine Pop band The Millennium and also as a solo artist under the name "Sandy Salisbury." He also worked on a deep-sea fishing boat and as the skipper of a glass-bottom boat. He eventually went on to graduate from California State University, Northridge in 1974 with the intention of becoming a teacher. He cites a reading of Alex Haley's Roots "which changed my live forever," inspiring him to become a reader and eventually a writer. After graduating with an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Norwich University in 1990, he published his first novel for young adults, Blue Skin of the Sea (1992) to great acclaim. It set the template for his future books in that it was set in Hawai'i and was a coming of age story with a teenage boy as protagonist intended for an audience of teenage boys. Under the Blood Red Sun followed in 1994. 
The success of Under the Blood Red Sun inspired Salisbury to focus on the Japanese American story in later books. He came upon the idea for Eyes of the Emperor from reading the first account by one of the men involved, Raymond Nosaka, in the book Japanese Eyes . . . American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii's World War II Nisei Soldiers (Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board, Honolulu: Tendai Educational Foundation, 1998). Amazed and horrified by the story, he set about investigating further. "I sat down with Raymond [Nosaka] and the other men and essentially asked them if I could tell their story, and they agreed, so everything in this book is true," he told Shara Yuki Enay when the book came out in 2005. "This whole experiment just shocked me, and that's why I feel like it's about time that people know about what the U.S. government did to these guys." Salisbury ended up interviewing eight of the men involved in the project and visited the sites of the project in Mississippi. 
Salisbury has to date written two more books featuring a Japanese American protagonist during World War II: House of the Red Fish (2006), a direct sequel to Under the Blood Red Sun , and Hunt for the Bamboo Rat " (2014).
Historical Accuracy and Response
Based as it is on a real incident as recalled by many of the men involved in it, the story has a high degree of historical accuracy. Journalist Enay, who interviewed several of the survivors of the dog mission at a 2005 book signing reported that all of them agreed that the book was an "accurate account of what they experienced, right down to the good fishing they enjoyed in their down time."
There is one element of book that is fictionalized in a way that can be seen as misleading. When the men first land in the continental U.S., they are taken for training to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. While there, they see Japanese American inmates, "[m]en and women, young, old," Salisbury writes. "Except for Sakamaki, it wasn't a place for enemies but for people the government had kicked out of all those West Coast states." While Camp McCoy was indeed used as an internment camp for Japanese Americans, it was not part of the mass roundup of Japanese Americans from the West Coast as implied by the text. Rather it was one of several camps run by the army to house enemy aliens who were on custodial detention lists and who were arrested in the days and weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and mostly before the mass roundup of West Coast Japanese Americans began. The Japanese American internees at Camp McCoy were thus all male and almost all were Issei , with many having been arrested in Hawai'i. Though there are conflicting accounts, it also appears that the Hawai'i internees (between 160 and 188 in number, depending on the source) at Camp McCoy had been moved to another camp before the 100th Battalion arrived there. 
Reviews for the book were uniformly positive with reviewers praising the book for being both exciting and nuanced, for its rooting in a real historical story, and for its ties to present day issues. While Ed Goldberg in VOYA writes that "[t]he action will keep readers turning pages" and Elizabeth Bush in The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books calls it "a gripping, convincing tale that crackles with tension," Kirkus Reviews calls it "[m]orally and psychologically complex, historically accurate and unforgettably gripping," and James Blasingame in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy writes that "Salisbury is careful to show the contradictions and the conflicting views and events as the story unfolds."  Among those that praise its historicity are are Don Gallo in The English Journal , who writes "[t]his amazing story—true to its historical and never-before-reported origins—is shocking, poignant, and as engaging as anything you'll ever read about World War II, and Blasingame, who adds "[h]storical fiction based on primary sources is rare, and when it's combined with Salisbury's creative talent, it becomes a real gem."  Hazel Rochman in Booklist hints at the broader value of the story, writing that it brings "a view of American history seldom told and open up the meaning of homeland and patriotism ."  Carol A. Edwards in School Library Journal calls it a "story with huge implications for observers of current events." 
- "Graham Salisbury," Contemporary Authors Online (Detroit: Gale, 2009); "An Interview with Graham Salisbury," by Trisha, The Ya Ya Yas blog, May 17, 2007, https://theyayayas.wordpress.com/2007/05/17/an-interview-with-graham-salisbury/ ; Biography from Graham Salisbury website, http://grahamsalisbury.com/about/ , all accessed on May 26, 2016. Quote from "Graham Salisbury," Contemporary Authors Online .
- Shara Yuki Enay, "'Eyes of the Emperor': World War II 'Dog Bait' Training Mission Detailed in New Book," Hawai'i Herald , Dec. 2, 2005, 6–7; James Blasingame, "Interview with Graham Salisbury," Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 49.4 (Dec. 2005–Jan 2006): 352–55.
- Quote Eyes of the Emperor from pages 100–01. Information on the Japanese American internees at Camp McCoy is drawn from Peggy Choy's "Racial Order and Contestation: Asian American Internees and Soldiers at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, 1942-1943," in Asian Americans: Comparative and Global Perspectives , edited by Shirley Hune, et al. (Washington State University Press, 1991), 87–102.
- Ed Goldberg, VOYA , August 2005, 225; Elizabeth Bush, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 59.1 Sept. 2005, 41; Kirkus Reviews , July 1, 2005, 743, accessed on May 30, 2016 at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/graham-salisbury/eyes-of-the-emperor ; James Blasingame, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 49.4 (Dec. 2005–Jan. 2006): 351.
- Don Gallo, "Bold Books for Teenagers: The Promise and Seduction of Sequels," The English Journal 94.4 (March 2005): 128; Blasingame, 351.
- Hazel Rochman, Booklist , May 15, 2005, 1669.
- Carol A. Edwards, School Library Journal , Sept. 2005, 213.
Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration
|Awards||Association for Library Service to Children, 2006 Notable Children's Books selection|
For More Information
Eyes of the Emperor booknotes and teacher's guide: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/teachers_guides/9780553494877.pdf .
Author website: http://grahamsalisbury.com/books/world-war-ii-novels/ .
Enay, Shara Yuki. "'Eyes of the Emperor': World War II 'Dog Bait' Training Mission Detailed in New Book." Hawai'i Herald , Dec. 2, 2005, 6–7.
Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board. Japanese Eyes . . . American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii's World War II Nisei Soldiers . Honolulu: Tendai Educational Foundation, 1998.
Interview with Ray Nosaka about the dog training mission, The Hawai'i Nisei Story website: http://nisei.hawaii.edu/object/io_1153256967265.html .
Blasingame, James. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 49.4 (Dec. 2005–Jan. 2006): 350–51. ["Historical fiction based on primary sources is rare, and when it's combined with Salisbury's creative talent, it becomes a real gem."]
Bush, Elizabeth. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 59.1 (Sept. 2005): 41. ["… a gripping, convincing tale that crackles with tension as the training sessions become more intense and the Nisei soldiers are put in escalating danger."]
Edwards, Carol A. School Library Journal', Sept. 2005, 213. ["The immediacy of the writing allows readers to imagine themselves as one of the boys. A story with huge implications for observers of current events."]
Gallo, Don. "Bold Books for Teenagers: The Promise and Seduction of Sequels." The English Journal 94.4 (March 2005): 124–28. ["This amazing story—true to its historical and never-before-reported origins—is shocking, poignant, and as engaging as anything you'll ever read about World War II."]
Goldberg, Ed., VOYA , Aug. 2005, 225. ["The action will keep readers turning pages. The prejudice that Eddie encounters is realistically portrayed."]
Kirkus Review , July 1, 2005, 743. ["Salisbury's tone, both unsentimental and unsensational, renders his telling all the more powerfully affecting. Morally and psychologically complex, historically accurate and unforgettably gripping."]
Publishers Weekly , Sept. 5, 2005, 64. ["The novel brims with memorable and haunting scenes…. this is a valuable and gripping addition to the canon of WW II historical fiction from a perspective young readers rarely see."]
Rochman, Hazel. Booklist , May 15, 2005, 1669. ["The cruel training, the vicious prejudice from many officers, the camaraderie among the soldiers, and the mixed-up news from family bring a view of American history seldom told and open up the meaning of homeland and patriotism ."]
Sieruta, Peter D. The Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2005, 480. ["Eddy's lean, first-person narrative heartbreakingly captures his pride, stoicism, and continued loyalty to a country that treats him with abject prejudice."]