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Gaijin: American Prisoner of War (book)

Creators: Matt Faulkner, Matt Faulkner (illustrator)

Book cover. Courtesy of Disney Hyperion
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner is the story of a hapa teenage boy's struggle living in post December 7 San Francisco, California. 13-year-old Koji Miyamoto discovers that life being biracial (his mother Adeline is white and his father Ichiro is Japanese) is just as difficult inside an incarceration camp as it was outside in the city after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Written for 5th through 8th grade readers, this graphic novel has a distinctive style of elongated caricatures colored with dark reds, yellows, blues, and browns.

Koji is persecuted on a daily basis by both classmates and strangers—he is bullied, called a "Jap spy," and told that "no Japs were allowed" on the public streetcar. Koji's simmering anger over these many injustices builds as he is labeled an "enemy alien" and told to report to a "relocation camp," and he and Adeline are forced to sell their possessions to a junk dealer at a fraction of the cost. FBI agents repeatedly visit to ask about his father's whereabouts. Adeline angrily defends her husband and says that Ichiro had gone to Japan the previous summer to be with his ailing father.

Onboard the bus to the "Alameda Downs Assembly Center" a former horse racetrack across the San Francisco Bay, Adeline and Koji discover that they are seated next to Ichiro's former employers, Mr. and Mrs. Asai. [1] Once they arrive at the camp, Adeline tries to be cheery and optimistic about their living situation; Koji is seething. His anger comes to a head when a gang of Japanese boys call out to Koji, "Hey, gaijin!" (outsider) and they brawl, breaking a window of the commander's headquarters in the process. As a result, the camp commander reprimands Koji—he must fix the window and be an assistant to Mr. Asai who is caring for the camp victory garden. They build a protective fence around the garden which the gang tears down. Mr. Asai tells Koji to ignore them; they rebuild the fence multiple times.

Koji harbors secret fears in his thoughts and dreams. Throughout the book, Koji has a recurring nightmare that "Pop" is flying a Japanese bomber plane—he secretly wonders if "Pop" was somehow involved in the war. In addition, Koji is sullenly aware when men and boys remark within his hearing how pretty Adeline is. He begins to wonder if his mother is being unfaithful to his father and lashes out at Adeline. He reaches his breaking point when the same gang of boys yells that his mom is the camp floozy and another fistfight ensues. When guards arrive to break up the fight, this time Koji bolts and attempts to climb the perimeter fence, a dangerous mistake that could have cost him his life. The commander tells him that if there are any more infractions, he will be forced to send Koji to a juvenile detention camp.

The boys catch up to Koji again and pressure him to steal cigarettes from the post exchange and then a box of Spam which they will need when they plan to break out of the camp. They overhear that in a few days they were going to be moved to a new (fictional) camp named "Agua Dulce." The boys were desperate to escape that night as rumors were flying that the government was planning the mass move to bomb them out in the desert, away from any witnesses. When the box of Spam Koji stole goes missing, Jo, the leader of the gang beats up Koji and injures Koji's eye. Mr. Asai comes to Koji's rescue and takes him home to treat his wounds. Adeline is distraught at Koji's overnight disappearance and when he walks in the door of their room, they embrace.

What will happen when they leave for "Agua Dulce?" Will the gang of boys be caught? Will Koji ever see his father again?

Following the novel, in an afterward entitled "Finding Adeline," Matt Faulkner writes that the book was based on the experiences of his great aunt, Adeline Conlan, a traveling Irish American singer who married a Japanese man named Ichiro in the 1920s. Adeline and her daughter Mary experienced much discrimination wherever they went. During World War II, rather than be separated from her daughter and grandchildren, Adeline joined Mary and Mary's family in Manzanar , where they were among a small number of interracial families in the concentration camps.

Authored by Jan Kamiya


  1. "Alameda Downs" is clearly based on the Tanforan Assembly Center , a converted horse racing track where most Japanese Americans from the San Francisco Bay area were first sent
Media Details
Author Matt Faulkner
Pages 144
Publication Date 2014