Journey to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese-American Evacuation (book)
Creators: Yoshiko Uchida, Donald Carrick (illustrator)
Book cover. Courtesy of Scribner's
View in the Densho Encyclopedia
Pioneering 1971 novel by Yoshiko Uchida that was the first book for children on the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans written by a Japanese American. Based in part on Uchida's own family experience, Journey to Topaz was the first of five books the prolific children's book author wrote that focused on the incarceration experience.
The protagonist of the novel is Yuki Sakane, who is eleven years old when the story begins. We meet her family of four—described by two literary scholars as "an ideal—and idealized—American family"—that includes her Issei parents and college age brother Ken in Berkeley as they look forward to the holidays.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brings their idyllic life to an end. After her father is arrested by the FBI and taken away to an internment camp, the family must divest itself of its home and possessions in preparation for being forcibly removed and sent first to Tanforan , where they live in a former horse stall, then to the Topaz , Utah, concentration camp. The description of the conditions and life in the camps include the rudimentary state of the shared bathroom facilities, the long lines to the mess hall, and the makeshift schools. Meanwhile, Yuki and her friend Emiko make the best of camp life, while Ken works in the camp hospital and ultimately decides to enlist in the army upon the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 1943. The novel also describes the fatal shooting by guards of Emiko's grandfather, based on the real life shooting of James Hatsuki Wakasa at Topaz.
In her introduction to Journey to Topaz , Uchida writes that though the "characters are fictional, the events are based on actual fact, and most of what happened to the Sakane family also happened to my own."  But while her family went to the same camps as the Sakanes, Yoshida herself was a full decade older than her protagonist and was an elementary school teacher at Topaz before leaving to continue her education in the East.
Described as "a ground-breaking book for children," Journey to Topaz inspired a sequel, Journey Home (1977), that follows the same set of characters upon their leaving the concentration camps.  Uchida wrote a third fictional work for children set the camps, The Bracelet (1993), along with two memoirs, Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family (1982) and The Invisible Thread (1991), the former written for an adult audience, the latter for young people. After its initial publication in 1971 Journey to Topaz , has been republished twice: a 1985 edition by Creative Arts Book Company and in 2004 by Heydey Books. Donald Carrick did the illustrations in all three editions. It was also published in Japanese translation in 1975.
- Fu-jen Chen and Su-lin Yu, "Reclaiming the Southwest: A Traumatic Space in the Japanese American Internment Narrative," Journal of the Southwest 47.4 (Winter 2005), 556.
- Yoshiko Uchida, Journey to to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese-American Evacuation (Berkley, Calif.: Creative Arts Book Co., 1985, viii.
- Valerie Ooka Pang, "Asian and Pacific Islanders as Americans: The Legacy of AAPI Children's Literature," International Examiner , June 20 to July 3, 2012, 3
|Awards||Notable Book citation, American Library Association, 1972|
For More Information
Chen, Fu-jen, and Su-lin Yu. "Reclaiming the Southwest: A Traumatic Space in the Japanese American Internment Narrative." Journal of the Southwest 47.4 (Winter 2005): 551–70.
Harada, Violet H. "Breaking the Silence: Sharing the Japanese American Internment Experience with Adolescent Readers." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 39.8 (May 1996): 630–37.
———. "Caught Between Two Worlds: Themes of Family, Community, and Ethnic Identity in Yoshiko Uchida's Works for Children." Children’s Literature in Education 29.1 (Mar. 1998): 19–30.
Inagawa, Machiko. "Japanese American Experiences in Internment Camps during World War II as Represented by Children's and Adolescent Literature." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arizona, 2007.
" Lesson Plans and Resources for Journey to Topaz . One Book One Philadelphia.
McDiffett, Danton. "Prejudice and Pride: Japanese Americans in the Young Adult Novels of Yoshiko Uchida." The English Journal 90.3 (Jan. 2001): 60–65.