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Kibei (book)

Creators: Max Templeman

The saga of a Kibei Nisei confronting prejudice and his own conflicted identity as his and his family’s lives are irreparably transformed by the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.


The novel opens as news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor races through the Japanese American community in Fresno. Taro Miyamoto, the protagonist, returns home to discover his family—father Hajime, mother Takamine, brother Jiro, and sister Michiko—and his fiancée Hanako in shock and struggling to know what to do. Hanako's father has been arrested by the FBI. At first, Hajime calmly informs his sons that he will determine how the family will proceed, and decides to slowly and carefully sell what they can before voluntarily resettling. Soon, however, it becomes clear that events are far beyond their control, and they are forced to leave most behind as they are taken to the Fresno Assembly Center . Taro, who is a Kibei and spent much of his childhood in Japan, is certain Japan will win the war. His siblings have never left the U.S. and feel differently. Taro especially clashes with Jiro, whose belief in the ultimate triumph of American values he sees as hopelessly naive.

From Fresno, the Miyamoto family and Hanako—who has gone with them and not her own mother—are incarcerated at Tule Lake . Taro joins a secret group in Tule Lake who engage in covert acts of violence to intimidate the inmates into resisting the order to register through the [[Loyalty questionnaire|"loyalty questionnaire"] when it is distributed. Once Tule Lake is made into a segregation center , he continues to foment resistance and pro-Japanese activities. Hajime finds his authority compromised—he believes his sons and daughter no longer respect him and his wife disregards him. Jiro volunteers for military service, much to his family's surprise. At the end of the war, Jiro is in the Pacific Theater working in Military Intelligence, while Taro renounces his U.S. citizenship and repatriates to a war-torn Japan. Hajime, Takamine, and Michiko return to their farm, only to find their home ransacked and their fields neglected.

The last third of the novel follows Taro to Japan, where he is confronted with the harsh reality of Occupied Japan. He meets a Japanese prostitute named Chiemi and with her financial support invests in a number of enterprises. Hanako, who cannot forget him, follows Taro to Japan, but when she is rejected by him, finds work there and stays. Taro continues his relationship with her but marries a proper wife, Chiyoko. Jiro has also gone to Japan as an interpreter, and eventually dies in a lover's double-suicide with Chiemi, who has taken up with him after she is rejected by Taro. Eventually, Taro and Chiyoko move to Los Angeles, where his parents and Michiko have resettled, and struggles to make a life for himself in post-war America.

Author Background

Max Templeman served alongside Japanese American soldiers during World War II and later studied Japanese history.

Historical Accuracy

There are numerous errors in this book, but with a couple of exceptions, this section will focus on those specific to the Miyamoto's experiences of incarceration.

Those Japanese Americans who were first taken to Fresno Assembly Center were later incarcerated at Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas, and would not have been taken to Tule Lake.

In Fresno, and even later in Tule Lake, the Issei are depicted as the leaders, and Nisei express frustration at not having greater influence on camp policy. Meetings are described as being conducted in Japanese. This is highly unlikely. In the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI rounded up most Issei community leaders, leaving the remaining community without these long-time figures. Once in camp, leadership was taken over by the Nisei, leading to a generational rift that had long-term effects after incarceration ended.

Throughout the novel, and especially in the last third, all characters are obsessed with so-called "Eta," or more properly, "burakumin," those descended from the untouchable class who still face considerable discrimination in Japan. The term "Eta" is no longer used and is considered derogatory. In Japanese, the formal term now used is "hisabetsu burakumin." The depiction of fear of burakumin status, both in Japan and among Japanese Americans, seems excessive. Furthermore, the author seems unsure about the legality of discrimination; at one point, Taro states that he’s heard it is illegal to conceal "Eta" status. This was true in the early modern period (1603-1868), but this status was technically eliminated with the formal end of the feudal system in the beginning of the modern period—although burakumin could be easily identified because they were called "shin Heimin," or new commoners and continued to be discriminated against—and there was nothing to technically conceal. This novel should not be used as an example of feelings, both positive and negative, towards burakumin, and the terminology employed should be avoided as it is now considered offensive.

Authored by Emily Anderson

Might also like: Tule Lake by Edward Miyakawa; Midnight at Broad Daylight by Pamela Rottner Sakamoto; Color of the Sea by John Hamamura

Media Details
Author Max Templeman
Publication Date 1979