Chikara!: A Sweeping Novel of Japan and America From 1907 to 1983 (book)


Title Chikara!: A Sweeping Novel of Japan and America From 1907 to 1983
Author Robert Skimin
Original Publisher St. Martin's
Original Publication Date 1984
Pages 541
Awards Ohioana Award
WorldCat Link http://www.worldcat.org/title/chikara-a-sweeping-novel-of-japan-and-america-from-1907-to-1983/oclc/10274491/

This work of historical fiction traces the tumultuous rise and fall of the Hoshi family, whose scion, Sataro, takes his wife Itoko and eldest son Noboru to California in 1907 to seek his fortune and restore his family's honor. He leaves his second son Hiroshi behind with family, a decision that marks the inauspicious first step of the tragic transpacific drama that unfolds over the course of the novel.

Synopsis

The Hoshis make their way to California and settle in the San Joaquin farming community of Lodi where Sataro first operates a hotel, and when it is burned down in an arson attack by anti-Japanese agitators, he leases farmland, growing rice and grapes, and also opens a grocery store. His wife Itoko leaves him and their eldest son Noboru to return to her other son Hiroshi, left in Japan. While Sataro still dreams of returning to Hiroshima, triumphant and rich, Noboru, who continues to support his father's business interests in the San Joaquin Valley, enlists in the U.S. Army during World War I out of a deep desire to demonstrate his love for his adopted country. Meanwhile in Japan, Hiroshi attends a military academy, intending to follow the "code of the warrior" and become a military hero.

Between the two world wars both sides of the family are beset by various tragedies, and by 1941, Noboru is dead, leaving behind a widow and two sons, who continue to live in Lodi. Sataro has returned to Japan.

The attack on Pearl Harbor triggers the chain of events that leads to Noboru's widow, Haru, and their two sons Billy and Joey being forcibly removed from their home and taken first to Stockton Assembly Center, and then Manzanar concentration camp. Joey, who attempted to volunteer for the army right after the attack on Pearl Harbor but was denied because he was of Japanese ancestry, volunteers for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He is killed in action during the rescue of the Lost Battalion and is posthumously awarded a Silver Star. Billy, who has been angry about discrimination against Japanese Americans by whites his whole life, leads angry pro-Japanese youth in Manzanar and helps to start the infamous Manzanar riots, but decides to volunteer as an interpreter to avoid being arrested when he is investigated for a break-in at the camp store. He is court-martialed for attacking a white officer but is reassigned to battalion intelligence in Europe, and is reunited with his brother right before Joey is killed in action.

The last section of the book focuses on Sachiko, Hiroshi's daughter, and Billy, the two remaining members of the Hoshi family, and their efforts to rebuild their lives after the war. Sachiko, the Japanese side of the family, dedicates the incredible wealth she amasses to promoting peace. Billy, the Nisei, whose hatred of whites has only increased, bides his time working as a businessman in Tokyo while scheming to initiate a new final war against the U.S. In the final scene, Sachiko unmasks Billy as a right-wing schemer hell-bent on destroying U.S.-Japanese friendship and regains both the true honor of the House of Hoshi and peace for both countries.

Author Background

Robert Skimin (1929-2011), a retired U.S. Army officer, authored over a dozen books during his career as a writer of fiction and non-fiction.

Historical Accuracy

This section will focus on events during World War II; there are numerous inaccuracies elsewhere in this book but those are beyond the scope of this article. It is also worth nothing that some sub-plots, including the key one driving the narrative in the last third of the book, reflect the time in which this book was published, when Japan's economic dominance led to extreme paranoia about the resurgence of Japanese power.

It is implied that May 11, 1942, is the singular day of evacuation, presumably for all Japanese Americans. However, different neighborhoods were evacuated in waves, notified of the exact date through the infamous posters addressed to all people of Japanese ancestry. The first communities to be forcibly removed were those on Terminal Island, in southern California, in late February 1942, and Bainbridge Island, Washington, where the community was forcibly removed on March 24, 1942. The Stockton Assembly Center was opened on May 10, 1942. Japanese Americans in Lodi were forcibly removed between May 14 and May 25, 1942.[1]

Skimin writes that the Hoshis were first sent to the Stockton Assembly Center, built on the San Joaquin County fair grounds, and then to Manzanar in Inyo County, central California. However, most of those in Stockton were sent to Rohwer, in central Arkansas, with a few sent to Gila River, in Arizona.

In the book, the Manzanar riot breaks out because pro-Japanese youth like Billy get a large crowd riled up against the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) by naming names of so-called traitors and inciting violence. In fact, the riot broke out to protest the arrest of Harry Ueno for the beating of Fred Tayama, a JACL representative.

Skimin writes that those Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJAs) who were already on active duty in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor is attacked were placed in military intelligence. In fact, the more than 1,400 Nisei serving in the army when Pearl Harbor was attacked were separated from their non-AJA colleagues and shipped to the mainland. They formed the core of what became the 100th Infantry Battalion, which later joined with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Billy volunteers to become an interpreter in the army. However, interpreters—who were mostly part of the Military Intelligence Service—were selected following exams testing language knowledge and enrolled in further training courses at the Military Intelligence Service Language School.

Billy is court-martialed for attacking a white superior officer but is then assigned from the Pacific Theater to battalion intelligence in the European Theater. In fact, there were regiments of troublesome Japanese American (and some German and Italian American) soldiers who were not trusted to serve in combat due to attitude or conduct issues who were given domestic assignments. Billy would not have been sent to a forward area, and it is highly unlikely that he would have been assigned to intelligence in Europe after conduct that led to a court martial.

Response

Chikara! was awarded the Ohioana Award (given by the Ohioana Library, dedicated to the collecting, preserving, and celebrating Ohio literature) for best book by an Ohioan in 1985. According to the author's website, it was well-received when it was published, and purportedly an international bestseller.

Authored by Emily Anderson

Might also like: Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida; Hawaii, End of the Rainbow by Kazuo Miyamoto; Fox Drum Bebop by Gene Oishi

For More Information

Author website: http://www.robertskimin.com/biography.html.

Footnotes

  1. Suga Moriwaki, "Internment and Lodi's Japanese Americans," San Joaquin Historical Society & Museum, August 17, 2011, http://sanjoaquinhistory.org/blog/?p=689. Accessed August 2, 2016.