Death Rides the Rails to Poston (short story)

Short story murder mystery by Hisaye Yamamoto that takes place on the train taking forcibly removed Japanese Americans to the Poston, Arizona, concentration camp. Death Rides the Rails to Poston first appeared in serialized form in the Poston Chronicle newspaper in 1943.

As the story begins, Shu Shingu, the last man to enter the last train car to Poston, notices a short man sitting by himself who had claimed that everybody hated him as he got on the train. Curious, he sits by the man. Tsuyoshi Koike tells Shu that he, like everyone else in the car, is from Oceanville, and that everyone indeed hates him because he had worked for the FBI after the war had started and had accompanied them in searches of Japanese American homes. While Shu talks to others on the train, Koike apparently falls asleep. But when box lunches are passed out to the passengers, one of the MPs notices that Koike has in fact died. A fan of mystery novels, Shu immediately suspects foul play and gets permission to conduct an investigation. In talking to the passengers, he finds that indeed, all had reason to dislike Koike. But was this really a murder?

Yamamoto, twenty-one years old at the time, had lived in Oceanside, California, prior to the war and, having had prior journalistic experience, worked on the camp newspaper the Poston Chronicle. In a 1994 interview, she told Chizu Omori and Emiko Omori that the Chronicle's English language editor Susumu Matsumoto had suggested to her that she write a serialized mystery. The first installment appeared in the January 9, 1943, issue. She said that she didn't know what she was going to write from one installment to the next. She also claimed to have no political motivation in writing the story, that "it was just pure entertainment," and didn't even know that there were informants in the community at the time she wrote it.[1]

Death Rides the Rails to Poston is one of only a handful of Yamamoto's stories set against the backdrop of the World War II incarceration. These includes "The Legend of Miss Sasagawara" (1950), which is set in one of the Arizona camps; "Pleasure of Plain Rice" (1960), about her aborted attempt at "resettlement" in Massachusetts in 1944; "An Abandoned Pot of Rice" (1984), about her family's forced departure from their Oceanside home; and "Reunion" (1992), about a man attending a pilgrimage to Poston. Death Rides the Rails to Poston was reprinted in the 2001 revised and expanded edition of Yamamoto's short story collection, Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Yamamoto, Hisaye. "Death Rides the Rails to Poston." In Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories. Revised and Expanded Edition. Introduction by King-Kok Cheung. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001. 131–41.


  1. Hisaye Yamamoto interview by Chizu Omori and Emiko Omori, March 21, 1994, Segment 9, San Francisco California, Densho Digital Repository, accessed on January 16, 2018 at