Las Vegas Charley (short story)

Short story by Hisaye Yamamoto about an Issei man named Kazuyuki Matsumoto, who works as a dishwasher at a Las Vegas restaurant while gambling away his wages. In flashback, we learn of his life story: boyhood in Kumamoto prefecture, then migration to the U.S. where he becomes a successful farmer in Santa Maria, California, and is soon joined by a "picture bride" wife, Haru and two sons. But Haru's death in childbirth after the birth of their second son changes Kazuyuki's life decisively. He sends the two boys to live with his mother in Japan and becomes a migrant laborer. At first, he sends regular remittances home, but he soon picks up a gambling habit and the payments gradually come to an end. He later brings his Kibei sons back to the U.S., where they start a new farming venture in Orange County, California, this one less successful. Then comes World War II and the three end up in an Arizona concentration camp in Arizona. While Kazuyuki works as a mess hall chef and comes to be vaguely satisfied with his life in camp, his ambitious older son Isamu volunteers for the army, only to die in combat in Italy. His second son Noriyuki initially decides to return to Japan on an exchange ship, but changes his mind when he falls in love with a Nisei girl he had met in camp. He ends up as a Japanese instructor in the army and the couple marry and settle in Los Angeles, while Kazuyuki gravitates to Las Vegas, where his co-workers dub him "Charley." Health problems bring him to L.A. for care, where he stays with his son's family, though he clashes with his daughter-in-law. Despite his promises, he can never give up his gambling habit.

"Las Vegas Charley" was first published in 1961 in Arizona Quarterly and has appeared in several anthologies, including the early Asian American literary collection Asian-American Heritage: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry in 1974 and in Yamamoto's 1988 collection of short stories, Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories. In a 1987 interview, Yamamoto told Charles L. Crow that the story is based in part on her own father, who also worked as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant after the war before getting sick.[1]

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Yamamoto, Hisaye. "Las Vegas Charley." Arizona Quarterly 17 (1961): 303–22. Reprinted in Asian-American Heritage: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry, ed. David Happell Hsin-Fu Wand (New York: Pocket Books, 1974): 97–121; The Third Woman: Minority Women Writers of the United States, ed. Dexter Fisher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980): 470–84; Hisaye Yamamoto. Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories, introduction by King-Kok Cheung (Latham, N.Y.: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press 1988): 70–85; Asian American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology, edited by Shawn Wong (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).

McDonald, Dorothy Ritsuko, and Katharine Newman. "Relocation and Dislocation: The Writings of Hisaye Yamamoto and Wakako Yamauchi." MELUS 7.3 (Fall 1980): 116-25.


  1. Charles L. Crow, "A MELUS Interview: Hisaye Yamamoto," MELUS 14.1 (Spring 1987): 73-84.