A Brother Is a Stranger (book)

Title A Brother Is a Stranger
Author Toru Matsumoto; Marion Olive Lerrigo
Original Publisher The John Day Company
Original Publication Date 1946
Pages 318
WorldCat Link https://www.worldcat.org/title/brother-is-a-stranger/oclc/1312789

Memoir of a young Japanese immigrant/refugee Christian about his upbringing and travails in Japan, his journey to the U.S. and his wartime internment, and his postwar observations in Japan. Published in 1946 by the John Day Company, it was among the first books by a Japanese American to appear after the war.


The bulk of the book covers Matsumoto's early life in Japan. Born in 1913 in Hokkaido, the fourth of five children of a physician father and a devoutly Christian mother, Toru's happy childhood is shattered when his father leaves the family when Toru is five, largely over conflicts with Toru's mother over religion. She moves the family to Takasaki, a town thirty-five miles north of Tokyo, and Toru subsequently grows up amidst financial uncertainty. Inspired by his mother's rebellious streak and Christianity and his education in liberal Christian schools in Tokyo, he soon finds himself clashing with the keepers of Japan's traditions and its newly militarized government. At home, eldest brother Yuji assumes control of the family in the absence of the father, and Toru and Yuji clash over Toru's occupation (he opts to become a Christian educator while Yuji insists he become a doctor) and later, over Toru's choice of Emma, a Westernized Japanese woman, to be his wife. As a college student at Meiji Gakuin in Tokyo, Toru becomes active in the English club and in pro-labor and anti-militarist activity. Perhaps inevitably, he is arrested due to his association with an openly Communist friend, and is tortured when he won't implicate others. He is freed through the efforts of girlfriend who enlists a family friend with royal connections.

Graduating from Meiji Gakuen in 1935, he goes to the U.S. for the first time as a delegate to a Christian conference. Along the way, he meets Emma Oishi, a fellow delegate, and the two fall in love. Toru goes on to attend the Union Theological Seminary in New York, and marries Emma in 1938 over the fierce objections of his family. A son, Teddy, is born in 1939. Forced to return to Japan due to visa problems in 1940, he eludes Yuji's attempts to kill him and break up the marriage, and manages to escape with his family back to New York in October 1940. But the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sees Toru arrested and interned, sent first to Ellis Island , then to Camp Upton in New York, and finally Fort Meade in Maryland. Paroled in October 1942, he rejoins Emma and Teddy in New York and gets a job as an assistant to George E. Rundquist with the newly formed Committee on Resettlement of Japanese-Americans. He spends the remainder of the war years assisting Japanese Americans exiting the concentration camps and giving speeches to various groups. The last few chapters revisit the content of his speeches about the future of Japan and the need for liberal arts education there. The book also includes an introduction by Pearl S. Buck and prefaces by each of the authors.

Matsumoto's account of internment is one of the only ones that describes the experience of interned Issei on the East Coast. He is arrested late on the night of December 7th and taken initially to the Federal Court Building with other arrested Japanese residents. They are then taken in small groups to Ellis Island. He describes relatively benign living conditions there. The men sleep in bunks in large rooms and are soon allowed communication with their families. Emma and Teddy visit him on Christmas day. His hearing before the Enemy Alien Hearing Board comes in early January. Despite the support of local white Christian leaders, he is designated for internment and sent to Camp Upton in upstate New York. In contrast to Ellis Island, he portrays Upton as a harsh place, with brutish guards, leaking tents exposed to the elements, and generally poor conditions. After about a month, he is transferred to Fort Meade in Maryland in March 1942. He describes fellow internees as mostly recently arrived employees of Japanese firms in New York and thus anxious to return to Japan and generally supportive of Japan's imperial ambitions. In both places, Matsumoto becomes something of an outcast, given his pacifist Christian views, opposition to Japanese militarism, desire to remain in the U.S., and willingness to cooperate with military police. Fearing for his life at times, he begins writing what would becomes this memoir while at Fort Meade as a way of documenting his thoughts for his young son. Sentiment towards him eventually improves due to his willingness to help repatriates with English language paperwork, and many express their appreciation to him before 94 of them leave on the first voyage of the Gripsholm exchange ship in June of 1942. With the help of outside friends, he is able to secure a second hearing, which leads to his eventual parole and return to New York as a free man.

Background and Reception

According to the preface by co-author Marion Olive Lerrigo, she and her husband, attorney William J. McWiliams, became friends with the Matsumotos before the war, and Emma and Teddy lived with them in Larchmont, New York, while Toru was interned. When Matsumoto showed Lerrigo his notes written during his internment, she felt it should become a book, and the two worked on it jointly in subsequent months. The John Day Company, a publishing firm run by Richard J. Walsh, the husband of famed writer and Asiaphile Pearl S. Buck, published the book on October 20, 1946.

Matsumoto had written a prior book, Beyond Prejudice: A Story of the Church and Japanese Americans (New York: Friendship Press, 1946) about his resettlement work. He became an ordained minister and went on to a Ph.D. in education from Columbia University in 1949. He later published a novel, The Seven Stars , based on the close knit group of seven friends that he was a part of starting in middle school in Japan. Matsumoto returned to Japan in 1951 where he continued to teach and write and became known for radio programs that taught English to Japanese and Japanese to English speakers. He died in 1979.

Reviews were very positive, though in the immediate postwar context of the time, they focused almost entirely on the portrayal of Japan without commenting on Matsumoto's experiences in the U.S. A partial exception was in the unsigned review in the Pacific Citizen , which correctly points out that Matsumoto's claim that three were killed in the 1943 uprisings at Tule Lake was erroneous.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Restless Wave by Haru Matsui; Hawaii, End of the Rainbow by Kazuo Miyamoto; An Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten by Kumaji Furuya;

Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

A Brother Is a Stranger

This item has been made freely available in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration , a collaborative project with Internet Archive .


Maki, John M. Far Eastern Survey , Dec. 18, 1946, 384. ["If there are in Japan today young men with Toru Matsumoto's desire for intellectual freedom and personal liberty, we may feel slightly more confident about the eventual establishment of Japanese democracy."]

Pacific Citizen , Nov. 9, 1946, 5–6. ["It is a good book, strong, revealing, touching."]

Robinson, Greg. The Unsung Great: Stories of Extraordinary Japanese Americans . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2020.

Tracy, Henry C. Common Ground , Spring 1947, 105. ["... a wonderful unfolding of family life and social history through a crucial period in Japan's national and international development and relations, rich in detail, vivid, and well told."]

Wings: The Literary Guild Review , reprinted in Pacific Citizen , Oct. 5, 1946, 2. ["This book has stature because of its timeliness, its humaneness and its wealth of amusing anecdote."]

Last updated June 23, 2024, 9:19 p.m..