Treadmill (book)

Title Treadmill
Genre Historical Fiction
Author Hiroshi Nakamura
Original Publisher Mosaic Press
Original Publication Date 1995
Pages 220

Written by Hiroshi Nakamura while he was incarcerated at Tule Lake , Treadmill is the only published novel written by a Japanese American while incarcerated during World War II.

As the novel begins in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, protagonist Teru Noguchi returns to her Salinas home to find the FBI taking her father away, ultimately to the Bismarck, North Dakota , internment camp. The novel follows Teru (who is around twenty years old), her parents and two younger siblings Sally (age sixteen) and Tad (age 14) through their forced removal and incarceration at the Salinas Assembly Center , Poston , and Tule Lake. She had been dating George Motoyama, a UC Berkeley graduate and neighbor, but they drift apart as his family moves inland to try to avoid incarceration. Though her father eventually rejoins the family, her mother suffers from a mental illness and is largely incapacitated. Teru works as a 4th grade teacher at Poston and befriends many of her fellow inmate teachers. One of them, Jiro Nishikawa, another UC grad, becomes a romantic interest. Given an opportunity to leave camp for a good job in Cleveland, she is forced to make a difficult decision when her father declares his intention to go back to Japan after the war. The narrative follows the family through the loyalty questionnaire episode, segregation , and resettlement . Numerous characters come and go as issues such as unwanted pregnancy, class discrimination, and mental illness are addressed.

Nakamura (1915–73) was born and raised in Gilroy and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1937, as did two of the main male characters in the novel. Like many educated Nisei of that time, he pursued work in Japan and Manchuria before returning to Salinas, where he was forcibly removed to the Salinas Assembly Center, Poston, and Tule Lake like the Noguchis. He wrote Treadmill while at Tule Lake, with his wife Mary Sato Nakamura, whom he married to at Tule Lake, serving as his typist. Teru was based on his sister, and other characters on the various people he knew in camp. After the war, the couple had two children. Nakamura tried various ventures before settling on the coin laundry business. [1]

After the war, Nakamura tried in vain to find a publisher for his novel. Somehow, a copy of the manuscript founds its way into the National Archives. Peter Suzuki, an anthropologist who taught for years at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, found it there in 1974 while doing research on the wartime incarceration. He was able to find Nakamura's family and worked with them to publish the novel in 1995. In a 1993 journal article on Treadmill , Suzuki writes that Nakamura "successfully captures the Zeitgeist and the mood of the people behind barbed wire." At the same time, he criticizes Nakamura's failure to capture "the rich vernacular and colloquialisms which emerged from life in the camps." [2]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration


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

For More Information

Nakamura, Hiroshi. Treadmill: A Documentary Novel . Introduction by Peter Suzuki. Oakville, ON & Buffalo, N.Y.: Mosaic Press, 1996.

Suzuki, Peter T. " Treadmill : The Premier Novel of the Wartime Camps for Japanese Americans." Asian Profile 20.2 (Apr. 1992): 175–80.

———. "Desertification in Hiroshi Nakamura's Treadmill ." Asian Profile 21.6 (Dec. 1993): 467–74


  1. Biographical details come from the brief biography of Nakamura by Mary Sato Nakamura and Isami Nakamura, his wife and son, that is a part of the 1995 published version of the novel.
  2. Peter T. Suzuki, "Desertification in Hiroshi Nakamura's Treadmill," Asian Profile 21.6 (Dec. 1993), 471, 473.

Last updated Dec. 3, 2020, 5:56 p.m..