Upon Their Shoulders (book)

Title Upon Their Shoulders
Genre Drama
Author Shelley Ayame Nishimura Ota
Original Publisher Exposition Press
Original Publication Date 1951
Media Type Hardcover
Pages 262
WorldCat Link http://www.worldcat.org/title/upon-their-shoulders-a-novel/oclc/5194561

Novel centering on two Japanese American families in Hawai'i that may have been the first English language published novel by a Japanese American about the Japanese American experience. Beginning with immigration and sugar plantations , the novel ends in the World War II era where members of both families are among the Japanese Americans from Hawai'i who are interned.

The 262-page novel begins with a foreword by longtime McKinley High School principal Miles E. Cary and is divided into five sections: The Awakening; Hawaii—Gokuraku; Nihonmachi—Japanese Town; Honolulu Years; and The Onward Years. The story focuses on the family of Taro and Haruko Sumida, who immigrate from Yamaguchi prefecture, and their Nisei daughter Alice. The Sumida's story is juxtaposed with that of the Noda family, the elder Noda being a Shinto priest from the same village in Yamaguchi. Nisei Jerry Noda becomes a surgeon in Hawai'i and ultimately marries Alice. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, both the Sumida and Noda patriarchs are arrested and interned. But while Taro Sumida is vouched for by white friends and subsequently released, the avowedly pro-Japan Noda is sent to internment camps in the continental U.S. for the duration of the war.

A Nisei who was born in Hilo, Hawaii, Ota (1911–87) was living in Milwaukee at the time she wrote the book. Her late husband was a physician who had died while serving in the military shortly after World War II, and she was raising four children while teaching and doing freelance writing. She told Scene magazine that "It's high time that an American of Japanese descent should write a story woven out of the color and drama of Japanese life." [1]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like: Hawaii, End of the Rainbow by Kazuo Miyamoto; The Issei Prisoners of the San Pedro Internment Center by Stanley Kanzaki; An Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten by Kumaji Furuya

For More Information

Ota, Shelley Ayame Nishimura. Upon Their Shoulders . Foreword by Miles E. Carey. New York: Exposition Press, 1951.

Sumida, Stephen H. And the View from the Shore: Literary Traditions of Hawai'i . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.


  1. "A Brave Story of a Brave People," Scene Magazine , May 1951, p. 22.

Last updated Jan. 26, 2018, 10:31 p.m..