We learn that the Japanese residents of San Piedro first came to the island in the early 1880s, most of them penniless. Many found work in the nearby Port Jefferson lumber mill. After the mill closed, they made a living growing strawberries on their own land or as sharecroppers. However, the law forbade noncitizens from owning land and also forbade the naturalization of foreign-born Asian immigrants as United States citizens. Despite these official prejudices, San Piedro made one attempt, annually, to bridge the gap between races. Each summer, a girl of Japanese descent was chosen to be the strawberry princess at the island’s Strawberry Festival. Despite the institutional and informal prejudices they faced, the Japanese-American residents of San Piedro were crucial to the local economy as laborers. They carved a niche for themselves in the island’s society and prospered—until they were evacuated on March 29, 1942, and sent to internment camps in California and Montana.
Hatsue’s mother, Fujiko, had come to America and married Hatsue’s father, Hisao Imada, without knowing anything about him. A baishakunin, or professional matchmaker, had arranged the wedding, telling Fujiko that Hisao was a wealthy man. Fujiko felt angry and betrayed when she met Hisao in Seattle and learned he was penniless. Nonetheless, she chose to remain in America, and together she and her husband worked hard at menial jobs, eventually growing to love each other.
In the courtroom, the Japanese-Americans sit together in the back of the gallery, Hatsue among them. She wishes to speak to her husband alone, but the deputy, Abel, forbids her. We learn that Hatsue has started to feel old and now wears makeup. When she was thirteen, her parents sent her to a woman named Mrs. Shigemura for training in manners and social graces. Mrs. Shigemura told her to avoid white men.
We also learn that Hatsue met and married Kabuo while they were in an internment camp. They were married in a small ceremony. On their wedding night, they slept together in one half of her family’s room, separated from the others only by a wool blanket and the noise of a radio. There, they had sex for the first time, but with little privacy. Eight days later, Kabuo left to volunteer for the U.S. Army, against Hatsue’s wishes.
The narrative flashes back again, this time to Ishmael’s childhood. Ishmael remembers how he and Hatsue played on the beach together as children. When they were ten, they kissed for the first time, holding on to a glass-bottomed box Ishmael often used to look under the surface of the water of the island’s tide pools. The kiss was innocent and awkward. Ishmael kissed Hatsue again when they were fourteen. This kiss was more serious; Hatsue stood still and then ran away. They did not speak to each other for ten days, but Ishmael hid in the forest outside Hatsue’s house in the evenings, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
Then, after a day spent harvesting strawberries, Ishmael followed Hatsue to her home. It was raining, but instead of going home she ducked into a hollowed-out cedar tree in the forest. Hatsue had seen Ishmael following her, so she invited him inside to dry out. When Ishmael apologized for kissing her, she replied that she was not sorry. She worried about the controversy their relationship might cause in the community, and then she kissed him. Ishmael felt an overwhelming joy, but also a fear that he might never experience such a moment again.
Back in the courtroom, Etta Heine, Carl’s mother, takes the stand. We learn that Etta was born in Germany and raised on a farm in North Dakota, where she met Carl Heine Sr. and eloped with him to Seattle. The two of them worked at menial jobs in the city before eventually settling on San Piedro.
The narrative flashes back to a scene in 1934 on the Heines’ strawberry farm. Carl Heine Sr. agrees to sell seven acres of land to Kabuo’s father, Zenhichi Miyamoto. Though Etta is utterly opposed to the transaction, Carl finalizes it in an eight-year lease-to-own contract. Judge Fielding briefly interrupts Etta’s flashback, explaining to the jury that such a lease-to-own arrangement was necessary at the time because laws forbade Japanese-born Americans from purchasing or owning land. Returning to 1934, we learn that the American-born Kabuo will turn twenty, the minimum age for legally owning land, in November 1942. Carl Sr., defying Etta’s opposition, agrees to turn over ownership of the land to Kabuo upon Zenhichi’s final payment.
During Etta’s testimony on the stand, she recalls the moment in March 1942 when the Japanese are given only eight days’ notice to prepare for their relocation to the internment camps. Zenhichi tells the Heines to take his berries and sell them for whatever they are worth. Otherwise, he says, the berries will go to waste and rot in the fields since the Miyamotos will not be around to harvest them. Carl agrees to harvest the crop on the seven acres in question and take the profit as payment. Etta again objects, making her distrust and dislike for Zenhichi quite clear.
In the courtroom, Alvin Hooks, the prosecutor, is still questioning Etta. Etta recounts that Carl Sr. died in 1944, at which time she sold the farm to Ole Jurgensen for $1,000 per acre, returning Zenhichi his $4,500 of equity. Etta then moved from her farm to Amity Harbor, the only town on San Piedro, in December 1944. In July 1945, Kabuo called on Etta. Fresh from military service in Italy, Kabuo wanted Etta to allow him to finish paying for the land his father had almost fully purchased. Etta refused, claiming she had not done anything wrong in selling the land to Ole Jurgensen. Kabuo agreed that she didn’t do anything illegal but added that she did do something unethical. In response, Etta slammed the door in Kabuo’s face.
Etta tells the jury that after this encounter she felt threatened by Kabuo and asked her son, Carl, to keep an eye on him. Alvin Hooks uses this portion of the testimony to argue that a family feud exists between the Heines and the Miyamotos. When Nels cross-examines Etta, he makes the point that in selling her land to Ole instead of to Kabuo, Etta increased her profit by $2,500.
Ole Jurgensen then takes the stand. The old man testifies that, after suffering a stroke in June 1954, he put his farm up for sale in the first week of the following September. Kabuo approached Ole on the day Ole announced the sale, hoping to buy back the seven acres his family had lost. However, Ole had already accepted a down payment for the whole farm from Carl Heine Jr., who had stopped by earlier that day. Carl had told Ole that he wanted to stop fishing and live his dream of farming strawberries instead. Kabuo simply showed up too late to buy the land.
This section provides a broader context for the relations we observe between the Japanese-Americans and white Americans on San Piedro. We see that the Japanese have been set apart from the larger San Piedro community both before and after their wartime internment. No law forces people of Japanese descent to sit in the back of the courtroom, for instance, but their unofficial status as second-class citizens makes it socially necessary. Their place at the back of the courtroom reflects their subtle segregation from the community and the delicate nature of their claim to justice.
As Mrs. Shigemura demonstrates, however, the Japanese themselves have a hand in maintaining their separateness. Mrs. Shigemura tells Hatsue to avoid white men, claiming that they treat Japanese girls without respect, as mere exotic objects. We see that from a young age Hatsue has been indoctrinated to distrust the whites as much as the whites distrust the Japanese. The teenage Hatsue’s fear that her love affair with Ishmael will cause a controversy is due just as much to her own community’s racism as the white community’s racism. However, the Japanese community’s separation from the broader community gives it greater cohesion. The experience of internment has forced the Japanese-Americans to live together under extreme circumstances. We see the severity of the internment camp’s conditions in the fact that despite the extreme respect for privacy and propriety in Japanese culture, Hatsue and Kabuo must spend their wedding night in the same room as their entire family.
Guterson highlights the hypocrisy of the whites’ fear of the Japanese by illustrating that everyone on San Piedro is an immigrant—the only difference is that some have come from Europe while others have come from Asia. Fujiko’s life story closely parallels Etta Heine’s; both women were born outside the United States, married young, and worked along with their husbands at menial jobs in Seattle before moving to San Piedro. Both Fujiko and Etta learned to resent people different from them—Fujiko indoctrinated her daughter to cling to her Japanese heritage and to distrust whites, while Etta tried to prevent her husband from selling land to Zenhichi simply because he was Japanese. The two women are equally proud and stubborn, equally new to San Piedro, and equally unwilling to tolerate diversity. The similarity ends with the background to their respective distrust. Whereas the Japanese-Americans were forced to live in internment camps during the war, the San Piedro islanders of German ancestry—though also natives of an enemy country—were not the targets of such discrimination.