He would have to . . . accept that the mountain of his violent sins was too large to climb in this lifetime.
Kabuo is in his cell during the court recess, staring at the lunch he has not touched. He looks at his reflection in a hand mirror, realizing that he looks cold and hateful. He thinks about all he has missed since he was put in jail: autumn’s changing leaves, the squash harvest, and the fall rains. He remembers taking his family to a nearby island for a day of picnicking in August. His mind wanders further into the past, remembering Hatsue as a teenager, picking strawberries on a San Piedro farm.
Kabuo also remembers his argument with Hatsue about his decision to volunteer for the army. Kabuo felt he had to prove something, whereas Hatsue feared he would die or return as a war-hardened monster. Kabuo also recalls his childhood, when at age eight his father began training him in kendo. By the time Kabuo was sixteen, no one on the island could defeat him in kendo. While the older Japanese men still regarded his father as the superior martial artist, they all sensed a warrior’s dark ferocity in Kabuo. In light of his war murders, Kabuo now agrees with them. He concludes that the trial is simply one more bit of suffering that he must undergo to pay for the lives he took while fighting for America in World War II.
When they looked out into the whiteness of the world the wind flung it sharply at their narrowed eyes and foreshortened their view of everything.
As the snowstorm grows in ferocity and envelops the island, Ishmael remembers the hollow cedar tree where he and Hatsue often met. In public and at school, they pretended to be only casual acquaintances. Hatsue’s emotional reserve often upset Ishmael, but she always justified it by claiming that her parents had trained her to avoid emotional displays. Though she cared about Ishmael, Hatsue was deeply bothered that her relationship with him required her to deceive her parents constantly.
In the fall of 1941, Ishmael and Hatsue began to worry about the war. They were seniors in high school and Hatsue was named the strawberry princess in that year’s festival. Though life seemed full, Hatsue and Ishmael were afraid of the future and the changes the war might bring in their lives. From inside the cedar tree, however, the war and its concerns still seemed far away.
The narrative flashes back to December 1941. The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. The Imadas and the rest of the Japanese community in San Piedro anxiously crouch around their radios to hear the news. Arthur Chambers publishes a special war edition of the San Piedro Review, including information about San Piedro’s air-raid safety measures along with an article reporting that San Piedro’s Japanese residents have pledged their loyalty to the United States. Arthur points out that while some Japanese Americans’ bank accounts have been frozen, no one has even thought to treat the islanders of German descent as possible traitors.
Arthur’s supportive stance toward the Japanese-American community earns him threats and angry letters from customers canceling their subscriptions but also letters of support from other people who condemn racism. Arthur publishes all the letters, whether they are supportive or reproachful. Ishmael objects to his father’s statements of support for the Japanese, saying the paper should publish only facts, not opinions. Arthur responds, “But which facts? Which facts do we print, Ishmael?”