The Wakatsukis wake up early the first morning in Manzanar covered in gray dust that has blown through the knotholes in the walls and floor. They have used their clothes as bedding for extra warmth, and nearly everything they own has been soiled. Jeanne and Kiyo find their predicament funny, but Mama does not. Woody calls through the wall, jokingly asking if they have fallen into the same flour barrel as him. Kiyo replies that they have not, joking that theirs is “full of Japs.” The children dress quickly, and Woody instructs Jeanne’s brothers Ray and Kiyo to cover the knotholes with tin can lids while Jeanne and her sister May sweep the floor and fold laundry. Woody threatens to make the boys eat any sand that comes up through the knotholes. When Kiyo asks about the sand that comes in through the cracks, Woody jokes that it is a different kind of sand and, mimicking Papa’s voice, says he knows the difference. The wind continues to blow dust through the floor. Mama asks Woody to cover the cracks. He promises to patch the cracks with scrap lumber, but she is not satisfied, decrying the horrid conditions. Woody promises to make the repair job better and goes out to see what is for breakfast. Kiyo jokes that it will be hotcakes with soy sauce, but Woody says it will be rice with maple syrup and butter.
Mama knew cooperation was the only way to survive. At the same time she placed a high premium on personal privacy. Almost everyone at Manzanar had inherited this pair of traits from the generations before them.
The Wakatsukis wait in the cold for half an hour for breakfast and eat huddled around the oil stove that Woody has repaired. He begins fixing things, but it is months before the family’s quality of life improves. Wakatsuki tells us that the Japanese were not ready for the camps, and the camps were not ready for the Japanese. She says that the Japanese, not knowing what to expect, did not bring enough warm clothing for the April weather and high altitude. The War Department begins issuing World War I surplus clothing, most of which is too large for the Japanese. A makeshift clothing factory is soon set up, and dozens of seamstresses convert the surplus into more practical articles of clothing.
Almost nothing works in the camps, and the children are continually sick due to typhoid immunizations and food spoiled by inexperienced cooks and poor refrigeration. Bowel problems known as the “Manzanar runs” become part of daily life for young and old alike. On the first morning, Jeanne and Mama try to use the latrine in their block but discover that the toilets are overflowing onto the already excrement-covered floor. They try another latrine two blocks away. The latrine is like every other latrine in each of the ten camps, which were all built according to the same plan. The toilets are back to back, with no partitions. One old woman sets up a cardboard box around her toilet as a makeshift partition. She offers the partition to Mama, who graciously accepts it. Cardboard partitions become widely used until wooden partitions arrive, but many people choose to wait to use the bathroom until late at night for more privacy. Like many Japanese, Mama never gets used to the latrines because she places a high value on privacy, but she endures them because she knows that cooperation is the only way to survive.
Although Farewell to Manzanar is part of the genre of childhood memoirs of war and war camp life, which includes Night, by Elie Weisel, and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, it is primarily a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, that deals with the transition from childhood innocence to adult knowledge. Wakatsuki begins her memoir from the humorously naïve perspective of her seven-year-old self so that we may see more clearly the changes the camp causes in her over the course of her three years there. Her carefree attitude upon arriving at Manzanar rubs off on her siblings, and their jokes the first morning (about the dust, among other things) reflect their view that the camp is more an adventure than a hardship. the joy that infuses the Wakatsuki children this first morning in the camp barracks is both comforting and disturbing. Ten-year-old Kiyo’s assertion that he has fallen into a flour barrel “full of Japs” shows his easygoing nature but also reveals how greatly he fails to realize the gravity of his family’s new circumstances. Uninformed for the moment about the war and the biased motives behind the internment, the younger Wakatsuki children view the camp as something of a game. Only when they are mature enough to understand the prejudice against them do their impressions of the camp change.
Mama’s shock upon arriving at the camp contrasts with the children’s strange glee and is closer to the reaction we expect from someone so suddenly uprooted from his or her home. Mama’s stunned silence upon first seeing the dust-covered room gives us a glimpse of the real pain the relocation caused the Japanese Americans. Whereas the children joke about the cracks, the knotholes, and the uninsulated clapboard walls, Mama sees them for the terrible living conditions they represent. Mama’s perspective slowly reveals to us what camp conditions were actually like: there is little warm clothing or privacy, and people are continually sick from eating spoiled food. Japanese culture places high value on privacy and cleanliness, and the American government insults the Japanese greatly by giving them no way to act according to these values.
Cooperation is crucial to the Japanese attempts to make do in the ill-prepared and ill-managed camp. The camp inhabitants’ endurance and solidarity is surprisingly widespread, but it could be that Wakatsuki chooses not to tell us about the anger and frustration boiling under the surface in order to focus on the inhabitants’ strength in the face of adversity. They believe that working together to survive, such as by sewing usable garments out of surplus material and sharing cardboard toilet partitions, is more productive than fighting against their oppressors. Wakatsuki views this kind of cooperation as particularly Japanese. The fact that cooperation does not manifest itself as mass resistance or protest can be explained by the common sentiment that the camp’s residents express: “shikata ga nai.” This expression embodies the combination of resignation and motivation that the Japanese display throughout Farewell to Manzanar.