Farewell to Manzanar
Summary—Yes Yes No No
In December the new camp director gives a Christmas tree to each family, but Jeanne is disappointed with Christmas because of the poor presents, the wind, and Papa’s drunkenness. In February conditions worsen when the government begins to require that everyone over seventeen swear a Loyalty Oath. The oath consists of two yes-or-no questions: the first concerns whether one is willing to serve in the U.S. military; the second concerns whether one will swear allegiance to the United States and renounce allegiance to Japan.
The oath becomes a topic of debate in camp, and even Papa emerges from his five-month isolation. He argues with the block organizers who come to his barracks, as well as with Mama, Granny, and Woody. Woody says he would be willing to fight, but Papa argues that a soldier must believe in that for which he is fighting. The Japanese Americans do not know how to respond to the Loyalty Oath. Answering “No No” will result in being shipped back to Japan, but answering “Yes Yes” will result in being drafted into the U.S. military. A third option, relocation, allows families to leave camp if they have a sponsor and are willing to leave the West Coast. The Loyalty Oath is intended to speed up the relocation paperwork and determine which Japanese are loyal enough to serve as soldiers in the war. Many Japanese become very anti-American, but Papa decides to answer “Yes Yes” because he thinks America will win the war and does not want to be sent back to Japan.
A meeting is called to discuss a collective “No No” vote, and Papa attends even though the others will call him an “inu” for supporting the “Yes Yes” position. At about 4:00 p.m., Jeanne is playing hopscotch in the wind when she hears a commotion. She hears Papa yelling “eta,” meaning “trash,” and she sees him tackle another man who is running out of the meeting. Papa has defended the “Yes Yes” position, and the man has called him an “inu.” A sandstorm arises, and back inside the barracks Papa is silent. A friend of Chizu’s arrives, and she sings the Japanese national anthem, Kimi ga yo, with Papa, who begins to cry. Wakatsuki narrates that the national anthem, which is actually a Japanese poem from the ninth century, speaks of a small stone that becomes a massive rock covered by thousands of years of moss. In Japan, Papa’s family had a stone lantern over which they poured a bucketful of water each day to keep the moss growing.
The Loyalty Oath is a psychological reflection of the physical imprisonment that the camp represents. Wakatsuki calls the Loyalty Oath a “corral”—a pen for livestock—because it pins the Japanese into a limited range of choices. Like the camps, the oath seems to the U.S. government a practical solution to the uncertainty about Japanese-American loyalty. But like the camps, the oath does not give the Japanese any satisfactory path out of their situation. They cannot fathom being deported, for it would mean returning to Japan with no home to go to, since the native Japanese would see them as enemies. Nor can they fathom declaring loyalty and being drafted, for they would be forced to fight against their own people and defend a country that has unjustly imprisoned them. The only safe option, which the government calls relocation, would release the Japanese from the camps but force them to say farewell to the West Coast and the only homes they have ever known. By forcing the Japanese to choose either “Yes Yes” or “No No,” the oath leaves many of them with only one choice: to avoid the oath and try to remain in the camp.
The stone in the Japanese national anthem, Kimi ga yo, is a metaphor for the endurance that both Papa and the Japanese Americans as a whole show. The idea that a small stone “will grow into a massive rock” is illogical. Normally, a rock would erode over the course of thousands of years, but in the poem, the rock grows larger. In suggesting that the rock’s increasing size results from the thick moss that covers it, the poem employs a logic that contrasts with the logic of the Western proverb “a rolling stone gathers no moss.” The Western saying champions an idea of restlessness—by always moving and keeping active, an individual stays fresh and alive. The Japanese saying, on the other hand, celebrates growth and maturation through permanence. This idea of endurance resulting in growth recurs later, when her experiences of ethnic prejudice require Jeanne to examine her values.
Despite its symbolic significance, Kimi ga yo is not as innocent a song as Wakatsuki makes it out to be. In fact, many Japanese people today refuse to sing it because they see it as a relic of a past in which the emperor was worshipped like a god. The first lines of Kimi ga yo, which pray, “May thy peaceful reign last long / May it last for thousands of years,” are a reference to the divinity of the Japanese emperor. In the ancient Shinto religion of Japan, the emperor is believed to be the direct descendent of the sun goddess. During World War II, the Japanese military leaders used the emperor as a patriotic symbol to fuel Japanese nationalism. Japan still has an emperor, though the office is removed from political affairs and is thus relatively powerless. The emperor is revered like figurehead monarchs in many countries, but the Japanese are aware of the violence that resulted from emperor-worship, and many view Kimi ga yo with distaste. The anthem’s associations with World War II and the history of the Japanese empire taint the anthem’s poetic content, no matter how appropriate it is to Wakatsuki’s analysis of Japanese character.
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