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.