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- Published on Amazon.com
I happened to see this on a library display of books about civilian life in World War II and picked it up for an idle look at the dust jacket. Then I just HAD to read the book.
Kiyoaki Murata decided he wanted to experience hardships and make a man out of himself, so he went to the United States (far from home, in another country, where he didn't know the language) and vowed he would not return until he had completed a college degree. He settled in with an aunt in California and enrolled in English language classes as a prelude to college. Problem, though: Murata arrived in the US during the autumn of 1941. And when Pearl Harbor happened and America and Japan went to war on each other, he got stuck here.
I didn't know much about the Japanese-American internment camps and had thought that anyone who didn't join the army was interned for the rest of the war. Well, I was wrong. The government was at war and really didn't want the burden of feeding, clothing and housing over than 100,000 people just so they could sit around all day and do nothing for the war effort. So if you joined the army, or if you got a job on the outside or got admission to a college, and agreed to move into the interior of the country, you could get out. And so Murata was released after a couple of months and went to Illinois to continue his studies at Carleton College. He ultimately wound up getting a master's degree from the University of Chicago.
What really shocked me, though, was the fact that Murata didn't experience any kind of prejudice or hatred directed against him because of his Japanese origin. (He, and it seems most of the other Japanese-Americans he knew, didn't really count the internment. They seemed to view it as one of those things: unfortunate, but hey, it's wartime and s*** happens.) Most of the people he met were friendly and curious. This may have been partly because he was in a region of the country where there weren't many Japanese -- I think he was the only one at Carleton -- and so they couldn't isolate themselves from the rest of the population. And it may have been because Murata quickly became fluent in English and was quite charming and impeccably well-behaved; he viewed himself as a sort of ambassador for Japan and wanted to be an example of all that was good about his homeland.
(Mind you, he did get investigated a few times by the FBI, but he wasn't maltreated; they just asked him questions and then let him go.)
Although the prose is unremarkable, this book has quite a story to tell if you're interested in this particular subject. I only wish that our current disfavored ethnic minorities (i.e. Muslims and Arabs in general) could encounter the same goodwill from us that Murata found.