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Hisaye Yamamoto: Even we couldn’t beat her

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Hisaye Yamamoto Introduction

Hisaye Yamamoto was a Japanese-American writer, who was one of the most popular for her short stories and recognised for her works like, “Seventeen chapters and other stories”. She was born on 23rd August, 1921 and passed away on 30th January, 2011 at the age of 89. She was married to Anthony DeSoto and was mother of five children.

Personal life

Hisaye Yamamoto was born to Issei parents in California. Issaye was a term which is used for the first generation immigrants. And from childhood she faced many problems as her family moved like nomads due to the ” California alien land law” imposed on them.

But she started writing from her childhood and her mother inspired her a lot. Some of her letters and short stories were published by a Japanese-American journal at her early ages only.

Then a historic event occurred on 7th December of 1941, totally changed her life. The bombing attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese navy during the second world war. As they says nobody wins in war, everything get lost. Hisaye lost too.

Within four months of the incident, two-third of the Japanese-American population was forced to leave their everything. They left their home, farm and all the hopes they managed to save for the betterment of their lifestyle throughout their whole life. “Internment camp” was their new address.

Hisaye and her family were sent to the Internment camp of Poston, Arizona. She was of 20 years only. But instead of breaking down due to all those hurdles, she managed to continue her writing.

And that gave her the oxygen to live in that hell. She continued writing for the Poston Chronicle which was the camp newspaper. “Death rides the rails of Poston”, ” Surely, I must be dreaming” etc. are some of her famous works during this period.

After some time she left the camp for work but had to return when her brother was reported dead in combat with the United States army.

After the second world war was over, Hisaye came back to California. She started a new journey but not leaving the past back, she used all those experiences of past as her biggest weapon. She started to work for the Los Angeles Tribune, specially targeting the African-American audience. She worked as columnist and editor. But she was also used to with field reporting.

All these gave her many life lessons. She had experiences of “Internment camp”. Also, she got to know closely about racial interaction. Those reflected in her writing later on. And she became immensely popular among both Asian and non-Asian audiences.

Later, she was married to Anthony DeSoto and became the mother of five children. Those let her struggle with her writing time and all.


The most popular work of Hisaye Yamamoto is “The seventeen chapters and other stories”. This was published in 1988 and was a compilation of her works through the journey of about forty years since the world war two.

Glimpses of some of the best stories from the book are mentioned here.

Yeneko’s Earthquake is one of the most complex and famous story written by Hisaye Yamamoto. The story is narrated by a Yeneko. And the story revolves around her relationship with her mother, a rich man, their small farm, her crush also her mother’s affair. The story will leave you spellbound.

The Legend of Miss Sasagawara This is the only story which takes place inside the camp. The story is narrated by a young girl. She was the daughter of a Buddhist priest. Eventually her mother got some serious recognition in her acting career. But she got suppressed by the society, her Buddhist husband. The story deals with all the problems and suppression faced by the women in our society and will raise a great question mark in front of you and the society.

Seventeen Stories The story behind the name of the book, probably the most popular book by Hisaye Yamamoto. The story runs simultaneously of a Nisei girl and A Isei mother. The difference in their lifestyle, point of view towards the life, beliefs are highlighted in the story. The daughter’s relationship with a Mexican boy, her mother and the generation gap are discussed.

Las Vegas This is a story of a man who are nicknamed “Las Vegas Charley”. He was a immigrant in America. The journey of his life is shown here. His early life, marriage, his conditions in second the world war, camp experiences are the highlights of the story. His continuous urge to make his life better and failures will make you sad. This story is a reflection of the lives of the Issei people over that period.

My father can beat Muhammad Ali The story revolves around the relationship between an Issei father and a Nisei young boy. The father continuously tries to attract the attention of his child towards the ancient Japanese sports. But the generation gap between them makes the situation tough to tougher. And we see an amazing beautiful but eye opening story of relationship between a father and child.

Themes of her stories

Some of the most relevant themes she worked on are shown below.

The Nisei and the Issei – The Issei are the first generation of immigrants from Japan, where as the Nisei are the second generation of them.

Issei are those who are still very much connected with the Japanese culture, their heritages, ancient beliefs and point of view towards life. But the Nisei are more of Americanised. They are modern, follows modern American culture, American food habits etc.

They prefer to go to clubs, to do parties and more. And here the generation gap and the conflicts start. Hisaye Yamamoto always showed these conflicts in her very own society and talked about these from her point of view.

Life in camps As she passed a part of her life inside the “Internment camps”. She wrote a lot about those lives. The sacrifices they had to made, the hard times, the hurdles during that time. How they made guilty without doing anything. As well as the trauma of the second world war. Everything was messed up and they even didn’t know what to do next. She always opened up and gave briefs about those horrible times.

Suppression of women – This is something that is very relevant and still continuing in our society. Hisaye always reflected these in her own way and protested against the oppression of society by the means of religion, culture, patriarchy.

Interaction between ethnic communities – The experiences of her with the interaction between the communities like Americans and Anglo Americans, Japanese, Mexicans, Chinese, Filipinos or Africans made her to write about these. Their experience from the majority of society and the states always been her one of favorites to write about. She considered the United States as a large and complex network of different ethnicities.

Awards and recognitions

Hisaye Yamamoto received many awards and recognitions throughout her life.  ” Asian American Writer’s Workshop” gave her “Lifetime achievements award” from the “Association of Asian American Studies” in 2010. She received the “Award for Literature” from the “Association of Asian American Studies” in 1988. In the year of 1986, the “Before Columbus Foundation” honoured her by the “The American Book Award for Lifetime Achievements”. Her story “Yeneko’s Earthquake” was nominated as the best American short story.

“American Play House” special “Hot summer winds” was adapted from her stories “Seventeen chapters” and “Yeneko’s Earthquake”.

Recently in 2021 Google celebrated the honour of Hisaye Yamamoto with an exclusive Google doodle.

Towards the end

If we get a overall look at the life of Hisaye Yamamoto, everything seems to be unreal. The amount of sacrifices she made and the amount of struggle she did in her life are unbelievable. But the best part was how she overcame all the tough times and set an example in front of the world. Her stories and her life both are exemplary in true sense.

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