No-No Boy Study Guide

No-No Boy By John Okada

A "No-no Boy" is a Japanese American who answered "No" to the following questions on a 1943 Leave Clearance Application Form administered to interned Japanese Americans:

1) "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?"

2) "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?"

The first question made people think they were signing up for the draft, which of course many didn't want to do (thus they said 'no'). The second implied a pre-existing allegiance to the Emperor of Japan, which made people believe that answering 'yes' would make them suspect -- thus, they answered 'no'.

The Story

Ichiro Yamada, a no-no boy, returns home from two years in an internment camp, bitter about his choice. He believes he should have served his country, and he resents his mother for believing that Japan will win (by now, has won) World War II and that any moment, a ship will come to take them back to Japan. His father, by contrast, knows the truth, and has many letters from family in Japan asking for money, food, and clothing.

The next morning, Ichiro loses his temper and strikes the Yamada family, then apologizes. Mr. Yamada understands his anger, and gives Ichiro money to go visit his friend Freddie, who just got out of jail. After the visit, Ichiro ponders his future and meets his friend Kenji, who lost his leg in the war. Ichiro believes that Kenji's sacrifice has made him fully American, and is jealous despite the injury.

That night, at a nightclub, Ichiro is insulted for his status as a no-no boy and gets into a big fight. He and Kenji end up at the home of Kenji's friend Emi, who has been deserted by her husband, and Ichiro has sex with her. In the morning, she encourages him to better himself and become Americanized.

Ichiro's mother is starting to believe that America won the war, and isn't eating. Kenji meets his family, who are worried about Kenji -- his leg is gangrenous and may kill him any day. He and Ichiro slip off to drive Kenji to the hospital in Portland.

Ichiro turns down a good job on the basis that he isn't a good American, turns down sex with Emi because he believes her husband (a good American) will soon return to her. His mother commits suicide because Japan hasn't come for her yet, and he must inform his father of her death. She has a Buddhist wedding, and in the end, his father seems relieved. Ichiro is about to turn down another good job, but changes his mind, and after he saves his friend Freddie from a butt-kicking, he starts to feel better about himself and his place in the world.

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