Hisaye Yamamoto: A Brief Description


Hisaye Yamamoto is an acclaimed American author known for her collection “Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories” (1988). furthermore, She delved into various issues, such as the Japanese immigrant experience, generational gaps, and women’s societal roles.

The Career Of Hisaye Yamamoto

Early Life:

Hisaye Yamamoto was born to Issei’s parents. Yamamoto’s Nisei generation faced the challenges imposed by the California Alien Land Law, leading to a nomadic lifestyle. As a child, Yamamoto avidly read, wrote, and saw her work published in Japanese-American newspapers, which fueled her passion for writing. She keenly observed the declining parent-child contact and the linguistic barrier within Japanese families caused by the desire to preserve the native language and demonstrate loyalty through English, influencing her writing.

World War Ii And The Internment Of Japanese-Americans:

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. government interned approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans, with Yamamoto herself being interned in Poston, Arizona, at the age of 20. It was during this time that she tragically lost one of her siblings in battle. To stay engaged, Yamamoto contributed to the camp newspaper, the Poston Chronicle. She debuted in fiction with “Death Rides the Rails to Poston,” a mystery that later became part of her collection—the three years spent at Poston profoundly impacted her writing.

Hisaye Yamamoto Life After The War

After the closure of internment camps in 1945, Yamamoto and her family relocated to Los Angeles. She worked for the African American Los Angeles Tribune, furthering her understanding of U.S. race relations. Yamamoto’s critical recognition grew, and she married Anthony DeSoto. Despite her roles as a wife and mother, writing remained essential to her. She continued to contribute to various publications. Anthony DeSoto passed away in 2003, and Yamamoto herself passed away in 2011.

Writing Elegance And Inspiration Of Hisaye Yamamoto

Yamamoto began writing at the age of 14 under the pen name Napoleon. Her stories incorporated elements of haiku, emphasizing metaphor, imagery, and irony within concise narratives. She received praise for her nuanced exploration of gender and sexual relationships. She skillfully blends her Japanese heritage with a contemporary sensibility. Yamamoto’s literary style was characterized by sensitivity, laboriousness, heartfelt expression, and delicate craftsmanship while maintaining a direct and economical approach.

Initially published in 1988 by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the collection contained stories written over four decades. It is starting from the end of World War II. The 1998 edition by Rutgers University Press included the additional story “Reading and Writing.” In 2001, the book underwent further revisions and expansions, adding four more stories, some dating back to 1942. The 2001 edition included “Death Rides the Rails to Poston,” “Eucalyptus,” “A Fire in Fontana,” and “Florentine Gardens.”

List Of Stories Written By Hisaye Yamamoto:

Yamamoto’s collection features notable stories such as “Yoneko’s Earthquake,” “Seventeen Syllables,” and “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara.” Each story explores different themes, including intergenerational relationships, interethnic dynamics, and the challenges faced by Japanese-Americans.

The High-Heeled Shoes: A Memoir (1948)

This narrative’s primary focus is on women’s position in contemporary culture.

Seventeen Syllables (1949)

This story follows the parallel lives of a young Nisei girl and her Issei mother: the daughter doesn’t understand why her mother likes haiku, she’s falling in love with a young Mexican boy, her mother wins a haiku contest, and her father is jealous of her mother’s artistic success. The story looks at the difference in age between the Issei and the Nisei, as well as interethnic relationships, patriarchal repression, and anger based on class.

The Legend Of Miss Sasagawara (1950)

It is the only story of a camp where Japanese people went to live. The story appears by a young Japanese-American girl, giving a broad picture of a woman in the center called Miss Sasagawara. She is the daughter of a Buddhist priest, and she gets a reputation for acting crazy. At the end of the story, Miss Sasagawara writes a song that shows how smart she is and how her Buddhist father makes her feel like she can’t be herself. This way, the story shows how racism and patriarchy can work together to hurt people.

Wilshire Bus (1950)

A young Japanese-American narrator, shortly after WWII, gloats to herself over something she sees on a bus: an American pestering a Chinese couple. The narrator mulls over the complexities of intergroup relations and anti-Japanese feelings.

The Brown House (1951)

When a husband’s gambling habit causes financial hardship for the family, the wife often complicates his behavior. The narrative delves into the difficulties of being a wife and the relationships between different cultures.

Yoneko’s Earthquake (1951)

Yoneko, a young Nisei girl living on a small farm with her family, narrates “Yoneko’s Earthquake,” one of the most intricate stories in the collection, from her perspective, observing two simultaneous plot threads. Yoneko’s mother begins an affair with the Filipino farmhand she hires, and Yoneko herself develops feelings for him after he arrives. Mother-daughter, Issei-Nisei, and wife-husband relationships happened to be considered as a motif from “Seventeen Syllables.”

Morning Rain (1952)

 In this short story, a Nisei girl and her Issei father share a memorable breakfast. The plot develops to reveal that the daughter has wed an American and is unhappy about her relationship with her father. The narrative concludes with a surprising revelation about the generational divide in communication: the woman learns that her father has trouble hearing.

Epithalamium (1960)

 A Japanese-American woman remembers the tumultuous early days of her marriage to an Italian-American alcoholic she met at a church. The story examines the highs and lows of romantic relationships, specifically those between people of different ethnic backgrounds. The title alludes to a type of ancient Greek poetry that was traditionally composed in praise of a bride.

Las Vegas Charley (1961)

An in-depth biography spanning several decades about an Issei man known by the moniker “Las Vegas Charley.” The narrative follows Charley from his arrival in the United States to his marriage and early family life, his internment in a Japanese-American camp during World War II, and his eventual relocation to Las Vegas, where he works as a dishwasher. The narrative details his sincere efforts to better himself, his situation, and his inevitable failures.

Life Among The Oil Fields, A Memoir (1979)

In this nonfictional tale, Yamamoto recounts her experiences growing up on a farm during Southern California’s oil industry. Her brother Jim gets injured in a hit-and-run at the end of the story. Jim’s family eventually locates the Caucasian couple in the car, but they refuse to accept responsibility and show no concern for his well-being.

The Eskimo Connection (1983) 

Through letters, a Japanese-American author and an Eskimo convict form a friendship. The story portrays a warm and funny camaraderie between people of different backgrounds.

My Father Can Beat Muhammad Ali (1986)

An Issei dad tries to introduce his sports-obsessed sons from the United States to the traditions of Japanese athletics. The story illustrates the chasm that can form between Japanese parents who get steeped in tradition and their children who the Western has influenced.

Underground Lady (1986)

The story of a white lady’s interaction with a Japanese-American woman, during which the white woman unwittingly displays her racial biases. As a counterweight to works like “The Eskimo Connection,” the story here shows that there can also be drawbacks to interacting across cultural lines.

A Day In Little Tokyo (1986)

A young Nisei girl goes with her father and sibling to a sumo fight, but she is left behind in Little Tokyo and must entertain herself by watching the people she encounters. The generational differences between the story’s Issei parents and their Nisei offspring are examined.

How to Conclude?

Hisaye Yamamoto’s remarkable writing career centered on the Japanese immigrant experience, generational gaps, and women’s issues. Her collection “Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories” offers emotional and enlightening insights into Japanese-American life during and after World War II. Yamamoto’s writing style, praised by Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor, and Grace Paley, intricately weaves together tradition and modernity. The multiple editions of her work, including the revised 2001 edition, reflect the ongoing impact and relevance of her storytelling. Through her penetrating accounts, Yamamoto continues to resonate with readers, capturing the essence of the Japanese-American experience and showcasing her exceptional writing skills.


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