Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 11 | Summary



Back in his cell, Kabuo Miyamoto reflects on his life. He is haunted by the men he killed during the war. Kabuo views those killings as murder; his guilt cuts him off from his family. He seems almost suicidal as he imagines writing a note to his family "explicating his sin completely." He imagines leaving his family to be alone, "and his unhappiness would overwhelm his anger ... set him free to contemplate his destiny and his next life on the Great Wheel."

In court Kabuo stays calm and disciplined, but he realizes observers may think he doesn't care about the testimony. He does care: he is angry at Etta Heine and is trying to trust Nels Gudmundsson. Kabuo worries about what will happen to Hatsue Miyamoto and his family because of the trial. He remembers how he first noticed Hatsue at 16, how his love for her grew when they were in Manzanar, how she worried about him going to war. He acknowledges she was right: the war changed him and her worries were justified—he survived the war, but he is not the same man he was.

Kabuo thinks about how his father trained him in kendo, the Japanese art of sword fighting, beginning at age eight. Kabuo's family have been samurai for generations and his father possessed a historically important sword. His father tells Kabuo stories of his great-grandfather, who went almost insane when he was forced to stop being a samurai. Kabuo himself becomes an excellent swordsman, but he has a darkness inside him that he believes contributed to the deaths he caused in the war.


For the first time, David Guterson shares Kabuo Miyamoto's perspective with the reader, and some details become clear. Kabuo feels guilt over the people he killed in the war, he adores his wife, and he is deeply proud of his heritage.

The Miyamotos may have struggled in America, but they were important in Japan. As samurai, Kabuo's ancestors would follow a very strict ethical code, called bushido. Kabuo's kendo lessons would build on some elements of bushido. Kabuo shares a surname with the legendary samurai Musashi Miyamoto, who wrote a book about martial arts. He emphasized the need to remain calm at all times, even in the heat of battle—something Kabuo has clearly embraced.

Kabuo's family possesses a Masamune sword, which means they had been very powerful or wealthy. Masamune is arguably the best and most famous swordmaker in all of Japanese history; today his swords can be found in museums. Samurai believed that a person's honor was in their sword, so swords were extremely precious. Understandably, Kabuo's father resists handing over a Masamune sword to American authorities.

Kabuo's great-grandfather was presumably alive for the Meiji Restoration, a period in 19th-century Japan when the emperor pushed the Japanese government to become more modernized and centralized to help it compete with Western powers. Samurai were eventually forbidden to carry swords, which is what infuriated Kabuo's great-grandfather. It may seem like ancient history, but for Kabuo, it was less than one hundred years earlier, a relatively recent part of his family history. It also helps him define himself in relationship to an American culture that seeks to exclude him, despite his family's best efforts. His family history allows him to connect to a dignified past during his trial and gives him the strength to continue.

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