Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 13 | Summary



Hatsue Miyamoto and her family learn about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when they are at the Buddhist chapel. Everyone at the chapel worries they will be blamed or attacked because they are Japanese residents in America. Japanese Americans do face immediate hostility from some San Piedro residents, while others try to help. Ishmael Chambers offers Hatsue his savings when her family's bank account is frozen. Arthur Chambers, Ishmael's father, tries to use his newspaper to emphasize Japanese residents' efforts to support island civil defense projects and to celebrate the Japanese American young men who choose to immediately enlist in the U.S. Army after the attack. But hostility builds against the Japanese residents and against Ishmael's father for defending them.


Japan attacked the United States on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japanese leaders were angry the United States had frozen Japanese assets in the country, banned many U.S. exports to Japan, and slowed Japanese territorial expansion in Asia. By attacking Pearl Harbor, Japan dealt a serious blow to U.S. naval firepower. More than 2,400 Americans were killed and almost 1,200 wounded, and many battleships and planes were destroyed.

Japan did not officially declare war before the attack, outraging Americans even more. Many Americans began to view Japanese people as sneaky or untrustworthy because of the sneak attack. For a time, many people believed Japanese people living in Hawaii must have helped arrange the attack. While this was untrue, the Ni'ihau incident exacerbated the rumors. During the Pearl Harbor attack a Japanese pilot crashed on this small island and three Japanese American residents helped him. The other island residents rose up against them and the pilot was killed; some historians believe this incident helped inspire the internment program.

However, most Japanese Americans were loyal to their adopted country. This plays out in the novel, which does not depict any traitorous Japanese Americans. They lead lives much like Ishmael Chambers's family does, seeking health, happiness, and financial stability. Yet this attack, as we see in the town's bifurcated response, prompted a rapid outcry among many Americans for Japanese American internment until the source of the Pearl Harbor attack could be traced. For a time they could not enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces, but the ban was reversed and many Japanese Americans, like Kabuo Miyamoto, who were U.S. citizens joined the U.S. military in specific units, which fought bravely and earned many honors.

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