Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 7 | Summary



Japanese Americans on the island have faced discrimination for years. Early census records listed Japanese residents by labels, such as "Jap Number 1 ... Old Jap Sam ... Dwarf Jap." The Japanese Americans form their own community and are cautious about interacting with the white residents, except during the summer Strawberry Festival. A Japanese girl is always named the Strawberry Princess, but after the one-day festival the Japanese residents just go back to work. This annual event continued until 1942 when all Japanese American residents are interned.

In a break in the trial, Hatsue Miyamoto, Kabuo's worried wife, tries to speak with him. Hatsue, who was once named Strawberry Princess, is beautiful, but her beauty is "fading" because of hard work. As a young girl, Hatsue's parents sent her to be trained in Japanese arts: the tea ceremony, calligraphy, flower arranging, and traditional behaviors Japanese women were expected to embrace. Hatsue trained diligently, but she felt torn between her Japanese family and the American life around her.

Hatsue and Ishmael Chambers were childhood friends who shared their first kiss. She tells Kabuo Miyamoto he is the first person to ever kiss her when they were courting in the internment camp. Hatsue remembers her wedding night with Kabuo at the Manzanar camp. She did not seem passionately in love with Kabuo, but she repeatedly said to herself and others: "It's right" or "It feels right." Eight days after their wedding Kabuo enlisted in the military.


Japanese immigrants to the United States faced a lot of prejudice and discrimination; they were not allowed to become U.S. citizens (though their native-born children were citizens by birth) and were forbidden to own property. San Piedro's Strawberry Festival seems to have been a rare time when the communities joined together. The narrator describes the chosen Strawberry Princess as "an unwitting intermediary between two communities, a human sacrifice who allowed the festivities to go forward with no uttered ill will." Note that Hatsue Miyamoto, Ishmael Chambers's former girlfriend and Kabuo's wife, was a Strawberry Princess.

As a young woman, Hatsue is trapped between the two different worlds of San Piedro. She grows up like an American child in some ways, but her parents struggle to make sure "that the girl would not forget she was first and foremost Japanese." They pay for her lessons, teaching her the skills of a geisha, as well as Buddhist religious practices such as meditation.

Some Westerners think of geishas as prostitutes, but this is inaccurate. They were entertainers or hostesses. Geisha were trained in many arts, including singing, dancing, flower arranging, calligraphy, and the tea ceremony—all things Hatsue studies. Being a geisha in Japan requires years of study, and a full-fledged geisha wears an elaborate hairstyle with thick face makeup and a specific style of clothing; Hatsue's lessons on powdering her face and caring for her hair sound very similar to geisha training.

Hatsue's teacher and her parents worry her beauty will cause trouble. They warn her of white men who fantasize about exotic and obedient Asian girls. This fantasy was partially created by the opera Madame Butterfly. In it, a white man in Japan marries a geisha and leaves her in Japan. She waits patiently for him, bearing his child, but when he returns to Japan, he brings his new (white) wife with him. Devastated, the geisha kills herself, forcing him to raise her child with his new wife. Madame Butterfly was a huge hit in the early 20th century, so it is quite likely Japanese Americans would be familiar with this stereotype.

The Manzanar internment camp is one of ten Japanese American camps set up during World War II and represents a particularly shameful aspect of the conduct of the U.S. government during the war. All Japanese American residents on the West Coast of the United States were imprisoned in camps for the length of the war. This was ostensibly because of the fear of saboteurs, though German Americans were not subjected to the same abuse. Many Japanese Americans lost their homes and businesses because they were given minimal warning before they were rounded up. In spite of this, and to prove their loyalty during a 1943 campaign by the U.S. government to recruit able-bodied Japanese American males to the war, some nisei (first-generation Japanese Americans, children of Japanese immigrant parents who were born in the U.S.) volunteered to serve in the army. Kabuo is one of the nisei who joins the army while imprisoned at the internment camp. Many years later, in 1988, the U.S. government apologized to Japanese Americans who were interned for the outrageous violation of their civil rights.
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