Japanese Internment and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  

January 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

As a historical novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet[1] alludes to many occurrences, people, places, government acts, and organizations confirming the novel’s veracity by employing history. The book covers the period 1941-1986, a period of over forty years. During this time, Henry witnesses the tragedy of World War II, the tensions between Chinese and Japanese, the American and Asians. His eyes become open to racial prejudice and naked hate. The Japanese Internment highlights the tensions. At first, as a young pre-teen of only 12, he little understands the repercussions of falling in love with a Keiko, a Japanese girl. However, time never stops them from ultimately reuniting with one another after Ethel’s death. Historical accuracy is indispensable in constructing a novel where the author wants to make a story realistic and therefore believable. This technique is called verisimilitude, where a strong semblance of truth is present in the narrative. Some time references correctly applied are the Pearl Harbor Attack (1941), Executive Order 9066 (1942), Executive Order 9102 (1942), establishment of the Republic of China (1912), and Japanese Invasion of Manchuria (1931). These allusions assist in time location and establish historical veracity as Henry revisits his past and desperately clutches on to whatever remnants of people and things which are dear to him.

The author, Jamie Ford, skillful weaves in historic data through conversations that the characters have among themselves, journals and newspapers, laws and acts of government, and crucial events unfolding during World War II. The characters also represent different generations of Asian Americans, for example Henry being a young boy in the 1940’s, Henry’s father who is a first generation Chinese immigrant, and Marty who is Henry’s descendant. Different from them all, Marty freely expresses himself, intends to marry a Caucasian woman, and shares liberal views which contrast sharply to the traditional values that Henry espouses and cherishes. “The old Seattle landmark was a place he’d visited twice in his lifetime. First when he was only 12 years old way back in 1942 … the second time was today. It was 1986.” (Ford 3) Set mainly in Seattle, Washington, setting and place are also an important time locators for in the space of the novel (1942-1986), Ford mentions buildings, schools, and centers which are either still stand upright today or have been destroyed due to their decadent states and the toll of modernization. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which today is called the Panama Hotel[2], Nippon Kan Theater, Japantown, and Camp Minidoka (one of the Japanese internment camps), all substantiate historical claims of the novel. Seattle’s Nihonmachi or Japantown is a significant town in Seattle, Washington. Here, the love story between Henry and Keiko unfolds and shows the geographic and physical relationship between Japanese and Chinese in America.

Because of large numbers of Japanese immigrants, Nihonmachi is called Japantown in order to rival the Chinese’s Chinatown. Place clearly depicts separation and one sees in the novel that Henry and Keiko are separated. Henry, a Chinese, was forbidden by his parents to go to Japantown and so physical and racial boundaries are set. The Nippon Kan Theateris a theater located in what used to be Japantown in Seattle, Washington, which was celebrated for its plays in promoting Japanese culture. The Nippon Kan Theater was built in 1909 and closed at the time of the Japanese internment in 1942. Early on in the story, Henry mentions that the theater was boarded up and abandoned, mourning the relocation of the Japanese away from army bases. Camp Minidoka and Camp Harmony are Japanese camp[3]s where Keiko stays and where Henry visits her (Exploring Japanese American Internment). Both camps are historically accurate places and fits perfectly in the World War II period. Camp Harmony which was established in 1942 in Washington, housed arrested Japanese bound for internment. The Minidoka Camp or War Relocation Center in Idaho operated from 1942-1945, the last three years of World War II[4]. Most of the Japanese-American captives in Camp Minidoka were imported from Washington – so it is by no stretch of the imagination that the residents of Japantown, Seattle, Washington were apprehended and driven to Camp Minidoka. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, from which the novel derives its name, is a historic hotel constructed by Sabro Ozasa, a Japanese architect. The Panama Hotel situated in Seattle, Washington, was completed in 1910 and up until 1950, sheltered and entertained many Japanese immigrants. Panama Hotel, in Henry’s second visit has been rebuilt (since1985) and is once again open for business (Historic Panama Hotel).

Government’s acts, statutes and laws also enable the reader to classify time and confirm historic value of the novel. “Father believed in a government of the people but was wary of who those people were” (Ford 68). This novel, Hotel on the Corner of the Bitter and Sweet, does not embrace a very sympathetic view of governments. The characters all have some reason to mistrust the Chinese, Japanese, or American governments. Henry explains the origins of Chinese and Japanese migration, referring to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882[5]. This act banned Chinese immigrants from coming over into the US, cheapening labor, and taking jobs from Americans. This exclusion act is one of the first to openly discriminate against Asians in America. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 also opened the door to Japanese immigrants for since Chinese workforce was prohibited in the United States, then American enterprises who, as Henry explained, needed cheap labor got Japanese laborers to work for them. These historical facts also explain in part the reason for the racial tensions and general dislike in Japanese-Chinese relations in America. America’s Anti-Miscegenation Laws[6] enforced since the mid-1800s also prevented interracial marriages (Anti-Miscegenation Laws). Henry himself mentions to his son, Marty who is going to marry a white woman that their union would have been impossible if they were in his day. These anti-interracial laws applied to all American minorities including Blacks, Indians, and Asians (Asian Americans and Anti-Miscegenation Statutes).

Governmental Executive Orders[7] 9102 and 9066 worked against the Japanese-Americans during World War II (Robinson: By Order of the President). President Franklin Roosevelt issued the Executive Order 9102 in 1942 which instituted the War Relocation Authority which was empowered to remove all Japanese-Americans from their homes and place them in new ‘homes’ with the aim to move them away from key US military bases. The government feared that in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing of 1941 that Japanese Americans were conspiring with the Axis force comprised of Germany, Italy, and Japan (Attack on Pearl Harbor). Due to these suspicions, Japanese-Americans were imprisoned and then relocated from army bases. The Executive Order 9066 of 1942 was another order commissioned by the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, which in essence stripped Japanese-Americans of their rights to live where they please and consigned them to internment camps (Ng: Japanese American Internment). It must be noted that the NAS Seattle Airbase was in Seattle, Washington; therefore the relocation operations instigated against the people of Japanese ancestry were to move them from strategic military bases in light of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a major American military base (Pearl Harbor Review).

Organizations also provide a necessary key in determining historicity. Ford, using Henry, mentions in the novel the Mutual Broadcasting System, Hokubei Jiji, the Bing Kung Association, and the Chong Wa Benevolent Association which are functional and active during World War II. The Mutual Broadcasting System was a radio-based media company which from 1934 started disseminating news and entertained many with popular programs such as The Adventures of Superman. Henry is a passionate fan of the Mutual Broadcasting System because he enjoys listening to tales of his favorite character, Superman or as he calls him “the Son of Krypton.” In 1999 MBS had to end all airplay and closed its doors. Hokubei Jiji, the old newspaper, that Henry takes up and reads when he is in the basement of the Hotel, is historically accurate. The Hokubei Jiji[8] or The North American Times existed from 1902 – 1942 and according to what Henry sees on the paper’s frontline, March 12, 1942 was truly its last issue. The location is in Seattle, Washington and this fact brings it into harmony as a reputable, historical novel. The journal acquired its name from the publisher who was Hokubei Jijisha. The Bing Kung Association was an organization located in Seattle, Washington which comprised of a network of Chinese gang members. Henry reports that his father also belongs to the Bing Kung Association. This group was notorious for multiple killings. Bing Kung is a sub-category of the Bing Kong Tongs which is headquartered in California. The Chong Wa Benevolent Association is a Chinese-American body set up since 1915 to promote the smooth networking between Chinese at home and abroad. It also serves as an ambassador of Chinese culture in America. China became a Republic on the January 1, 1912 which in effect ended years of imperial rule and dynasty. Henry’s father mentions the festive Chinese Republic Day[9] as a comparison to the Executive Orders written against the Japanese. This link discloses the underlying resentment of Chinese against Japanese and expresses that the Chinese community triumphed over the Japanese internment. Henry’s father informs him more of the Chinese Republic Day and the revolutionary who lead China to republicanism, Sun Yat-sen[10]. Being very nationalistic, highly regarding all things Chinese, Henry’s father represents the traditional Chinese immigrant with his prejudices against Japan and loyalties still tied to China. This national bigotry between both Chinese and Japanese is historic especially since during the time frame of the novel the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) is in progress (Seattle Times).

It is difficult to shake the embattled state of the times when reading Hotel on the Corner of the Bitter and Sweet. America and Japan are both engaged in war. In particular, the Ameri-Japanese conflicts and tensions which culminated in World War II have its roots in the long Sino-Japanese Wars[11]and the Pearl Harbor bombing. “While Denny stood on the corner painting ‘Go home Japs[12]!’ over American flags posted on windows, “I told you he was a Jap on the inside” (Ford 99). Tensions between America and Japan escalated when Japan, in an effort to annex it to its expanding empire, was on a mission to conquer lands. Likewise Japan’s ally, Germany (Hitler and his forces) had ambitions of expanding the German empire to include all of Europe which Japan, its ally, wanted to gain more territory and power with fresh aggression against China. Henry’s father, A Chinese-American reacts in anger as he hears about the fatal Japanese bombing. These actions did not improve the general sentiment toward Japanese in America for they now had to deal with Americans and Chinese-Americans who despised them. Although innocent of Japan’s actions, people of Japanese ancestry had to face further prejudice, racism, and anger because of the martial times. They were called a derogatory, “Japs.” Also, we clearly see that a differentiation was put between the Japanese identity and the American identity, for to be Japanese meant not being American. Patriotism sunk to showing prejudice toward perceived common offenders. When Henry sympathizes with the Japanese who were treated badly, his neighbor accuses him of being ‘a Jap on the inside.’ In sum, time, place, and infrastructure all play a part in authenticating the novel’s history, giving the reader ample proof that the events narrated in the story are non-fictional.

The novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet permeates with elements both bitter and sweet, full of memories and regret. After his wife’s death, Henry’s nostalgia gets the better of him as he travels to old places, rummages through old relics left by the supposed detained Japanese immigrants, and reflects poignant events in his life as a young boy living through the horrors of World War II. For Henry, history traces the past and paves the way for the future since he has arrived to be the man he is through past circumstances and decisions.

Works Cited:

Anti-Miscegenation Laws http://www2.facinghistory.org/campus/rm.nsf/0/6279243C0EEE444E85257037004EA259>

Asian Americans and Anti-Miscegenation Statutes < http://academic.udayton.edu/race/01race/aspi02.htm>

Attack on Pearl Harbor

Bombing of Chongqing

Dorn, Frank. The Sino-Japanese War from Marco Polo to Pearl Harbor 1937-194. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974

Exploring Japanese-American Internment

Historic Panama Hotel

Japanese American Internment Camps < http://www.bookmice.net/darkchilde/japan/camp.html>

Ng, Wendy L. Japanese American Internment during World War II: A History and Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group, Connecticut, 2002.

Pearl Harbor Review – Pearl Harbor

Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. Library Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data, 2001.

Seattle Times: Tea and Treasures (Historic Panama Hotel)

Second Sino-Japanese War

Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)

Sino-Japanese Relations- Conflict Management and Resolution

[1] Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. (New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2009)

[2] Takami, David A. Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1999).

[3] Inada, Lawson. Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2000).

[4] Hanel, Rachel. Japanese American Internment: An Interactive History Adventure (Minnesota, Capstone Press, 2008)

[5] Daniels, Roger. Otis L. Graham. Debating American Immigration 1882 to present.(London: Rowman and Little Field Publishers Inc, 2001)

[6] What Comes Naturally Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)

[7] Mc Clain, Charles. The Mass Internment of Japanese Americans and the Quest for Legal Redress (Berkeley: University of California, 2000)

[8] Soga, Keiho. Life Behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs (University of Hawaii Press: 2008)

[9] The Encyclopedia Americana (Danbury, Conn: Grolier Incorporated, 1988)

[10] Bergère, Marie-Claire. Janet Lloyd Sun Yat-sen (Stanford: Sanford University Press, 1998)

[11] Paine, S. C. M. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, Primacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

[12] Herbst, Philip. The Color of Words: An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Ethnic Bias in the United States. Intercultural Press. Maine, 1997.

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