Comprised of several short vignettes, Gasa Gasa Girl tells the story of its author Lily Yuriko and her experience coming of age within the barbed wires of an internment camp (several, actually). Broken up into 4 distinct parts, Yuriko makes the interesting choice of supplementing her biographical recounts with her own watercolor paintings depicting the events. Like the telling of the story itself, it is interesting to note that all that is being said by this author is being done several decades after the fact. Though historians tend to take issue with these types of “remembered” autobiographical stories, like Breadgivers, I think its true value lies purely in its ability to tell a story. While certain minute details of this story may be up to debate, something that absolutely isn’t in my mind is the way it depicts Japanese life during this time in such vivid descriptions. Though written from the “rear-view mirror” several decades in the past, Yuriko unequivocally captures both the spirit and creativity of the adolescent mind, in a way that likely does lend to the “experienced past” of a person that age perceiving all these things happening to them.
In the first chapter of her book, Yuriko recalls her time at Santa Anita. It is a somber one, mostly spent struggling to find the motivation to restart their lives under such dire circumstances. They all take it hard, though admittedly no one harder than her father. Throughout his stay he is despondent, taking long solitary walks that take up most of his day. Without warning, around page 28, he is moved to Los Angeles and must say goodbye to his family. This sort of tragedy was one barely acknowledged by his family at the time, likely due in large part to the malaise that had set over them since their introduction to life in the camps. Their lives during this time are ones full of contradictions. While being forced into detainment camps and held against their will, kids here are still expected to go to school and learn. Expressions of culture during this time are hard to come by, only expressing themselves in certain small rituals and the geta certain members had fashioned for themselves.
The second chapter of this book is more or less divided into two sections. The first of these sections chronicles the Yuriko family’s life before the war, depicting both their time with the Harrington’s and the father and mother’s strained relationship. We also receive more information about the mother during this time, including the fact that she was abandoned by her husband for a year and needed to work in Yokohama to pay her fare to America, and the fact that her family shunned her for doing so. In the second section, we hear about Lily and her family’s trepidation about moving to Colorado and into their second internment camp. Once there, they set up lives for themselves once again. Her mother becomes a teacher, and Lily keeps busy both in school and in writing letters to her friends in the outside world. She also ends up passing her time wondering deeply about religion, both Christianity and Shinto-Buddhism.
The last two chapters of the book cover both the family’s time in Amache and eventual release. While I certainly enjoyed these chapters, I’m honestly having a hard time finding something meaningful to say about them. One thing I personally found interesting while reading these books was the use of more archaic Japanese, at least compared to what I learned. While some of the more basic Japanese vocabulary may have stayed the same (things like お尻、頑張る、and 早く), certain terms like “仕方がない” (shikata ga nai) have since been replaced with terms like “しょうがない” (shou ga nai). Reading this book was also my first introduction to the term 一世 to denote first-generation immigrants. Usually in Japanese blood quantum is a much more prominent issue that nationality, giving rise to the terms ハーフ (hafu) and 外人 (gaijin) more than anything else. Maybe that’s not the most important aspect of this book in the world, but it was something that certainly caught my eye.