English 180: Remapping Violence
March 15, 2018
A Forgotten Piece of American History
From 1920’s to the 1930’s, male Japanese immigrants currently residing in America imported tens of thousands of Japanese women across the ocean to SanFrancisco, in order to evade immigration laws. Julie Otsuka uses her own heritage to bring new light to the shameful historical events surrounding the years before and during World War II in America. Her work could be considered less of a novel than a kind of social history, or, a cultural autobiography (Dewey 3). In her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic, Otsuka takes on an interesting style of writing by composing a narrative without definite characters or the presence of any concrete storyline. Although unnamed, the characters are vividly drawn from the unique and general mini-stories reminding the reader of the extreme discrimination the Japanese immigrants faced in America everyday life. Otsuka uses a first-person plural voice throughout her narrative to condense thousands of experiences into a single, choral harmony. Rather than drawing the primary narrative from an individual story, Otsuka lists experience after experience, piling name upon name. She continues to build the narrative by sharing a balanced mixture of unique, personal experiences with general sweeping events composing a single chorus of voices representing the Japanese-American culture before, during and after World War II. Otsuka creates a single voice representing thousands of immigrants to establish the identity of a Japanese culture evicted from a troubled nation and scrubbed out of American history. Otsuka gives identity to a relatively unknown culture by retelling the stories of Japanese immigrants in America. The experiences of Japanese immigrants are strategically ordered by Otsuka to form a narrative which exposes two major events commonly overlooked in American history, the oppression of lower class immigrant women and forgotten eradication of a culture during the World War.
In the decade between 1910 and 1920, an estimated 9,500 women migrated from Japan to the United States as picture brides (Yoshikawa 18). For most brides, economic hardships prompted their families to send them to the United States to marry immigrant Japanese men. Most often when they arrived their husbands scarcely resembled the cherished photographs, many being much older and had lured the women with photographs taken in their youth, when their prospects looked brighter, and with promises of good fortune. Otsuka portrays the harsh oppression of the recently wed picture brides when she writes in the voice of their husbands, “Don’t let them discourage you. Be patient. Stay Calm. But for now, our husbands told us, please leave the talking to me” (Otsuka 27). Although only referring to a single speaker in the text, Ostuka switches the identity from individual to an entire lower class of Japanese by using the first person plu...