Written by Anne Dang
Graphic by Bri Tan
CW/TW: mentions of Japanese internment camps, WWII
"Mr. Sasaki got the hose attached to the faucet outside and started to go in the door, and he said all the Sasagawaras' suitcases and things were on top of the Army cots and Miss Sasagawara was trying to clean the place out with a pail of water and a broom. He said, 'Here let me flush the place out with a hose for you; it'll be faster.' And she turned right around and screamed at him, 'What are you trying to do? Spy on me? Get out of here or I'll throw this water on you!' He said he was so surprised he couldn't move for a minute, and before he knew it, Miss Sasagawara just up and threw that water at him, pail and all. Oh, he said he got out of that place fast, but fast. Madwoman, he called her."
(“The Legend of Miss Sasagawara” by Hisaye Yamamoto, p. 3 in pdf or p.100 in text)
The text above is a snippet from the short story “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara” by Hisaye Yamamoto about a young Japanese woman named Mari Sasagawara and her life in an internment camp in Arizona. I have written a short reflection with my thoughts and analysis of the chosen paragraph.
The narration of this event is unreliable since Elise, like everyone else in the barracks, is eager to spread rumors that Miss Sasagawara is a “madwoman.” Nevertheless, there is more to interpret from this incident besides an interpersonal interaction that ended in disaster.
The history of the Japanese internment camps, the surveillance on Japanese Americans by society and even among themselves, and Miss Sasagawara’s words revealing the reasons for her reclusiveness contribute to the argument that Miss Sasagawara’s neurotic behavior and mental illness are not abnormal but rather realistic responses from trauma. The Japanese internment camps forced the relocation and incarceration of people of Japanese descent in America, even though they had no affiliation with the Japanese Empire during WWII. These events heightened surveillance of Japanese Americans by white Americans due to the American Empire purposefully using WWII tensions and historical resentment against Asians to justify imperialism, especially in Asia. This state of panic caused even Japanese Americans to surveil amongst themselves as a means of survival, as shown in the text when Elise narrated every detail of Miss Sasagawara and cast her as an outlier of the group. This context makes Miss Sasagawara’s words of “What are you trying to do? Spy on me?” an expected reaction rather than a rude rejection. It is also later revealed in the story that Miss Sasagawara’s father was a very devout man who delved into a world of madness from his obsession to reach nirvana. This obsession had a grave effect on Miss Sasagawara who couldn’t even live her own life under the surveillance of her father. From being watched by the government, American society, her fellow Japanese people in the barracks, and her father, it is no wonder that Miss Sasagawara had to live her life in absolute fear.