Pamela Rotner Sakamoto’s book “Midnight in Broad Daylight” chronicles the true story of two branches of a Japanese-American family that endured the horrors of World War II in Japan, in America and on the Pacific front.
“Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese-American Family Caught Between Two Worlds”
by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
Harper, 464 pp., $29.99
With sublime prose and prodigious research skills, Pamela Rotner Sakamoto tells the remarkable true story of the Fukuhara family, a narrative that delves into two little- known aspects of the Japanese-American experience: Nisei who were stranded in Japan during World War II and conscripted into the Japanese army, and the vital role Nisei intelligence officers in the U.S. played in the American war effort.
“Midnight in Broad Daylight” centers on Harry, the family’s middle son, who exudes an irrepressible charm. Spunky and rebellious, Harry is quintessentially American, yet remains devoted to his family and cultural heritage.
Harry’s parents immigrated from Hiroshima Prefecture in the early 20th century to the Seattle area, where Harry enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Auburn. After his father died in 1933, his mother made the momentous decision to move the family back to Hiroshima.
Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
The author of “Midnight in Broad Daylight” will appear at 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co. Free (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).
For Harry, age 13, the move was a harsh transition to which he never really adjusted, though he learned to speak and write Japanese. Biding his time, Harry returned to the U.S. on his own at age 18 in 1938. He struggled to find work, moving from job to job and ending up in Los Angeles.
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Meanwhile, his siblings faced their own challenges in Japan. Frank gained entrance to an elite middle school in Hiroshima that turned out to be a nightmarish training ground for the Japanese military. Students were subject to strict discipline in preparation for becoming soldiers who “were destined to die.” Frank was routinely hazed and beaten by upperclassmen.
As the Fukuharas lived out their family’s unique drama, the world around them was hurtling toward war.
Harry was swept up in the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. In the summer of 1942, he and his sister Mary were confined in a desolate prison camp in Gila River, Ariz. Later that year, Harry took a test to become a translator in the U.S. Army and was sent to the Pacific front as part of the Military Intelligence Service. Fluent in both Japanese and English, Harry excelled at his new job, which included interrogating Japanese POWs.
Brothers Victor and Frank were drafted into the Japanese army.
Conditions were harsh in Hiroshima, where food was increasingly scarce and strictly rationed. Nothing, however, could compare with the devastation of the atomic bomb detonated over the city in August 1945. Harry’s family and friends experienced the cataclysm firsthand, and his mother and older brother eventually died from radiation sickness.
After Japan surrendered, Harry was among the American forces that occupied the country, and he experienced an emotional reunion with his family.
Sakamoto doesn’t sugarcoat the brutality and fanaticism of the Japanese military, but she stresses the humanity of individual soldiers and civilians, who had been brainwashed about the true course of the war and victimized into a life of deprivation by their own government.
The author did meticulous research over nearly two decades, interviewing dozens of subjects and poring over reams of documents in Japan and the U.S. But more than a historical text, this is radiant storytelling, filled with exquisite details. Of the ever-present dust in Gila River, Sakamoto writes, “While Jeanie still drowsed, Mary noticed grains clinging to her daughter’s lashes. Not wanting to awaken her, she knelt and blew softly on her daughter’s eyelids, scattering the powder aloft.”
“Midnight in Broad Daylight” is as riveting and moving a book as has ever been written about World War II, made all the more compelling by the blending of American and Japanese perspectives.