Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Family Caught Between Two Worlds

Sharon Rotner Sakamoto
Frank, Harry and Pierce after the war. Sakamoto’s rich writing portrays the human effects of discrimination (“a cautionary tale,” she said), culture, families torn apart and ultimately, forgiveness. Photo courtesy: Sharon Rotner Sakamoto

Midnight in Broad Daylight is not just an evocative description by poet Sankichi Toke of the moment America’s first atomic bomb explosively turned light to dark in Hiroshima, Japan, at 8:15 a.m. August 6, 1945.

It is also the title of an elegantly written and humanely told true story of the Japanese-American Fukahara family, caught in the conflicting cross-currents of two cultures and set against the backdrop of two countries clutched in ferocious combat.

And, it is the story of how lives can so quickly transform from lightness to dark, says historian and author Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, Ph.D.

Sharon Rotner Sakamoto
The title of book refers to the dropping of the bomb and how quickly life can change from light to dark. It also describes a family keeping their dual cultures in the dark, both in the U.S and Japan, to avoid personal repercussions. Photo courtesy: Sharon Rotner Sakamoto

Sakamoto tells the story not from the view of those people whose names fill the history books, but from those who lived with the day-to-day consequences of decisions made by those in power.

“I really wanted it to be a human story,” she said.

The author will speak at Saint Martin’s University on April 27 about her book. Earlier the same day, Sakamoto will engage with book readers at Lacey Timberland Library, talking about the book and answering reader questions in a “book club” style event.

The power of Sakamoto’s book comes from her beautifully crafted prose that paints an unvarnished but non-judgmental picture of the family and its history.

The family story includes brutal exclusion, internment (“incarceration,” Sakamoto calls it), the horror of a Japanese homefront run ruthlessly by the military, the real possibility of brother fighting brother and ultimately, their Japanese home city becoming the target of the most horrible weapon mankind ever created

The Fukuhara children, Harry, Frank, Victor, Pierce and Mary, were raised by their parents in Auburn, Wash. – “American born, biculturally bred.”

Their mother Kinu was a “picture bride,” her 1911 arranged marriage occurring in Seattle where her husband lived and where she moved after only an exchange of pictures between the two families.

The family moved to Auburn in 1926. The parents were “Isei” (ee’-say), first-generation Americans; the children were “Nisei” (knee’-say), second generation.

Sharon Rotner Sakamoto
Harry, Frank and Pierce with their parents Kinu and Katsuji. ” I wanted the story to be about them, Sakamoto said of the family. They were the stars of the story.” Photo courtesy: Sharon Rotner Sakamoto

The family had to overcome discrimination common against Japanese immigrants.

“Once (Japanese immigrants) started to succeed, they (the government) shut it down,” Sakamoto said of rights for the Japanese. “It is a thread running through the history of America and its immigrants.”

Their father died during the depression and the children moved with their mother to the family home in Hiroshima.

Pearl Harbor day found Harry and Mary in the United States, their mother and three brothers in Japan.

Then the real brutality began. Harry, Mary and her child were forcefully removed to an internment camp in Arizona. The others lived through hardships in a ruthlessly militaristic Japan, struggling to survive day-to-day.

Throughout their early lives, but especially during the war, the nisei “juggled two cultures,” their loyalties in both countries suspect. “I wanted to tell the story of the two cultures,” Sakamoto says.

Harry, fluent in Japanese and English, volunteered in the U.S. Army to interpret documents found after battles and to interrogate prisoners. He had to prove himself constantly. Every time he changed Army units, he needed a bodyguard to protect him from “friendly fire.”

In Japan, the youngest brother Frank went through brutal military training in high school and avoided being drafted until 1945. Victor joined the Army in 1938 but later worked in a factory in Hiroshima. By war’s end, Pierce was in the Army, but sickly.

Sharon Rotner Sakamoto
Brothers Harry, Frank and Pierce as youngsters (l-r). Photo courtesy: Sharon Rotner Sakamoto

Harry, who repeatedly faced death landing on beaches with his Army brothers, knew his biological brothers were likely in the Japanese Army and they could meet in a final ferocious battle on the Japanese mainland. He was scheduled to storm the mainland in the first wave.

“How do you fight your own brothers?” Sakamoto says. A comparison could be made to the American Civil war, she said, especially because the siblings “were all Americans.”

From Harry’s American perspective, Sakamoto writes, “The enemy didn’t fight to live. They fought to die.” That included Frank, forced into training to be a “tokkotai”, a Special Attack Forcesso soldier preparing to die: “We decided to die to the last man,” he told Sakamoto.

Then America dropped the bomb. Striking detail describes the ghastly effects of the first day of the atomic age.

On the 75th anniversary of the Japanese internment, some in the World War II generation might remain bitter and condemnatory – saying the Japanese deserved it. However, a Japanese Times review called the book a “powerful plea for empathy.”

To illustrate the impact of the book, Sakamoto shares this e-mail she received: “Your book has helped me resolve the prejudices that were so carefully hidden away by the WWII generation. At 60 years of age, I realized that I was raised to hate the Japanese.”

Sharon Rotner Sakamoto
Frank, Harry and Pierce after the war. Sakamoto’s rich writing portrays the human effects of discrimination (“a cautionary tale,” she said), culture, families torn apart and ultimately, forgiveness. Photo courtesy: Sharon Rotner Sakamoto

The book and the April 27 event, a collaboration between the Saint Martin’s University O‘Grady Library and the Lacey Timberland Library, has impact for any generation. Kelsey Smith, senior adult services librarian at Timberland’s Lacey branch said the personal nature of the story is appealing.  “I’m really interested in stories about people,” she said, noting the history of an era illustrated through the story of a family.

The 75th anniversary of Japanese internment and the fact that “this is an interesting cultural moment when talking about immigrants” led to the project, said Kael Moffat, information literacy chairman at the University.

Meet Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, Ph.D. on April 27 and engage in a book club style discussion about Midnight in Broad Daylight from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lacey Timberland Library. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sakamoto will speak at the St. Martin’s University Norman Worthington Conference Center. Sakamoto will be available to sign books after the program. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information call 360-491-3860.

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