Jeanne takes on the perspective of her brother, Woody, who is stationed in Japan with occupying American troops. One day, he goes to visit Papa’s family in the town of Ka-Ke. His elderly aunt Toyo shows him a family grave plot which has been upended by the aftershocks of the atomic bomb; she says that they are lucky only one member of the family died in the bombing.
Despite their fears, it seems that most of Japanese Wakatsukis have made it through the bombings intact. This is a moment of hope for family unity, after so many circumstances have conspired to weaken it.
Toyo also shows Woody a stone marker where Papa is “buried”; Woody is initially confused, but Toyo says the stone was placed to remember him after his immigration, when the family had no contact with him but wanted to remember him. Toyo says that her happiness at seeing Papa’s son “erases all this war has put us through,” and Woody tears up.
It’s interesting that his family commemorates Papa with a stone—this both roots him in his Japanese culture and emphasizes the endurance of their connection to him, even though he is physically far away.
Woody has been afraid to visit his family; it’s hard enough to be a Nisei among the occupying troops, and he’s constantly afraid that the Japanese consider him a traitor. When he finally does visit, he brings a suitcase full of sugar, which is in desperately short supply; he has access to it through his job, which is to break up black market operations and confiscate goods. When he finally arrives, he realizes that it doesn’t matter if he’s an American soldier or what gifts he brings—it’s enough that he is Papa’s son.
In America, Woody’s complex cultural heritage isn’t valued—he has to prove his loyalty before he can even serve in the army. In contrast, his Japanese family accept his complexities, even though he’s come to them as part of an army that has defeated their country.
The family accept the sugar with profuse thanks but carry it away quickly, in accordance with the Japanese tradition of not showing impolite interest in gifts. Woody senses that they’re embarrassed to be in dire need of such basic supplies. In fact, while the family compound has been spared bombing and is decorated with a beautiful rock garden, after years of war they have almost no possessions.
The family’s delicate acceptance of his gift mirrors Mama’s commitment to maintaining politeness and conventional norms, even in the midst of dire circumstances.
However, Aunt Toyo doesn’t act like a citizen of a defeated nation; she’s characterized by “an ancient, inextinguishable dignity.” Her cook prepares a delicious if small meal which is accompanied by tea. Afterwards, Toyo shows Woody to a guest room and insists that he take her own silk quilt. As Woody lies down, he thinks that Papa will be happy that his family has survived and proud of the reception they’ve given his son. Woody himself is relieved that all Papa’s fantastic stories about his family’s estate and pride have turned out to be true.
For Toyo, personal dignity isn’t about winning or losing—it’s about behaving properly no matter the circumstances. Her equanimity shows a more complex approach to personal dignity, and a greater resilience to shame, than Papa displays.
Woody dozes off but wakes suddenly and notices Toyo watching him and silently crying. She was Papa’s favorite aunt, who loaned him the money he needed to get to America, and now she tells Woody how much he looks like Papa. She tells him to sleep and hurries away.
Even though Woody has grown to replace Papa as head of family, thus emphasizing his differences from his father, Toyo’s comment is a moment of reconnection and filial satisfaction for him.
Woody is struck by how graceful Toyo is even while sliding the screen shut—she’s accustomed to moving with such grace from centuries in the same surroundings. Woody rubs his cheeks and imagines Papa’s face, thinking about how Papa’s bearing and dignity are reminiscent of Toyo. He wishes he had asked Toyo to tell him about Papa’s youth but tells himself that tomorrow he will talk to her and learn everything he wants to know. Tomorrow he will climb a hill outside of the town and “see what [Papa’s] eyes used to see.”
For Woody, connecting with his cultural heritage and with Papa’s youth are inextricable. The family is strengthened by its rich cultural heritage, but at the same time this means that internment’s attack on Japanese culture is also indirectly an attack on the family.