That evening Ichiro and Kenji gamble in Chinatown for a while, before moving to a nearby bar. Ichiro notes that this neighborhood is at once “part of America” but can “never be wholly America.”
America is often portrayed as a melting pot that ostensibly welcomes people from other nations and cultures, but in reality those who do not look “American” (and white) often have difficulty fully integrating.
Kenji and Ichiro go to Club Oriental, a nightclub and bar. There they drink and talk. Kenji encourages Ichiro not to blame himself for where he is in his life. Still, Kenji tells Ichiro he would not trade half an inch for Ichiro’s long life. Instead, he’d just sell his car and sit in the Club Oriental drinking happily.
Although Ichiro envies Kenji’s status as a veteran and an American who has earned his place, the best part of Kenji’s life seems to be his contentment with it. Although he, like Ichiro, is suffering, he is doing his best to live free from doubt, shame, or resentment.
Kenji and Ichiro sit in silence for a while. Kenji, although Japanese, is “more American than most Americans,” while Ichiro is “neither Japanese nor American.”
Ichiro believes that because Kenji fought for America, he is truly American. In contrast, because Ichiro was unable to fight but now regrets his choice, he is neither American nor Japanese.
A Japanese man named Bull comes into the club with a white woman. He invites Kenji to come sit with him, but rescinds the invitation when he sees Ichiro, who he recognizes as a no-no boy. Kenji refuses to engage with Bull, who insults Ichiro, but Ichiro feels shame and bitterness well up within him. Ichiro begins to drink heavily, and Kenji implores him to slow down. Ichiro admits it doesn’t even help.
Ichiro lives in constant fear of being harassed for being a no-no boy, and when it happens it merely reaffirms what he already believed—that no one, not even his Japanese American peers, will accept him. Although Kenji does accept and care for Ichiro, Ichiro sees this as a lucky exception.
Ichiro gets up to go. He thanks Kenji for being kind to him, and offers a kindness in return: he will leave, and Kenji can return to his life. Kenji doesn’t accept this offer, but their argument is interrupted by the appearance of Taro, who wants to talk to his brother outside.
Ichiro believes that no only has he ruined his life, but that everyone else’s life would be better if they did not associate with him. Kenji, who thinks Ichiro does have a future ahead of him if he chooses to embrace it, disagrees with this pessimistic assessment.
Taro convinces Ichiro to come talk outside. Kenji wants to come, but Ichiro tells him to hold back. Outside, two of Taro’s friends confront Ichiro, and begin to attack him. They call him a “Jap,” and accuse him of being homesick for Japan. They kick him to the ground and pull his pants off. One boy leans over him with a knife, but is interrupted by Kenji, who hits them with his cane until they leave.
Ichiro and Taro’s relationship has been totally destroyed by Ichiro’s perceived rejection of America and, by extension, his American brother. Taro’s friends, whose race is not identified but who are likely also of Japanese ancestry, feel so distant from their Japanese identity that they are comfortable using anti-Japanese slurs towards those they perceive as more Japanese than they are.
Ichiro gets up, and he and Kenji return to Kenji’s car. As they drive, Ichiro considers Bull’s treatment of him, which he understands. He understands that the white woman with him “was a compensation for his lack of acceptance.” Ichiro feels like he can forgive Bull, but not Taro. Kenji drives swiftly out of the city. He wants Ichiro to meet one of his friends.
Ichiro understands that many Japanese veterans returned to the U.S. only to continue to face discrimination. Frustrated by this treatment, they are able to take out their anger on him. Taro, however, was not a veteran, and as Ichiro’s brother, he should be held to a higher standard.
Ichiro falls asleep, and when Kenji arrives at the farmhouse he leaves him in the car, going inside to greet Emi. They talk about her family. Her father is in Japan and unhappy. Her husband Ralph, a soldier who committed to another term of service in Germany, has not written to her. She still loves him but feels confused and lonely.
Emi lives a lonely life, and treasures her friendship with Kenji. Emi’s family is unhappy because they either felt too Japanese to stay in America, like her father, or too American to return to a place where they will be treated as second class, like her husband.
Kenji advises Emi to divorce Ralph, but she says it’s none of his business. He apologizes, and she gets up to make coffee as a peace offering. Ichiro has woken up and now comes into the house. He notices a piano and sits down to play. Emi comes out to check on the men, and is shocked by Ichiro’s resemblance to Ralph. Kenji claims he hadn’t noticed. Emi recovers from her surprise and sits with Ichiro on the piano bench. The two play chopsticks together.
Emi, lonely and abandoned by her husband and family, is immediately drawn to Ichiro. His physical appearance helps endear her to him, and although Kenji acts as though this is a surprise to him, he likely brought Ichiro to meet Emi because he had noticed this very similarity, and wanted to make both his friends a little less lonely.
Ichiro and Emi sit down on the sofa and talk to Kenji. Ichiro tells Emi he was in prison, but she does not hold it against him.
Emi is yet another person who does not judge Ichiro because he is a no-no boy, and thus another indication that his future might not be so bleak.
Kenji suggests staying the night. He claims the couch, but tells Ichiro he will sleep in the bedroom with Emi. Ichiro is confused and appalled, but Kenji insists that Emi likes him, and “needs” him, or someone like him. Kenji argues that he himself “only half a man,” and Ichiro infers that Kenji is sending him in as a kind of substitute. Kenji shrugs, and tells Ichiro he can sleep wherever he wants.
Kenji recognizes that both Emi and Ichiro are lonely. Emi has no nearby family, and Ichiro feels distant from his. By getting together, even for a night, Kenji suspects each could feel a little more cared for.
Ichiro joins Emi in bed. At first he lays stiffly, but then she takes his hand and they talk. She tells him that she lives alone, her mother died in 1939, and her father asked to be repatriated. Her father, like Mrs. Yamada, believed Japan won the war. Now, living there, her father no longer believes this to be true.
Emi’s father provides a picture of the potential consequences of refusing to believe America won the war. Unable to believe the truth, he moved to a country devastated by years of war and a continuing military occupation.
Emi and Ichiro continue talk about their parents’ sicknesses. Ichiro feels that he has ruined his life. He believes he is not crazy now, but was, briefly. Emi suggests it is because, for some reason, one cannot be both American and Japanese, although it is fine to be American and Italian or American and German. Thinking about this, Ichiro begins to cry, and Emi holds him.
Emi and Ichiro recognize that having a split identity—both American and Japanese—is difficult, and prevents them from living fully in either world. However, they also understand that white Americans with foreign ancestry have an easier time integrating.
Ichiro wakes up in the morning to find Emi gone. He searches for her outside, where she is weeding in a field. Ichiro sees a man working nearby. Emi tells him it’s Mr. Maeno, a farmer who leases her land. Ichiro used to think their work was crazy, year-round, sunup until sundown, but now he envies farmers because they have a purpose. He tells Emi he envies her, too, and Kenji. Emi is irritated. She thinks he is needlessly bitter.
Ichiro believes that everyone else’s life is easier than his. He is so convinced that there is no hope for him to live normally because of his prison sentence and his rejection of the draft, that he envies even those with objectively difficult lives. Emi sees this, and believes Ichiro is blind to the possibilities of his future.
Emi explains that just because Ichiro feels hopeless, doesn’t mean there is no hope. Ichiro dismisses her, and she responds angrily. She points out he’s able-bodied and intelligent. He has the ability to move on and have a good life. Although America made a mistake “when they doubted” him, by releasing him from prison they admitted to their mistake. Ichiro, she suggests, should forgive America and be grateful, and try to prove that he is an American.
Emi can see what Ichiro cannot—that with time, and a thick skin, he will be able to reintegrate and lead a fairly normal life. Although Emi agrees that the government treated him unfairly, she knows that if he is unable to forgive his country and move on, then he truly will never be happy.
Ichiro isn’t fully convinced by Emi’s argument. She tries one last time. She asks him to imagine how full of patriotism he felt as a child, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at school assemblies. She asks him to recapture that feeling, and then understand that both he and his country made mistakes.
Emi believes that the only way for Ichiro to overcome the trauma of his past is to learn to love America again, purely and innocently in the same way that a child might.
Emi tells Ichiro a story about Ralph’s brother, Mike. He was born in California, where he went to college. He fought in World War I, returned, and started a produce business. When Japanese people began to be evacuated at the start of WWII, Mike refused to go, arguing that if his country would not treat him as a citizen he would not act like one. As a result, he was deported to Japan. Now, Ralph is too ashamed of his brother’s actions to come home. Emi wishes that Ralph would see he doesn’t have to punish himself.
Mike felt betrayed by America. Although he had fought for it and proved his dedication, he was nonetheless treated as though he wasn’t a citizen with rights. This is not unlike how Ichiro and many of the other no-no boys felt. Emi’s story is meant to serve as a warning to Ichiro, and as perspective that it could always be worse. Ichiro can live happily in America if he allows himself to.
Emi and Ichiro reenter the house. Kenji has woken up and started preparing breakfast. Emi takes over. As she cooks, they talk. Kenji is going to Portland tomorrow to the VA hospital, and invites Ichiro along. After breakfast, the two men prepare to leave. Kenji kisses Emi on the cheek, but she responds by kissing him on the mouth. She tells him “I’ll wait for you,” and stands in the driveway waving and crying as they drive away.
Emi has almost no one in her life. Her mother has died, her father has left, and her husband refuses to return home. Kenji seems to be her only friend, the sole member of her surrogate family. He has seemingly introduced her to Ichiro in the hopes that, if he dies, she will still have another person to rely on.