Feeling lonely, Ichiro drives back into the city and rents a hotel room. He finds a newspaper and looks at the classified ads. The first job that stands out to him is a job as a porter. He heads to a nearby hotel, where he is ushered into the employment office. He easily answers the questions on the front of the form, but realizes he cannot account for the past two years of unemployment. He gets up and leaves without finishing the application.
Although briefly optimistic, Ichiro once again is made to feel as though he ruined his future by rejecting the draft. Because he feels undesirable, he believes any prospective employer who found out about his past would automatically find him undesirable as well. Essentially, he feels like an imposter, who people only connect to because they don’t know the “real” him.
Ichiro stops for coffee in a diner, and considers two other classifieds he had circled in the newspaper. Although concerned he will encounter the same problem at each new job site, he pushes himself to keep searching for work.
Although it is not clear why Ichiro has suddenly become so proactive, his decision to continue to look for jobs signifies a growing interest in his future wellbeing.
Ichiro decides to look at a draftsman position in a small engineering firm. He drives to the office of Carrick and Sons, and waits in the lobby for Mr. Carrick to see him. Eventually, the receptionist leads him down to the basement, where Mr. Carrick is building his own snowplow. Mr. Carrick is immediately warm and friendly. He easily pronounces Ichiro’s name, and speaks a little Japanese to him. Mr. Carrick explains that he used to have close Japanese friends, although they moved east after their internment ended.
Mr. Carrick is only the second white character, after Mr. Brown, Ichiro’s former professor, to treat Ichiro with any kindness, and the first who goes out of his way to make Ichiro feel comfortable and optimistic about his future. Mr. Carrick genuinely seems to understand the plight of people of Japanese ancestry in America and the devastation of internment, and therefore understands what Ichiro has gone through and how he must be feeling.
Mr. Carrick tells Ichiro that he thinks the government made a mistake interning its Japanese citizens. Mr. Carrick used to feel like a proud American, but his country’s behavior has changed his mind. Ichiro sees that Mr. Carrick’s apology is genuine, but he does not know how to respond.
Mr. Carrick complicates the idea of an American identity. Although he is recognized as American and given rights, he doesn’t feel American because he is embarrassed of how his country treated its Japanese citizens.
Mr. Carrick asks Ichiro when he wants to start. He offers him $265 a month, $300 after a year. Ichiro knows it would be so easy to take the job, and knows too that because he is Japanese, Mr. Carrick is offering him more than the listed salary of $200. But Ichiro feels the job is not for him—it is for another Japanese person “who was equally as American” as Mr. Carrick. He asks for some time to consider.
Mr. Carrick is ashamed of how his country has treated Ichiro and other people with Japanese ancestry. He is trying to personally make up for the discrimination Ichiro has faced. This, the book suggests, is the best way for white Americans to reject their country’s systemic racism—not just learning to “tolerate” others, but actively seeking to make reparations and undo past mistakes. However, Ichiro believes that because he rejected the draft, he is undeserving of any kindness.
Ichiro decides to come clean. He stands to leave and tells Mr. Carrick he’s not a veteran. Mr. Carrick doesn’t understand at first, but when Ichiro explains that he refused the draft, Mr. Carrick is not upset. He apologizes to Ichiro—he is sorry Ichiro did what he felt he had to do. He hopes Ichiro will not blame himself. Ichiro says it’s hard not to, but also blames his mother, and the situation. It was unfair first to be treated as un-American, and then asked to prove his Americanness.
Ichiro assumes that Mr. Carrick will treat him differently once he discovers the truth about Ichiro’s past, as this has often been Ichiro’s experience. However, Mr. Carrick doesn’t care. He understands what Ichiro seems not to—that whether or not Ichiro rejected the draft he remains American, and it was extremely unfair to be expected to commit to fighting for America when his country had just treated him with such disrespect.
Ichiro and Mr. Carrick shake hands and then Ichiro leaves. Although he does not expect to take the job, meeting Mr. Carrick comforted him. He realizes “there was someone who cared,” and that perhaps he could forgive a country that still has good, kind people in it.
Ichiro returns to his hotel. He sleeps for many hours and wakes late in the evening. He decides he will return to Seattle. He believes he cannot begin a new life until he has reckoned with his old one—he has shared so much with his mother and his father that he knows that, to find “wholeness and belonging,” he must return to “the place where he had begun to lose it.” Ichiro decides not to take the job, but writes Mr. Carrick a thank-you note on hotel stationary, trying to explain how important Mr. Carrick’s kindness was, and how it has changed his outlook on life.
Ichiro’s interaction with Mr. Carrick has shifted his sense of the future—he realizes he might have one after all. But to have a future free from the baggage of his past, he understands he must extricate himself from his family, who he has for so long blamed for his current misery. However, the only way to untangle himself is to return home and mend or make peace with their complicated relationship.
Ichiro leaves the hotel in search of food. He remembers hearing about Burnside Café, and seeks it out. Inside, a Japanese teenager wearing a discharge pin seats him and takes his order. Ichiro can tell the boy recognizes him as Japanese, and is suddenly filled with disgust. He understands that it is nice that immigrants from the same country in America can recognize each other and help each other out, but also sees that this kind of nationalism only furthers divisions and prejudices.
Ichiro recognizes that there is the potential for solidarity between people of Japanese descent, just as there is solidarity between people of Chinese descent in America. Still, he wishes that unconditional acceptance of strangers also applied to those who were of other racial or ethnic groups. The teenager’s discharge pin indicates that he served in the army, and therefore is seen by most as a “true” American. This makes Ichiro angry, partly because he feels the boy should be accepted as American regardless of army service.
The boy asks Ichiro if he is Japanese, and he lies, first saying he’s a decorated veteran, and then that he’s Chinese. The boy says that it’s fine, “I like Chinese,” and Ichiro pushes back that there’s no reason he shouldn’t. The boy is flustered and leaves Ichiro alone for the rest of his meal. Ichiro finishes eating and leaves, happy to get away from the Japanese teenager who felt the need to wear a discharge pin to prove his worth as an American.
Ichiro takes out his frustration at racism and discrimination in the United States on this teenager. He understands the teen is being extra kind to him because he recognizes Ichiro as Japanese, and Ichiro tests this kindness by seeing if it would apply to someone of a different background. His issue is not with kindness being extended to people from the same country of origin, but of that kindness then being withheld from people with different backgrounds.
Back in his hotel room, Ichiro wonders if the “land of happily-ever-after” could ever be accessible to him. Or, if he forfeited it, will it be available to the teenager with the discharge pin? What about African Americans back in Seattle? Even though they have told him to go back to Tokyo, he recognizes these men are also “on the outside looking in.” Ichiro recognizes that Mr. Carrick is also on the outside.
Ichiro considers that maybe everyone is on the outside, “pushing and shoving and screaming to get into someplace that doesn’t exist,” not understanding that if everyone got along, maybe “the outside could be the inside.”
Ichiro and other characters often fantasize about the ideal America that white people must experience, but Ichiro here realizes that perhaps everyone struggles in their own way, and imagines that life would be better if all people were more accepting.
The next morning, Ichiro drives to the hospital. Visiting hours haven’t begun, but he slips upstairs to Kenji’s room. Kenji says he thinks he is going to die. The doctors haven’t confirmed it, but he can tell they agree.
Kenji is able to calmly discuss his death, because he has spent much of the time since his original amputation coming to terms with his illness and accepting his fate.
Kenji advises Ichiro to return to Seattle. Although the harassment from other Japanese people, especially those in the army, has been difficult, Kenji tells Ichiro to stick it out. He explains that even when people who were not no-no boys returned, they faced discrimination of their own, including name-calling and vandalism. Kenji says that the men who have harassed Ichiro are probably doing it because they blame him for their own harassment.
Kenji and Ichiro both recognize that people who harass others are often responding to harassment they themselves have received. For example, the Japanese men and teenagers who have made Ichiro’s life so difficult are lashing out only because they have been harassed and made to feel un-American.
Kenji doesn’t like how Japanese people cluster together. He sees it as a kind of internment camp of their own making. Ichiro points out that this happens with many ethnic or religious minorities. Kenji agrees that this is true, but it doesn’t make it right. He tells Ichiro to go back to Seattle until the other Japanese men living there leave him alone, then to move far away and marry a girl who is not Japanese.
Kenji believes that if people would be more willing to befriend or even marry those unlike them, there would be less racism and prejudice in the world. His advice to Ichiro is to begin this project himself, de-segregating the Japanese community through his own personal and intimate relationships.
Kenji tells Ichiro that he’s going to write to Ralph, and tell him that Ichiro and Emi are hitting it off. Kenji tells Ichiro to tell Emi he’s been thinking about her—and he’s been thinking about Ichiro too.
Kenji recognizes both Ichiro and Emi’s loneliness, and hopes that in his absence his friends can take comfort in each other.
Kenji says he hopes that wherever he’s going, there won’t be Japanese, or Jewish, or Chinese, or black people—instead there will be “only people.” He remembers shooting a German when he was serving in the army. He hopes that, in the afterlife, there won’t be distinctions between Japanese and Germans because “I’ll have to shoot him again.” Kenji acknowledges there might not be anything after he dies, but he doesn’t mind. Ichiro says goodbye, choking up as he leaves the room.
Kenji believes the afterlife can only be truly heavenly if there is no opportunity for prejudice, discrimination, or divisions between people. He feels that as long as there are labels and national alliances there will be differences between people that force them to treat each other badly. He has made peace with his future and so can look towards death without fear or regret.
Ichiro takes seven hours to drive back to Seattle, where he first visits Emi. She is working in the field, and seeing the Oldsmobile she assumes Kenji has returned. She is disappointed to see Ichiro. She invites him inside anyway, and they talk about Kenji. She says she loved him, but in a different way than she loves Ralph, and in a different way than she could see herself loving Ichiro.
Kenji has done his best to set up a relationship between his friends. Emi has no real family, and is unmoored and lonely. Ichiro has a family, but receives no comfort or emotional support from them.
Ichiro tells Emi about Mr. Carrick’s job offer. Emi notes that Mr. Carrick “sounds like the kind of American that Americans always profess themselves to be.” Ichiro begins to worry that just because there was one Mr. Carrick in Portland, there is no guarantee there are other people in the world like him.
Although many people believe they are true Americans because they were born in America, or have white skin, Emi feels that being American should be as much about integrity and personal values as it is about looking the part.
Emi tells Ichiro that her neighbor, Mr. Maeno, would give Ichiro work. He thanks her but turns down the offer. Mr. Maeno is Japanese, and Ichiro is still thinking about what Kenji told him—to marry a girl who’s not Japanese and distance himself from his community. Emi thinks Kenji was joking, but Ichiro isn’t sure. Emi asks if Kenji is really going to die, and when Ichiro says yes, Emi begins to sob. Ichiro prepares to leave. He tells her Ralph will come back, because Kenji will write to him. Ichiro wants to comfort Emi, but cannot. He gives her a kiss on the forehead and leaves.
Ichiro has decided to live his life according to Kenji’s advice. Ichiro doesn’t genuinely believe that distancing himself from the Japanese community is the best decision, but without any direction of his own it is as good a directive as any to follow.