At Ichiro’s house, Mr. Yamada returns from the liquor store with three bottles of alcohol. He begins drinking immediately.
Mr. Yamada is unable to deal with his problems—his unhappiness in America, his sick wife—in a constructive or productive way, choosing to drink heavily instead of working to address them.
Mr. Yamada goes to the kitchen and sees Mrs. Yamada’s untouched plate of food. She has not eaten in two days. Instead of eating, she has been lying or sitting in silence, or else “doing crazy things” like stocking shelves and then knocking the cans off. She had also gone outside in the rain, standing there getting soaked and ignoring his pleas to return inside.
Just as Mr. Yamada has difficulty dealing with his emotions productively, after Mrs. Yamada was forced to come to terms with the fact that Japan lost WWII, she struggles to address her grief in a healthy way.
Mr. Yamada implores Mrs. Yamada to eat, and she considers for a second, before turning back to the bedroom and haphazardly packing a suitcase. Mr. Yamada begins to cry and drink in the next room. Eventually, the noise of packing stops. Mrs. Yamada has locked herself in the bathroom and turned on the bathtub faucet.
The couple continues their destructive behaviors. The Yamadas are extremely dysfunctional, and although they have been married for decades, they are unable to understand each other’s pain or comfort each other. Instead, each of them is left to try to cope alone.
Mr. Yamada continues to drink. He thinks how Mrs. Yamada’s sister calls her Kin-chan again now that times are hard, and how he used to call his wife Kin-chan during happier times. He remembers meeting Mrs. Yamada and her family for the first time, and how he and his wife had sex before their wedding, in an alley standing up at their engagement party. He wonders if this premarital sex was the fatal mistake—if this is why they suffer now.
Mr. Yamada is unable to imagine a better future or cope with his depression in the present, because he cannot pinpoint where the problems came from. Because he believes his suffering comes from past premarital sex, he has no way of moving forward. He cannot change the past, and therefore is left to numb himself to the present.
Mr. Yamada calls out to his sons, Taro and Ichiro, but they are not home and do not respond. He begins drinking again, heavily, accidentally choking and falling to the floor where he lies there, exhausted.
Mr. Yamada looks to his family for strength, but unlike in Kenji’s family, there is no easily accessible support network in place.
Ichiro returns to Seattle. He believes he will never see Kenji or Emi ever again. He misses them and Mr. Carrick already, three people who had been kind to him and had not cared about his past.
The kindness of a few select people has reminded Ichiro that there is kindness in the world, and that his future might not be as dark as he had feared.
Ichiro drives to Kenji’s house. He rings the doorbell and greats Mr. Kanno, who invites him inside. Mr. Kanno asks how Kenji was that morning, and Ichiro lies that he seemed to be in “excellent spirits,” and would be out soon. Mr. Kanno stops Ichiro, tells him his son kept no secrets from him, and asks for the truth. Ichiro tells Mr. Kanno how Kenji looked sick and tired, and was sure he was going to die. Mr. Kanno wonders about Kenji’s mind, and Ichiro says he was weak but talking lucidly. Mr. Kanno is glad. Then he reveals that Kenji died at three that afternoon. He is glad his son went quickly and did not suffer.
Ichiro is not close with his family, and so has no sense of how close Kenji and his father are. Although Ichiro is trying to be kind to Mr. Kanno, because he and Kenji were so open with each other, and Mr. Kanno knew Kenji was sick, the kindest thing Ichiro could do would be to tell the truth openly.
Mr. Kanno offers to drive Ichiro home. As they drive, he tells Ichiro that he will go down to Portland to make arrangements for a small funeral. Kenji didn’t want to be buried in the Seattle Washelli cemetery, although Mr. Kanno thinks it nice that Japanese people are now allowed to bury their dead there, after many years as an all-white cemetery.
Even in death, Kenji remains committed to his principles and his interest in desegregation. Just as he hopes the afterlife is full of people of all races coexisting happily, and just as he has cautioned Ichiro not to marry a Japanese woman and live in a Japanese neighborhood, Kenji does not want his body buried among only people who are just like him.
Ichiro remarks that Kenji “deserved to live.” Mr. Kanno adds that Kenji deserved to be happy. Sometimes, Mr. Kanno confides, he thinks he should have stayed in Japan, and then maybe Kenji would still be alive.
While Ichiro’s parents regret coming to America because it has made them lose their children culturally, Mr. Kanno cares about his children’s happiness and wellbeing more than about his own attachments to the past.
Mr. Kanno drops Ichiro off at his home. Ichiro is confused by the quietness and smell of whisky. The floor is covered with water, and he makes his way to the locked bathroom door. Frightened, he breaks it down, and discovers Mrs. Yamada’s body draped over the edge of the overflowing bathtub. She has killed herself.
During and immediately after WWII, Mrs. Yamada lived in a fantasy. She wanted more than anything to return to Japan, but if the U.S. won the war, that would mean the Japan she loved was gone. Instead, she lived in a delusional reality. However, when the fantasy was punctured, and she no longer had any hope of returning to the home she loved, Mrs. Yamada felt she had nothing left to live for.
Ichiro turns off the water, and pulls Mrs. Yamada out of the tub. He feels nothing. He thinks that she has been (figuratively) dead for a long time. He thinks Mrs. Yamada made a mistake leaving Japan, and coming to America. He thinks she failed in raising her children, and although she was close with Ichiro, she did not create him entirely in her image, and he was not entirely Japanese. Ichiro wonders if it would have been better if his mother had succeeded in making sure he was not American at all. Ichiro feels sorry for Mrs. Yamada. He hopes that she is free now, and can return to the Japan of her youth and memories.
Ichiro understands that not only did Mrs. Yamada miss her native Japan, she felt she had failed to bring Japan with her. Perhaps if her children had acted fully Japanese, with no love for America, her life would have been easier. Ichiro suspects his life might have been easier too, as so much of his angst comes from being torn between the country he has grown up in and the country of his ancestors.
Ichiro moves Mrs. Yamada’s body to the bedroom and looks up the coroner’s name in the phonebook. When he turns on the light to read more clearly, he sees his Mr. Yamada’s body on the floor. His father is not dead, only drunk, and Ichiro shakes him by the shoulders and tells him that his mother is dead. Mr. Yamada responds, “Mama sick. Papa sick… Everybody sick,” and collapses to the floor again.
Although Mrs. Yamada and Mr. Yamada were both struggling, they were unable to help each other. They both found the present bleak and the future impossible to imagine, but did not communicate these emotions, and did not work to solve their problems together, instead trying to suppress their emotions separately.