No-No Boy

Kenji Kanno Character Analysis

Kenji is a veteran and an old acquaintance of Ichiro’s. The two reconnect after Ichiro is released from prison and spend several days together. Kenji has progressive ideas about how the world should be—he dreams of a future in which there is no animosity between people of different races or ethnicities. He has no animosity towards Ichiro for not fighting in the war, fully understanding why he made the decision he did. Kenji and his family provide a stark contrast to Ichiro and his. Kenji gets along well his father, Mr. Kanno, and his many siblings, and they all genuinely love and respect each other. Kenji’s left leg was amputated after a battlefield injury, but constant pain and infection have forced doctors to cut it shorter and shorter. Although Kenji knows he does not have much time left to live, he is happy with his life, and embraces his fate. Kenji eventually dies in the hospital, telling Ichiro that he hopes there are no races in heaven, and everyone can see each other as equals.

Kenji Kanno Quotes in No-No Boy

The No-No Boy quotes below are all either spoken by Kenji Kanno or refer to Kenji Kanno. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Washington Press edition of No-No Boy published in 1976.
Chapter 3 Quotes

For a brief moment Ichiro felt a strange exhilaration. He had been envying Kenji with his new Oldsmobile, which was fixed to be driven with a right leg that wasn’t there any more, because the leg that wasn’t there had been amputated in a field hospital, which meant that Kenji was a veteran of the army of America and had every right to laugh and love and hope, because one could do that even if one of his legs was gone…

[Ichiro] gripped his knees with his hands, squeezing the hard soundness of the bony flesh and muscles, and fought off the sadness which seemed only to have deepened after the moment of relief. Kenji had two years, maybe a lifetime if the thing that was chewing away at him suddenly stopped. But he, Ichiro, had stopped living two years ago.

I’ll change with you, Kenji, he thought. Give me the stump which gives you the right to hold your head high. Give me the eleven inches which are beginning to hurt again and bring ever closer the fear of approaching death, and give me with it the fullness of yourself which is also yours because you were man enough to wish the thing which destroyed your leg and, perhaps, you with it but, at the same time, made it so that you can put your one good foot in the dirt of America and know that the wet coolness of it is yours beyond a single doubt.

Related Characters: Kenji Kanno
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other No-No Boy quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Chapter 4 Quotes

“If it were [possible], Ken, if it were and there was just half an inch to trade for my fifty years, would you then?”

Kenji thought about that for a long while. “When it comes to the last half an inch and it starts to hurt, I’ll sell the car and spend the rest of my life sitting here with a drink in my hand and feeling good.”

“That means no, of course.”

“That means no, yes.”

“Thanks for being honest.”

So they sat silently through the next drink, one already dead but still alive and contemplating the next fifty or sixty years more of dead aliveness, and the other, living and dying slowly. They were two extremes, the Japanese who was more American than most Americans because he had crept to the brink of death for America, and the other who was neither Japanese nor American because he had failed to recognize the gift of his birthright when recognition meant everything.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Kenji Kanno (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“…We’re American and …we’re Japanese and sometimes the two don’t mix. It’s all right to be German and American or Italian and American or Russian and American but, as things turned out, it wasn’t all right to be Japanese and American. You had to be one or the other.”

Related Characters: Emi (speaker), Ichiro Yamada, Kenji Kanno
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 6 Quotes

“I came to America to become a rich man so that I could go back to the village in Japan and be somebody. I was greedy and ambitious and proud. I was not a good man or an intelligent one, but a young fool. And you have paid for it.”

“What kind of talk is that?” replied Kenji, genuinely grieved. “That’s not true at all.”

“I will go with you.”

“No.” He looked straight at his father.

In answer, the father merely nodded, acceding to his son’s wish because his son was a man who had gone to war to fight for the abundance and happiness that pervaded a Japanese household in America and that was a thing he himself could never fully comprehend except to know that it was very dear. He had long forgotten when it was that he had discarded the notion of a return to Japan but remembered only that it was the time when this country which he had no intention of loving had suddenly begun to become a part of him because it was a part of his children and he saw and felt in their speech and joys and sorrows and hopes that he was a part of them. And in the dying of the foolish dreams which he had brought to America, the richness of the life that was possible in this foreign country destroyed the longing for a past that really must not have been as precious as he imagined or else he would surely not have left it. Where else could a man, left alone with six small children, have found it possible to have had so much with so little?

Related Characters: Kenji Kanno (speaker), Mr. Kanno (speaker), Ichiro Yamada, Mr. Yamada, Mrs. Yamada
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

It had mattered. It was because he was Japanese that the son had to come to his Japanese father and simply state that he had decided to volunteer for the army instead of being able to wait until such time as the army called him. It was because he was Japanese and, at the same time, had to prove to the world that he was not Japanese that the turmoil was in his soul and urged him to enlist. There was confusion, but, underneath it, a conviction that he loved America and would fight and die for it because he did not wish to live anyplace else. And the father, also confused, understood what the son had not said and gave his consent. It was not a time for clear thinking because the sense of loyalty had become dispersed and the shaken faith of an American interned in an American concentration camp was indeed a flimsy thing. So, on this steadfast bit of conviction that remained, and knowing not what the future held, this son had gone to war to prove that he deserved to enjoy those rights which should rightfully have been his.

Related Characters: Mr. Kanno (speaker), Ichiro Yamada, Mr. Yamada, Mrs. Yamada, Kenji Kanno
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 7 Quotes

…As he thought about Mr. Carrick and their conversation time and time again, its meaning for him evolved into a singularly comforting thought. There was someone who cared. Surely there were others too who understood the suffering of the small and the weak and, yes, even the seemingly treasonous, and offered a way back into the great compassionate stream of life that is America. Under the hard, tough cloak of the struggle for existence in which money and enormous white refrigerators and shining, massive, brutally-fast cars and fine, expensive clothing had ostensibly overwhelmed the qualities of men that were good and gentle and just, there still beat a heart of kindness and patience and forgiveness.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Kenji Kanno, Mr. Carrick
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“Have a drink for me. Drink to wherever it is I’m headed, and don’t let there be any Japs or Chinks or Jews or Poles or Niggers or Frenchies, but only people. I think about that too. I think about that most of all. You know why?”
He shook his head and Kenji seemed to know he would even though he was still staring out the window. “He was up on the roof of the barn and I shot him, killed him. I see him rolling down the roof. I see him all the time now and that’s why I want this other place to have only people because if I’m still a Jap there and this guy’s still a German, I’ll have to shoot him again and I don’t want to have to do that. Then maybe there is no someplace else. Maybe dying is it. The finish. The end. Nothing. I’d like that too. Better an absolute nothing than half a meaning…”

Related Characters: Kenji Kanno (speaker), Ichiro Yamada, Mr. Kanno
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 9 Quotes

He was enjoying it and he felt that Emi was too. This is the way it ought to be, he thought to himself, to be able to dance with a girl you like and really get a kick out of it because everything is on an even keel and one’s worries are only the usual ones of unpaid bills and sickness in the family and being late to work too often. Why can’t it be that way for me? Nobody’s looking twice at us… Everything’s the same, just as it used to be. No bad feelings except for those that have always existed and probably always will. It’s a matter of attitude. Mine needs changing. I’ve got to love the world the way I used to. I’ve got to love it and the people so I’ll feel good, and feeling good will make life worth while. There’s no point in crying about what’s done. There’s a place for me and Emi and Freddie here on the dance floor and out there in the hustle of things if we’ll let it be that way. I’ve been fighting it and hating it and letting my bitterness against myself and Ma and Pa and even Taro throw the whole universe out of perspective. I want only to go on living and be happy. I’ve only to let myself do so.

Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 11 Quotes

Ichiro put a hand on Bull’s shoulder, sharing the empty sorrow in the hulking body, feeling the terrible loneliness of the distressed wails, and saying nothing. He gave the shoulder a tender squeeze, patted the head once tenderly, and began to walk slowly down the alley away from the brightness of the club and the morbidity of the crowd. He wanted to think about Ken and Freddie and Mr. Carrick and the man who had bought the drinks for him and Emi, about the Negro who stood up for Gary, and about Bull, who was an infant crying in the darkness. A glimmer of hope—was that it? It was there, someplace. He couldn’t see it to put it into words, but the feeling was pretty strong.

He walked along, thinking, searching, thinking and probing, and, in the darkness of the alley of the community that was a tiny bit of America, he chased that faint and elusive insinuation of promise as it continued to take shape in mind and in heart.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Kenji Kanno, Freddie Akimoto, Gary, Emi, Mr. Carrick, Bull
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire No-No Boy LitChart as a printable PDF.
No no boy.pdf.medium

Kenji Kanno Character Timeline in No-No Boy

The timeline below shows where the character Kenji Kanno appears in No-No Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
...lunch at a nearby diner. As he sits and eats, an old acquaintance of his, Kenji, taps him on the shoulder. The two sit and talk, and then Kenji invites Ichiro... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Ichiro things that he would trade both legs to be in Kenji’s position. He feels that, although his body is strong, it is “only an empty shell.” (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Ichiro asks Kenji about this leg. Initially it was amputated below the knee, but it continued to hurt,... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
As horrible as Kenji’s situation is, Ichiro says he would still trade with his friend. This confession surprises the... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji drops Ichiro off at home and the two make plans for later in the evening.... (full context)
Chapter 4
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
That evening Ichiro and Kenji gamble in Chinatown for a while, before moving to a nearby bar. Ichiro notes that... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Kenji and Ichiro go to Club Oriental, a nightclub and bar. There they drink and talk.... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Kenji and Ichiro sit in silence for a while. Kenji, although Japanese, is “more American than... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Ichiro gets up to go. He thanks Kenji for being kind to him, and offers a kindness in return: he will leave, and... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Taro convinces Ichiro to come talk outside. Kenji wants to come, but Ichiro tells him to hold back. Outside, two of Taro’s friends... (full context)
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Ichiro gets up, and he and Kenji return to Kenji’s car. As they drive, Ichiro considers Bull’s treatment of him, which he... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Ichiro falls asleep, and when Kenji arrives at the farmhouse he leaves him in the car, going inside to greet Emi.... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji advises Emi to divorce Ralph, but she says it’s none of his business. He apologizes,... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
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. (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji suggests staying the night. He claims the couch, but tells Ichiro he will sleep in... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Emi and Ichiro reenter the house. Kenji has woken up and started preparing breakfast. Emi takes over. As she cooks, they talk.... (full context)
Chapter 5
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Kenji drops Ichiro at home. Mrs. Yamada wonders where Ichiro has been, and he explains that... (full context)
Chapter 6
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji returns home. He lives with his father in a two-story house at the top of... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji and Mr. Kanno sit down at the kitchen table. Mr. Kanno is grateful for his... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Mr. Kanno notices that Kenji winces in pain when he moves his leg. Mr. Kanno almost starts to cry with... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji tells Mr. Kanno that he is going to the hospital tomorrow. His father offers to... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Mr. Kanno reveals that Kenji had enlisted in the army on his own, instead of waiting for the draft. This... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Mr. Kanno remembers how, when he was in the internment camp, a week after Kenji had gone into the army, a neighbor’s son in the military had returned to see... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji goes to take a nap and Mr. Kanno goes to the grocery store. As he... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
...is in a good mood, until his father explains that they’re all having dinner because Kenji has to return to the hospital. The family is hungry, but waits to wake Kenji.... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
After dinner two more of Kenji’s siblings, Hisa and Toyo, arrive with their husbands and children. They talk and laugh as... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Mr. Kanno follows Kenji outside and stops him on the porch. His father can tell something is worse about... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Kenji drives to the Club Oriental. He feels comfortable there, known and liked. He feels this... (full context)
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Kenji considers a series of vignettes in which one group of people could be bigoted against... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Kenji drives to Ichiro’s house. Through the glass of the store he sees Mrs. Yamada placing... (full context)
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Ichiro and Kenji drive quickly out of Seattle. They stop for coffee and Ichiro takes over driving. He... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Two hours later Ichiro and Kenji arrive in Portland and have breakfast. Kenji tells Ichiro to drive his car back to... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Ichiro drops Kenji off at the hospital. Kenji shakes Ichiro’s hand and comments that the cop will have... (full context)
Chapter 7
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Kenji advises Ichiro to return to Seattle. Although the harassment from other Japanese people, especially those... (full context)
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Kenji doesn’t like how Japanese people cluster together. He sees it as a kind of internment... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Kenji tells Ichiro that he’s going to write to Ralph, and tell him that Ichiro and... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Kenji says he hopes that wherever he’s going, there won’t be Japanese, or Jewish, or Chinese,... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Ichiro drives to Kenji’s house. He rings the doorbell and greats Mr. Kanno, who invites him inside. Mr. Kanno... (full context)
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Ichiro remarks that Kenji “deserved to live.” Mr. Kanno adds that Kenji deserved to be happy. Sometimes, Mr. Kanno... (full context)
Chapter 11
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
...be able to have a happy future, thanks to the help of Emi, Mr. Carrick, Kenji, and even his parents, Mr. Yamada and Mrs. Yamada. Ichiro asks his friend if anything... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...warning that he’ll get a ticket. They go inside and get drinks. Ichiro toasts to Kenji, but before they can clink glasses Bull appears from a corner of the bar and... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Ichiro thinks about Kenji, Freddie, Mr. Carrick, Emi, and Birdie. In the crowd drawn out of the nightclub by... (full context)