On February 4, two men from the FBI visit Hatsue’s family. The FBI men inform them that they have to search the place. Hatsue’s father, Hisao, is accommodating and polite with the men, who’ve received “complaints from local citizens” about “aliens” on the island who are hoarding “illegal contraband.” The men confiscate the family’s Japanese belongings, such as Fujiko’s kimono, a sword, a wooden flute that had been in their family for generations, and sheet music.
The FBI men confiscate the Imada family’s most precious Japanese items. Seizure of these objects isn’t motivated by concerns for natural security; rather, the FBI takes these particular items to attack the Imadas’ ties to Japanese culture.
The FBI men discover dynamite in Hisao’s shed. Hisao pleads with the men, insisting that the dynamite is for clearing land for farming. But the FBI men refuse to back down. They arrest Hisao and tell him that they must bring him to Seattle. There, they say, Hisao will answer a few questions, after which point he’ll be allowed to return home. Hatsue’s sisters begin to cry. Fujiko pleads with the men, but to no avail. “Think of this as a war sacrifice,” they tell her. Hisao, along with the other arrested Japanese men, ride on a train from Seattle to an internment camp in Montana.
The FBI men are acting in response to the political narrative that all Japanese persons should be considered a threat to the United States. It is useless, therefore, for Hisao to try to reason with the men, because no facts will come between them and the prejudiced narrative their country has instructed them to believe in and act on. The men try to legitimize and minimize Hisao’s unjustified arrest by framing it as “a war sacrifice.”
Fujiko comforts her daughters and urges them to be strong, recalling her journey aboard the Korea Maru from Japan to the United States, and of the hardships she endured in her early days in the new land. She encourages her daughters to embrace these new hardships. They are Japanese living in a country at war with Japan. In Japanese culture, “a person learned not to complain or be distracted by suffering” but rather to persevere. The hardships they endure now will strengthen them, but they can also teach them about the dark sides of life—especially the dark sides of the hakujin.
Fujiko encourages her daughters to rely on their Japanese culture as a way of coping with Hisao’s arrest and the other injustices they will surely continue to face. She emphasizes how vastly different Japanese culture is from American culture. The Japanese way of life instructs them “not to complain or be distracted by suffering,” so therefore her daughters should accept and learn from the sadness Hisao’s arrest has brought on their family.
Hatsue resists her mother’s comments about the hakujin, insisting that not all white people hate the Japanese. Fujiko admits that, yes, not all white people hate the Japanese; but still, she asks her daughter to admit that they’re different in significant ways. Hatsue stands her ground. Fujiko insists that the hakujin are different because they are “tempted by their egos.” The Japanese, however, “know [their] egos are nothing.” The Japanese ultimately seek a connection “with the Greater Life,” and white people do not.
Hatsue’s romance with Ishmael represents a partial allegiance to the hakujin, so she is conflicted about going along with her mother’s generalization that all white people hate the Japanese. Fujiko doesn’t know about her daughter’s romance (though she might suspect that her daughter is being dishonest in some regard), so she tries to reason with Hatsue’s hesitations. Fujiko reinforces the major differences in the two cultures: “the whites […] are tempted by their egos,” she claims, while “We Japanese […] know our egos are nothing.” Fujiko believes it is more important to seek a connection the universe than to seek a connection with the self, as the self is unstable and unreliable. She wants her daughter to honor her Japanese culture and abide by these tenants as they navigate their current plight.
But, argues Hatsue, these Japanese searching for “the Greater Life” are the ones who bombed Pearl Harbor, and she doesn’t want to be connected to them. Hatsue feels more a part of America. She doesn’t want to be Japanese.
Hatsue resents the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor. She wants to be able to choose to whom and to where she belongs.
Fujiko sympathizes with her daughter, citing the difficulty of their times. Still, she urges her to stay quiet and be certain not to say anything she’ll regret later. Fujiko’s words finally resonate with Hatsue, and she sees how right her mother is; that she doesn’t know herself well enough “to speak with any accuracy.”
Fujiko reinforces her earlier statement about the Japanese knowing their egos are nothing. She encourages her daughter to not be so bold in her assertions—it is best to keep silent, because nobody can no exactly who they are. What’s more, the impulsive desires of the heart do not define who one is as a person. In other words, Hatsue’s immediate anger at the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor does not define her identity as a whole, nor do her current feelings for Ishmael: both of these emotions are only small, inconsequential pieces of her whole self, and, according to Japanese culture, even the whole self means very little in the context of “the Greater Life.”
Fujiko says she thinks living among white people has “tainted” her daughter, and “made [her] soul impure.” She tells Hatsue that she must learn to live among the hakujin without becoming “intertwined with them.” Becoming intertwined, advises Fujiko, will cause her daughter’s “soul” to “decay.”
Fujiko hints that she knows her daughter is deceiving her in some way when she comments that Hatsue’s soul has become “tainted” and “impure.” In particular, her use of the word “intertwined” is evocative of the intertwined, intimate relationship Hatsue conducts with Ishmael.
Immediately, Hatsue thinks of her secret meetings with Ishmael and wonders if her mother knows about them. “I know who I am,” Hatsue tries to insist once more, but as she says the words she realizes how uncertain they are; it might better to stay quiet instead of saying things she might regret later.
Hatsue realizes her mother might know about her secret rendezvous, and she responds to this defensively: “I know who I am.” Still, Hatsue knows this assertion is only a desperate attempt to avoid acknowledging what she knows to be true: that she doesn’t know herself at all, and this is why her meetings with Ishmael have been riddled with so much anguish and uncertainty.
Hatsue walks into the forest later that day, admiring the nature around her. She contemplates everything that troubles her, such as her father’s imprisonment, her secret white boyfriend, and the fear that her mother seems to know how torn she is about her identity. Hatsue realizes that “she [is] of this place and she [is] not of this place,” and that she looks like an enemy of the country even though she’s American. Her thoughts turn to Ishmael, and as she reflects on their past together, she feels ill.
For Hatsue, nature usually represents a space apart from culture—a place where she doesn’t have to choose between following her heart and deceiving her family and culture. But Hatsue’s problems have escalated to such an extent that she can no longer run to nature to escape her problems: “she [is] of this place and she [is] not of this place,” she realizes. There is no way for her to carry on believing that her identity can be rooted in America and in Japan: she must either choose, or continue to feel torn and anguished.
Still, Hatsue knows she has feelings for Ishmael: she wonders what love could mean if it doesn’t mean the experience she shares with Ishmael inside the cedar tree.
Hatsue anguishes some more: as obligated as she feels to honor her family, she can’t deny that her feelings of Ishmael are real. Still, Hatsue considers “love” to be what she feels when she’s inside the cedar true. In other words, Hatsue’s notion of love is unable to extend beyond the constraints of the cedar tree and nature. She recognizes, at least unconsciously, that her love will never be legitimate in the prejudiced, human world.
The couple meets in the tree later that day. They both admit they cannot recall a time when they didn’t know one another. Still, Hatsue says, “We’re trapped inside this tree.” The couple cannot have a life together in the world. The attack on Pearl Harbor has made the idea of a future together even less likely than it was before. Ishmael adopts a more optimistic view, reasoning that they’ll graduate in a few months, and then they can escape to a place where they can be together. Hatsue reminds Ishmael of the arrests of Japanese people and of the ongoing war. Ishmael asks for an answer to their predicament, and Hatsue says that there is none. Ishmael believes that their love can get them through anything, but Hatsue isn’t so sure.
The attack on Pearl Harbor forces the couple to come to terms with the unlikelihood that their relationship will be able to survive the cruelty and bigotry of the outside world. Ishmael, guided solely by his heart, remains optimistic that the couple can one day run away to a more accepting place. Having spoken with her mother earlier that day, Hatsue now realizes that there is more to life than the heart’s desires, and therefore, one must not act on desire alone. She has a more negative, realistic outlook on their relationship than Ishmael has.
Hatsue turns out to be correct, as “on March 21 […] the U.S. War Relocation Authority announce[s] that islanders of Japanese descent had eight days to prepare to leave.” The Japanese islanders prepare to depart. Arthur runs multiple stories in the paper sympathizing with their predicament, and gets a phone call telling him that “Jap lovers get their balls cut off.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fearing espionage and future attacks, called for the forced relocation of Japanese Americans. Arthur Chambers continues to use his newspaper to construct narratives that shed light on the injustices being done to the island’s Japanese population. In response, racist islanders continue to discredit Arthur, arguing that he favors the Japanese.
On Sunday, the day before she and her family must leave, Hatsue goes out to meet Ishmael in the cedar tree. Ishmael proposes a way for them to write to each other secretly while she is away—Ishmael will place a letter inside the school newspaper and put “Journalism Class” as the return address. Hatsue calls Ishmael’s plan devious, but Ishmael says it’s “just what we have to do.”
Ishmael rolls with the punches because he believes it’s “just what [they] have to do.” He continues to act on his heart’s impulses, and Hatsue continues to act pragmatically in a way that acknowledges her connections to both Ishmael and her family and culture.
Ishmael and Hatsue begin to kiss. “Let’s get married,” says Ishmael. Hatsue makes no response, but they continue to kiss. Hatsue cries as they undress each other. Ishmael penetrates her as she continues to cry. “No, Ishmael. Never,” she says. Although Ishmael says “It seemed right to me,” Hatsue realizes that the relationship doesn’t feel at all right to her. She tells Ishmael goodbye, tells him that she’ll write, and leaves him in the woods behind a cedar tree.
Ishmael’s love for Hatsue blinds him to Hatsue’s hesitations as he tries to engage her in an act of physical intimacy. His perspective is warped by the belief that Hatsue feels the same way about him as he does for her; “It seemed right to me,” he argues on realizing his blunder. When Hatsue leaves Ishmael in cedar tree, it is symbolic of her decision to leave behind the idyllic world of nature. Up until this point, Hatsue has used nature to avoid choosing between loving Ishmael and honoring her culture; her decision to leave Ishmael and the cedar tree, thus, shows that she has chosen honor over desire.