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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Notes
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Twenty-four Japanese islanders sit in the rear seats of the courtroom “because San Piedro required it of them without calling it a law.”

The first Japanese immigrants of the 1880s worked in the sawmills. When all the trees were gone, they began to lease land to grow strawberries. They were not allowed to own the land unless they became citizens, and the law prevented them from becoming citizens because they were Japanese. Each year, when the harvest was over, the islanders and tourists gathered for the annual Strawberry Festival. The climax of the festival came when a young Japanese girl was name Strawberry Princess.

Then, on March 29, 1942, not long after Pearl Harbor Day, 843 Japanese islanders were loaded onto a ship. Their white neighbors watched; many of them believing that exiling the Japanese was the right thing to do. They were at war.

Hatsue Miyamota, Kabuo’s wife, sits in the row of seats behind the defendant’s table. Every day for the last 77 days, she has visited her husband in jail. At first, she visits alone and then with their children: two girls, 8 and 4, and an 11-month-old boy, who took his first steps while Kabuo was in jail.

Hatsue’s family is supporting her through this ordeal by providing meals, taking care of her kids, and by the sound of their voices. At 31, her extraordinary beauty is fading. Once a crowned princess of the Strawberry Festival, she is now hiding her squint lines with makeup.

When Hatsue was 13, she was sent to be taught by Mrs. Shigemura. She was taught how to dance, sing, play instruments, walk with grace, and take care of her beauty. She was also taught not to look a man directly in the face and how to keep her composure during field work, internment, or house work. She was taught not to fear death, as the Americans, but see that “life embraces death.” Hatsue was also taught that white men lusted for young Japanese girls. She was told to stay away from them and marry a boy of her own kind. Through her training, Hatsue outwardly learned to display tranquility. But, in her youth, Hatsue craved entertainment, excitement, and a worldly happiness that disturbed her.

Hatsue’s father, Hisao, began as a pauper. But when his marriage to her mother was arranged, he was portrayed as a man with means. Fujiko, her mother, arrived in the United States to live in dirty boarding houses and cook and clean in other people’s home. Then, her father secured jobs in the strawberry fields of San Piedro. Hisao and Fujiko had 5 daughters; Hatsue was the oldest. The whole family toiled in the fields and saved enough money to build a modest home and lease 7 acres of land.

Hatsue worked in the fields, but she also spent time swimming and looking at the fish through a glass-bottomed boat owned by a neighborhood boy. It was on this boat that she received her first kiss from this young boy, Ishmael Chambers. She would remember this kiss on her wedding day. When her husband asked her if she had kissed anyone before, she answered never.

Hatsue and Kabuo married in the internment camp. The consummated their marriage in half a room separated by an army blanket with a country-western station playing loudly to muffle their sounds. She knew she and Kabuo wanted the same thing: to be strawberry farmers on San Piedro Island. Though she once wanted adventure off the island, she now knew that she would find happiness working along side Kabuo in the fields.

Eight days after they were married Kabuo left for the army to prove his loyalty to the United States. She urged him not to go but settled into missing him. She maintained “a deliberately controlled hysteria that was something like what Ishmael Chambers felt watching her in the courtroom.”


For the first time, we learn of the Japanese islanders, particularly Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue. Written and unwritten laws dictated the relationship between the Japanese and the hakujin, or white islanders. The Japanese islanders attending Kabuo’s trial sat in the back of the courtroom as a requirement of an unwritten law of the island. At one time, written laws prevented the Japanese from becoming American citizens and owning land. At their peak of regulated racial prejudice, laws required the interment of the Japanese during World War II, allowing the white islanders to watch in silent agreement as their Japanese neighbors hastily attempted to put their affairs in order and were forced to board a boat to an unknown destination.

The hakujin were not the only ones to have unwritten laws that dictated their behavior; the Japanese also had unwritten rules regarding their relationships with their white island neighbors. Hatsue was taught not only Japanese traditions and culture but also to avoid sexual relationships with white men. The reasons Mrs. Shigemura gives for avoiding relationships with white

men are based on racial prejudices. Guterson makes this clear when he uses words and phrases, such as “the seriousness of a fortuneteller,” “predicted,” and “claimed,” to describe how Mrs. Shigemura speaks of white men. Like a fortuneteller, Mrs. Shigemura also seems to be able to read the minds of white men; she speaks of the fantasies of white men, their distorted sex drives, their egos, and their belief that Japanese women worship them. It is clear that racial prejudice is a two-way street practiced by both white and Japanese islanders.

Unfortunately, Hatsue is torn between these two cultures. The Strawberry Princess, always a young Japanese girl, was “an unwitting intermediary between two communities, a human sacrifice who allowed the festivities to go forward with no uttered ill will.” Hatsue, a Strawberry Princess herself, finds herself between the two communities. On one hand, she is taught “not forget that she was first and foremost Japanese.” On the other hand, the youthful Hatsue craved the attractions of the white world she lived in. Throughout her youth, Hatsue inwardly struggles with these two opposing lifestyles. She seeks to retain and expand her Japanese identity but finds it hard to shun the white world around her. Eventually, she grows older, finds true happiness in her marriage to Kabuo, their shared dream of raising strawberries, and her Japanese identity but not until after her relationship with Ishmael Chambers.

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