Hisaye Yamamoto was a pioneering Japanese American author who wrote prolifically during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States. Through her short stories, she explored the lives of Japanese Americans both before and after World War II, providing a unique window into a world often overlooked or misrepresented. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Hisaye Yamamoto’s legacy and continuing influence on modern literature.

Introduction to Hisaye Yamamoto

Hisaye Yamamoto was a Japanese American author and journalist. She is best known for her short story collections Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories and The Legend of Miss Sasagawara.

Yamamoto was born in 1921 in Redondo Beach, California, to Japanese immigrants. Her father was a fisherman, and her mother was a homemaker. Yamamoto grew up speaking both English and Japanese, but she felt more comfortable with English and often used it to express herself.

Yamamoto began her career as a journalist in the 1940s, working for various newspapers in Los Angeles. In 1950, she married Ralph Yamamoto and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she worked as a freelance writer.

In the 1960s, Yamamoto’s focus shifted to writing short stories. She published several stories in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Magazine before collecting them into the award-winning book Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories.

Yamamoto continued to write throughout her life, albeit slower after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001. She died in 2011 at the age of 89.

Yamamoto’s stories offer insight into Japanese Americans’ lives in the United States. They deal with cultural clashes, assimilation, intergenerational conflict, and identity. Many of her stories feature strong female characters who challenge societal norms.

Hisaye Yamamoto Early Life

Hisaye Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach, California, on August 23, 1921. Her parents were Japanese immigrants who had met and married in Los Angeles. Yamamoto’s father was a gardener, and her mother worked in a factory. The family later moved to the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Yamamoto attended elementary school and junior high school in Little Tokyo. She then transferred to Los Angeles High School, where she graduated in 1940. After high school, she enrolled at Pasadena City College. However, her studies were interrupted when she interned with her family at the Manzanar War Relocation Center from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.

After the war, Yamamoto resumed her studies at Pasadena City College and transferred to the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated with a degree in journalism in 1949.

Contributions to literature and journalism

Hisaye Yamamoto was a prolific writer and journalist, producing a large body of work that has had a lasting impact on both Japanese American and mainstream literature.

Her most famous work is the short story collection Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories, considered one of the most important works of Japanese American literature. The stories in the collection deal with the experiences of Japanese Americans living in California during the early 20th century and their struggles to find a place in American society.

Yamamoto’s other stories have been anthologized in numerous collections, and critics have praise her work for its insight into the Japanese American experience. She was also a regular contributor to The Pacific Citizen, the Japanese American Citizens League newspaper, and her column “On Becoming an American” was widely read by both Japanese Americans and non-Japanese Americans alike.

Yamamoto’s work continues to be celebrated today, and her legacy as one of her generation’s most influential authors and journalists is secure.

War experience in internment camps

Over 110,000 Japanese Americans were estimated to be force into internment camps during World War II. These camps were located in remote and desolate areas, such as deserts and mountains, and conditions were often harsh. Internees were given little notice before being uprooted from their homes and were often force to live in cramped quarters with little privacy. Meals were often meager, and internees had to work long hours performing manual labor.

Life in the camps was not only strenuous physically but also emotionally. Many internees felt great shame and humiliation at being confine like criminals, even though they had done nothing wrong. The camps also exacerbate existing tensions between different generations of Japanese Americans. Older immigrants, who had been through previous waves of anti-Asian prejudice, often viewed the internment as just another example of discrimination against their community. Younger Japanese Americans, on the other hand, chafed at the restrictive camp life and yearned to show their loyalty to the United States by joining the military or otherwise proving their patriotism.

Despite the challenges, many internees made the best of their situation. In the face of adversity, they created vibrant communities within the camps, organizing cultural events and clubs, starting newspapers, and maintaining libraries. For some, the experience helped forge a stronger identity as Japanese Americans. Looking back on her time in the camp at Manzanar, Hisaye Yamamoto later wrote: “We thought of ourselves no longer as individuals.

Yamamoto’s Legacy

It’s been nearly a century since Hisaye Yamamoto’s birth, but her voice still speaks to us today. The Japanese American author and journalist was born in California in 1921 and raised in Arizona, where she eventually settled. Her writing focuses on the experiences of Japanese Americans, particularly women, and she is consider one of the first authors to write about the internment camps during World War II. Her work captures the struggles and triumphs of the community and continues to inspire readers today.

Short Story Analysis

Hisaye Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach, California, in 1921 to Japanese immigrants. She began writing short stories while still in high school and had her first story published in a national magazine when she was just 18 years old.

Yamamoto’s stories typically focus on the lives of Japanese Americans living in California and deal with themes of culture and identity. Many of her stories explore the generational differences between first-generation Japanese Americans (or Issei) and their American-born children (or Nisei).

One of Yamamoto’s most famous stories is “Seventeen Syllables,”. Which tells the story of a young Nisei girl who is torn between her traditional Japanese upbringing and her desire to assimilate into American culture. The story was include in Yamamoto’s seventeen Syllables and Other Stories collection. Which won the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award in 1988.

Other notable stories  Yamamoto include “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara”. (include in the collection The Death of Tani Osada and Other Stories), “Yoneko’s Earthquake” (included in the anthology Silences). And “The Desert Is My Mother” (included in the anthology Asian American Literature: An Anthology).

Yamamoto passed away in January 2011 at the age of 89. Her work continues to be celebrate for its insight into the Japanese American experience.


Hisaye Yamamoto was an inspirational writer who used her work to showcase her unique perspective and passion. Her stories brought into focus the struggles, joys, and triumphs of being a female Japanese American. Though she pass away in 2011, Hisaye Yamamoto will live on through her incredible works, which continue to read today. In celebrating Hisaye’s legacy, we can acknowledge how important it is to listen to diverse voices. Who may have different views or come from different backgrounds than our own. A reminder that everyone has something valuable to contribute to society.

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