Japanese Americans: The History and Culture of a People. Edited by Jonathan H. X. Lee. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2017. 462 p. Acid-free $105 (ISBN 978-1-4408-4189-7). E-book Available (978-1-4408-4190-3), call for pricing.

Japanese Americans: The History and Culture of a People is a single-volume comprehensive resource that addresses many aspects of Japanese American history and culture, and “reveals the long, hard, and aching struggling of Japanese Americans to be treated as Americans” (xiii–xiv). Editor Jonathan H. X. Lee begins the preface with a brief overview of Executive Order 9066 authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, which enforced a mass incarceration and relocation of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans. Lee compares this to the modern-day Executive Order 13769, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” issued by President Donald Trump, which is the travel ban that prevents seven Muslim-majority countries from entry into the United States.

This work is organized into four parts that cover Japanese Americans’ emigration to the United States, political involvement and economic endeavors, cultural heritage and religious traditions, and their contributions to the arts, literature, popular culture, and sports. A table of contents lists all the entries alphabetically under each part. Each part begins with a historical overview, and the entries cover key events, places, and figures that capture the unique and complicated experiences which have shaped the Japanese American identity. Broad subjects like “Japanese American Exclusion,” “Buddhist Churches of America,” and “Japanese Transnational Identity,” are addressed, while other entries cover specific topics like the “No-No Boys,” “Yamato Colony of California,” and “Floral Arrangements/Ikebana.” The entries were written by seventy-six contributors and their institutional affiliations are listed at the end of the book. Entries conclude with “See also” cross-references to related articles and suggestions for “Further Reading.” These along with a separate extensive “Selected Bibliography” allow for more in-depth exploration. Additionally, a detailed “Chronology of Japanese American History” is included following the preface, and the work concludes with the text of fifteen primary documents, such as “The Treaty of Kanagawa, March 31, 1854,” “Immigration Act of 1917,” and the “Executive Order 9066, February 19, 1942.”

Many libraries may already own Brian Niiya’s single-volume Encyclopedia of Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present, published in 1993 by Facts on File in partnership with the Japanese American National Museum, with an updated edition published in 2001. This encyclopedia was one of the first of its kind to provide a comprehensive overview of the Japanese American experience. The entries in this encyclopedia are arranged alphabetically by title, making Japanese Americans: The History and Culture of a People a little easier to browse since the entries are thematically organized. But overall, these encyclopedias complement each other and could be used concurrently to gain an even richer understanding.

Lee fears that history is repeating itself but believes with learning and (re)educating ourselves of past oppressions, forward progress and change is achievable. Lee hopes that Japanese Americans: The History and Culture of a People “will be a useful resource for students who wish to learn about the contribution and history of Japanese Americans,” so that “we remember our history and use it to guide our future as a country of immigrants, a place where liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness is available to all” (xv). Japanese Americans: The History and Culture of a People is highly recommended and would be a welcome and valuable addition to any academic or public library.—Megan Coder, Associate Librarian, State University of New York at New Paltz


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