Midnight in Broad Daylight, by historian Pamela Rotner Sakamoto ’84, follows one Japanese-American family from their prewar years on the American West Coast to the irradiated ruins of Hiroshima. This journey is so thematically freighted and robustly researched that one imagines it could have been stretched, if she willed it, to four different books: one covering the quintessentially American work ethic of the Japanese immigrant class on the West Coast in the 1930s and their struggles during the Depression; one covering the shameful indignities visited on that class during their forced internment in wartime camps; one on the unique experience of the Japanese-Americans who enlisted to fight for their country as infantrymen and interpreters; and one on the family-level effects of the dropping of the atomic bombs.

Harry Fukuhara was born in Seattle on Jan. 1, 1920, to Kinu and Katsuji Fukuhara. As the child of Japanese immigrants, he was known as nisei, along with his siblings, Frank, Victor, Pierce and Mary. Although systematic and bureaucratic prejudices made life more difficult for them as immigrants, the children had a fully American childhood. The town of Auburn, Wash., embraced the family as upstanding. However, after the Great Depression corroded the family’s finances and Katsuji succumbed to an illness, Kinu made the wrenching decision to move her children back to Japan.

For Harry, though, home would always be in America. He and Mary moved back to the United States after just a few years in Japan, parting with their mother and other siblings. Forced to fend for themselves, Harry and Mary made ends meet. That is, until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the anti-Japanese sentiment that inflamed the country and the establishment of the internment camps.

Pamela Rotner Sakamoto ’84
Pamela Rotner Sakamoto ’84, author of Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds

If the injustice and irony of the camps can be expressed in a single image, perhaps best would be a photograph of the residents of the Tulare Camp— into which Harry found himself forced— organizing a Fourth of July festival, including a “threequarter- mile-long parade, sumo and judo contests, relays, and a tug of war,” Sakamoto writes. “World War I veterans marched with pride. A parade official read the Declaration of Independence and the audience sang ‘America.’”

When the call went out among the camps for interpreters fluent in both Japanese and English, Harry knew that he was perfectly suited, and he enlisted with honor. He quickly set himself apart as one of the best in his class and found himself sent to the front lines of the “Island Hopping” campaign, despite the fact that he had almost no military training.

During this time, in alternating chapters, we see the story of the family members who remained in Japan, as conscription looms and the situation on the home front quickly deteriorates.

The dramatic climax comes when Harry is set to invade the main island of his ancestral homeland, where he may be forced to confront members of his own family clothed in the enemy’s uniform.

That Sakamoto is able to tell such a long and multifaceted story with readable omnipresence is a remarkable achievement, and is clearly the product of many years of research and interviews. But more than just an engrossing tale of a family riven by war, this book is a valuable document that captures the lived experience of a group of Americans, patriotic despite the treatment they received from their government, who deserve as thorough a chronicle as our historians can officer.