100 books like Japanese Americans

By Paul R. Spickard,

Here are 100 books that Japanese Americans fans have personally recommended if you like Japanese Americans. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II

Saara Kekki Author Of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain: Networks, Power, and Everyday Life

From my list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having encountered Japanese American incarceration as an undergraduate student, I was perplexed at how distant so many of the narratives were. How could such a large-scale forced removal in recent history seem like it happened “somewhere else?” This started my never-ending yearning to really understand and feel how these camps operated as communities. I have little doubt that this could happen again in the United States and Canada or elsewhere, so it’s my passion to keep educating people both in my home country of Finland and North America about the underlying dynamics leading to incarceration. 

Saara's book list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community

Saara Kekki Why did Saara love this book?

This book features Bill Manbo’s original photographs from the Heart Mountain incarceration camp, weaved in with the historical narrative of the camp and the time period.

What is remarkable about the photos is that they are not part of government propaganda but depictions of everyday events by an amateur photographer. Moreover, inmates weren’t supposed to have cameras in camp, so Manbo’s photos are also an act of resistance.

Since I’m always on a quest to really “feel” history, I love how these photos bring me that much closer to the people and the place. Eric Muller and others’ writings provide useful contextualization to both the art and the era. 

By Eric L. Muller (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Colors of Confinement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1942, Bill Manbo and his family were forced from their Hollywood home into the Japanese American internment camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. While there, Manbo documented both the bleakness and beauty of his surroundings, using Kodachrome film, a technology then just seven years old, to capture community celebrations and to record his family's struggle to maintain a normal life under the harsh conditions of racial imprisonment. Colors of Confinement showcases sixty-five stunning images from this extremely rare collection of color photographs, presented along with three interpretive essays by leading scholars and a reflective, personal essay by a former…


Book cover of Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment

Saara Kekki Author Of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain: Networks, Power, and Everyday Life

From my list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having encountered Japanese American incarceration as an undergraduate student, I was perplexed at how distant so many of the narratives were. How could such a large-scale forced removal in recent history seem like it happened “somewhere else?” This started my never-ending yearning to really understand and feel how these camps operated as communities. I have little doubt that this could happen again in the United States and Canada or elsewhere, so it’s my passion to keep educating people both in my home country of Finland and North America about the underlying dynamics leading to incarceration. 

Saara's book list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community

Saara Kekki Why did Saara love this book?

Another powerful collection of photographs, this book shows us the images by the famous photographer Dorothea Lange.

The War Relocation Authority (a civilian agency that ran the 10 civilian incarceration camps) hired Lange to “document” life in the camps. They were expecting to receive material that would be useful as propaganda, that would prove to the outside world that the conditions were decent and inmates happy. What they got instead were depictions of harsh conditions and institutionalization. Therefore, many of Lange’s photos were never published until this volume.

Where Billy Manbo’s photos showed us an inmate’s perspective, Lange’s photos can be read as a wordless attempt to criticize the government.

By Linda Gordon (editor), Gary Y. Okihiro (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Impounded as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Censored by the U.S. Army, Dorothea Lange's unseen photographs are the extraordinary photographic record of the Japanese American internment saga. This indelible work of visual and social history confirms Dorothea Lange's stature as one of the twentieth century's greatest American photographers. Presenting 119 images originally censored by the U.S. Army-the majority of which have never been published-Impounded evokes the horror of a community uprooted in the early 1940s and the stark reality of the internment camps. With poignancy and sage insight, nationally known historians Linda Gordon and Gary Okihiro illuminate the saga of Japanese American internment: from life before Executive…


Book cover of Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II

Saara Kekki Author Of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain: Networks, Power, and Everyday Life

From my list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having encountered Japanese American incarceration as an undergraduate student, I was perplexed at how distant so many of the narratives were. How could such a large-scale forced removal in recent history seem like it happened “somewhere else?” This started my never-ending yearning to really understand and feel how these camps operated as communities. I have little doubt that this could happen again in the United States and Canada or elsewhere, so it’s my passion to keep educating people both in my home country of Finland and North America about the underlying dynamics leading to incarceration. 

Saara's book list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community

Saara Kekki Why did Saara love this book?

Much of the general public knows the great performance of the segregated Nisei (2nd generation Japanese American) unit in World War II, but few are still familiar with the Nisei draft resisters.

Eric Muller’s book tells the story of these men, who were drafted from incarceration camps—and then imprisoned in federal prisons for refusing to serve. Over 80 of these resisters came from Heart Mountain, where they had organized around a group called the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, but men from other camps also resisted. Their message was unanimous: they love the United States but will not serve before their families are freed.

By Eric L. Muller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Free to Die for Their Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the spring of 1942, the federal government forced West Coast Japanese Americans into detainment camps on suspicion of disloyalty. Two years later, the government demanded even more, drafting them into the same military that had been guarding them as subversives. Most of these Americans complied, but "Free to Die for Their Country" is the first book to tell the powerful story of those who refused. Based on years of research and personal interviews, Eric L. Muller recreates the emotions and events that followed the arrival of those draft notices revealing a dark and complex chapter of America's history.


Book cover of Heart Mountain

Saara Kekki Author Of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain: Networks, Power, and Everyday Life

From my list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having encountered Japanese American incarceration as an undergraduate student, I was perplexed at how distant so many of the narratives were. How could such a large-scale forced removal in recent history seem like it happened “somewhere else?” This started my never-ending yearning to really understand and feel how these camps operated as communities. I have little doubt that this could happen again in the United States and Canada or elsewhere, so it’s my passion to keep educating people both in my home country of Finland and North America about the underlying dynamics leading to incarceration. 

Saara's book list on really feeling the everyday life of the Japanese American community

Saara Kekki Why did Saara love this book?

Gretel Ehrlich’s 1988 novel puts a spin on the incarceration experience by examining it at the intersection of two worlds.

The protagonist is a Japanese American free person living near the Wyoming incarceration camp of Heart Mountain. He has never been incarcerated because he lives outside the “exclusion area.” The story looks at the camp and its injustices through the eyes of this man, who is similar to the inmates yet an outsider.

The book really captures the irony of camp life: it is at once so deeply unjust yet so dull that years seem to blend into each other. Ehrlich’s description of the Wyoming landscape and the Heart Mountain camp is vivid and transports the reader to the scene.

By Gretel Ehrlich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heart Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The left-at-home residents and ranchers of Luster, Wyoming, and the Japanese-American inmates of nearby Heart Mountain Relocation Camp contend with colliding political and personal circumstances


Book cover of Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family

Ken Mochizuki Author Of Michi Challenges History: From Farm Girl to Costume Designer to Relentless Seeker of the Truth: The Life of Michi Nishiura Weglyn

From my list on the Japanese American World War II experience.

Why am I passionate about this?

Although I was born in Seattle after the World War II years, my parents, grandparents, and aunts spent time confined at the Minidoka site, and they very rarely talked about “camp.” During the ‘80s and ‘90s, I worked as a newspaper journalist during the time of the movement to obtain redress, and I heard survivors of the camps talk about it for the first time. My acquired knowledge of the subject led to my first book in 1993, Baseball Saved Us. Since then, the camp experience has become like a longtime acquaintance with whom I remain in constant contact.

Ken's book list on the Japanese American World War II experience

Ken Mochizuki Why did Ken love this book?

Most of the best books about the Japanese American World War II experience are memoirs by those who actually lived through it, and this is one of the best.

Removed along with her family from Berkeley, California and confined at the Topaz, Utah camp, pick any page and the reader will see Uchida’s skillful descriptions: “As we plodded through the powdery sand toward Block 7, I began to understand why everyone looked like pieces of flour-dusted pastry.”

Also, that I am a writer for young readers was trailblazed by Yoshiko Uchida who, along with her publisher, had the courage to write and publish her first book, The Dancing Kettle, and Other Japanese Folk Tales in 1949──during a time in America when hatred against all things Japanese still ran strong.

By Yoshiko Uchida,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Desert Exile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the spring of 1942, shortly after the United States entered into war with Japan, the federal government initiated a policy whereby 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and herded into camps. They were incarcerated without indictment, trial, or counsel - not because they had committed a crime, but simply because they resembled the enemy. There was never any evidence of disloyalty or sabotage among them, and the majority were American citizens. The government's explanation for this massive injustice was military necessity.

Desert Exile tells the story of one family who lived through these sad years. It is…


Book cover of Generation Misfits

Kit Rosewater Author Of The Derby Daredevils

From my list on middle grade with radical and epic friend groups.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, I had a lot of experience having a close group of friends… and a lot of experience looking into other groups from the outside. I waded from circle to circle, trying on friendships like some people try on hats. The books I’m recommending represent the best of fictional friend groups—the groups that topped any clique I saw in real life. Reading these books made me feel like an in-kid in the best possible way. Many of the characters remain the absolute coolest people I know, and serve as inspiration for the friend group dynamics I get to explore in my own stories. 

Kit's book list on middle grade with radical and epic friend groups

Kit Rosewater Why did Kit love this book?

My Spice Girl-loving heart would have died to be in an SG fan club at my school. Back in my day, we had to settle for quick half-memorized dance routines under the monkey bars during recess. But in Akemi Dawn Bowman’s sweet story of niche interests and building a community person by person, the characters’ shared love of a music group is only the tip of a huge and fulfilling friendship iceberg. 

By Akemi Dawn Bowman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Generation Misfits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Eleven-year-old Millie Nakakura is starting sixth grade at a real school for the first time in her life. Previously homeschooled, Millie dreams of finally making friends and having a little bit of freedom-though this proves tricker than she expected.

Then she spots a flyer for an after-school club for fans of Japanese pop music, which she loves more than anything else in the world. Millie makes true friends with this crew of misfits, and when of their members starts to bend under the strain of a troubled home life, the friends band together to help her get through these tough…


Book cover of Hard Rain

Bryant Wieneke Author Of Priority One

From my list on political thrillers promoting peaceful solutions.

Why am I passionate about this?

I quit my job in 1994 to write. Fiction. It took me a while to find my niche, but what I realized is that I wanted to write political thrillers that were about more than how to stop the bad guys from killing the good guys by killing them first. There is another way. Starting with Priority One, and continuing to what is currently my tenth novel in the series, I imagine an American foreign policy that promotes the building of a more peaceful world through a combination of economic justice and humanitarianism, applied practically and pragmatically. It’s my dream for my fiction, as well as the real world.

Bryant's book list on political thrillers promoting peaceful solutions

Bryant Wieneke Why did Bryant love this book?

As I set about the task of writing political thrillers, I read many gifted novelists in this genre. I found that the plots often revolved around shoot-‘em-ups and egregiously evil militant groups. Barry Eisler is an exception. He is a superb writer who casts a talented and likeable character into a career as an assassin. John Rain chooses this life because his actions deter greater acts of violence. And isn’t that the choice many of us face in the modern world? Isn’t going to war about saving lives by killing the bad guys? In my books, I try to be sensitive to the issue that peace does not come easy in a violent world, and sometimes the trade-offs to secure peace are not at all pleasant.

By Barry Eisler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hard Rain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Previously published as Hard Rain and Blood from BloodAll John Rain wants is to get out of the killing business. But with his discretion, his reliability, and his unique talent for death by "natural causes," no one is willing to let him just retire. So when an old nemesis from the Japanese national police force comes to him with a new job-eliminate Murakami, a killer even more fearsome than Rain himself-Rain knows he can't refuse.Aided by an achingly desirable half Brazilian, half Japanese exotic dancer he knows he shouldn't trust, Rain pursues his quarry through underground no-holds-barred fight clubs, mobbed-up…


Book cover of While I Was Away

Cathy Carr Author Of 365 Days to Alaska

From my list on families, changes, and challenges.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a writer a long time and a reader for even longer. But, above all, I’m someone who has always been interested in people. The book universe is filled with fast-moving, plot-driven fiction, but I find myself drawn to stories focused on layered characters and complex relationships. Since I think families are so basic to our experiences as people, I’m always interested in those stories too. What the five books here have in common are big family changes—mostly caused by adults—that challenge the books’ main characters—who are all kids.

Cathy's book list on families, changes, and challenges

Cathy Carr Why did Cathy love this book?

In my experience, a truly unique book is rare, and I’m always excited to find one that stands apart because of premise and setting. Waka is happy in her sixth-grade class in Kansasuntil her parents notice she’s losing her Japanese language skills and decide to take action. They send Waka to Tokyo to spend several months living with her grandmother and attending a local public school. In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing kanji, feels awkward around her reserved grandmother, and can’t figure out the social scene at school. Japan may be her parents’ birth country, but in Tokyo, Waka is an outsider. Where is Waka’s real home, and who will she be once she figures that out? An unforgettable memoir with lots of fun 1980s flavor. 

By Waka T. Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked While I Was Away as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Named one of New York Public Library's Best Books of the Year!

The Farewell meets Erin Entrada Kelly's Blackbird Fly in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to 1980s Japan, where she was sent as a child to reconnect to her family's roots.

When twelve-year-old Waka's parents suspect she can't understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been…


Book cover of A Gesture Life

Solveig Eggerz Author Of Seal Woman

From my list on where characters don’t mingle much and talk funny.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have written all my life. This includes freelance writing as well as reporter jobs at small, weekly newspapers in the DC/VA area. I have also taught writing (creative and technical writing) to students as diverse as jail inmates, residents of homeless shelters, military officers at the Pentagon, CIA employees, and firefighters at Ronald Reagan National Airport. Both of my published novels are works of historical fiction set in my native Iceland: Seal Woman and Sigga of Reykjavik. These novels cover the time 1908 to 1955, a period when Iceland was a little-known island. I have always been drawn to novels about isolated, cold-weather places where unusual characters and mannerisms flourish. 

Solveig's book list on where characters don’t mingle much and talk funny

Solveig Eggerz Why did Solveig love this book?

Hata, a Korean, adopted by a Japanese couple, serves the Japanese Army as a medic in World War II. His job is to care for enslaved Koreans who serve as “comfort women” to Japanese soldiers. His experiences are the material of nightmares. Years later he leads a deceptively quiet life in a small town in New Jersey with his Korean adoptive daughter. It is deceptively quiet because his unresolved war experiences, presented in flashbacks, haunt him. I admired the abrupt manner in which Chang-Rae Lee interrupted Hata’s uneventful life with horrific memories.

The author’s method felt like the triggering of those who have suffered trauma and continue to relive events as PTSD. This approach of interweaving past with present inspired my depiction of a young German woman living a quiet life on a primitive Icelandic farm, milking the cows and raking the hay, while being repeatedly interrupted by memories of…

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Gesture Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Franklin Hata, Korean by birth but raised in Japan, is an outsider in American society, but he embodies the values of the town he calls his own - he is polite and keeps himself to himself. Franklin deflects everyone with courtesy and impenetrable decorum, and becomes a respected elder of his small, prosperous American town. 'You make a whole life out of gestures and politeness,' Sunny tells her adoptive father. But as Sunny tries to unpick her father's scrupulous self-control, the story he has repressed emerges: his life as a medic in the Japanese Army and his love for a…


Book cover of Weedflower

Ginger Park Author Of The Hundred Choices Department Store

From my list on that engage and enlighten children on history.

Why am I passionate about this?

In the wake of my father’s sudden death (when I was sixteen) I was left with many questions about my heritage. Why didn’t I know more about my parents and their homeland of Korea? Why wasn’t I curious enough to ask questions when my father was alive? Now I’m a Korean American author of many award-winning children’s books most of which are inspired by my family heritage. I’ve spent my adult life unearthing the past, immortalizing long-lost loved ones, sharing meaningful stories that would otherwise be forgotten. I’m drawn to historical fiction the way most people are to their smartphones. The truth is, there is no future without remembering the past.  

Ginger's book list on that engage and enlighten children on history

Ginger Park Why did Ginger love this book?

This book, while it takes place in America, made me think of my mother who grew up in Japanese occupied Korea―she was forced to give up her Korean birth name for a Japanese name; forced to go to Japanese school and bow to large portraits of Emperor Hirohito; forced into the war effort at age twelve only to lose a finger while sewing buttons onto Japanese Imperial uniforms; Meanwhile, in America, a similar and heart-wrenching story unfolds in Weedflower, a story of innocent Japanese Americans going about their lives when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, Japanese Americans are no longer considered American―they are the enemy.

Twelve-year-old Sumiko has always struggled to fit in, but when the war breaks out, struggles turn to fear for her and her family, so much so, they have no other choice but to burn all precious possessions from Japan including photos of family members…

By Cynthia Kadohata,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Weedflower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Sumiko feels her life has been made up of two parts: before Pearl Harbor and after it. The good part and the bad part. Raised on a flower farm in California, Sumiko is used to being the only Japanese girl in her class. Even when the other kids tease her, she always has had her flowers and family to go home to.

That all changes after the horrific events of Pearl Harbor. Other Americans start to suspect that all Japanese people are spies for the emperor, even if, like Sumiko, they were born in the United States! As suspicions…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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