Eddy Okubo lies about his age and joins the army in his hometown of Honolulu only weeks before the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Suddenly Americans see him as the enemy—even the U.S. Army doubts the loyalty of Japanese American soldiers.
Then the army sends Eddy and a small band of Japanese American soldiers on a secret mission to a small island off the coast of Mississippi. Here they are given a special job, one that only they can do. Eddy’s going to help train attack dogs. He’s going to be the bait.
1Honolulu,August 1941The Spirit of JapanI'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid."Bad, bad times," Pop mumbled just yesterday, scowling to himself in the boatyard while reading the Japanese newspaper, Hawaii Hochi. He mashed his lips together and tossed the paper into the trash. I pulled it out when he wasn't looking. Some haole businessmen were saying all Japanese in Hawaii should be confined to the island of Molokai. Those white guys thought there were too many of us now; we were becoming too powerful. The tension outside Japanese camp in Honolulu was so tight you could almost hear it snapping in the air.And to make things worse, Japan, Pop's homeland, was stirring up big trouble.In 1931, when I was six, the Japanese invaded Manchuria, and they had been pushing deeper into China ever since. Less than a year ago, they'd signed up with Germany and Italy to form the Axis, all of them looking for more land, more power. Then, just last month, Japan flooded into Cambodia and Thailand.And my homeland, the U.S.A., was getting angry.President Roosevelt was negotiating with Japan to stop its invasions and get out of China, but nothing seemed to be working.And for every American of Japanese ancestry, Pop was right--these were bad, bad times.That summer I'd just turned sixteen. Me and my younger brother, Herbie, who was thirteen, helped Pop build boats in his boatyard, a business he'd had since he and Ma came to Hawaii from Hiroshima in 1921. Pop had been making sampan-style fishing boats all his life. He had a skilled apprentice named Bunichi, fresh off the boat from Japan by two years. With all of us helping out, Pop's business managed to survive.We were finishing up a new forty-footer for a haole from Kaneohe, the first boat Pop had ever made for a white guy. And there would be more, because Pop's reputation had grown beyond Japanese camp. Without question, there was no better boatbuilder in these islands than Koji Okubo, my pop. We'd been working on this one for more than seven months now, ten hours a day, six days a week. I was painting the hull bright white over primed wood soaked in boiled linseed oil. I had to strain the paint through fine netting so it would go on like silk, leaving no room for the smallest mistake. Pop lived in the Japanese way of dame oshi, which meant everything had to be perfect.The paint fumes were getting to me, so I climbed down off the ladder to go out back for some fresh air. A small, flea-infested mutt got up and followed me into the sun. I'd found him a couple of months ago licking oil off old engine parts in the boatyard, and I'd given him some of my lunch. Now that ratty dog stuck to me like glue. I called him Sharky because he growled and showed teeth to everyone but me. Pop didn't like him, but he let him live at the shop to chase away nighttime prowlers.Pop's shop was right on the water, and just as I walked outside, a Japanese destroyer was heading out of Honolulu Harbor, passing by so close I could hit it with a slingshot. A long line of motionless and orderly guys in white uniforms stood on deck gazing back at the island. I squinted, studying them as Sharky settled by my feet. Pop suddenly ghosted up next to me, wiping his hands on a paint rag. I could see him in the corner of my eye. He was forty-eight years old and starting to get a bouncy stomach. A couple inches shorter than me, about five three. His undershirt was white and clean, tucked into khaki pants that hung on him like drying laundry, bunched at his waist with a piece of rope. He had short gray hair that prickled up on his tan head. As usual, he was scowling.Sharky got up and moved away. Pop pointed his chin toward the destroyer. "That's something, ah?" he said in Japanese. "Look at all those fine young men." They looked proud, all right."To them," Pop went on, unusually talkative, "the Emperor is like a god. They would be grateful to die for him."Grateful to die? Pop's eyes brightened. "The spirit of Satsuma," he said. "That's what lives in those boys--the unbeatable fighting spirit of Satsuma."He nodded in admiration, then continued on over to the lumber pile to look for something.What Pop said gave me the willies, because he wanted me and Herbie to be just like those navy guys, all full up with the national spirit of Japan, Yamato Damashii. Pop kept a cigar box of cash savings hidden somewhere in the house, money to send us back to Tokyo or Hiroshima to learn about our heritage. "You are Japanese," he would say. "How can you learn about your culture and tradition if you don't go to Japan?"Sure, but what if I got there and war came because the U.S. and Japan couldn't work things out? What if I got trapped and dragged into the Japanese army--or navy, like those guys on that ship? What would I do then? Because I sure didn't feel that kind of spirit. I wasn't a Japan Japanese. I was an American. Pop's newspaper had said that people around Honolulu were worried they had a "Japanese problem" on their hands--us. What would Japanese Americans do if Japan and the U.S. went to war? Where would our loyalties lie?It was ridiculous, because there was nothing to worry about.
Excerpted from Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury. Copyright © 2005 by Graham Salisbury. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Graham Salisbury
I hope what gives my books their sense of authenticity, other than the natural inculcation of the island’s physical and cultural landscape, which ends up in my sentences by osmosis, is my use of language. In Hawaii we often speak what we call pidgin English, a kind of tropical patois. For example, in standard English, one would say, “I am going home.” In Hawaiian pidgin, it would be, “I going home.” A simple thing, but over the course of a novel, it becomes a bigger thing, a part of a character’s being. It resonates. Syntax, too, creates that feeling of authenticity. It comes to me naturally, thank heaven. I don’t have to work at it because I simply hear it. If I had to fake, it I’d be laughed off the face of the earth. So, growing up in the islands was my gift. My writing is just me spewing it back.
As for the work itself, I’m big on certain issues having to do with boys and growing up. I guess this is so because of my own fractured upbringing. Much of who I am is self-imposed. I am my choices, and I have chosen to walk a certain path. Important to me are such qualities as honesty, friendship, honor, loyalty, integrity, courage, work, and passion. Life for anyone is a series of choices, and I hope that fact gets some play in my books. Luckily for me, I have made some good choices. It could have been different. I could have taken pride in the wrong moves, as many boys do. It’s cool to be tough. Beating the spit out of someone is good for the rep. It’s honorable to attack someone who “disrespects” you by, perhaps, accidentally bumping into you (“Hey! You like I broke your face or what?”). Right. I could have fallen into that mindset. But I didn’t, and I lay all credit to that on one man: James Monroe Taylor, my high school headmaster.
At the end of my sixth-grade year, my mom saw the light—she kicked my sorry okole out of the house and sent me to boarding school. It was in the middle of Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii, and was the most precious gift she ever could have given me. I loved it. For the first time in my life, I had something I really, really, really needed: limits. It was like being at boot camp. Mr. Taylor, as part of his training, took us into his home in small groups and lectured us on the good qualities of life, all that stuff that is now so important to me: friendship, honor, etc. Of course, it was my duty at that time to laugh it off. That fat old man was out of his head. But his words stuck, and because they did, whenever I was presented with a sticky situation, I was able to fall back on that foundation and use it to make the better choice. My mother and Mr. Taylor—my hat’s off to both of them.
In my career as an author, I’ve spoken to a bazillion kids, mostly in grades six through eight. It’s been fun, truly. But I had an epiphany one day, and my newest creation, Calvin Coconut, came to be because of it.
I once spoke to a large group of fifth and sixth graders in a huge gymnasium, and was leaving the school, heading down the hall with the teacher who had invited me. “There’s a third-grade teacher here in our school who just loves your books,” she said as we walked, “and she asked me to ask you if you would be willing to just stop by her class and say hi to her kids. They know about you, too, because she read them one of your short stories.”
“Sure,” I said. I’d never spoken to third graders. It might be fun.
Boy, was it.
The third-grade teacher and every one of her students were literally glowing with excitement, having the author in their classroom.
They gathered around, sitting in a semicircle on the floor. I sat in a chair next to the teacher, who reached over and picked up a plate of cookies.
The kids all leaned forward, eyes bright as a thousand suns, rascally twinkles in them.
“Would you like to try one of the cookies we made in class?” she said.
I didn't, but I was on duty. “Uh, sure,” I said.
She pushed the plate closer.
The kids did a magnificent job of stuffing back their giggles as I reached out and picked up a yummy-looking but—I could tell—very fake cookie.
The teacher grinned, and I played along and pretended to bite into it. “Bleecck!” I spat, and the kids roared, as if it were the funniest thing they’d ever seen in their lives.
And that’s what got me: those beautiful, beautiful faces, all looking up at me in pure delight.
I ended up telling them a story of when I got stuck in a mass of mud, a story I love to tell, and they laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
I left that school a new man, and vowed then and there that someday I was going to expand my writing to include this group. Because I loved those faces and yearn to absorb that energy.
I also wanted to include this younger audience because teachers have told me many, many times that they just can’t get their boys interested in reading. I know of their plight. I was one of those boys. I read only one book on my own in all my elementary school years: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
So Calvin Coconut and I have a job to do. Call Calvin Graham Salisbury light, because I’m bringing real-life situations and themes for discussion into every Calvin book, just like I do in my books for older readers. I won’t get heavy, I won’t get edgy, and I won’t be gratuitous. None of this is about me. It’s about every kid out there today who is just like the wandering fool I was. Besides the simple enjoyment of writing, my aim is simple: to build trust and turn boys into lifetime readers.
I finally became a reader at thirty. That’s how hard it is to get some boys to read. I’d like to help change that a bit. Because reading changes everything. Oh yeah.