Tokyo: Nihon Kokusai Shinzen Kosei Zaidan, 1963. 384pp., plus twelve halftone plates. Original green cloth, spine gilt lettered; publisher's printed cardboard slipcase. Minor wear to slipcase. Small bump to head of spine. Light tanning. Near fine. Item #3713
"An autobiography of an Issei nursery operator in Gardena [California] with essays on American life, money-making, and religion."—A Buried Past II, 1715. The author Amemiya (who, based on English-language newspaper stories, transliterated his name as Enosuke and went by Harry in English) gives a rare perspective on living the American dream. He was abandoned by his parents in Japan as a teenager, and at 17, in 1917, decided to go to the United States. Like many of his compatriots looking to America after the 1907 Gentlemen's Agreement restricted Japanese immigration, Amemiya entered the US illegally by signing on as a sailor and jumping ship in Tacoma, Washington. Knowing no one and having little money, he lived by his wits and luck -- his first job was "picking up horse shit" for a Japanese farmer.
After two years in the Seattle area, he moved to Los Angeles, where he went into the nursery business. He married a Nisei, Chizuko Kitazono, and they eventually had eight children, three of them in the Gila River War Relocation Camp. After the war, he speculated in Los Angeles real estate, ran a chicken ranch, and invested in other businesses. In 1963, he returned to Japan for the first time to set up the Japanese International Friendship and Welfare Foundation with a donation of $100,000. The foundation's first effort seems to have been publishing these memoirs. Amemiya became a US citizen in 1956 and died in 1988. On his naturalization form (available through the Ancestry website), he claims to have entered the US legally under the name Inokichi Amimiya, a statement seemingly contradicted by this memoir.
Remarkably, the introduction is by Tetsu Katayama, who had served as the first Prime Minister of Japan after the Second World War. He describes Amemiya's memoir as "formally not well written," "eccentric," and "full of charm." Certainly, Amemiya describes the lives of poor Japanese Americans in more detail than most similar autobiographies; his account of internment is also unusual, with many examples of his customers and neighbors informing on him and his family before they were sent to Gila River.
For a post-war book, My Fifty Years is quite uncommon -- OCLC locates only two copies, at Berkeley and the National Diet Library of Japan. A detailed and rare memoir of a Japanese experience of the United States from the early 20th century through World War II and beyond.