Rediscovery of Okada’s No-No Boy


United States

Discrimination & Inequity Identity & Belonging Media & Culture

No-No Boy, by John Okada, is an icon in Japanese-American literature and the first novel to address the aftermath of Japanese-American internment (see also: Japanese Americans Interned, 1942-1945).

Okada tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a “no-no boy,” who questions his identity following internment and incarceration during World War II. “No-no boys” is the term for Japanese American men who answered “no” to the two “loyalty” questions on the army’s mandatory questionnaire during WWII, indicating that they were unwilling to serve in the armed forces or to swear allegiance to the U.S. “No-no boys” were labeled as “disloyal,” segregated in concentration camps, and often incarcerated in federal prison. Following its publication in 1957, No-No Boy received little attention due to its sympathetic portrayal of “no-no boys” and the pressure in Japanese American communities’ to stress their loyalty.

With the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, a new dialogue of resistance and wartime dissent in the 1970s, fostered ideal conditions for the rediscovery of Okada’s novel. Increased Asian immigration brought momentum to forge an “Asian American” identity. Third-generation Japanese Americans spurred movements to end the silence on Japanese internment. Universities established Asian American Studies departments. Within this context, a group of Asian American writers came together to reprint No-No Boy as part of the Combined Asian American Resources Project in 1976. Okada’s work became a reference point around Japanese identity, the World War II experience, and for its parallels to resistance during the Vietnam War.