Throughout the text of No-No Boy so far, there have been multiple issues of masculinity exposed through the introductions and insights we’ve seen into Ichiro, Taro, Kenji, and Mr. Yamada. Layered generations not only of masculine culture and expectations, but the shifting dynamics of feminine and masculine identities have major effects on the ways in which these characters experience the world around them. These dynamics are further complicated by the cultural contexts of the intersections of identity that Japanese Americans faced in this time period; the antithesis of Japanese identity to American identity (and vice versa) plays a major role in the complexities of masculinity throughout the story.
Throughout the chapters so far, we have seen the insecure sense of masculinity in Ichiro, the unquenchable desire within Taro to prove not only the existence but the intensity of his masculinity, the deterioration of masculinity in Kenji, as well as a sense that Mr. Yamada is more feminine in essence. In the fifth chapter, however, this sense of Mr. Yamada begins to change. When Ichiro comes home after staying away with Kenji, the reader gains a sense of perspective into the masculine culture of Mr. Yamada’s youth.
At the beginning of chapter five, Ichiro’s perception of his father gives us a piece of this insight into the life of Japanese immigrant youth as experienced by Ichiro’s father and his generation. On page 97, Ichiro’s internal narration tells us: “He could imagine what it must have been like for the young Japanese new to America and slaving at a killing job on the railroad in Montana under the scorching sun and in the choking dust.” The expectations of a backbreaking and unrelenting existence in which the only concrete reality of masculine existence is to commit oneself entirely to the physicality to the male body, through which masculinity can be experienced genuinely.
The necessary dedication to masculine physicality that was so concretely present throughout Mr. Yamada’s youth is something that has remained, up until this point, almost entirely shrouded from the audience. This is the first glimpse that we get of anything other than the soft and gentle-minded man who stays at home, cooking for his family and quietly caring for the family’s small grocery store. There is an almost effeminate sense to Mr. Yamada’s character as we see him in Ichiro’s narration of the story, but the insight that we gain through Ichiro’s narrowly constructed tangent of his imagination.
Overall, my question is how the way that the construction of masculinity of Japanese American immigrant culture works in connection to the construction of masculinity in the American-born Japanese population. Does the culture of masculinity, in its many differences between these generations, play a role in Ichiro’s decision not to fight for the United States against Japan? Can the antithesis between two such vastly different constructions of masculinity be reconciled within him?