Naomi Hirahara

Naomi Hirahara is the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Kibei Nisei gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes, Officer Ellie Rush series, and now the new Leilani Santiago mysteries. A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo, she has written a number of nonfiction books on the Japanese American experience and several 12-part serials for Discover Nikkei.

Updated October 2019

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Silk

Chapter Nine—Pickles and the Promised Land

Matsugoro Ohto wiped the sweat off of his forehead as he and his fellow carpenter, Kuninosuke “Kuni” Masumizu, took a break from their woodworking project inside the Veerkamp family’s barn on Gold Hill. Led by the family’s German patriarch, Francis, the Veerkamps were plentiful. By last count, Matsugoro thought that there might be at least six children, all boys.

His fellow Japanese countryman, Kuni, was more than twenty years younger than him. Kuni, in fact, was about the same age as Francis’s oldest son, Henry. Matsugoro was not intimidated by Kuni’s youthful strength. He had learned ...

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Silk

Chapter Eight—Death of the Mulberry Tree

Keiko Shinshi hadn’t been feeling well for days. 

Her husband, Tatsutaro, thought it was because the last mulberry tree in the colony had died. Their silkworm room seemed like a gravesite, with the remains of shriveled up caterpillars lining the floor. A few cocoons were hanging from trees branches that his wife brought in. It was quite a barbaric process, with the cocoons being dropped into boiling vats of water so that the silk exteriors could be removed. In other words, the silkworms were cooked alive.

The production of silk had been Keiko’s consuming activity ever since they ...

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Silk

Chapter Seven—A Night in San Francisco

Among the Japan-born Wakamatsu colonists, Makoto and Kuni were the strongest English speakers. As a result, when the colony’s founder, John Henry Schnell, announced that he would be taking a trip to San Francisco to meet with some Japanese envoys, as well as do research into future agricultural exhibitions, he asked these two men to accompany him.

Makoto was elated. He had a visible scar in the middle of his face, a remnant from a failed battle to save their beloved castle in Japan, but one of his roommates, Kintaro, suffered from more psychic wounds. Kintaro had tried to ...

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Silk

Chapter Six—Okei: Star Stories

Okei Ito hated mosquitos. In the California inaka, they seemed to swarm everywhere, breeding in water collected in surrounding ditches. In these same ditches, old miners, still fueled by the twenty-year-old dream of striking it rich, spent hours panning for gold.

She wasn’t used to all the mosquitos. She, like the other Wakamatsu colonists, were from northern Japan. Even in the middle of summer, it was cooler back home. Light rain would even fall at times. In contrast, the weather in Gold Hill was hot and dry. Those water-filled ditches, those were the culprits. If it weren’t for ...

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Silk

Chapter Five—Kuninosuke Masumizu: Lightning in a Bottle

“Kuni, place your bet,” the miner said, first in English and then in his native Portuguese.

Kuninosuke Masumizu, called Kuni in this nighttime gambling den behind a Chinese store, was known for his facility with languages. He spoke Japanese, of course, and had picked up English faster than the other Wakamatsu colonists. His visits to the gambling den came in handy in exposing him to new languages.

Five of them were assembled around a table, a metal square tray in front of them. Each corner was numbered from one to four. The Brazlian miner was the banker; he watched as ...

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