Mitsuye Yamada

Mitsuye Yamada. Courtesy Persimmon Tree.

Mitsuye Yamada
Born July 5, 1923 (1923-07-05) (age 97)
Fukuoka, Japan
Nationality United States American
Parents Jack Kaichiro Yasutake and Hide Shiraki Yasutake
Relatives Seiichi Yasutake

Mitsuye Yamada (born July 5, 1923) is a Japanese-American poet, essayist, story writer, editor, and academic.


Youth and educationEdit

Mitsuye Yamada was born as Mitsuye Yasutake in Fukuoka, Japan. Her parents were Jack Kaichiro Yasutake and Hide Shiraki Yasutake, both 1st-generation Japanese Americans (Issei) who were visiting Japan when she was born. Her older brother, Seiichi Yasutake (known as "Mike"), was born in the US. Her family returned to the U.S. in 1926 and settled in Seattle, Washington.

Jack Yasutake was the founder and president of the Senryu (Japanese poet) Society in Seattle and an interpreter for the U.S. Immigration Service during World War II. At the time, Japanese society did not offer the opportunity to women to decide how to live their lives; they were unable to obtain higher education or choose a husband on their own. Yamada's own ordeal during World War II and observations of her mother's way of life bring anti-racist and feminist attitudes to her works.[1]

Yamada spent most of her childhood and youth in Seattle, Washington.[2] Mitsuye's father was arrested by the FBI for espionage after the U.S joined the Second World War. In 1942, Mitsuye and her family were interned at Minidoka War Relocation Center, Idaho. She was allowed to leave the camp with her brother because they renounced loyalty to the Emperor of Japan; she went to the University of Cincinnati in 1944.[3] Mitsuye and her brother were both allowed to leave the camp in order to attend college and work (Usui, 2002), and both attended the University of Cincinnati. Mike was soon expelled because the U.S. Air Force was conducting "sensitive wartime research on campus and requested his removal" which was thought to be incompatible with his status as a Japanese American male and a pacifist, but Mitsuye was allowed to continue studying at the University (Yamada, 1981).

Yamada began her studies at the University of Cincinnati. She left in 1945 to attend New York University, where she received a B.A. in English and Art in 1947. She earned an M.A. in English Literature and Research from the University of Chicago in 1953.

Private lifeEdit

Mitsuye became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1955. She considers herself Nisei (2nd-generation Japanese American).

She married Yoshikazu Yamada in 1950. They had four children: Jeni, Stephen, Douglas, and Hedi. As of 2010, Yamada has 7 grandchildren: Aaron, Jason, Adam, Alana, Evan, Mia and Emi.


Yamada began teaching at Cypress College in 1968, and retired in 1989 as a professor of English.

She wrote her debut collection, Camp Notes, and other poems, during and just after her internment during the Second World War, but it remained unpublished until 1976.

She contributed 2 essays to This Bridge Called My Back: Radical writings from women of color. (1981) “Invisibility as an Unnatural Disaster” reflects the double invisibility of being both Asian and a woman while “Asian Pacific American Women and Feminism” urges women of color to develop a feminist agenda that addresses their particular concerns. That same year, Yamada joined Nellie Wong in a biographical documentary on public television, Mitsuye and Nellie: 2 Asian-American woman poets.” The film tells of actual events that happened to the speakers and their parents, grandparents, and relatives. It uses poetry to tell Asian American history of biculturalism.[4]


Yamada's earliest publication was Camp Notes, and other poems. The book is a chronological documentary, beginning with "Evacuation" from Seattle, moving in the camp through "Desert Storm," and concluding with poems recounting the move to Cincinnati. "Cincinnati" illustrates the visible racial violence and "The Question of Loyalty" shows the invisible humiliation of the Japanese during World War II. With this publication, Yamada challenged Japanese traditions that demand silence from the female.

In this collection, the "wartime conflicts of Japanese Americans are traced back to the injustice of Executive Order 9066 and to visible and invisible racism against Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry both inside and outside the camp." (Usui, 2002). Yamada's professed purpose for writing is to encourage Asian American women to speak out and defy the cultural codes that encourage them to be silent. (Sheffer, 2003). Yamada recognizes that Asian American women have not been fully represented as "sites of complex intersections of race, gender, and national identity." (Yamamoto, 2000). Yamada once said, "Asian Pacific women need to affirm our culture while working within to change it." (Geok-Lin, 1993).

Desert Run: Poems and stories returns to her experience at the internment camp. Here, Yamada explores her heritage and discovers that her identity involves a cultural straddle between Japan and the US, which she describes in "Guilty on Both Counts. " Some poems, especially "The Club," indicate that Yamada expanded her point of view to include feminist as well as racist issues because they recount sexual and domestic violence against women. Some of her poems are revisions of earlier versions in Camp Notes. The book contains the history and transition of the Japanese American in the U.S., including Yamada's perspective on gender discrimination.


  • "I have thought of myself as a feminist first, but my ethnicity cannot be separated from my feminism."(Kolmar, 319).
  • "A movement that fights sexism in the social structure must deal with racism, and we had hoped the leaders in the women’s movement would be able to see the parallels in the lives of the women of color and themselves, and would ‘join’ us in our struggle and give us ‘input’." (Kolmar, 319).
  • "White sisters should be able to see that political views held by women of color are often misconstrued as being personal rather than ideological. Views critical of the system held by a person in an out-group are often seen as expressions of personal angers against the dominant society." (Kolmar, 319).
  • "I find myself, as I get older, assuming a more political stance in my writings. I have moved from writing intensely personal poetry to writing essays on social and political issues. The reason for this progression in my writings is that my identity as an Asian American and my identity as a woman is just beginning to merge within me as a singular identity and I am feeling a missionary zeal to let others know about it." (Yamada)
  • "Being a feminist activist is more dangerous for women of color." (Geok-Lin, 571).


In 1982, she received a Vesta Award from the Los Angeles Woman's Building.[5]



  • Camp Notes, and other poems. San Lorenzo, CA: Shameless Hussy Press, 1976; Latham, NY: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, 1992;


  • 3 Asian American Writers Speak out on Feminisim (with Merle Woo & Nellie Wong). San Francisco: SF Radical Women, [1979?]; Seattle, WA: Radical Women Publications, 2003. ISBN 0-9725403-5-0

Collected editionsEdit

  • Desert Run: Poems and stories. Latham, NY: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, 1989.


  • Sowing Ti Leaves: Writings by multicultural women (edited with Sarie Sachie Hylkema). Irvine, CA: MCWW Press, 1991.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[6]

Audio / videoEdit

Mitsuye Yamada

Mitsuye Yamada



  • Mitsuye and Nellie: Asian American poets (VHS, with Nellie Wong). New York: Women Make Movies, 1981.

See alsoEdit


  • Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. (1993, Fall). Feminist and ethnic literary theories in Asian American literature. Feminist Studies, 19, 571.
  • Kolmar, W., & Bartkowski, F. (Eds.). (1999). Feminist theory: A reader. California: Mayfield Publishing company.
  • Sheffer, J. (2003). Three Asian American writers speak out on feminism. Iris, 47, 91.
  • Usui, M. The Literary Encyclopedia [Online Database] Yamada, Mitsuye. (March 21, 2002). Retrieved November 14, 2005, from
  • Wong, N., Woo, M., Yamada, M. Three Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism, Radical Women Publications, 2003.
  • Yamada, M. (1981). Invisibility is an unnatural disaster: Reflections of an Asian American woman. In C. McCann, & S. Kim (eds.), Feminist theory reader: Local and global perspectives (pp. 174– 178). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Books, Inc.
  • Yamamoto, T. (January 31, 2000). In/Visible difference:Asian American women and the politics of spectacle. Race, Gender, & Class,1, 43.


  1. Jaskoski, Helen. "A MELUS Interview : Mitsuye Yamada. " MELUS 15 (1988):97-108. Los Angeles: Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.)
  2. Jaskoski, Helen. "A MELUS Interview : Mitsuye Yamada. " MELUS 15 (1988):97-108. Los Angeles: Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.
  3. Jaskoski, Helen. "A MELUS Interview : Mitsuye Yamada. " MELUS 15 (1988):97-108. Los Angeles: Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.)
  4. Schweik,Susan. "A Needle with Maura's Voice: Mitsuye Yamada's Camp Notes and the American Canon of War Poetry. " A Gulf So Deeply Cut. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press. 1991.)
  6. Search results = au:Mitsuye Yamada, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, May 2, 2015.

External linksEdit

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