37 pages 1 hour read

Milton Murayama

All I Asking for Is My Body

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1975

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Summary and Study Guide


All I Asking for Is My Body (1975) was written by Milton Murayama and is a fictionalized autobiography based on Murayama’s upbringing on a Hawaiian sugar cane plantation in the 1930s. Kiyoshi Oyama, the American son of Japanese immigrants, narrates the story using a mixture of Standard English with Hawaiian English Creole. The novel explores themes of Japanese filial responsibilities as opposed to American individualism and the treatment of Japanese Americans at the start of World War II. The University of Hawaii Press published the book in 1988.

Plot Summary

Kiyo’s parents, Mr. Oyama Isao and Mrs. Ito Sawa, were born in Japan and still adhere to Japanese values such as filial duty and preserving “face.” Mr. Oyama came to America to help his father pay off his debt at the sugarcane plantation. Mrs. Oyama’s family sent her to Hawaii as Mr. Oyama’s bride, and she too worked off her father-in-law’s debt. No longer in debt, Mr. Oyama’s father returned to Japan and left the Oyama’s in Hawaii, penniless. 

When Mrs. Oyama gives birth to a sixth child, the Oyama’s have accumulated over $6,000 in debt. Mr. Oyama quits fishing and moves the family to Kahana to work on a sugar cane plantation. Kiyo’s older brother, Toshio Oyama, reluctantly drops out of school to work the fields and support the family. Tosh’s parents are unable to understand his resentment. As the number one (firstborn) son, he must fulfill his filial duty, and work to support his parents and younger siblings without complaint. As he grows older, this responsibility also falls on Kiyo’s shoulders. 

In the Part 1 of the story, Kiyo is in fourth grade and his parents forbid him from seeing an older friend of his, Makot, whose mother is a prostitute. This is Kiyo’s first glimpse into the Japanese concept that families pay for the sins of their parents. In Part 2, Kiyo’s mother is on the verge of dying. She believes she is suffering because of the family’s debts, as they failed to pay before the New Year. Her husband’s aunt, Obaban, visits her and later dies, offering herself as a sacrificial substitute for the family. 

The final part details December 7, 1941, when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and the Oyamas’ situation changes drastically. Like the other Americans of Japanese descent, the Oyamas wonder whether the government will arrest them or send them to internment camps. They live under martial law and they momentarily forget their debt. The issue of the debt resurfaces when Tosh finds out that both his mother and unmarried sister are pregnant. His resentment about dropping out of school and giving up chances to get off the plantation come to the forefront again. 

Meanwhile, Kiyo joins the army to escape the plantation and prove his loyalty to America. He promises to send some of his earnings to his mother. While watching craps games, he learns how to manipulate the game in his favor and wins $6,000. As the story ends, Kiyo sends the money to his brother, encouraging him to take care of his body, implying that Tosh should use the money to pay off the family’s debt and finally be free. He adds that he’ll see him after the war.