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Yoshiko Uchida

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Yoshiko Uchida
Born(1921-11-24)November 24, 1921
Alameda, California, US
DiedJune 21, 1992(1992-06-21) (aged 70)
Berkeley, California, US[1]
Genrefiction, folktales, nonfiction, autobiography
Literary movementFolk Art Movement
Notable worksThe Invisible Thread
RelativesMichiko Kakutani (niece)[2]

Yoshiko Uchida (November 24, 1921 – June 21, 1992) was a Japanese American writer of children's books intended to share Japanese and Japanese-American history and culture with Japanese American children. She is most known for her series of books, starting with Journey to Topaz (1971) that took place during the era of the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. She also authored an adult memoir centering on her and her family's wartime internment (Desert Exile, 1982), a young adult version her life story (Invisible Thread, 1991), and a novel centering on a Japanese American family (Picture Bride, 1987).[3]

Early life[edit]

Yoshiko Uchida was born in Alameda, California, on November 24, 1921. She was the daughter of Takashi ("Dwight," 1884-1971), and Iku Umegaki Uchida (1893-1966) who were both Issei. Her father, Takashi, was a businessman who worked for Mitsui before he was interned. Her mother, Iku, who with Yoshika's father graduated from Doshisha University. She also had an older sister, Keiko ("Kay," 1918-2008, mother of former New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani and married to mathematician Shizuo Kakutani).[3]

She attended Longfellow School in Berkeley and University High School in Oakland.[4] She graduated from high school in 2 1/2 years and enrolled at University of California, Berkeley.[3] In 1942, Uchida graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a B.A. in English, philosophy, and history. [4]


Yoshiko was in her senior year at U.C. Berkeley when the Japanese attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Soon after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all Japanese Americans on the west coast to be rounded up and imprisoned in internment camps. Uchida's father was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the whole family was interned for three years, first at Tanforan Racetrack in California, and then in Topaz, Utah. In the camps, Yoshiko taught school and had the chance to view the injustices that the Americans were perpetrating and the varying reactions of Japanese Americans towards their ill-treatment.[3]

In 1943 Uchida was accepted to graduate school at Smith College in Massachusetts, and allowed to leave the camp, but her years there left a deep impression.[3] Her 1971 novel, Journey to Topaz, is fiction, but closely follows her own experiences, and many of her other books deal with issues of ethnicity, citizenship, identity, and cross-cultural relationships.[3]


Over the course of her career, Yoshiko Uchida published more than thirty books, including non-fiction for adults, and fiction for children and teenagers from 1949 to 1991.[5]

Yoshiko's career began in Philadelphia after accepting a teaching job at a Quaker school.[6] She spent several years there before moving to New York.[citation needed] Here she worked as a secretary as well as began her writing career. She began submitting her work with no result. her first publication came in 1949 with the The Dancing Kettle and Other Japanese Folk Tales. This is where she began to gain traction in her writing career as she published many more children's books. Through these publications, she was known for creating Japanese American children's literature, as there had never been published works for Asian literature prior. In 1952, she was taken on a 2 year research fellowship in Japan that gave her the information needed to create three more collections of folktales.[7] In the early 1980's, Uchida traveled, lectured and earned more than 20 awards for her works. During this time, she created her 1982 autobiography, Desert Exile, examining her experiences of her and her families internment. In addition to Desert Exile, many of her other novels including Picture Bride, A Jar of Dreams, and The Bracelet deal with Japanese American impressions of major historical events including World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the racism endured by Japanese Americans during these years.

I try to stress the positive aspects of life that I want children to value and cherish. I hope they can be caring human beings who don't think in terms of labels—foreigners or Asians or whatever—but think of people as human beings. If that comes across, then I've accomplished my purpose.[8]

Work on Japanese folk pottery[edit]

In 1952, Uchida received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to study the folk pottery movement in Japan.[9] She spent two years researching and becoming acquainted with major figures in that artistic current, including Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai. Uchida wrote a book with Kawai, We Do Not Work Alone: The Thoughts of Kanjiro Kawai.[10] She collected several pots by Hamada and Kawai that she later donated to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.[11]



This is a partial list of Uchida's published work. Yoshiko Uchida wrote 34 books.


  1. ^ "Yoshiko Uchida, 70, A Children's Author", The New York Times, June 24, 1992
  2. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (July 13, 2018), "I Know What Incarceration Does to Families. It Happened to Mine.", The New York Times
  3. ^ a b c d e f Niiya, Brian. "Yoshiko Uchida". Densho. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Finding Aid to the Yoshiko Uchida papers 1903-1994". oac.cdlib.org. Retrieved April 1, 2024.
  5. ^ "Yoshiko Uchida, 70, A Children's Author". The New York Times. June 24, 1992. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 8, 2024.
  6. ^ Wallace, Nina (November 23, 2021). "Yoshiko Uchida's Remarkable—and Underappreciated—Literary Career". Densho: Japanese American Incarceration and Japanese Internment. Retrieved April 8, 2024.
  7. ^ "» Yoshiko Uchida Biography | Life, Facts & Illustrated Books | Golden Age Children's Book Illustrations". www.nocloo.com. July 3, 2020. Retrieved April 8, 2024.
  8. ^ Grice, Helena. "Yoshiko Uchida" in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 312: Asian American Writers. Gale, 2005.
  9. ^ Uchida, Yoshiko. "Fellowship application to John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; October 11, 1958" (PDF).
  10. ^ Uchida, Yoshiko (1973). We Do Not Work Alone: The Thoughts of Kanjiro Kawai. Kanjiro Kawai's House.
  11. ^ Asian Art Museum. "Description of plate by Hamada Shoji". Asian Art Museum Online Collection. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c "Mapping Literary Utah - Yoshiko Uchida". mappingliteraryutah.org. Retrieved April 1, 2024.

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