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Buddhadharma : Summer 2019
110 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY This bleak chapter was not the end of the story, however, for Nagatomi’s family of origin, or for the more than 100,000 other Japanese Americans who endured the internment camps—nor for Japanese American Buddhism. Though cherished family scriptures that had been passed down for generations may have been lost or destroyed, Japanese American Bud dhists found that the buddhadharma ulti mately did not depend on preserving the literal words on the page; it would rise up with their Buddhist spirits, as if sprouting from the earth itself. In American Sutra, Williams, a profes sor of religion and East Asian languages and cultures at the University of South ern California, offers an account that is remarkable on several fronts. First, it is rich in ethnographic and historiographic detail. And although based primarily on historical records—including publications, official documents, correspondence, and journal entries—many of the cited sources provide firstperson accounts, lending an approachable, human tone to the work. Much of the richness of the narrative derives from Williams’ painstaking effort over many years to collect, sift, and com pile his research into a complex yet emi nently accessible form. Williams frames his account within the larger arc of Japanese Buddhist immigrants arriving in Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States, following their lives up to, through, and after the period of intern ment during the war. Brought into the country as cheap farm labor, deprived of the rights of citizenship and land owner ship, and thrown into internment camps during the war, they were faced with the double whammy of severe racial and religious discrimination as they survived in and emerged from the camps. Yet, throughout their lives, most found ways to live with determination, nurture their religious lives, families, and communities, and slowly build new lives. Although there are other groundbreak ing and eyeopening accounts of the intern ment, such as Lawson Inada and Patricia Wakida’s Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Expe- rience, and Mary Matsuda Gruenewald’s Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps, Williams’ focus on the religious and interreligious context of the internment and his objective, thirdperson lens provides the reader with a distinctive perspective that facilitates historical under standing and contemporary reflection. Williams’ own thorough grounding as a scholar in the field of Japanese Buddhism, and his evenhanded approach, show that internees had to navigate a complex terrain of multiple sectarian identities within Japa nese Buddhism, which required coopera tion, resource sharing, and sometimes the holding of separate services. Among the internees were devotees of Soto and Rinzai Zen, Jodo and Jodo Shinshu Pure Land, Shingon, Nichiren, and Shinto, derived from indigenous practices involving kami, or Japanese gods and goddesses. There was also a smaller, but significant, number of Japanese American Christians who often received more favorable treatment due to their affiliation with the dominant religion in America. When the 442nd—an allJapanese American regiment, and the most deco rated unit in the Second World War— was recruited from among internees and OPPOSITECOURTESYOFTHELIBRARYOFCONGRESS,LC-USW36-786;1939