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Ghost of Honor John Okada

Born in 1923 in Seattle and raised there by his issei parents, John Okada was a college freshman at the University of Washington when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Sent along with his entire family to a “relocation center” in southern Idaho, Okada joined the thousands of other loyal American nissei in enlisting in the U.S. armed forces.

Okada served in the Army Air Force overflying Japanese positions and translating intercepted radio traffic. After the war he returned to Seattle, earned advanced degrees from both the University of Washington and Columbia University, and wrote his only published novel, No-No Boy, a story about a Japanese-American who refused to fight in World War II and his return home to Seattle after the war.

After several years attempting to get his novel published, Okada found an English language publisher based in Japan willing to invest in a small print run in 1956. The novel was panned by critics and ignored by a public not yet ready to give a hard look at conduct on the home front during the war.

Okada died of a heart attack in 1971. His widow, heart-broken at being unable to find an academic institution willing to take on his papers, burned them, along with a mostly complete draft of a second novel, research notes and all. It was only through the efforts of a determined group of Asian American authors that No-No Boy found new publishers, first the University of Washington Press in 1976, and more recently by Penguin Classics in 2019.

Stanford University’s Asian-American themed dormitory is named in Okada’s honor. Along with his widow and two children, he was also survived by his younger brother, the celebrated abstract impressionist painter Frank Okada. John Okada was laid to rest at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle.

Recommended Reading
 • No-No Boy by John Okada
 • We Hereby Refuse, Frank Abe
 • John Okada: The Life and Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy edited by Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, Floyd Cheung
 • Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
 • Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara
 • The Legacy of No-No Boy by Vince Schleitwiler (University of Washington Magazine article)