Interview with Shirley Miller Kamada, author of No Quiet Water


1. I always start with the most obvious request: Please give us a one-sentence synopsis for No Quiet Water.

No Quiet Water is a coming-of-age story about a 10-year-old Japanese American boy, Fumio, who is forced into an internment camp with his family during WWII, and his loyal dog, Flyer, who was left behind.


2. Please tell us a bit about the real-life inspiration behind No Quiet Water

Two years after I married my husband, Jimmy Kamada, I learned of his family’s World War II internment experience. They were incarcerated first in Puyallup at Camp Harmony, and then in Idaho’s Camp Minidoka. His parents were born in Seattle. They were citizens. Realizing I knew nearly nothing about the internment, I began my research. Much of what I learned I felt I should share.

To inspire in a reader a visual image is an effective way to convey the true nature of a situation. “What happened? How did that look?” My hope is to gently urge the[JKaSM1]  reader to ask, “And how did that feel?”


3. I was pleasantly surprised by the first chapter from Flyer’s POV. What brought you to telling the story (at least in part) from the eyes of the farm dog?

When No Quiet Water was still a pup of a story, I was invited to visit Rockin’ Bar Border Collies, where Rod and Debbie Goodwin raise and train these super-intelligent animals. I knew that a border collie—Flyer—must be a primary voice. Flyer, rescued as a pup by Fumio’s grandfather, remained with family friends, the Whitlocks, on Bainbridge Island when the Miyotas were forced to leave.

Border collies are not fighters. It is their nature to "gather together” not only sheep, but ducks and geese and, sometimes, children. Even young dogs have a keen sense of who to trust, and those trusted by a dog feel favored. Border collies are intensely loyal.

Those who would like to know more about border collies [PC2] [JKaSM3] will find an article and a video from “On the Lamb Herding” on my website.

Is a Border Collie the Pet for You? | Shirley Miller Kamada


4. Please tell us a bit about the level of distrust / suspicion of espionage regarding Japanese Americans during this time, and how that shows up in the book.

One of the quotes that resonated with me was when Fumio thinks, simply, “It’s our war.” And yet, they were treated as enemies in their own country. Can you speak to this a bit–how it resonates through the book and your conversations with those who remember the internment camps?

At ten years of age—the very age at which, in my teaching days, classroom Social Studies lessons centered on United States history—Fumio understood that he and his family had been targeted and betrayed by their own country. Community leaders of Japanese heritage were quickly taken into custody after the bombing of the fleet in Pearl Harbor. Records show that the government had, for decades, tracked Japanese Americans who had any sort of influence.

In No Quiet Water, Fumio’s friend Joey’s father was taken from the family home and consigned to a Justice Department camp because he was president of the island’s Farmers Association, despite that he had promoted raising additional crops to help the Allied war effort.

Fumio would have known that Japanese Americans already serving in the military had been reassigned to lower-level duties. Soon, Japanese Americans would not be accepted for military service. Finally, they were drafted and those who did not report were jailed.

I am interested in the question, “How does this resonate in conversations with those who remember the internment?” but I cannot answer it directly. Those who were adults in camp locked the memories in compartments they seldom opened. My husband has said the camps were not discussed even among family. There was a silent agreement: Let the past be the past.


5. One of the most inspiring parts of the book is the attempt to find or make beauty even in such difficult times. Why did you choose drumming specifically?

Visiting Japan to see relatives, Jimmy and I were thrilled to find that KODO, a world-renowned taiko group, was performing near our hotel. The taiko drummers were friendly. Youngsters in the audience were encouraged to try instruments. The performance was uplifting. The drumbeat became the heartbeat of those gathered.

Intrigued, I found Heidi Varian’s authoritative book, The Way of Taiko.

Taiko drumming is over a thousand years old. Author Heidi Varian has written, “The taiko drum makes so powerful a sound that in ancient times it was said the boundaries of a Japanese village were determined by how far the sound of the village drum carried. … The taiko symbolized community.”

My inclusion of ensemble taiko drumming was an artistic decision. In the 1940s, the drums accompanied Obon ceremonies, and they were used to provide rhythm for the study of martial arts. Ensemble taiko performances are cited as having appeared in 1951. My belief is that growth toward ensemble performance began earlier, and Fumio would have found the dojo both a haven and a place of growth.


6. I thought it was interesting that there were such different ideas about what needed to be done: those who only wanted to do what was asked, those who wanted peaceful protests (writing to government officials, contributing editorials, working to prove good citizens), and those who wanted their resistance to be seen.

I’m glad to address this question! This is a key consideration in our understanding of the actions of Japanese Americans living in the military zones of the western United States.

Younger generations, especially, ask, “Why didn’t Japanese Americans protest? Why didn’t they push back?” It’s important to know that they did protest, but not in ways we might identify as such today.

Those who were to be interned had few options. Strict curfews were put in place and travel was disallowed. Bank accounts were frozen. For a brief time, they were given the choice to move out of military zones, but permission was rescinded abruptly, and only a very small number were able to do so.

A priority for most Japanese Americans was the health and safety of their families. They felt that the most effective way to prove themselves “good Americans” was to live as Americans, to demonstrate American values, trusting that the government had their best interests at heart. Prejudice, though, was rampant and was turned to profit-making by those who chose to leverage it, building barracks and installing facilities to isolate Japanese living in the country legally and, also, United States citizens.

As one form of resistance, letter writing campaigns were launched, notably by women such as Mothers of Minidoka, urging that their sons not be drafted from internment to the military, but to first acknowledge their rights as citizens and free them and their families.

Nina Wallace, with Densho, The Legacy Project, writes, “The First Lady was the only person to respond to the Mothers’ Society of Minidoka petition in a hurried letter dictated to a secretary because ‘Mrs. Roosevelt had to leave before signing.’” Responses to letters of petition from other women’s organizations “ranged from curt to patronizing to vaguely threatening,” such as one from Dillon Myer that “simultaneously thanked the mothers for their ‘devotion… to the democratic principles’ and warned them against ‘indicating reluctance to contribute to the winning of the war.’” Imagine, this in response to a letter.

An example of perhaps more active resistance, regarding conditions at Camp Minidoka: On January 6, 1944, seventy-five Issei and Nisei women marched on the offices of Assistant Project Director R.S. Davidson and held an eight-hour sit-in, demanding that camp administrators meet with striking boilermen and janitors and restore hot water to the camp. This effort by the women met with success.

The protests of the 1960s were more publicly visible. Yuri Kochiyama took inspiration from Malcolm X whom she met in October 1963. Her subsequent activism was admittedly controversial. We see in it, though, how resistance to human rights violations changed in later years.


7. Where will your writing take you next? 

            I have begun a novella in which Fumio’s best friend Zachary Whitlock will, in his own words, tell about his experiences as a youth on Bainbridge Island during World War II. Zachary’s family belonged to the Friends Church, a Peace Church. I am drawn to delve into his perspective. I want, also, to follow his path to adulthood and consider how his early experiences influenced his later life.


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Related to Question 3: Rockin’ Bar Border Collies, Rod and Debbie Goodwin,


Related to Question 5: The Way of Taiko, Heidi Varian, Stonebridge Press, Second Edition, 2013.


Related to Question 6: A Brief History of Japanese American Relocation During World War II (U.S. National Park Service) (


Issei Mothers Played an Important—and Largely Forgotten—Role in the Japanese American Draft Resistance Movement - Densho: Japanese American Incarceration and Japanese Internment


You can keep up with Shirley Miller Kamada at her author site, and order No Quiet Water here.