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"My name is Ben Uchida. My number is 13559. Actually, it's not just my number, it's my whole family's number. We all have to use that number now, except Papa. He's not going with us."
Ben Uchida[3]

The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Interment Camp is a historical fiction book by Barry Denenberg. It is the sixth in the My Name Is America series. The book was published in September 1999 and was followed by The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung.

Japanese-American Ben Uchida is sent to an internment camp with his family in 1942.


"This book is dedicated to: Megan, Katie, Jasmyn, Beth, April, Henry, Nicole, Kristen, Freddy, Andrea, Kimberly, Valerie, Bette, Mary, Michele, Julia, Teddy, Amber, Amanda, Nadia, Amy, Annie, Bridgett, Krista, Hillari, Shannon, Elizabeth, Edward, Tracy, Allison, Melissa, Jade, Erica, Alyssa, Kelsey, Erin, Rachel, Jamie, Brittany, Samantha, Holly, Kniccoa, Victoria, Alexandra, Eric, Brianna, Shawn, Phillip, Peter, Don, Storrs, Jake, Kassy, McKenna, Molly, Jenna, Christine, Brodie, Sara, Robbyn, Jennifer, Kate, Kayla, Brooke, Sarah, Monica, Tommy, Sylvia, Sabrina, Craig, Tory, Bobbi, Alyson, Keri, Tara, Laurel, Aryn, Rhonda, Jessica, Lauren, Courtney, Leah, Andrew, Michelle, Rosemary, and all those who took the time to write."

Book description[]

"Tuesday, April 21, 1942
I never thought I looked different from the other kids. Never once, even though most of them are Caucasian, except for Billy Smith, who's a Negro, and Charles Hamada, who's part Japanese, part jerk. But now I realized my face
was different. My hair was black. My skin was yellow. My eyes were narrow. It never seemed to matter before, but it sure did matter now. Now my face was the face of the enemy."


Twelve-year-old Japanese-American Ben Uchida is given a journal from his best friend, Robbie Bradley in April 1942. He decides to start by writing about the past few months. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, America is now at war with Japan where his parents were born. Ben's father, Masao, is taken away from their home in San Francisco. The family eventually learn that he is being kept at Missoula, Montana. Months after the attack, the Uchidas are informed that they are being sent to Mirror Lake Internment Camp, where a large number of fellow Japanese-Americans will be detained. The family sell most of their possessions and close up Masao's optometry store.

Ben, his mother, and older sister Naomi board a train and head to northern California. Upon arriving at Mirror Lake, they learn that they will be sharing a small room with another family, namely Mr. Tashima, his sister Mitsuko, and his young son Jimmy. Neither of the families are exactly happy about the living situation, but soon learn to make the best of their circumstances. Meanwhile, Ben meets an older boy named Mike Masuda. The boys become friends after joining the same baseball team for their block. By July, a make-shift school has been set-up for the children to attend. Ben is very disappointed by this development since he had always disliked school and would rather spend his days playing baseball.

One day, Ben sees Mike with Mr. Shibutani, a gambler whom Ben thinks is "creepy." However, when Ben asks about him, Mike denies even knowing him. Just a few days later, the boys play a game involving a knife. Mike hits their other friend Kenny Okada with the knife, hurting him badly. Though it is an accident, Mike does not show any remorse whatsoever. Kenny begins to stay away from Mike, though Ben still continues his friendship with both guys. Everything comes to a head at the baseball championship game. Mike appears to have thrown the game, which results in a fight between him and Kenny. Ben hears rumors of Mike's connection to Mr. Shibutani and that he was "paid off." He then begins avoiding Mike too.

Tensions rise after the shooting and killing of Mr. Watanabe, a friend and neighbor of the Uchidas. An enquiry into the incident claims that Mr. Watanabe was intoxicated and that the soldier acted in self defense. Like Ben, the other internees do not believe this claim which causes further unrest. Following the holidays, a letter from Masao arrives informing them that he will join them at the camp soon. He arrives very sickly and Ben often sees him sitting alone in silence, not like the father he used to know. In February 1943, the internees are given a questionnaire meant to discern their loyalty though most do not realize the implication at the time. Ben's family ultimately answers "Yes" to the two questions.


The Uchidas came back to San Francisco, following their release from the internment camp. Their home had been burned down and the police deemed it "suspicious," but the culprit was never found. Their old landlord, Mr. Mills, took in the family. Masao's health deteriorated rapidly and he passed away in 1945. His wife never remarried. Naomi moved to Denver two years later with her fiancé whom taught high school. They had three sons. Having remained good friends, Ben and Robbie opened a sporting goods store together. Robbie married Veronica Brooks and had two children. Ben never married, but was lovingly known by many as "Uncle Ben."

Mr. Tashima's wife and daughter Midori were killed on August 6, 1945 as a result of the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. Following their release from Mirror Lake, Mr. Tashima, Mitsuko, and Jimmy relocated to Chicago. He became a successful furniture maker with Mitsuko handling the adminstrative end. Jimmy, later called "JT," joined the family business in 1956. Mike was killed during an attempted bank robbery by California state troopers.

Historical Note[]

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the "exclusion of people from any area for military necessity." 120,00 Japanese-Americans, of which seventy percent were citizens by birth, were evacuated and detained. One hundred Japanese-Americans challenged the order but the Supreme Court upheld it. Associate judge Frank Murphy later called the order "the legalization of racism." Despite these injustices, thousands of Japanese-Americans volunteered to serve the Armed Forces and formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They became the "most decorated fighting unit of its size in American military history."

America had a history of discriminatory laws against Asians. In 1907, Japan agreed to limit emigration to the United States in what is called the Gentlemen's Agreement. Furthermore, the first alien land law was passed in California, barring Asians from owning land. There was a "rising anti-Japanese sentiment" following World War I. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Asian Exclusion Act, stopped all Asian immigration to the United States until 1952. Fourteen photographs and a map are included. The section concludes with a short biography on Toyo Miyatake, whom became known for his photography of the internment of Japanese-Americans. He photographed the boy featured on the cover.


Main article: List of The Journal of Ben Uchida characters
  • Ben Uchida, a twelve-year-old who is sent to Mirror Lake Internment Camp with his family. He copes with his situation through baseball and a sarcastic sense of humor.
  • Naomi Uchida is Ben's fourteen-year-old sister who is a talented artist. She is completely confident in herself and not afraid to say whatever she is thinking.



Program for the Oregon's Children Theatre

Main article: Citizen 13559: The Journal of Ben Uchida

A stage play based on The Journal of Ben Uchida was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It was first performed in 2006. The play was put on again by the Seattle Children's Theatre in 2018 and the Oregon's Children Theatre in 2020.


Main article: Barry Denenberg

Barry Denenberg is an American author of non-fiction and historical fiction novels. Denenberg began writing biographies at the age of forty. He wrote two books for My Name Is America, including The Journal of William Thomas Emerson. Denenberg is also the author of five books for Dear America and one for The Royal Diaries. He decided to write The Journal of Ben Uchida as he was very interested in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, particularly on the impact it had had on children.


"The author would like to thank Amy Griffin for her sensitive editorial work and Chris Kearin and his fellow "book people" for their help."


  • The portrait on the cover is a detail from a 1944 photograph taken at Manzanar War Relocation Center by Toyo Miyatake, depicting Bruce Sansui.[4][5]
  • The book includes a fold-out photograph of Manzanar with labels pointing out various aspects of it.
  • Denenberg dedicated the book to several children whom wrote to him about his books.[6]
  • Originally Denenberg was going to set the story in Manzanar, but chose to set it in a fictional interment camp so he could portray different aspects of the other camps.[6]
  • In the book, Ben goes to see the 1941 film Citizen Kane. He describes the film in detail, but does not mention it by name.


See also[]

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