Restless Wave: My Life in Two Worlds was described by Ishigaki as a novelistic semi-autobiographical text. Originally written under the penname Haru Matsui, the book speaks loudly to women - in a very real way - about forging one's own path in life and resisting conformity. Haru the novelistic representation of Ishagaki, is born into a privileged family in Japan during a traditional, yet pivotal time in Japanese history. Haru is an observant narrator, recounting her life with detail and poise. Sensitive, she questions purpose and practice, revealing at an early age her innate desire for independence. Her story is significant because it gives a voice to the women who were questioning the restrictive culture to which they were born. Ishigaki chronicles her life in Japan, from being exposed to the traditions of Japan and learning to balance Western influence. Her life takes her to America, as she challenges convention and discovers her inner self.
Ishigaki explores the multiple sets of worlds Haru simultaneously inhabits: Japan and the United States, tradition and modernity, men's and women's experiences, upper and working class and Japanese America and White America. As one of the very first English novels written by a Japanese woman, Restless Wave is a testament to the "restless metamorphosis of women" (RW afterword).
A Japanese woman was meant to live in complete submission to the men in her life, beginning with her father, then her husband and, if she should be widowed, her son. Women were to become wives and mothers, respecting and obeying men completely. Haru felt the void of losing the women in her life, including her mother, grandmother, and stepmother, all at a young age. These losses impacted her growing up years deeply, and shaped her life's ambition.
Haru's traditional grandmother participated in her domestic education, including lessons in the tea ceremony, floral arranging, cooking, sewing, and correspondence. Though Haru enjoyed these lessons, she still defied marriage and questioned female choices of the time, including her own sister's marriage.
Haru spends the majority of her childhood in Second Mother's home. Submissive and gentle, Second Mother's death symbolizes the loss of traditions and womanhood Haru will experience as she ages. The loss of Haru's mother-figures contributes to her feelings of unshakable loneliness and isolation. As a child, Haru does not fully understand her mother's death until after the funeral. She states, "I realized I had no mother, and I was lonely" (RW 12). Haru, in her lonely state, throws herself into her studies. She longs to be held in the same positive regard as Elder Sister, who was advantaged enough to be the first-born. While Elder Sister and Younger Brother are in a constant battle for attention, Haru is left out. She is unable to compete with them, so she accepts the little attention she is given and resides in loneliness. Much later, as she moves forward on her path to New York and independence, Haru wonders if she will make a difference, if she is strong enough to forge ahead alone. Her fear and despair are evident when she says, "I was like the leaf of a tree drifting in mid-ocean, shaken by rough waves, and I might even be drowned. I was like a small bird released from his cage who now sat shivering on the winter-withered branch, not at all the bird he had hoped to be. I who had been like a potted plant grown in a greenhouse, was now a wild flower exposed to cutting wind and the freezing cold of the winter storm" (RW 205).
Haru's father is a professor, which classifies him as an educated and wealthy man. He carries himself with dignity and demands the same from his family. Although Haru is her father's child, and therefore a dignified and privileged young woman, her low rank within the family causes her to identify more with the working-class and the poor. She begins to imitate role models outside her family. When she pours her bean soup over her rice her father immediately corrects her, informing her that it is not a proper way for a lady to act. Later, Haru is caught imitating the song and dance of the candy vendors. She "sang the song of the tragic experience of a girl who dared to fall in love" (RW 35). As a punishment, she is not permitted to go to the business section of the city again. Haru is hurt by her father's sternness, and the absence of the song and dance in her life reaffirms her loneliness. This relationship to the working class and the poor foreshadows the path that Ishigaki's own life will one day follow, the path chosen over the male-dominated home of her father.
Haru's experiences are all shaped by the question of national identity as she struggles against class distinction and a patriarchal society. Ishigaki skillfully uses Haru's experiences to "liberate herself and to resist the encroachment of similarly regressive attitudes in the form of class snobbery and militarism" (RW 276) to reveal how "the experience of gender impacts on struggles over national identity and social justice" (RW 276). Through Haru, Ishigaki is able to tangibly identify with her "struggle to resist Japanese nationalism and militarism in China, precisely because it leads to authoritarian gender and social relations in Japan" (RW 281). Thus, Ishigaki crafts a compelling argument around this young girl's life that women play a significant role in the political arena - whether they are acknowledged as significant by their society or not.
Haru continues to develop her sympathy towards those who are oppressed by the social hierarchy that had controlled her own life. She becomes an unpaid worker for a progressive magazine and attends meetings for various social groups. Seeking to warn her about the dangers of her actions, an intelligence officer cautions, "If you frequent such meetings, no one will want you for a bride" (RW 173). At this time in her life Haru is forced to choose between the social importance of her meetings, and her ability to become a suitable bride. She chooses her meetings, devaluing the most important role she is expected to fulfill as a woman. While Elder Sister has already taken a husband, fulfilling her womanly commitment, Haru remains unmarried, and is thrown into a detention cell for three days. During the time Haru spends in the detention cell, she toys with the idea of returning to the comforts of her old life and taking a husband. Instead, the pain she witnesses only fuels her passion for her cause.
Upon her arrival in the United States, Haru is still under her father's control and is wrapped up in her loneliness. She arrives in Washington, trusted to the supervision of her uncle. It is not until the day that she leaves Washington against her father's will and flees to the embrace of the more liberal New York City that she is able to claim her independence. In New York, Haru is free to live her life, "unprotected by her father's name and position" (RW 212). New York is filled with new women, and Haru is able to flourish. Against her father's wishes, she marries her lover, and in doing so eliminates her father from her life. Although it is heartbreaking for her to give up her father, she finds that she can no longer be a part of his world.
The book concludes with Haru as a working class woman. She is left to "wonder with what thoughts [her father] regards the daughter whose eyes were opened by him" (RW251). One might search for a strong female role model, a great new woman in Haru's life, but such a woman was not present. Instead, it was her father's sense of pride and demand for education that allowed her to evolve into the strong and socially conscious woman that will be remembered fondly in feminist history. Restless Wave therefore serves as a testament to the power women hold, if they dare. Women can and have made a difference for themselves and for others when they work at it and get involved and speak their minds. This memoir perfectly compliments Ishigaki's career as a feminist and political activist, because it delivers a powerful message of the will to survive long enough to see change.