“Wilshire Bus” Summary by Hisaye Yamamoto

Wilshire Bus Summary by Hisaye Yamamoto
“Wilshire Bus” Summary

“Wilshire Bus” is a short story by Hisaye Yamamoto from her collection Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories. It’s about an affecting and upsetting experience a Japanese woman has while riding the bus when a drunk, belligerent man gets on and starts taunting an elderly Chinese couple. Here’s a summary of “Wilshire Bus”.

“Wilshire Bus” Summary

For three months, Esther Kuroiwa rode the bus along Wilshire Boulevard to the soldiers’ hospital where her husband was getting treatment for an old back injury. She took the bus on Wednesdays; her friends were able to drive her on Sundays. She enjoyed the ride—her seat companions were usually amiable and the glass-heavy architecture of the buildings was impressive.

On one of these bus trips, Esther failed to act when she felt she should have. She cried over it at the time and it continued to bother her long after.

Early in the route, a handsome, greying, extroverted man gets on the bus and makes a loud joke to the driver. At the next stop, a bunch of people get on, including an elderly Asian couple. The woman sits next to Esther, near the front, while her husband talks to the driver. Esther believes they’re Chinese, and the man has to repeat his questions to the driver a few times to be understood. The man then sits in the seat across from his wife.

The extroverted man from earlier, sitting behind Esther, starts talking loudly about a local celebrity with large investments in the buildings they pass. He claims the man is miserly although Esther has heard he’s quite charitable. She can tell the man is drunk.

Her seat companion turns around to look at the loud speaker. Noticing her, the man challenges her, telling her to go back to China if she doesn’t like it. He continues mocking her with racial taunts. The man laughs and looks around for support. No one says anything. A man in glasses looks at her with sympathy but she doesn’t seem to notice.

Esther pretends to look out the window and feels detached. She wonders if she’s being included in the man’s rant, or if it’s obvious she’s Japanese. She’s surprised to realize she’s pleased that Chinese people are being targeted in this case.

Wilshire Bus Summary Hisaye Yamamoto
“Wilshire Bus” Summary, Continued

She’s reminded of a time shortly after being released from the internment camp when she was on the streetcar and saw an Asian man waiting. She looked at him kindly, but was thrown when she saw a button on his jacket that said I AM KOREAN. She had heard of the I AM CHINESE buttons, so this is understandable. She thinks that an I AM JAPANESE button would be useful right now.

Realizing her failure, she looks at her seatmate and smiles, but the woman is expressionless and cold.

At the next stop, the loud man delivers a final racial taunt before getting off. He’s slightly unsteady as he walks off.

The man with glasses gets up for the next stop and makes an awkward speech to the Chinese couple, and possibly Esther as well, about how everyone doesn’t feel that way and America welcomes everyone. He shakes the Chinese man’s hand.

The rest of the ride is uneventful. Esther gets off at the soldiers’ hospital and so do the Chinese couple. Esther remembers something she once read, about not paying attention to people when they’ve been drinking. She thinks, perhaps, that’s the only time to pay them attention. She thinks of this until her detachment fades away and she’s left reeling with the sickening sensation that there’s nothing solid she can come to grips with.

On seeing her husband, she runs to him and breaks into tears. He’s flattered she misses him so much and he looks smugly at his roommates. She goes along with his interpretation.

I hope this “Wilshire Bus” summary was helpful.