The more Henry thought about the shabby old knickknacks, the forgotten treasures, the more he wondered if his own broken heart might be found there, hidden among the unclaimed possessions of another time. Boarded up in the basement of a condemned hotel. Lost, but never forgotten. (1.18)
Henry isn't just looking for random objects at the Panama Hotel—he's looking for a connection with Keiko, who he left behind so long ago. He's trying to bring their relationship back up from where it's been lying dormant.
In the middle of the crowd stood Henry, shopping bags hanging at his side. He felt as if he were waking up from a long forgotten dream. A dream he'd once had as a little boy. (1.1)
Seeing the old belongings brought up from the basement of the Panama Hotel gives Henry all the feels. It's as though his long-buried memories are being excavated and brought out for examination.
Henry kept staring at the photo albums, faded reminders of his own school days, looking for someone he'd never find. I try not to live in the past, he thought, but who knows, sometimes the past lives in me. (2.7)
Henry can try as hard as he wants to leave the past behind, but it's always going to come back for him. He might as well embrace it and seek out his first love now that he has the chance.
But that was all Marty knew of his father's childhood, though he did know that his father had had a hard time of it as a child. Why? He never asked, it somehow seemed sacred, and Henry rarely shared. (9.17)
Henry's kept his childhood under wraps all these years, but now he feels like he should share all his memories—both beautiful and painful—with his son. Maybe this will help them to forge a stronger relationship.
"I thought that too at first, but I think a lot of people just don't want to go back. Sometimes that's the best thing to do—to live in the present."
Henry understood. Honestly, he did. He knew what it was like to leave something behind. To move on and live in the future and not relive the past. (13.30-31)
It makes sense to Henry that many people have opted not to collect their belongings from the Panama Hotel. After all, why would they want to relive some of the worst years of their lives?
"People are getting rid of anything that might connect them to the war with Japan. Letters from Nippon. Clothing. It all must go. Too dangerous to keep. Even old photos. People are burning photos of their parents, of their families." (16.10)
The evacuation of Japanese Americans isn't just stripping them of their homes—it's forcing them to destroy mementos of their past and heritage, too. It's taking away all the things that they hold dear.
Henry nodded, taking the handle of the little red wagon, heading for home, down the darkened, empty streets of Japantown. Pulling behind him a lifetime of memories. Memories that he'd hide, and a secret he would keep, somewhere back home. (21.52)
Keiko hasn't just entrusted Henry with some old pictures—she's entrusted him with her family's entire history. Without his help, they'll lose all mementos of shared memories and long-lost family members. No pressure…
"I have though about her." Henry searched for the words, unsure of Marty's reaction. Knowing how much his son loved Ethel, not wanting to trample her memory. "I have thought about her." All the time. Right now, in fact. It would be wrong to tell you that, wouldn't it? "But that was a long time ago. People grow up. They marry, start families. Life goes on." (33.22)
Henry tries not to dwell too much on the past because it's not helpful, especially when he has his own family to care for. Even though he still loves Keiko, he can't let his love get in the way of his current life.
When she asked, "What's become of the old neighborhood—is it still deserted?" he could only say, "It's changed. New businesses have moved in. New people." She seemed to know what that meant. No one seemed to care what happened to what was left of Nihonmachi. (45.11)
As much as Henry wants things to go back to normal, he knows that Nihonmachi will never be the same. The Japantown that he knew as a child is gone forever, and now he just has the memories.
It was during this stolen moment, this spot of quiet melancholy, that Henry saw what he most wanted, and most feared. Standing across the street, staring directly at him, were a pair of beautiful chestnut brown eyes. What did he see in them? He couldn't tell. Sadness and joy? Or was he projecting what was in his own heart? (47.38)
When Henry has finally moved on and fallen in love with Ethel, his past suddenly flashes in the present. He sees Keiko standing across the street and watching him—and it brings back all his memories and sorrows.