R. Childan's peaceful morning at his antique shop is shattered when he receives a call from the irritated Mr. Tagomi, who does not understand why the item he ordered - a civil war recruitment poster - has not arrived yet. Anxiously, Childan attempts to explain that it has simple not arrived yet, and hastily makes an appointment for Mr. Tagomi to come in a choose a replacement item.
A charming young Japanese couple comes in to peruse the merchandise, and Childan strikes up a friendly conversation with them. Intrigued by his goods, they invite him to come over their home for a private showing of his goods. Childan is excited about this opportunity and quite taken with the couple, especially the young woman. The meeting almost makes him forget about his impending meeting with Mr. Tagomi.
He ponders the state of things and his options for the future. The Japanese and Germans have joint control of the United States, the Japanese having taken over the Pacific States and the Germans laying claim to the east. A small free corridor exists in the Rocky Mountain States, but this tiny nation is impoverished and weak.
Frank shaves and listens to the updates on the radio. The Germans are colonizing Mars and the moon while the Pacific empire is still bogged down in conflicts in South America. He thinks briefly of the Nazi experiment that left billions dead in Africa, and shivers. Though he still harbors some dislike for the Japanese occupiers, at least they don’t commit genocide on such a grand scale as the Reich.
Frank consults his copy of the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination manual. He throws down the yarrow sticks, which form symbols that correspond to those presented in the book. He asks how to best approach Wyndam-Matson, and the oracle tells him that it is best to be humble. He also asks, as he always does, if he will see his wife Juliana again. She is a beautiful woman, and despite her many negative qualities (such as giving strangers an awkward smile), he loves her greatly.
Contemplating his lost wife and his impending confrontation, Frank wonders who else is consulting the I Ching at this moment in the great city of San Francisco.
Nobusuke Tagomi has just finished consulting his copy of the I Ching. He is awaiting a client arriving by high-tech German rocket, and seeks a way to please him. He tries to think of conversation topics to discuss with Mr. Baynes, the Swedish diplomat, and hopes that Childan will find a suitable gift.
His secretary, Miss Ephrekian, brings a tape recorder so Tagomi can record the results of his I Ching consultation. He receives an ominous result and so he calls in Mr. Ramsay, a pinoc (white collaborator). Tagomi notes that although Ramsay has taken the trouble of darkening his skin color and educating himself on Japanese customs, he is still an American and knows more than Tagomi does about the various priceless artifacts that command so much attention.
Tagomi's meeting with Baynes is especially important because Baynes will be bringing important information about plastics production. Plastics have made possible the interplanetary colonization efforts of the Germans, and one of their companies has a monopoly on the product, which makes it immensely difficult for the Japanese to keep up technologically. Tagomi's meeting with Baynes could change all of that.
Tagomi has his own speculations as well. He received a coded cable from Tokyo, utilizing a poetic allusion to suggest at Baynes is not what he seems. After consulting his I Ching, Tagomi is quite certain that Baynes is a spy.
Having assembled a vast collection of Americana, Childan hails a pedicab and heads to Tagomi's office. He goes over proper Japanese customs in his mind, and wonders what he will do if he meets a slave. Slaves are only allowed in the Reich-controlled south, but sometimes ships stop in with slaves to carry out the goods.
Childan is irritated by these intricate social rules and the pandering attitude he must adopt toward the Japanese, and thinks wistfully of living in Reich-controlled territory. The Germans had been so successful at their aims, and their colonists in the drained Mediterranean seem so productive. Moreover, Childan puts his faith in a nation of white men, disliking the Japanese occupiers.
Still it was a Japanese man - Major Ito Humo - who first got Childan into the antiques business. When Childan worked at a ratty used bookstore. It was Humo who came in asking about 'Horrors of War' cards - collectibles used to play a children's card game. Childan was inspired to launch his own business dealing in Americana.
Childan arrives at Mr. Tagomi's building. He is one of the few white people in the elevator, and mentally prepares himself for this stressful encounter.
Juliana Frink watches one of the high-speed German rockets take off behind the Rocky Mountains. She lives in Canon City, Colorado, part of the narrow corridor that separates German and Japanese-controlled land. She makes a living by teaching judo. Juliana goes to a local diner, where the cook teases her about her connection to the Japanese.
Juliana asks a younger, Italian truck driver about his experiences in German-controlled territory, and asks him if he will be heading back tonight. He replies that he will head back tomorrow.
After the Italian truck driver makes some derogatory comments about the Rocky Mountain States, the fry cook remarks on the brutality and anti-Semitism of the German regime. Juliana narrowly avoids a fight by switching the subject. She herself has no love for the Germans, and thinks that many of their problems stem from sexual dysfunction, going back to Hitler himself, who is rotting away from syphilis.
The young Italian truck driver brings out a pair of quality nylons, and asks if she will drive him to the motel.
Baynes sits in his seat in the high-speed rocket to San Francisco. The young man sitting across from him strikes up a conversation; he is puzzled when Baynes says he does not speak German, an important language in this new world. Baynes explains to the young man – whose name is Alex Lotze – that he is in the plastic business, and Lotze explains that he is an artist going to San Francisco to conduct a goodwill exhibition. The men chat halfheartedly, and Lotze comments that a stadium in San Francisco looks as though a Jew designed it.
Baynes goes cold, disgusted with Lotze’s comment. He ponders the insanity of the Germans, the psychotic streak that runs through them despite their commitment to practicality and hard work. Baynes explains to Lotze that he himself is a Jew; he has had papers manufactured to hide his identity and surgeries to change his appearance to a more Aryan look. Lotze stutteringly threatens to call the security police on him, but Baynes says that his connections – some of them with other secret Jews in top positions – will ensure Lotze’s report is discounted, and perhaps, land him in protective custody. As they disembark, Baynes comments that he might just report Lotze anyhow.
Tagomi greets Baynes at the airport, and presents him with a gift that he claims to have selected from America’s finest art. To Baynes’ astonishment, it is a Mickey Mouse watch. Baynes finds this rather insulting and childish, but Tagomi’s earnestness makes him receive the gift with grace.
"Had you wished American traditional ethnic art objects as a gift?" (Pg. 6.) Childan says this to the Kasouras when they first arrive in his antiques shop; he seeks to curry favor with this charming couple after his difficulties with Mr. Tagomi. Usually we do not consider American culture as traditional or ethnic; however, after the conquest by the Japanese, it is the Americans who are considered exotic by their occupiers, and their history that is put up for sale. This is a reversal of the actual situation as it has played out in history. Childan's painfully awkward Japanese phrasing indicates his desperate desire to please the couple, which could well determine the future direction of his livelihood.
As Tagomi is awaiting more information on the arrival of Mr. Baynes, he receives a coded message from the Home Islands of Japan: it is a reference to an eerie song, "Things are seldom what they seem - skim milk masquerades as cream" (pg. 21). This mysterious message signals two things to Tagomi: firstly, whoever sent him this transmission fears disloyalty from within Japan, and secondly, Mr. Baynes is a spy.
‘A thing that is not what it seems at first is a common theme’ throughout the book. In some cases, people deliberately pretend to be what they are not, "masquerading" as something else, as the song goes. At first glance, it is very difficult to tell the difference between cream and skim milk, but further acquaintance quickly reveals the difference. And so it shall perhaps be with Baynes.
Frank and Baynes represent possible parallel cases of hidden Jewish identity. Frank has taken refuge on the west coast away from Nazi-controlled lands, and has even changed his name to hide his identity. Baynes has gone even further - he says that he has had extensive surgery to conceal his Jewish appearance, and that he has fake papers manufactured by a hidden network of secret Jews in positions of power. It is not clear whether Baynes is actually Jewish or is merely saying these things to be shocking; Baynes' Jewishness does not come up anywhere else in the book. This may be yet another example of the unstable reality created in Dick's novels.
Mr. Ramsay emerges as an example of the pinoc, the white American who serves as a puppet for the Japanese government. Even his physical appearance is a testament to this: he darkens his skin. This is in contrast with the widespread understanding of white skin as an indicator of rank and beauty in our world, as indicated by the lucrative market in skin-whitening creams in many countries.