Kosaburo Shimizu: The Early Diaries, 1909-1926
November 4, 2013
Review By Patricia Roy
Many ISSEI , first-generat ion Japanese immigrants, kept diaries – but rarely in English. Now, thanks to translations by his son-in-law, informed and sensitive introductions by his daughter, and the support of other family members, selections from the diaries of Kosaburo Shimizu covering his life from 1909 (his final year in elementary school) to 1926 (when he took charge of Vancouver’s Japanese Methodist Church) have been published in English.
As a thirteen-year-old who had come with his adoptive father from Japan in May 1907, Shimizu became a houseboy in New Westminster, where he cooked, cleaned, and gardened while completing school. In 1915, he entered the new University of British Columbia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree before going to Harvard for a second master’s and to Columbia University for further studies. Financial problems sometimes interrupted his formal education, but he never stopped learning through reading, private tutoring, and correspondence courses.
In his 1915 New Year’s resolution, Shimizu wrote: “I have an obligation and duty to stand up and take leadership … to help people become as God wishes them to be”(95). That resolve marked his career. As a schoolboy he was a “go-between” and interpreter and taught in Methodist missions; before formally studying theology, he took charge of missions to the Japanese in Steveston, Victoria, the Okanagan, and Ocean Falls. Yet this man of boundless energy was also a private person whose love of learning competed with his sense of duty to his family in Japan and to the church that employed him. The pull towards Japan was only partly familial; he contemplated returning for further studies or as a teacher or missionary, and he retained a love for his homeland (for example, he opened a church social event with the singing of Japan’s national anthem). Yet he criticized both University of Tokyo students who wanted to exclude foreign ideas and a Japanese government that imprisoned a journalist for discussing democracy.
Shimizu easily mixed with hakujin (Caucasians). He was elected to the executive of student organizations and participated in campus social life. Yet he could not escape anti-Oriental prejudice. He “felt very chagrined” when a high school teacher used the word “Japs” (29), and he endured the “unbearable” experience of listening to a ubc professor speaking ill of “Orientals” (164). He mused that his church’s failure to take a “bold position” on racial issues par t ly explained Japanese suspicions of Christians (373). Believing that “half the hakujin are either totally ignorant about or are prejudiced against Orientals,” he nonetheless recognized that “many are very good as long as we approach them” (370), and he thought that fostering friendships could “gradually eliminate exclusion arguments” (94). The diaries can be read as an intellectual autobiography, as an insight into the workings of the Methodist missions, and as a reflection of how the Japanese in British Columbia perceived prejudice. Unfortunately, the book ends in 1926, shortly before Shimizu’s ordination. The editor and translator, however, hint that more will follow. Since, among other accomplishments, the Reverend Kosaburo Shimizu played a major role in easing wartime relations between Japanese Canadians and residents of Kaslo, British Columbia, the later diaries of this remarkable man will be especially welcome.