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Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Living Through the History - Salon with Tatsuo Kage
Our salon on Saturday, the last one of this term, reminded me of the power of learning history through people who have lived through it. I was fortunate to share this salon with about twenty people - students from Ritsumeikan, UBC, SFU, a urologist working at Vancouver General Hospital as a visiting researcher and his early childhood educator wife and their four children, an elementary school teacher who hosts peace meetings at her White Rock home, an art curator/film director and her biologist/engineer husband, former head of the National Association of Japanese Canadians who went through the internment as a child, and former director of a long-established community volunteer organization/a Hiroshima hibakusha. We had such a wealth of diverse experience and knowledge, and curious and youthful energy.
Kage-san's talk was wide-ranging and still coherent. Each picture had a powerful story to tell, and the hour and a half talk felt like ten minutes. Year 1935 felt real to the younger ones, with the baby photo of Kage-san with his well-built and confident military-officer father and his beautiful mother clad in kimono, something an average Japanese woman now wears only a few times for the entire life. The "military boy" as Kage-san described his childhood, holds the toy sword and gun proudly. The world, however changed upside-down in 1945. He showed the photo of his elementary school textbook, in which all war-sort of things had to be blackened with ink, the practice of "kuronuri textbook" in the post-war Japan. Even the part of a snow-ball fight had to be erased.
Kage-san's curiosity never got erased, though. He studied European History at the university, and studied in Germany. He learned about Weimer's Republic and the rise of Nazi - something we would like to hear more about in another occasion. He taught at Meijigakuin University before he immigrated to Canada in 1975. Kage-san made a significant contribution to the Japanese Canadians' Redress Movement by searching for and assisting those 4,000 Japanese-Canadians who were exiled to Japan after the internment. His book "Nikkei Canada jin no Tsuiho" ("The Exile of Japanese Canadians," Akashi Shoten, 1998), with in-depth interviews with the Japanese-Canadians in Japan whom Kage-san found, has been translated into English but he has not found a publisher yet. There has never been any other work of this kind before, so I hope an English version will be published soon. (Photo is from the Sendai meeting, one of the nine meetings held in August 1989 across Japan, to provide information about the Redress, by the Canadian Government and the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Kage-san acted as a coordinator and translator for the mission.)
Kage-san's subsequent work for human rights covers a wide spectrum of issues and different minotiry groups, from the First Nations People, the victims of Japan's military sex slavery, the second-generation trauma of Jewish and Japanese, to this Japanese diplomat in Lithuania Chiune Sugihara, who disobeyed the government order and issued thousands of visas to the Jews who were seeking to escape Poland. In the picture is Sugihara's wife and family members of one of the Jew survivors whom Sugihara saved.
Kage-san has also been involved with many activities to raise awareness about the Japanese atrocities in Asia during the war, including the petition campaign to support the Ienaga Textbook Lawsuits in which historian Saburo Ienaga sued the Japanese Government for censoring the textbooks he authored. The first lawsuit was filed in 1965 followed by two more in 1967, and 1984. The issues of debate were the description in Ienaga's textbooks about the Rape of Nanking, military sex slavery, forced suicides in the Battle of Okinawa, and the Korean resistance against Japan during the Sino-Japan War, among others. Although "kyokasho kentei," the government's intervention with the textbooks which many regard as censorship, was not deemed unconstitutional, the final judgment by the Supreme Court in 1997 ruled many of the government's revision recommendations illegal. The 32-year long trial was recorded in the Guiness Book as the longest civil trial ever. (In the Photo is Saburo Ienaga speaking at the press conference after the Supreme Court Ruling)
I feel privileged finally to have gotten to know more of Kage-san's human rights work, after working with him for five years for Vancouver Save Article 9. I admire Kage-san's decades of tireless devotion for peace and historical reconciliation, which transcends national borders and ethnic boundaries and brings people with different backgrounds together for common goals. I am sure the young members of our salon saw as much of a role model as I saw in Kage-san.
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In peace and love,
This salon was the last official event of 2009 by Peace Philosophy Centre. There are two more events in December that the Centre is associated with. The International Human Rights Day event takes place this Saturday, December 5, at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, and the last White Rock meeting of this year will take place on Saturday, December 12. We will post the 2010 schedule some time in January.