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Tuesday, December 01, 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.

Please see feedback from the participants below, or by clicking "comments" if they are not showing. I will keep adding more comments as they come in. Of course readers are all welcome to leave a comment as well.

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.


  1. Grace T.1:19 pm

    Thank you very much, Satoko, for the kind and generous hospitality and an
    evening of information and common understanding.
    I appreciated it very much and enjoyed Tatsuo's presentation, which was very
    I thought it was wonderful that you provide a meeting place for the young
    people through this salon, not only for the purpose of education, but also
    I'm sure as a support system for all. Thank you for this.

  2. Tatsuo K.1:20 pm

    I very much enjoyed talking to people gathered, both young and not so

    I learned very much. For example, we have to further discuss our peception of history in the context of perpetrater/victim issue.

    Japanese people still remember the 13th century episode of the Mongolian invasion.

  3. Keiko M.1:21 pm

    昨日は お世話になりました。有難うございました。
    昨夜 帰宅してから 主人と話していて 面白い思考が浮かび メールをした次第です。

    「なぜ 被害者意識が強いのか」 「それは 教育の責任ではないか?」という話がありましたが
    全く違う視点からの 考えです。

    まず 日本で真剣に平和について考えている地域が限られている。と言うことに問題があるように思います。
    広島と 長崎 以外の都市で 真剣に平和について取り組んでいる都市を私は知りません。

    それでも 私が知らないだけで 沖縄 や 激しい空襲に合った場所は平和意識が高いかもしれません。 

    被爆は 普通の空襲体験とは別物で 生まれて自身が被爆者であると自覚をしたときから
    ・いつ癌が発症するのだろうか? ・いつ死が自分をこの世から連れ去るのだろうか?と言う
    その不安は 時として自身の精神をもむしばむことがあると想像します。
    人生のクオリティーを その不安故に保てない のではないでしょうか?

    被爆2世も 同じ不安を抱きながら生きていくしかない。

    彼らの中では まだ 戦争は終わっていないのではないでしょうか?

    ・何故 こんな不安を抱えなければならない?
    ・上の世代の 負の遺産を何故 自分が背負わなくてはならない?

    被爆者であることで 過去に 大変な偏見や差別も経験してきていると思います。
    そこが 被爆体験を言えない理由の一つでもあるように思います。
    そして それが 核に対する嫌悪感を増大していると思います。

    つまり そもそも 彼らは被爆の悲惨さを訴えているに過ぎない のです。

    これが 被爆地以外で 被爆地同等の平和教育がなされていたら
    もっと 違う平和意識や 平和運動が日本国内で構築されていたと思いますが

    被爆地での 平和運動は 平和ではなく 反核運動になってしまうのは
    必然的で 反核運動 反核意識を訴えるのに 

    そして 広島や長崎の人たち自身が 反核意識 反核運動と 平和活動を同じくしているが為に

    つまり まとめると 日本では 平和運動自体ほとんどされていないし 平和に対する意識自体低い
    が 反核意識や 反核運動は盛んで 日本人自身気づいてはいないが 
    日本人のほとんどが 平和運動と反核運動を分けて行動をしているにもかかわらず
    それを 全く認識していない。



  4. Shoko H.1:26 pm

    1) About tonight's event with Kage-san. It was such a wide-ranging
    event, but what stood out for you?

    I learned that how important it is to look at history of wars and conflicts
    by perceiving it as "human rights" issue. I was very amazed by Mr. Kage's
    work throughout his lifetime in a sense that the movements and activities he
    has been involved are always in connect with social and political movements
    in many places such as Canada, Japan, Korea, and so on, by connecting one
    struggle (i.e. redress for Japanese Canadian interment) and other struggles
    (such as comfort women issues).

    2)For those who participated in more than one salons this term, how was
    your salon experience? What did different sessions connect for you?

    I am highly satisfied with the experience I could have through salons this
    term- I could meet not only new wonderful members and informative
    films/materials, but also we could have deep discussions with guest speakers
    in the two last salons.

  5. Thanks for hosting all of the salons. I only made it to two of them, but it was interesting none-the-less.

    Concerning the talk last Saturday, there was a couple things that stood out for me. It was mentioned only briefly that a lot of what we were talking about doesn't really get taught in mainstream education, and I have a thought about that. I had a course with Brian Pendleton in Langara College where we actually did spend significant time learning and trying to grasp more of the history of both Chinese and Japanese Canadians before, during, and to a small extent after the war. I also remember briefly touching on it in the couple of high school history courses I took, though it was by no means substantial.

    The Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa was also brought up. I've never been there, but I lived in London, Ontario for 5 years. It's also where I went to high school. I remember I saw the census number for London maybe 5 or 6 years ago, and the amount of people who had answered that their descended from Japanese origin was 72. In a city of 350,000 people, this number is minuscule. I believe this is also a lot more reflective of many parts of Ontario. It's incredibly undiverse, and where there is diversity it's mostly from Europe or Africa. One can argue that Toronto is very diverse, but it's also very big and there are many there who have been there for a long time and who also trace their roots back to Europe or Africa. My point is that Ontario is very unconcerned with anything from western Canada or Asia, and this is reflective in the Canadian War Memorial. In other words, the memorial is merely a reflection of a much larger political issue in Canada, namely Ontario, and especially south western Ontario, thinking of itself as the center of Canada and neglecting the rest of the provinces.

    Most of the people I knew in Ontario have almost never left the city they were born in, much less the province. There's a large amount of ethno-centrism that went into the exhibit by the sounds of it, and while I agree that there should definately be more input from those who have much more expertise in the subject and not just catered towards the prevailing notions of an Ontario-centered Canada, the exhibit should still be taken with a grain of salt, as it's by no means an isolated incident in the context of Canadian history or academia.

  6. I connected mostly with anything historical or cultural, but anything political was pretty new to me. I've never taken a political science course in my life, and have mostly been cynical with regards to politics, so I figured that these salons would be a good way to start learning more about something I don't know very much about. One of the things that I remember from the 2nd salon (the video about article 9) is that I felt that people were very idealistic about article 9. As if it's the shining beacon of light in an otherwise war-torn world, and that if people only knew of it they would demand their government too take the same stance. Honestly, I think people around the world are getting way too much credit. I can't say for certain, but my first instinct is that everyone would be quite reluctant to give up what many people see as the right of their country. Personally, I'm not sold on article 9, mainly because these SDF forces are way too vague. What counts as "Self-Defense"? Does Japan have the ability to invade North Korea because it threatens national security? If so, wouldn't that be war? But I guess you could call it "defensive maneuvers" or something. It just doesn't seem practical to me. At the very least, maybe there should be a compromise in terms of amendments to it, I'm not sure. That's an area I definitely don't know much about.

    I also remember the parts about the Japanese war atrocities in Korea and China, the comfort women and so forth. I always remember the scenes of the protests in front of the Japanese Embassy (consulate?), and I always remember thinking that it's such an impractical use of their experience. Don't get me wrong, I'm conflicted because I do believe they have the right to demand recognition and compensation as human beings, but I wonder if society would be better served by more proactive action such as explaining their experiences to kids and others, and helping to teach people how to live much better lives so these atrocities don't happen again.

    Sorry, my 2nd answer was no better than the first, and I know this is way too long, but I hope it's good enough. I hate not to be able to say my whole thought. Also, the pie was good :)

    Thanks again for organizing the salons.

  7. Arc H.1:31 pm

    For me, Kage san is always a person I admired and I wished to know more about. I also had a strong interest in Germany history. One reason is it provides lessons of how a catch-up continental nation could become really nationalistic and aggressive; another reason is that, especially the collapse of Weimar, provides lessons about the vulnerability of democracy and how could we construct a strong democracy. I wish I could study more on these topics and have more discussion with kage san.
    Another thing I didn’t ask Kage san is how he thinks about his relationship with the government--I thought it is quite private so I hesitate to ask. Being straightforward, I guess that the Japanese government may not like some of what he has done, would Kage san feel pressure or stressful from the government? Generally, activists who criticize the government always face this kind of pressure. What is Kage san’s attitude towards this kind of pressure? I concerned about this because I think every person who is building up his/her independent thinking skills would eventually face this problem.