Remembering Charles Hiroshi Kadota
On Sunday September 16, a Celebration of Life for Charles Kadota was held in the stately Great Hall of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, with friends and family gathering to pay their last respects and remember a man who was at once down-to-earth and larger-than-life.
The Museum is a stone’s throw from the Chan Centre, where on May 30 Charles received an honorary degree as one of the seventy-plus UBC students of 1942 who were denied the chance to graduate because of the war and their expulsion from the University. Coming as it did mere months before his passing on August 15, 2012 at the age of 90, that ceremony holds special significance in the timeline of the man many knew as Charlie.
Overseen by the towering totem poles from the Haida, Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Oweekeno and other First Nations, and lit by the sinking sun, various speakers shared their experiences and memories of Charlie, the common theme being his basic humanity, his dedication to his family and his own unique approach to life as well as a life-long pride in his Japanese heritage. It was, as Charlie’s brother Gordon Kadota said, a time not to mourn Charlie’s passing but to celebrate the man and his memory.
Charles Hiroshi Kadota was born in May, 1922 in Swanson Bay, BC, the fifth child of Kantaro and Shigeno (née Kunita) Kadota. He attended elementary school in Englewood near Telegraph Cove and Duke of Connaught High School in New Westminster, where he was one of the top students in his class, excelling in oratorical contests and debates. After graduating from high school in 1940, he enrolled at the University of British Columbia where he was in the Canadian Officers Training Corps and where he met his future wife, Lillian Shimotakahara. However, his university studies ended in the spring of 1942 with the Japanese Canadian internment order and he was sent to a road camp near Schreiber, Ontario.
He moved to Toronto in late 1942 and then to Montreal in 1946 where he worked at the Clevermaid Factory, which was owned by Lillian’s father, Toraryu Shimotakahara. Charles and Lillian were married in Montreal in 1947 and in 1950 moved to Vancouver where he, together with his brothers-in-law, opened five ladies wear retail stores called Modiste in Vancouver and Victoria.
In 1955, at the age of 33, he took night school to get his CGA. He graduated in 1961, left Modiste and started his own business, Hiro Distributors, in that same year. After trying to sell various small promotional items, he was the first to get CSA approval for Japanese appliances, including the popular Matsushita Rice Cooker. He also landed the contract to supply Canadian Pacific Airlines with Noritake dinnerware, and these two products were the basis of his success in business.
Charles was active in the Japanese Canadian community, serving as president of the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association, as a Vancouver representative on the National Association of Japanese Canadians and as a fundraiser and board member of Tonari Gumi. Among the first members of the Vancouver Redress Committee, he was an outspoken supporter and active participant, leading successful fundraising campaigns, and taking part in media interviews and panel discussions in support of Redress and to raise awareness of the injustices of the internment order. He was among the leaders of the Redress March to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in April 1988 and celebrated the Redress Settlement reached on September 22, 1988.
He and Lillian were world travellers, often with friends and Lillian’s sister Margie and her husband Ryo Otsuki. They travelled throughout North, Central and South America, Europe, the Soviet Union, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. They both were avid concertgoers as well as bridge and golf players. Charles also loved crossword puzzles and was a formidable Scrabble player. His favourite pastime though, was fishing and he was still reeling in salmon off of Tofino in 2009 at age 87.
On May 30, 2012, having turned 90, Charles received an honorary degree from the University of British Columbia as one of only 11 surviving Japanese Canadian students who had not been allowed to complete their studies in 1942. This proved to be a profound and emotional experience for Charles—a long-awaited recognition for which he was tremendously grateful.
Charles will be remembered for many things, including his keen observations and interest in people and the human condition, his gift of gab, his enjoyment of good company, good chocolate, cognac and a great cigar, his exuberance and love of life. You always knew where he was in the room because of the laughter, the crowd of people around him, and the sound of his strong clear voice holding court, telling stories about some adventure or experience he had. He was larger than life and will be missed.
Charles Kadota is survived by his daughters Jennifer, Constance, Diane and Shelley; grandchildren Gareth, Sian and Kiyoshi; and brothers Richard and Gordon. Charles was predeceased by his wife of 59 years, Lillian, who passed away in 2006.
Remembering Charles Kadota
One wonderful thing he did for me was drive me up on my first trip to Port Alice, where I had taken on my first teaching job in the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island. I had not been there before and was shocked at how truly wild and isolated it was. But he led me to believe it would be a great adventure. It was also a part of the world where he had spent the first half of his childhood. So I felt connected right away and maybe that it was meant to be . . .
But the thing that stands out for me was his eloquence, whether it was for redress, social justice, politics or his general philosophy of life. He made me understand the importance of standing up for your principles, both in words and action, even in the face of opposition.
Connie Kadota, daughter
Irrespective of his slight visual impairment, Uncle Charlie had a keen sense of observation and assessment, a skill that he applied to all areas of his life, including his passion for fishing.
Paul Kadota, nephew
Dad was constantly thanking those around him for everything. And it was heartfelt. Many of us here were able to witness the convocation across the street at the Chan Center in May when Dad received his honorary degree. His feelings of gratitude were profound and palpable.
Take the time to spend with those you care about.
Tell them how you feel.
Show them, too.
That’s what Dad would do.
Though the language of a loved one’s passing is so often about loss, my heart is full. I could not be more proud to be Charlie Kadota’s daughter.
Shelley Kadota, daughter
In my memory, the first time I met Charlie was exactly 40 years ago. When I think about this, Charlie was 50 year old… the same age as I am today. In those days, there were no computers or electronic dictionaries like we have today and I can remember Charlie with a thick dictionary in his brief case and always a memo pad and a ball pen in his vest pocket. Whenever he came upon a new word in Japanese that he did not know, he would look it up in his dictionary and write it in his note-pad. There was hardly a clear space in his note-pad as he was always diligently learning Japanese.
As I was only a child then, I did not really understand my parents saying, “Charlie is great, he never stops learning.” Now that I have reached the age that Charlie was then, I appreciate how true those words were.
Yoko Ideuchi, one of Charles’ second cousins in Japan, daughter of Yaeko Murayama