Remembering Kojiro (Ko) Ebisuzaki
Ko died on November 22, 2014, one month before his 97th birthday. When asked to write a tribute to Ko I had a few misgivings. First of all I didn’t know very much about him. Nothing in fact about his earlier life, except that he was brought up in Japan from the age of two years until he was 12. To my mind, those early years in Japan shaped and influenced Ko to become the fine person he was when I met him. My acquaintance with Ko began around the time that I became actively involved with the NAJC. This is going back to when the Toronto Chapter was still without a home. Back then our meetings were held in church basements, private homes and school rooms.
It might also be said that I knew him through his wife Yaeko (Yae), who never failed to volunteer when the NAJC put out the call for help. The Ko I knew was a quiet, dependable type of person, an honest man with an innate integrity that was recognizable at once. Our friendship developed one evening when I worked quite late and found my car had been towed away from the curb outside the Harbord Street office. I was devastated. It was almost dark and I lived quite a distance away in North York. Taking the bus was not an option as I was unfamiliar with the Harbord Street bus route, and in any case I didn’t want to go home without my car. As I stood there alone in the gathering gloom, I recalled that Ko lived a mere two blocks from the NAJC office. Feeling that it was an imposition and full of apologies, I called him anyway. His reply? “I’ll be there in five minutes.” True to his word, he and Yae picked me up in less than five minutes. Ten minutes later we arrived at the King St. car pound. I thanked the Ebisuzakis profusely for all their help and proceeded to walk into the pound. When I finally managed to drive out again, it was fully dark, so I was surprised to see Ko and Yae still waiting outside. They had not wanted to leave until they were certain I had my car and was able to get myself home. That episode elevated the friendship with the Ebisuzakis from a rather tenuous acquaintance, heretofore limited to board meetings and special NAJC events, to a more personal level.
Ko was a long-time member of the NAJC, totally committed to its aims and objectives and lending his support in various ways including financially. Since it was my job to organize the NAJC annual membership drive, the records showed that Ko had renewed his membership plus made a generous donation year after year. Ko was also deeply involved in the struggle for Redress which the NAJC laboured long and hard to achieve during years of patient negotiations with the Canadian government.
When Ko’s wife passed away, he paid me the incredible honour of asking me to deliver her Eulogy. I had always admired Yaeko for her sweet, good natured and generous personality. She was also a true ambassador of her heritage and the epitome of grace and charm. In delivering the eulogy I felt that any attempt of mine to do full justice to Yae would come up short no matter how much I admired her or wanted to do justice to the honour Ko had afforded me.
At that time as well, I was the recording secretary at the chapter’s board meetings. One night we board members arrived at the NAJC Harbord St. location only to find that the furnace had gone kaput and the entire building was frigid! There was no way we could sit out a meeting without heat. We were stymied as to an alternative place to hold our meeting. By this time, as stated, Yaeko had passed away and Ko lived all alone in his house two blocks away. I suggested that under the circumstances, he would likely allow us the use of his home. l dialed Ko’s number and when he answered, I tentatively enquired if the board could possibly meet that evening at his home. Without a moment’s hesitation Ko replied “Come on over!” And over we all trooped. Ko’s hospitality did not end with the provision of a warm and comfortable venue, when the meeting adjourned, he also provided refreshments! This welcome and unexpected touch added even further weight to Ko’s gesture. During all this time, he quietly worked on his computer in another room. In this, and in many other instances, Ko demonstrated his commitment and generosity toward the NAJC. It says much about the man that we were able to make that kind of request and feel fairly certain of receiving a positive and genuinely welcoming response.
When Ko turned 88 years old, he threw a huge birthday party at a restaurant on Hwy. 48 and invited all his closest friends. To my great surprise and pleasure he invited me! The party ambience was celebratory and I recognised many mutual friends. Sitting opposite Ko, I felt honoured to be at the same table as the guest of honour. I remember that when I got home, I sent Ko a thank-you note for inviting me and mentioned how much fun his party had been. Ko’s reply revealed yet another quite unsuspected aspect of his character. He wrote back: “The party was fun because you were there.” What a charmer!
Ko’s favourite pastime was going to the horse races. It started when he first attended a race course in Hamilton, Ontario and put a small bet down on a long shot. To his surprise the horse won and Ko’s winnings…..a modest $24.00! Not much – but Ko was hooked! He wryly stated that since then he had repaid the track that $24.00 many times over. His interest and sense of humour always overcame the lack of luck at his favourite sport.
When my very good friend Shirley Yamada moved to Costa Rica, she came back to Canada every year or two for a holiday. On these occasions, three of us, Shirley, Tomoko Makabe and I, made it a point to include a visit to Ko who now lived with his daughter Susan. With true Japanese hospitality, Susan went to great lengths to put on a delicious spread and we enjoyed the opportunity to share a meal and conversation with her and our dear friend Ko. Eventually though we noticed that Ko’s energy level was failing. By this time he was 96 years old, and so his demise, mere weeks before his 97th birthday was not as unexpected as it was sad.
We will all miss Ko and his presence in our lives. I know that Ko’s latter years under the excellent love and care of his daughter Susan were both nurturing and comfortable.
At the close of Ko’s funeral service I was asked to represent the NAJC and offer a prayer and some incense at the altar. Thus I was blessed to play an active role at Ko’s funeral and to say a special farewell to an old friend.