Remembrance Day 2012: honoring Giyuhei (heroic volunteer soldiers)
It’s been 95 years since Japanese Canadians fought bravely at Vimy Ridge, proud to finally serve as Canadians and British subjects in the Great War.
In April 1977, Corporal Sainosuke Kubota, as secretary of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #9, passed the legion banner to the JCCA, and the Roll of honor poster to the Vancouver Japanese Language School. In his safekeeping during the evacuation and dispersal of WWII, the banner and Honor roll were brought back to be included in the memorial services at Stanley Park every November 11th. The Legion #9 banner, an auspicious reminder of our Giyuhei, is being retired by the JC War Memorial Committee to the Nikkei National museum for preservation. It holds special significance of the two battles our JC ancestors fought: firstly as soldiers and secondly, for the franchise as naturalized Canadian citizens. Japanese Canadians were unable to vote from 1895-1949.
In 1925, WWI vets such as Sergeant Masumi Mitsui, Corporal Kubota and Saburo Shinobu formed the Royal Canadian Legion #9, an all Japanese Branch and took on lobbying for the vote for all Japanese Canadians. The political climate in BC was still anti Asian and to make matters worse, there was a baby boom – “The Japanese are breeding themselves into possession of a rich share of BC” – quote from a Conservative MP.
Eventually after nearly 14 years of lobbying, they were somewhat successful. The JC vets won the franchise on April 1, 1931, no fooling. But parliament would not extend the vote to citizens.
Corporal Kubota, president of the RC Legion #9 in 1931 wrote this poem in honor of his fallen comrades:
Hitobito wa yu
Kimitachi wa shinda to
Daga kimira wa so ja nai
Shizumeru taiyo wa
Kimira no tame ni noburo da ro.
(Although you are gone, you are not dead, surely the setting sun will rise again for you)
Then, pondering if the 54 fallen comrades had died in vain, he continued with:
Nanji no te kara
Nagasareta kiyobi wa
Nando ka waren ni
Oshieta chusei wa
(Your heroic spirit will live in our hearts, we take the torch from your hand to fight and carry on).
Poignant words spoken in a symbolic celebration of a small victory at home. Some 100 veterans could exercise their right to vote as Canadian citizens from 1931 until 1941 when Canada declared war on Japan and even the vets became enemy aliens.
Some stories from WWI:
In 1916, Prime minister Sir Robert Borden promised to send 500,000 Canadians to the war effort for Britain. But as he had a hard time filling that promise, he began to look to the 200 Japanese Canadian volunteers in Vancouver that had just been trained and disbanded months before. Racist policies and politics in BC prevented the volunteers from signing up as a group organized by Yasushi Yamazaki, the Tairiku Nippo (Japanese newspaper) editor.
Small areas in the prairies were open to JC enlistment, especially from the southern Alberta areas that were familiar with Japanese immigrants. The first group enlisted in the 13th Canadian Mounted Rifles in Medicine Hat. Forty two JC volunteers left with the CMR on June 22, 1916. They joined the 50th Battalion and saw action at the Battle of the Somme. Eventually they went on to Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Ypres, Passendaele, Amiens, Scarpe, Drocourt Queant, Canal du Nord, Cambrai and Valenciennes. By war’s end fourteen were killed and 23 were wounded.
Meanwhile by August 1916 on Powell Street, there were recruiting officers from Winnipeg and Alberta looking for JC soldiers. Corporal Kubota and Lt. James from the 175th Battalion in Sarcee Camp Alberta recruited fishermen up the coast as far as the Skeena. They were given a hero’s send off in Vancouver and after training in camp; they reinforced the 50th Battalion in time for the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. This battalion was held in reserve for the final assault on Hill 145 of Vimy.
While in a London hospital recovering from their wounds, some JC vets wrote letters home thrilled that they had been visited by HRM King George V. and Queen Mary. The Royals took a special interest in the JC.
By the end of WWI, a total of 54 of the 222 JC died in battle for Canada. The JC showed a reckless and fearless fighting spirit akin to Yamato Damashi, proud to die for their country, world peace and for the benefits of franchise.
Military medals (for conspicuous gallantry) were awarded to:
Tokutaro Iwamoto, KIA Sept 2, 1918
Yoichi Kamakura, KIA Aug 26, 1917
Takezo Shirasao, KIA Aug 22, 1917
Masumi Mitsui, wounded April 28, 1917
Kiyoji Iizuka (wounded May 7, 1917, March 28, 1918, and Sept 4, 1918)
Otojuro Yamamoto, wounded
Suketaro Miehara, wounded
All stories referenced from Roy Ito’s book We Went to War.
Join us to remember on November 11th, 2012 at the Cenotaph in Stanley Park. The memorial begins at 10:40am. Following the service refreshments will be served at a reception at the Vancouver Rowing Club where artifacts will also be on display.
Linda Kawamoto Reid, Chair of the JCWMC