Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to!

Plowing My Parents’ Landscape of Conscience - Part 2

Read Part 1 >>

Looking back, I saw how my parents were perpetually attentive to matters that concerned people in need, exploring what could bring wellness to the community, and investigating problematic issues that would come to their attention. Through my parents, I learned the value of caring and supporting others when we can, especially those who are marginalized or disadvantaged. I have seen and participated in bringing about results from such care: forests still standing, and not clear cut in my Indigenous children’s traditional territory; youth stepping up in creative, safe spaces; a heritage house still standing; erecting internment memorial sites holding a marker for history. My parents were there for me offering moral support and assistance as I stumbled through launching projects in my own communities.

I felt personally connected to this book project because of the shared experience working with my father on several eye-opening projects. Notably, the most powerful experience working with him was in 1998 when our Human Rights Committee joined with the British Columbia chapter of the Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia to organize an earth shattering event my father reports in his book.

The Unit 731 Photo Exhibition and its opening press conference at the Vancouver Public Library made me – and many others – aware of atrocities that had been hidden conveniently away, apparently in the global superpowers’ need for diplomacy in pursuit of their economic and trade priorities following the war. Until then, I knew nothing about the history of the Asian Holocaust.

Tatsuo and Mariko at the press conference of Unit 731 Exhibit in 1998 at the Vancouver Central Public Library

I had the privilege of meeting delegates to the exhibition. The victim representative from China attended; a former doctor for the Japanese imperial army, who was involved in Unit 731; and a dedicated Japanese lawyer supporting the Chinese victims. They all came to Vancouver, united by the mission to educate the public. Two members of this delegation of peace activists were former soldiers in Japan’s imperial army. They were only sixteen and seventeen years old at the time of recruitment to serve at Unit 731, the secret Japanese medical facility in Harbin province, China. They were both denied entry into North America and unable to join the delegation. For the press conference, a special international phone call was arranged with one of the soldiers and my task was to provide interpretation for his statement.

The Chinese representative named Wang Xuan shared how her relatives were still dying, suffering from the virus incubated in Unit 731 which had been discarded into their local river after Japan’s defeat. Listening first-hand, I was deeply moved by all the testimonies and learned about the long-term harm done to innocent Chinese people. This experience also left me with questions: why were the former soldiers who were witnesses working at this secret medical facility not allowed entry to North America? Since that event, not one person I spoke to over the last 20 years has ever heard of Unit 731, not scholars, not educators, not even peace activists. Why is this part of world history not included for our youth to learn and educators to teach in social studies?

Press conference of Unit 731 Exhibit in 1998 at the Vancouver Central Public Library

I love so many aspects of Japan; it is my homeland, furusato. However, when I was growing up in Tokyo, I was impacted by hearing adults around me making hurtful racial remarks about Chinese and Koreans; I could never forget what I heard. My half Korean friend in Japan was so ashamed to let anyone find out she was part Korean. This was shocking to me, I felt sad for her and I still wonder what it was like for her to grow up in such a harsh racist climate as a young person. Yes, as a mixed-race Japanese person, I most definitely feel ashamed of what the top Japanese military and government leaders of that period committed. As a human being, I feel I have the responsibility to support the learning of true history so that the younger generation today who will become future politicians in Japan or anywhere else, would NEVER allow for such crimes or war to happen.

Furthermore, the sooner that Japan can make amends with China and other Asian countries around past wrongdoings, the more advantageous it will be in fostering healthier attitudes and improved international relationships. That is my thinking, much like my father and much like Satoko Oka Norimatsu, the founder of the Peace Philosophy Centre whom I admire. If we can bring down barriers and begin to treat each other like family and relatives, (“All my relations”, as Indigenous people say) maybe we can inch our way towards a more harmonious existence around the world and eliminating violence.

I watched my parents working as a team, extending compassion and welcome ears to those in need, volunteering tirelessly over the decades for various social justice and Indigenous related causes, and assisting the vulnerable members of society. I see my father having an unusual combination of being a pure scholar, a lifelong learner, and a person of action. He is not exactly one to engage in conversations at home, often found glued to his computer for hours; he enjoys cooking, basic yard work and has always been very handy with all sorts of household repairs. Otherwise, he kept busy and thrived in attending various committee meetings.

Over the years, my father always consulted with my mother, Diane Kage, who worked for many years for a multicultural organization, AMSSA and other NGO’s. As an editor herself, she would carefully proofread nearly every article and report my father drafted in English, which was his second language. There is a saying in Japanese called, “Ennoshita no chikara mochi.” Literally, this means the strong person under the floor (holding the structure). This expression is used to describe and acknowledge the person who works behind the scenes, typically invisible to the public eye. That would describe my mother in a way; and so my father dedicates this book to her.

With the steady support from my mother, my father never stopped seeking opportunities to write and express his thoughts: constantly observing, engaging, reading, probing, documenting, reflecting, analyzing, confronting, reporting on facts and never hesitated to speak up. This year, I was humbled to carry out this project to compile a selection of my father’s life work into a book. Through his writings, readers may discover that it is as if he was planting seeds all along, seeds that grew branches and roots, over time, transforming and woven into the shared tapestry of connections, solidarity, community action, bringing joyful colours, diversity, movements and memories. He is my ‘superhero’ in truth-telling who inspires me to stretch beyond my comfort zones to explore my own values and purpose in life.

I am a mother of children who are of combined Japanese, European, First Nations, and Chinese ancestry. As such, while their grandfather’s book will serve as a family legacy, beyond that, I sincerely wish for all future generations to correctly learn the history of their predecessors. While painting the historical landscape of ‘community building’ and fighting to overcome past injustices through this chronicle, my father leaves us with the challenge to also dive into our own inner personal landscape of conscience.

I envision this collection of 59 articles to be utilized widely as a valuable resource for students and educators in classrooms, for stimulating discussions, for post secondary researchers and scholars to choose from the eclectic topics found in the table of contents. I am deeply grateful to all our supporters and contributors to this book project over this past year and to the special guests who shared their heartfelt presentations at our online book launch that took place on November 14th: taiko performance by E. Kage, Dr. John Price (writer of the Introduction), Judy Hanazawa, John Endo Greenaway, Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Thekla Lit, Mikoto Yoshida (my son and writer of the Forward), and shakuhachi song by Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos. Last but not least, our family is immensely grateful to publisher Kerry Coast for her tireless and relentless attention to detail and design in preparing the manuscript. Please visit the website for more information about the book: reviews, photos, link to view the book launch and purchasing options.

Lastly, when I asked if my father had a message for his readers, after a long pause, he replied, “I want to ask people to look deep inside themselves and ask who and what they are. How do they relate to their world?” Thank you Papa, we will continue to keep your questions and messages alive.

Otsukaresama deshita,” now you can relax, have some fun and enjoy your retirement!

*This article was originally published in The Bulletin: a journal of Japanese Canadian community, history and culture on December 4, 2020.

*Read the Bulletin Geppo’s book review of Migration, Displacement, and Redress: A Japanese Canadian Perspective here >>


© 2020 Mariko Kage

activist book Canada community family Human Rights Japanese Canadian JCCA Tatsuo Kage