The Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano was considered by the United States of America to be a threat to our country. He was a leader — a spiritual leader — among Japanese Americans in western Nebraska. Within hours of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Father Kano, as he was known by many, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in North Platte, Nebraska.
Two days after the bombing, The Lincoln Star reported that Father Kano protested his arrest. The newspaper quoting him as saying that “I am no spy. I am not an American citizen because the law says that only white men and Negroes may become citizens, but in my heart, I am 100% American, the proud father of two American citizens.”
This and other news articles on the same day noted that the wife of Father Kano was the sister of the former Acting Prime Minister of Japan.
Years earlier, the relationship between the U.S. and Japan was quite different.
Hisanori Kano was born on Jan. 20, 1889, into a family of nobility in Japan.
On Oct. 26, 1916, The Pomona Progress printed a news article quoting the future Father Kano: “‘Where there may be vague anti-Japanese feeling here and vague anti-American feeling in Japan the thinking men of the two nations can see no reason for a break between them. Japan and America must trust each other,’ said Hisanori Kano, son of Viscount [Hisayoski] Kano, Japanese political leader, upon his arrival from Japan, today.”
The Long Beach Press reported on Sept. 12, 1919, that Mr. and Mrs. Hisanori Kano were “...taking their bridal trip along this coast before starting east to continue their studies. Mr. Kano is an agricultural expert.”
On Sept. 25, 1931, the Epworth Methodist Church Edition - Oklahoma City Star reported that Father Kano received “...about $350 worth of English and Japanese books...” from two Japanese American men of Grand Island. The news article noted that Father Kano used the books “...in his all-round ministry to Japanese farmers in western Nebraska.”
The same newspaper noted on Sept. 23 of the following year that Father Kano was continuing his missionary efforts with a number of baptisms and confirmations in western Nebraska: “The Imperial Japanese government has heard of this work, for the Japanese consul has on several occasions mentioned it in his reports with high commendation.”
Weather conditions known to many in western Nebraska did not seem to impede Father Kano in his ministries to local folks. He was quoted as saying that “The thermometer registered 30 degrees below on Sunday morning, but lo! there were 30 loyal members of the congregation assembled for service” in a news article dated Feb. 17, 1933, in St. Paul’s Cathedral Edition - Oklahoma City Star.
In February of 1936, for about three days, the brother-in-law of Father Kano, was the Acting Prime Minister of Japan.
According to the Hastings Daily Tribune on Feb. 27, 1936, Father Kano sent a letter to Fumio Gotō, his wife’s brother, the Acting Prime Minister, stating “...that the Japanese people need ‘more faith.’”
In a news article with the headline of “Japanese Minister Gives Interesting Information on Far East Situation” on Oct. 26, 1939, The Custer County Chief reported on a talk given by Father Kano at a meeting of the local Rotary Club. In his talk, Father Kano commented on the Japanese invasion of China. According to this news article, “He explained that Japan’s basic idea in the invasion of China is to organize China to protect itself against market exploitation.”
In addition, Father Kano stated that Japan was also trying “...to protect itself and China as well against the spread of communism [from the Soviet Union]…He stated that the Japanese have a natural friendly feeling toward the United States.”
According to The Episcopal Church, Father Kano was the only Japanese American arrested by the federal government in the State of Nebraska during the World War II years. He was incarcerated in a number of sites throughout the United States.
Father Kano ministered to all types of people during his imprisonment. This included other Japanese Americans, Americans of other ethnicities in the prisons, Axis Prisoners of War and others considered threats to the American government.
Father Kano became a living symbol to many of forgiveness and steadfastness in the face of injustice.
Several newspapers reported that Father Kano was released on interim parole and was back in Scottsbluff on Dec. 17, 1943. He later spent time to further his education at an Episcopal seminary in Wisconsin. In 1957, the Kano family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Fort Collins Coloradoan noted on July 14, 1968, that the law allowing individuals born in Japan to become citizens of the United States was enacted in late 1952, and that in mid-1953, Father Kano and his wife “...were the first Japanese Americans to be naturalized in Nebraska.” Within two years, the newspaper reported that 80% of the Japanese-born Episcopalian residents of western Nebraska had become naturalized American citizens.
On Oct. 25, 1969, the Alexandria Daily Town Talk of Louisiana included details about some of the places where Father Kano stated that he had been imprisoned, including the North Platte City Jail; the Douglas County Jail in Omaha; Fort Crook, now included in the lands of the Offutt Air Force Base in Sarpy County; Camp McCoy, a U.S. Army installation in Monroe County, Wisconsin; a prison facility in New Mexico; Camp Forrest, a U.S. Army training base in south central Tennessee; and Camp Livingston, a U.S. Army military base in central Louisiana.
Japan recognized the civic efforts of Father Kano with a presentation of the First Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1968. News reports indicated that the Episcopal priest met with the Japanese Emperor Hirohito and his wife in Japan in 1961 as well as in San Francisco in 1975.
Hiram Hisanori Kano died on Oct. 24, 1988.
In the years since his death, Father Kano has been recognized by the State of Nebraska as well as by The Episcopal Church.
On April 10, 2012, the Nebraska Legislature passed Resolution 620 to “Extend gratitude to Father Hiram Hisanori Kano for his work with the Japanese-Americans in the Platte River Valley and commemorate St. George’s Mission in North Platte and St. Mary’s Mission in Mitchell.” This resolution noted that “…Hiram Kano was a quiet and persevering warrior in the battle against the evil of racism and a champion of his people in the struggle for justice and peace as he fought for the dignity of every human being…[and] even as the State of Nebraska and the nation withheld from them the basic rights we now take for granted…” The resolution included in its conclusion “…That the Legislature extends its gratitude to Father Hiram Hisanori Kano for his work with the Japanese-Americans in the Platte River valley…”
The Episcopal Church also has highlighted the impact of Hiram Hisanori Kano not only in Nebraska, but throughout the United States.
On April 16, 2013, in her keynote presentation at the Second Worldwide Anglican Peace Conference in Okinawa, Japan, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori explained that Hiram Hisanori Kano came to the United States from Japan in 1916 to study agricultural economics.
“He was born in Tokyo in 1889, and baptized as a teenager before he left Japan,” Bishop Schori said. “In the United States, he worked to improve farming methods, especially in the Japanese community, which was facing enormous discrimination. He challenged the Nebraska legislature about racist land ownership laws and immigration policies. The bishop of Nebraska stood with him in the legislature and eventually persuaded him to become a pastor to the Japanese community; he was ordained deacon in 1928 and priest in 1936.
“He was arrested the same day war was declared in the Pacific, and he was the only Japanese person in Nebraska to be interned. While he was imprisoned, he ministered to German prisoners of war and American soldiers facing court martial. He continued that pastoral work after the war, and died in 1988, just short of his 100th birthday. His witness continues to draw together the frayed edges of human community in the heartland of the United States and in The Episcopal Church.”
In 2015, a resolution was adopted at the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church that authorized several additions to the Church Calendar of Commemorations set forth in “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints.” Oct.24 was designated to honor Hiram Hisanori Kano.
To put Father Kano’s significance to society into perspective, consider the fact that The Episcopal Church at the same time also added, among a few others, Albert Schweitzer, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952, and Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld, the Swedish diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, to its Church Calendar of Commemorations.
This story is the third of a seven-part news series that will highlight aspects of life of Japanese Americans in Scottsbluff and nearby communities. Part Four will detail how the former Scottsbluff Junior College (today’s Western Nebraska Community College) helped educate Japanese Americans imprisoned by the federal government. Part Five will detail the lives of three of those students who went on to serve our country as members of the U.S. Army. Part Six will detail how at least one banker in western Nebraska refused to bend to the will of the federal government and close bank accounts held by local Japanese Americans. Part Seven will detail how Japanese Americans raised sugar beets that were critical to the military operations of the United States during World War II.
firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2021 Richard McDonough.