Arrested on the Church Steps!: a Japanese American's Experiences in the Aftermath of Pearl Harbor

Arrested on the Church Steps!: a Japanese American's Experiences in the Aftermath of Pearl Harbor

Rev. Hiram Kano
Interviewer: Charlene Tresner and various newspaper articles

Rev. Hiram Kano
Interviewer: Charlene Tresner and various newspaper articles

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Rev. Hiram Kano had just said mass at an Episcopalian church in North Platte, Nebraska. He was 180 miles from his wife and children at their Scottsbluff home, and half a world and twenty-five years from his family of origin in Tokyo. He had become a Christian at the age of twenty, a resident of the United States in 1916, and as a minister had converted many of the Japanese farmers of Nebraska to Christianity.

But that morning he was arrested by the local police, taken to the police station, and dressed as a prisoner. He was not allowed to notify his family of his detention, but was sent to Omaha, Nebraska, to be dealt with by the district attorney. He heard the terrible news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on his native land on the police car radio on the way to Omaha. Because his family in Japan had connections with the Japanese government, and he was so personally influential with the Japanese Americans in his roles as both a minister and a teacher of agriculture, he was rated "Class A" -- the most potentially dangerous of Japanese Americans." He was the only Japanese of the 5,000 living in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming to receive this rating and to be interned.

Over thirty years later, as he shared his experiences in stories published in the Triangle Review newspaper, he spoke without bitterness. He had been given a trial but no attorney. "I defended myself and I spoke for about two hours, I had quite a few things to say."

Despite his own defense and pleas from his bishop who knew Kano to be a dedicated Christian and loyal to his adopted country, he spent the next two years in internment camps. He spent time in four different states, always working to help the other internees. He served as dean of a school for the internees, and taught many courses in Agricultural Study and English, and he preached the gospel.

It is not surprising that he was considered influential. He had a degree in Agriculture from the Tokyo Imperial University, and was a farmer and teacher of agriculture to other Japanese immigrants. He was called to the ministry by an Episcopal bishop who urged Kano to become a preacher. The bishop knew him to be a devoted Christian who demonstrated his faith among the Japanese community.

Unfortunately, years after his ordination, his influence was expressed not just in preaching to the Japanese Americans but in teaching them and helping them translate and send various letters and documents back to Japan. These actions made him seem a potential danger.

As he told Tresner, "they were afraid of subversive work. They thought that if I gave an order to the Japanese people they might do it, such as bust a bridge."

It took two years, but finally the American government realized that the Japanese Americans were loyal to their adopted country. Not a single case of subversive activity had been discovered, and the internees were gradually released.

It was determined that Kano should not return to his ministry in Nebraska. He had been detained longer than most, and it was feared that folks in Nebraska would be unaware of his loyalty to the U.S, and only remember inflammatory headlines such as, "Alien Pastor Arrested by FBI ... Admits Writing to Tokyo." He was sent to an Episcopal Seminary in Wisconsin where he earned both bachelors and masters of divinity degrees. He returned to Nebraska and his ministry in 1946.

In a 1976 interview he shared other experiences of discrimination in his adopted country. Orientals were not allowed to become citizens until 1952. "The American constitution says just two races, free white men and Negroes, and the Supreme Court said the Japanese are not Negroes; they are not white men, so out! Chinese and all the Orientals used to be out. But in 1952 the law changed ... because the second generation Japanese, our children, fought very bravely and sacrificed, and many were killed in action ... so the public found out what the Japanese are."

Kano and his wife earned their citizenship soon after the law permitted it, and then established citizenship classes. "The average age was about sixty," he recalled, "and they studied hard." Between 1953 and 1955, nearly 100 percent of the Nebraska Japanese became citizens.

When some forty years after the war, the U.S. government acknowledged that the Japanese Americans had been wronged and offered to pay reparations, Kano told his bishop, "I don't want the money. God just used that as another opportunity for me to preach the gospel."

He and his wife had two children, their son became an engineer with a degree from MIT and their daughter, Adeline Kano, a biochemist and administrator at CSU. After many years of serving as a missionary priest while working in several towns in Nebraska, he achieved his goal of seeing the Japanese congregations fully integrated into the Nebraska churches. The Kanos retired to Fort Collins in 1957 where he served St. Paul's Episcopal Parish for many years.

He enjoyed gardening, sailing and judo, and a marriage of almost 70 years to Ali "Ivy" Nagai, a Japanese woman he met in Seattle. The Kanos made one trip back to Japan, in 1968, where they met the Emperor and Kano was presented with a medal for his work with Japanese Americans. He lived to be 99, passing away on October 24, 1988. His ashes were interred in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

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