Monday, November 2, 2015

A Final Tribute to a Remarkable Man

Over the last few days we have been mourning the loss of our dear friend Mr. Shoji "Stogie" Kanogawa. We had talked many times with him to learn about his personal experiences during the 1930's - 1940's. Over this last week we learned a few more remarkable details about a man while not famous lived a full life. We are thankful that the surviving Kanogawa family shared these rare photos of Stogie during his three year enlistment in the United States Army during the years of 1946-1949. Like my own father, the skills he acquired in the Army as a radio repairman - technician helped pave the way for his early post war career as a Television install repair technician. He would do this until his father's passing in 1965 by which he took over his father's gardening business and stayed with it until his retirement in 2006. 
Much like my own father's wartime photos, these three grainy black & white photos are quite revealing. Mr. Kanogawa always had a smile on his face and was just one of the nicest gentlemen you could ever meet. Throughout his life he always found the positive in everything even through troubling times. Nothing was going to bring this man down. Not even what happened next.
On December 7th 1941 the day the Empire of Japan declared war against the United States, Shoji's father who owned the 12th Street Market in Seattle was arrested by the FBI. Being an Isei, the feds wasted no time rounding up Japanese men. Shoji was then a junior in high school and a Ni-Dan in Judo. He along with his mother, brothers & sisters would be rounded up like many other Japanese American families in Washington State and sent to the Minidoka "War Relocation" Camp in Idaho as seen in the above photo. They would not see their father again until 1945 at Ellis Island. We can not begin to imagine how difficult this must have been for the Kanogawa family yet Shoji could speak of it without bitterness. His father, the Senior Kanogawa was considered a Prisoner of War despite being a civilian and was to be exchanged for American POW's in Japan. But that's not what happened. Shoji and his siblings were American Born and begged their father to keep the family in the United States and this is where they stayed. It was curious note how he became known by his most famous nickname "Stogie." He once told me that was what they called him in the Army but as it turns out the name originated during his time at Minidoka before Shoji actually took up smoking cigars. 
Having chosen to stay in America, the Kanogawa family was transferred to Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas as seen in the above photo. They would remain there until the end of the war. Sadly, the Kanogawa family never returned to live in Seattle. Having their 12 Street Market and the family home taken away from them we suppose there was nothing to return to. They instead moved to Los Angeles where in 1946 just one year after being released from America's Concentration Camps, Shoji now a free man and a United States Citizen once more was drafted into the United States Army. 
What a transition this man had made! He had just missed WWII and managed to get out before the outbreak of the Korean War. He returned back to Los Angeles in 1949 where he would meet his future wife "Massie" and would live a beautiful life with two daughters and scores of grandchildren. He loved to go hiking up in Mammoth Mountain and fish while smoking his famous stogies which we never saw but we'll take their word for it. Through it all Shoji kept his infectious smile. They said in his final years he and his wife had traveled the world and had gone on the Shikoku Island "Henyo" Pilgrimage. But all that would end after he suffered a stroke during elective surgery to replace a heart valve in 2013. He spent his last two years unable to walk and in steep decline. It was hard to watch because he had been so full of life. It was said during his funeral that in the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo on it's 75th Anniversary that he had been given a Buddhist Name and title of Bodhisattva for the enlightenment of all beings. This is one hell of a commitment and very difficult for someone in this complicated world to live up to yet Mr. Kanogawa achieved this and more. We were so fortunate to have been his friends. Thus we pay tribute to our dear departed friend and hope to see his smile again across the sea of birth and death on the shores of liberation. Much like the fictional characters he inspired for our epic novel The Soldier and the Samurai, we hope somewhere out there he's smiling right back at us from heaven. 
Shoji Kanogawa

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