An Issei pioneering in the Heartland

NIKKEI FARMER ON THE NEBRASKA PLAINS: A MEMOIR

By Rev. Hisanori Kano Introduced and edited by Tai Kreidler, and translated by Rose Yamamoto. (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 2010, 256 pp., $34.95, cloth)

This is a wonderful memoir, tedious in many parts; however, one that provides unique insights of an Issei who was born into nobility, educated in some of the best schools in Japan, and decided to cast his lot like other Issei had done a decade earlier — not in California, but in the flat plains of Nebraska.

Kano begins his memoir by describing a Japan in transition from a feudal society to one striving for modernity. Some of his cohorts in school would go on to become famous like Kintaro Hayakawa (Sessue Hayakawa) and Soetsu Yanagi (who along with Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada began the Mingei art movement).

Of all the names Kano drops in his memoir, and there many, none was more fascinating than Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan. His family came to know the Bryan family when they visited Japan in 1905. So when Kano, after much confusion and consideration, decided to go to America, his father writes a letter asking Secretary Bryan to be his son’s sponsor. This explains why Kano ended up in Lincoln, Nebraska, beginning his American journey to become a farmer and Episcopal priest, ministering to a small population of Nikkei in Nebraska until World War II breaks out.

Kano eventually finished his master’s degree from the University of Nebraska, married, had two children and became a farmer with 300 acres. However, unlike many poor Issei farmers, he was able to stay solvent during the Depression through financial support from his wealthy family in Japan.

When World War II began he is arrested and, according to his own account, he was the only one arrested of the 5,000 other Japanese from the states of Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming. He was incarcerated and moved to a number of detention camps prior to being paroled back to Nebraska before the war ended. Kano’s account of this period reads more like a reportage of people, events, and his spiritual service to those who were incarcerated rather than any deep personal reflections.

After the war he continued in various capacities to serve the declining Japanese population in Nebraska, finally retiring in Colorado. However, after 45 years he and his family visited Japan for the first time in 1961 and reconnected with many of those from his youth.

This is a remarkable story of perseverance, a vision of service to fellow man, all told from the point of view of a person surrounded by privilege by virtue of his family lineage and wealth — an Issei pioneering in the heartland of America.

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