The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Norman Thomas and the Defense of Japanese

Norman Mattoon Thomas (1884-1968), leader and perennial presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, distinguished himself by his tireless defense of the human rights of Japanese Americans during World War II. He was the only national political figure to take a public position against Executive Order 9066, which he decried as “totalitarian justice.” In newspaper articles and public speeches, […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Understanding the queer heritage of Japanese Americans

Back in 2007, not long after I started writing my historical column “The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great”? in the Nichi Bei Times, I established an annual tradition of marking LGBT Pride Week with a column on the queer heritage of Japanese Americans. It is a tradition that I am happy to carry over […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Buchanan YMCA Secretary Lincoln Kanai’s “courage against injustice” of World War II

In the annals of Japanese American history, a great deal of attention has been justly devoted to the four wartime “internment cases,”? in which individual Nisei ? Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, Fred Korematsu and Mitsuye Endo ? challenged mass removal before the Supreme Court. In contrast, several other Nisei brought cases in the lower courts. […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Feminist Writer Ishigaki Made Waves

In the decade surrounding World War II, the Japanese-born feminist and activist Ayako Ishigaki lived in the United States, where she distinguished herself as a radical intellectual and outspoken opponent of Japan’s military occupation of Manchuria and China. She joined dockside protests aimed at preventing Japanese ships from landing and transporting cargoes and barnstormed the […]


Jenichiro Oyabe (1867-1941) was among the first people of Japanese ancestry to write about his life in the United States. His memoir “A Japanese Robinson Crusoe,” first published in 1898, offers a picturesque account of the author’s experiences. It is also a fascinating example of the dark side of “Americanization” — how immigrants seeking liberty […]