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Overlooked No More: Bill Hosokawa, Journalist Who Chronicled Japanese American History

Overlooked No More: Bill Hosokawa, Journalist Who Chronicled Japanese American History


This article is a part of Overlooked, a collection of obituaries about exceptional individuals whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

In 1937, Bill Hosokawa was majoring in journalism on the University of Washington, the place he had began growing a promising portfolio, having written for a number of small Seattle newspapers. So it got here as a shock when a professor of his referred to as him into his workplace and suggested him to alter his profession plan.

“No American writer is gonna ever rent you,” the professor stated. “We don’t like prejudice and discrimination, however you recognize it exists.”

Hosokawa knew that the professor was referring to: Hosokawa was Japanese American. But he spurned the recommendation. He determined, as he stated in a 2001 interview with Densho, a nonprofit that preserves the historical past of Japanese Americans positioned in incarceration camps throughout World War II: “To hell with that. Why, I’m going to go forward with this and do what I can.”

He would go on to have a decades-long profession in journalism, turning into one of many first editors of colour at a metropolitan newspaper, The Denver Post, writing a number of books and utilizing his work to advocate for the rights of Japanese Americans, even after he was shipped to an incarceration camp by the federal authorities in the course of the battle.

Kumpei Hosokawa was born on Jan. 30, 1915, in Seattle to Setsugo and Kimiyo (Omura) Hosokawa, immigrants from Japan. His father ran an employment company for Japanese immigrants, and his mom was an artist who labored for a time as a main schoolteacher.

Growing up, he spoke Japanese at dwelling and didn’t study English till he enrolled at school and started going by the title William. He spent summers working in salmon canneries in Alaska.

At Garfield High School in Seattle he was a sports activities editor for the college paper and fell in love with journalism. Shortly after enrolling on the University of Washington, he acquired his first job within the area, reporting for The Japanese-American Courier, a Seattle weekly.

As his school professor had predicted, Hosokawa struggled to search out work with a mainstream Seattle newspaper after commencement, so he briefly took a job as a press secretary for the Japanese consulate. The subsequent yr, 1938, he moved to Singapore along with his spouse, Alice, for a job as an editor with The Singapore Herald, an English-language newspaper.

He went on to report on political turmoil for the paper, touring to China, Japan and the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in northeastern China. He later moved to Japanese-occupied Shanghai, the place he labored for the English-language Shanghai Times and The Far Eastern Review. Under the scrutiny of Japanese censors, Hosokawa carried out a fragile balancing act, writing articles that generally approached the road of Japanese propaganda and infrequently went over it.

In 1941, satisfied that battle between the United States and Japan was imminent, he returned to Seattle. A month later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

In the weeks after battle broke out, Hosokawa turned energetic with the civil rights group Japanese American Citizens League. In letters to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, he extolled the loyalty of Japanese Americans amid rising anti-Japanese sentiment in America. He additionally persuaded The Seattle Times to print a full-page unfold of images of Japanese Americans performing on a regular basis actions to point out that they have been “peaceable, law-abiding” and “constructive,” as he instructed Densho.

Yet he, his spouse and his younger son have been among the many greater than 120,000 Japanese Americans who have been incarcerated by the federal authorities underneath Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. In the spring of 1942, they have been despatched to Puyallup Assembly Center, a rapidly constructed camp close to Seattle. Thin partitions did little to protect inmates from chilly spring rains, and guards patrolled the camp’s barbed-wire perimeter.

His household was later despatched to the Heart Mountain incarceration camp in Wyoming, the place Hosokawa turned the editor of The Heart Mountain Sentinel, a weekly newspaper put out by inmates that coated camp occasions and ran editorials in regards to the battle effort. Despite censorship and a meager price range, Hosokawa constructed a readership that prolonged past the camp.

In October 1943, he and his household have been permitted to go away after he was provided a job as a duplicate editor with The Des Moines Register.

In 1946, shortly after the top of the battle, The Denver Post possession employed a brand new editor and writer, Palmer Hoyt, who wished to dispel the paper’s repute for being anti-Japanese. Hosokawa, now with a household of 4 kids, utilized for a job with paper as a reporter, though not with out some trepidation.

“The Post had been a horrible newspaper, and it had been very hostile towards minorities,” he instructed the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in an interview. “I started to marvel if one man might change the paper and make it into the sort of publication that I’d need to work for.”

He stated he expressed his considerations to Hoyt, who instructed him: “You don’t have to fret about that. You’ll go as far on this group as your skills will take you.”

Hoyt stayed true to his promise. He began Hosokawa as a reporter and made him editor of The Post’s well-respected Sunday journal, Empire. In 1950, Hosokawa was despatched to Korea as a battle correspondent, and 20 years later he reported from Vietnam in the course of the battle there. He remained with The Post for practically 40 years, his final job as editorial web page editor.

In 1983, he moved to the The Rocky Mountain News, additionally primarily based in Denver, the place he was a reader consultant. He retired in 1992.

From 1942 till 2000, Hosokawa had a daily column, Out of the Frying Pan, in The Pacific Citizen, a newspaper put out by the Japanese American Citizens League. Among different topics, he wrote about life along with his household, civil rights and Japanese American literature; he was an early champion of John Okada’s landmark 1957 novel, “No-No Boy,” the story of a Japanese American draft resister.

As an writer himself, Hosokawa printed “Nisei: The Quiet Americans” (1969), which was among the many first mass-market histories of Japanese Americans. It portrayed the younger Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, as overcoming the hardships of incarceration to search out success, calling the expertise a “trial by fireplace” from which they emerged “tempered, powerful, resilient.”

Reactions to the guide have been combined. Some lauded it for capturing the group’s resolute spirit; others stated it soft-pedaled the struggling of the battle years and promoted mannequin minority myths by attributing Japanese American success to inherited cultural elements. Even the title was criticized as evoking silent conformity. Yet the guide bought nicely.

Hosokawa wrote about 10 extra books, together with one in regards to the residents league, “J.A.C.L. in Quest of Justice” (1982) and “They Call me ‘Moses’ Masaoka” (1987, with the J.A.C.L. chief Mike Masaoka). They appeared within the Nineteen Eighties, on the peak of the wrestle to redress wrongs in opposition to wartime Japanese Americans, and represented one thing of an official historical past of the J.A.C.L. While nicely researched, the books appeared meant as an apologia for the group, notably its collaboration with the federal government within the mass removing of Japanese Americans in 1942.

He additionally wrote “Thunder within the Rockies” (1976), a historical past of The Denver Post that targeted on Hoyt’s management. Hosokawa was 90 when he printed his closing guide, “Colorado’s Japanese Americans” (2005), which recounted the expansion of Japanese communities in cities like Denver on account of wartime resettlement.

In retirement, he turned concerned with the Japan America Society of Colorado and the American Civil Liberties Union, which awarded him the Whitehead Memorial prize in 2000 for lifetime service on behalf of victims of inequality. In 1987, the Japanese authorities awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun, one of many nation’s highest honors.

When he was honored by the Anti-Defamation League in 2007, Hosokawa described his life as “a exceptional demonstration of the alternatives obtainable to Americans underneath our system.”

He died on Nov. 9, 2007, in Sequim, Wash. He was 92.

Jonathan van Harmelen and Greg Robinson are historians of Japanese Americans and collectively wrote “The Unknown Great: Stories of Japanese Americans on the Margins of History” (2024).

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