Controversy in the Community

 

Bronze bust of Yasushi Yamazaki, circa 20th century. Alfred Iwasaki collection, NNM 2016.22.1.1.1

Bronze bust of Yasushi Yamazaki, circa 20th century. Alfred Iwasaki collection, NNM 2016.22.1.1.1

“Yasushi Yamazaki was a great man, he founded the Tairiku Nippo newspaper and organized a fisherman’s union, [and] headed the Canadian Japanese Association who trained the Japanese Canadian Volunteer Corps. But there was another newspaper called Kanada Shinbun, which organized the Kakushin Domeikai (the alliance for reform) which opposed the CJA" - Kiyoji Iizuka

 

Yamazaki's dream for a Japanese Canadian battalion fighting in service of the British Empire was not universally popular among Japanese Canadians. Some doubted that Canada would allow Japanese Canadians to fight for them, and saw the initiative as a futile waste of time and money. Among the critics was Goro Kaburagi, a Christian minister and editor of the Kanada Shinbun, a rival newspaper to Yamazaki's Tairiku Nippo.

In March 1916, the Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps had been training for over two months, but they appeared to be no closer to getting their uniforms. In fact, Colquhoun had received a wire from the Minister of Militia stating: "regret exceedingly we have no authority from British government to take Japanese battalion", but he and Yamazaki had decided not to tell the Corps, hoping to still be able to sort something out with the Canadian government.

Meanwhile, the Kanada Shinbun had printed some critical comments about the volunteer troops, and CJVC trainees assaulted two community members on separate occasions who expressed skepticism about their military service: one was beaten so severely that he was hospitalized. Kaburagi condemned the attacks in the Kanada Shinbun, and said the CJA was irresponsible to not keep the Corps fully informed.

After this editorial was printed, men from the CJVC gathered to plan a major retaliation:

"The newspaper offices were attacked and destroyed, the streets were unsafe, street cars stopped and the police came. It was difficult to resolve as over 300 people were involved. A dozen were arrested, and three were jailed. We had to pay one yen each for them for daily allowances.” - Kiyoji Iizuka

The fallout from this event was significant: not only were the Kanada Shinbun's office windows and doors smashed, but their printing machine and boxes of Japanese type had been overturned. Kaburagi requested police protection for his home, which was granted. Six of the rioters were fined $25 each, and of the three men sent to jail, two were held for one month, and the third man was held for two. The incident was reported on in the local English-language media, who spoke to both Colquhoun and Kaburagi.

Yasushi Yamazaki in his Canadian army uniform, circa 1916. Yamazaki was made an honorary colonel for his role in organizing the Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps. Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre 2005.1.1.26

Yasushi Yamazaki in his Canadian army uniform, circa 1916. Yamazaki was made an honorary colonel for his role in organizing the Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps. Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre 2005.1.1.26

Unfortunately, the skepticism of Kaburagi and others was soon justified: the Canadian government did ultimately refuse the CJVC's service. But this period of uncertainty demonstrated the loyalty and resolve of the Japanese Canadian recruits, however misguided their actions. These qualities would later be put to better use in their determination to enlist in Alberta, and on the battlefields in Europe.