Asian American Legacy: Hideo Hashimoto

One of the things I wanted to do when I was in academia was to bring about greater awareness of Asian American religious history. More specifically, I wanted to enrich the story of Christianity in the United States by shedding light on the legacy of Asian American Christian witness. But these plans were sidetracked when I left my position as a seminary professor in 2006 and helped to start the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC). As full-time Pastor of English Ministries at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church over the past four years, I’ve also had little opportunity to pursue this dream. But I feel that the time is right to resume this quest.

So, I am starting an Asian American Christian Legacy collaborative blog series. I want to devote each blog to an Asian American Christian leader and a representative primary document. That person may or may not be well-known. But I believe that making that person’s story and his or her own words accessible to the public will add to our knowledge and appreciation of the Asian American Christianity. Because this is a collaborative effort, I invite anyone who has more information about a particular figure to share citations, links, photos, or videos. Please also recommend people to include in this series!

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Hideo Hashimoti c. 1955 from Lewis & Clark Digital Collections

Let’s start with Rev. Dr. Hideo Hashimoto (1911-2003).

I first became aware of Dr. Hashimoto while reading his sermon, “The Babylonian Exile and the Love of God.” The sermon was part of a collection of messages delivered by Japanese American pastors on the Sunday before all West Coast Japanese Americans were relocated from their homes and, eventually, into internment camps. Each pastor and congregant knew that their lives would be disrupted and forever altered. The pastors all encouraged their flocks to stand firm and face the future with faith and courage. Hashimoto, ordained in the Methodist Church in 1939 and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York, spoke poignantly about the significance of suffering and recognition of sin. He linked the Japanese American experience to Israel’s exilic period. I have posted the sermon in its entirety below.

At the moment, I know very little about Dr. Hashimoto and almost nothing about his parents – except that his mother was killed by the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.[1] Nor do I know whether he grew up in a Christian family or came to profess his faith later in life. I do know that Hideo Hashimoto was born in the United States on Feb. 13, 1911 (I’m not sure of the location). His parents sent him to Japan for primary school education, but he returned to the U.S. for high school. He could marginally be considered a kibei (i.e., a person born in the United States of Japanese immigrant parents and educated chiefly in Japan). In 1934, Hashimoto received a B.S. degree from the University of California and became very interested in Japan-U.S. relations and, apparently, ministry. In 1940 he earned a Bachelor of Divinity in Christian ethics from Union Theological Seminary, New York. He studied under Reinhold Niebuhr, who he considered his most important professor at Union (Hashimoto would “fondly remember Niebuhr’s wartime efforts to persuade the [Roosevelt] administration not to intern the Japanese.”)

But he disagreed sharply with Niebuhr regarding public and international affairs. Niebuhr urged the United States to enter the war against the Axis Powers, but Hashimoto favored neutrality. Hashimoto noted that “that has been the story of my theology and ethics pretty much since my seminary days, especially on the issue of war and politics.” [2]

In the 1940s, Hashimoto was pastor at several Japanese American Methodist congregations and at the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas, where he met his wife, Rayko. He then earned a Th.D. from the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Ca. in 1949. That summer, just as he was about to assume a pastoral position at a Japanese American Methodist Church in Spokane, Washington, he was invited to join the faculty of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon where he served until retirement [3]

Incidentally, there was a Japanese American Captain – a Korean War hero – who was also named Hideo Hashimoto. See
http://www.history.army.mil/books/korea/20-2-1/sn24.htm

But our Hideo Hashimoto taught in the Department of Religious Studies from 1949 until 1976. Throughout his teaching career he invested an enormous amount of energy into peace and social justice efforts. He was active in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Oregon Inter-religious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, the American Friends Service Committee, the Portland Urban League, and the Oregon-Idaho Conference Board of Church and Society.

In fall 1969, Hashimoto was appointed by the American Friends Service Committee to be special Quaker representative for United States-Japan relations. He devoted his sabbatical to facilitating the return of Okinawa to Japan. [4]

After his retirement, he worked tirelessly against the proliferation of nuclear arms, earning him Multnomah County’s first Peace Award in 1991.[5]

After his death on June 22, 2003, John Anderson, professor emeritus of religious studies at Lewis & Clark noted that “Hideo was a great peace lover and activist…He was an energetic social activist up to his death.” [6]

His papers (Hideo Hashimoto papers) are located at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, so perhaps someone has or can take a look. More details about his faith-inspired public witness would be truly invaluable!

NOTES:

[1] Board of County Commissioners for Multnomah County, Oregon. “Proclamation 91-111: In the Matter of Honoring Dr. Hideo Hashimoto for his Contribution to the National and Local Peace Movement on the Occasion of the 46th anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima.” (August 6, 1991)

[2] cited in Ronald H. Stone, Professor Reinhold Niebuhr: A Mentor to the Twentieth Century (Westminster/John Knox, 1992), p 144.

[3] “Japanese Pastor Wins High Post,” Spokane Daily Chronicle (Aug 1, 1949), p 1; “Rev. Maraji Goto takes post here,” Spokane Daily Chronicle (Aug 13, 1949), p 5

[4] “United States – Japan Relationship Reaches a Turning Point,” Friends Journal: Quaker Life and Thought Today, Dec 1, 1969 (vol 15, no 22), p 694
accessed at http://www.friendsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/emember/downloads/1969/HC12-50466.pdf

[5]  “Hideo Hashimoto, Peace Activist” (Senate – August 02, 1991), Congressional Record, 102nd Congress (1991-1992) accessed at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r102:S02AU1-3643:/

[6] “Hideo Hashimoto, professor emeritus of religious studies, died June 22, 2003, at age 92.” accessed at http://legacy.lclark.edu/dept/chron/profsmournedw04.html

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Here is Rev. Hideo Hashimoto sermon to Fresno Japanese Methodist Church on the Sunday before evacuation. It is excerpted from Allan H. Hunter and Gurney Binford, eds., The Sunday Before (Sermons by Pacific Coast Pastors of the Japanese race on the Sunday before Evacuation to Assembly centers in the late spring of 1942) [unpublished manuscript, Graduate Theological Union Archives, Berkeley, CA http://gtu.edu/library/special-collections/archives]

The Babylonian Exile and the Love of God
(Sunday, May 10, 1942)

The order has been definitely issued that we are to be evacuated, beginning the coming Friday. This is the last Sunday of our life outside the barbed wire fences.

A myriad of mixed feelings overcomes us as we reflect upon the past – how we took freedom for granted; of the future – of the life in the concentration camps; children cramped and stunted; young people, demoralized; old people, bitter. And the present, a nightmare.

How are we going to “take it”? are we going to be bitter and resentful? Are we going to be cynical and indifferent? Or are we going to overcome the paralyzing and embittering experiences of these days and of even more critical days to come, and turn this evil to good?

Whenever we are confronted with the painfulness of the present, the immediacy of which overcomes us like a distorted out-of-focus close-up in a snapshot, it helps us to take a long look back to a period of human history when man had gone through similar experiences, unscathed, triumphant.

Compared with the harrowing experiences of the Jewish people following the defeat of Jerusalem, 597 B.C., ours is but nothing.

The terror of that war, the bitterness of defeat, the resentment against being torn away from home, still somewhat stunned but unconsciously the rebellious feeling of a despondent captive in the midst of repulsive splendor of the conquering civilization – these are all reflected in the sorrowful poetry of the Lamentations and the 137th Psalm:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
. . . Ps 137

This song ends with the terrible vindictiveness of a wronged patriot. This was quite natural, and to be expected. Yet, this was not the only reaction of the Israelites in their suffering.

A great jump ahead in the history of the Jewish religion, in fact, in the whole history of religious experience of the human race came out of the experience of exile and captivity. The Providence and Love of God which passes all human understanding manifest themselves under strangely wonderful circumstances.

An unknown prophet, known to Old Testament scholars as the Second Isaiah, reveals the depth of the love of God which was not excelled until the coming of Jesus, the incarnation of the Love of God, himself. He began with the great triumphant and hopeful strain, set to the immortal music of Handel’s Messiah:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,
says your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
and cry unto her,
That her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned:
That she has received of Yahweh’s hand
double for all her sins.
(Isa. 40:1-2) (Bewer)

The first great emphasis was that God is One. There is no other God. The Lord is the Creator. He uses his instruments, as he will – Babylonians or Cyrus. The creature has no right to question the Creator.

Does one strive with his Maker?
a potsherd with the potter?
Does the clay say to him that fashions it,
“What makest thou?
And thy work has no handles”? …

I have made the earth, and created man upon it;
I, even My hands, have stretched out the heavens,
and all their hosts have I commanded,
I have raised him up in righteousness,
and I will make straight all his ways;
He shall build My city, and let My exiles go free,
Not for price nor reward, says Yahweh of hosts.
(Isa. 45:9-11) (Bewer) {n.b.: correct citation is Isa 45:9, 12-13}

Israel is the chosen race of Yahweh. “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name.” (45:4)

But this relationship is not that of special favoritism. Israel is not to be the conquerors and victors. They are to be redeemers, the Suffering Servant.

Behold, My servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen, in whom My soul delights;
I have put My Spirit upon him,
he shall bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry, nor lift up his voice,
nor cause it to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed will he not break,
and the dimly burning wick will he not quench.
He will bring forth justice in truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till he have set justice in the earth:
and the isles shall wait for his instruction.
(Isa. 42:1-4) (Bewer)

This second point concerning the Suffering Servant was a great forward step in the evolution of religion. It was no less the revelation of the depth of the Love of God! Until then, Jewish religion had been teaching that the righteous will prosper and the wrongdoers, suffer. Now, this great Prophet reveals the Love of God which turns the misfortunes of a chosen people into their own good, using both the chosen and the foreign races as instruments in His Divine Plan.

Six hundred years later, Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecy of this great seer, who laid the very foundations of the belief in the redemptive love, central in the Christian faith.

Out of the depth of despair and suffering, the prophet saw the truth of Love that stoops to save the most undeserving sinner. He showed thus that even out of racial disaster and tragedy can come a great good; that out of the depth of despair one can peer into the depth of unfathomable Love of God.

The situation which confronts us as we meet together in this last Sunday service before evacuation is far from the horror and disaster of the people of Jerusalem. There is not the physical suffering nor the bitterness toward those who must carry out the order. We go as residents and citizens of a nation cooperating in the efforts for national defense. We have grave doubts as to the wisdom of this procedure and as to the motives of some of the groups that engineered this evacuation. Yet we have nothing but good will and the sense of loyalty to the people and the nation.

Yet some of the elements of the circumstances and the feeling of Israel are there. We are branded as enemy aliens. We are to be uprooted from HOME as we know and loved it. We must cast away the business and other endeavors for livelihood built after a generation of toil and seat. We are to be carried away captive, exiles – destination unknown. The same longing for home, for creative participation in the nation in crisis, for freedom, above all, is there.

In a sense, our being evacuated is the consequence of our sinfulness. As American citizens of Japanese ancestry, we had a great mission to fulfill. We were destined to be the bridge-builders of the Pacific.

But we failed. In our self-centeredness, like Jonah, we ran away from our great mission. We thought only of fun, thrill, and good time. We sought fame, reputation, to be a “good sport.” We sought money and soft, easy, comfortable lives. We were constantly reminded of our task, until we were sick and tired of hearing about “Bridge-builders of the Pacific.” Yet, instead of going straight toward our responsibility, we went in the opposite direction – money making, self seeking, sin. For sin means going the opposite direction from God-given destiny.

This war, this suffering, and our evacuation, is partially our fault and our making. If we had been vigilant, and stuck to our God-given mission, working with all our heart and soul to prevent war and make for peace, justice and true democracy, the situation may have been different somewhat.

From the standpoint of American democracy, this evacuation is a sham, a dangerous attack upon the fundamental principle upon which our nation in built.

But from the standpoint of a Christian Nisei, it is a well-deserved punishment for our indifference, our falling down on the job, our self-centeredness, our sin.

Yet, it is far more than punishment. God turns even the sins of man to work for his redemption. The people of Israel saw a great light in the prophecy of Second Isaiah in the pitch darkness of despair. We must seek the same light.

A piece of grit gets into an oyster shell. The oyster senses what corresponds to human pain. It builds hard tissue around it to protect itself. Lo, a pearl!

God does not purposefully give suffering to man. Suffering comes from the result of man’s sin.

Yet, God uses even the consequence of sin to the end that man should see aright and turn to Him, and turn back to the God-given mission for his life.

Our evacuation must prove more redemptive than punitive. We have been shocked into the realization that we have fallen down upon the God-given task. We have come to realize that we have been sinful. We have been shocked into realizing that the world is not an easy-going, happy-go-lucky sort of picnic, but a just, righteous, and moral one, where man reaps what he sows.

Moreover, in the congested Centers where we are destined to stay, perhaps for the “duration”, we shall be given an unexcelled opportunity for the practice of what we have been taught to believe. It was difficult in the world, where competition was the order of society to practice neighborliness and brotherhood. In the camps, cooperation will not only be highly desirable, it will be the absolute opportunity to prove that Christianity works and the Christian spirit alone works. If it doesn’t work in the Centers, it will not work anywhere. For that very reason, Christians are on the trial. This is the testing of our faith.

It is not enough that we go half the way; we must go the whole way – to make friends, to be good neighbors (a good neighbor means a great deal when there is but a partial partition between the apartments), to serve, and to sacrifice.

God is ever with us; but especially in our trials and tribulations. Like another Isaiah, we turn from despair and find God, forever ready to stoop down to save us, giving us a new insight into the Heart of Hearts, the citadel of Love. The minute we realize our relation with the Eternal, the Creator, we are free. The army rules, bayonets, and barbed wire fences cannot hold us.

If only there are stars,
I have my friends.
But in the dark
I think upon my fate,
And all
My spirit sickens
And the hard tears fall.

Around my prison
Runs a high stockade;
And from my wrists
Chains dangle;
But no power
Can lock my eyes.

So can I steal
This lovely light
That wraps me –
This radiance
That drips
Out of the Dipper

Dragging my chains
I climb
To the tall window-ledge;
And though
My body cannot crawl
Between those grim iron rods,
Still can I
Laugh as my spirit flies
Into the purple skies!

Northward and northward,
Up and up,
Up to the world of light
I go bounding;
Farewell, O Earth, farewell,
What need I now of your freedom?

Fearless, I fly and fly,
On through the heavenly sky;
Breaking all prison bars,
My soul sleeps with the stars!

(From SONGS FROM THE SLUMS – by Toyohiko Kagawa)

We are free – free to grow in faith, free to serve our fellow men, free to search the unfathomable depth of the Love of God, free to seek and fulfill our mission.

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