Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | bill hosokawa
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[caption id="attachment_3686" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The Japanese Gardens as it currently looks at the Denver Botanic Gardens"]Denver Botanic Gardens' current Japanese Garden[/caption] Many Japanese Americans – especially older JAs – will be familiar with the name Bill Hosokawa. He wrote a column, “From the Frying Pan,” which was a running commentary on Japanese America that ran in the Pacific Citizen, the national newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), a civil rights organization, for decades. In 1969 he published the first comprehensive history of Japanese Americans, “Nisei: The Quiet Americans,” that included information about internment. In 1982 he published “JACL: The Quest for Justice,” a history of JACL. He also published a collection of “Frying Pan” columns with added observations in 1998. His final book, published in 2005, was “Colorado's Japanese Americans: From 1886 to the Present,” which most Japanese Americans across the country probably aren’t familiar with, but was well-received here in Colorado. Even at age 90, when he wrote the book, he was an agile wordsmith and a witty and straightforward storyteller, a gift that served him well in his long career as a journalist. He died two years later, in 2007. bill hosokawa-denver press club 2005I was interviewed for an obituary in the LA Times when Bill died, and the reporter couldn’t understand how important “Nisei” was to a JA kid in northern Virginia in the early ’70s, where my family lived when I first read Bill’s landmark book. Being in a multicultural place like California with Asian faces everywhere you look, a book about the history of Japanese Americans may seem unremarkable. The Times’ obit even pointed out that to the emerging third-generation activists who were radicalized and beginning to actively seek their identity, “Nisei” seemed tame and even reinforced stereotypes of the meek, accommodating model minority. But to me, a kid in a northern Virginia suburb with no Asian friends — a banana if there ever was one — “Nisei” was like an electric jolt of identity. The radicalism came later; the first step for me was realizing that there were other people like me with an Asian face and Japanese values, but American heart and spirit. Colorado is more like Virginia when it comes to Asian population and JA identity. I’m much more a part of an Asian American community now, but it’s a small and disparate one. So having a historical giant like Bill Hosokawa in the area was like having a lighthouse in a fog. Bill Hosokawa was well-known nationally as one of the foundations of the Japanese American community’s national history. He’s also remembered in Colorado, and not just by Japanese Americans. His legacy looms large in Denver and throughout his adopted state for his work as a writer and editor, and a diplomat who built lasting bridges with Japan. He was, as he quite accurately used to quip, “The most famous Japanese American in Japan.” And Colorado, too.

Bill Hosokawa in 2005, sitting next to a caricature at the Denver Press Club
Bill Hosokawa died of natural causes at age 92 in Sequim, Washington, where he lived with his daughter. He was a pioneering Japanese American journalist, author and diplomat who lived in Denver for 60 years. Those are the facts of Bill's life and death. But there's lots more to Bill than just the facts. I wrote an obituary for Bill that will run in the Pacific Citizen, the newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League, the APA civil rights organization. Bill was a leader within the JACL, and a columnist for the PC for decades. I'm the editorial board chair for the newspaper, and a national board member of JACL, and I knew Bill because we'd run into each other at many events in Denver. So it made sense for me to write the obit for the PC. But I also owed it to Bill to write about him because he was a role model for me as a writer -- we both wrote columns for Denver's Japanese community newspaper (he kept his up long after I ran out of juice and got too busy). I wrote about Bill's influence on my career years ago, in one of my columns.