Remembering Gordon Kadota

by NAJC President Lorene Oikawa

The NAJC received some very sad news from the Kadota family. Gordon Kadota, a former NAJC president, passed away on July 31, 2019. He had an amazing life, and if he was telling his story, he may have started with, “It’s a long story.” He was able to play a vital role as a bridge between Canada and Japan. When he was seven years old he went to Japan for a family visit, but because of the Second World War he was unable to return to Canada and ended up completing his education in Japan. A few years after he returned, he started volunteering for the Japanese Canadian community. He was the second editor of The Bulletin magazine in 1960. He organized Japanese Canadian events in 1977 for the 100thanniversary of the first documented Japanese man in Canada. He was president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians from 1980 to 1983. He was the founding member of the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre which opened in 2000. Gordon also did some lecturing in Japan at the college and university level to share Japanese Canadian history. His many accomplishments were recognized with a number of awards including the Order of the Rising Sun in 2005; Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013; and the Thomas Shoyama Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

His achievements also included owning companies specializing in tourism between Japan and Canada, translating and business consulting services, and co-founding the OK Gift Shop with Canadian stores in Vancouver, Banff, and Niagara Falls.

Gordon was active in the Japanese Canadian community and was a familiar sight at many events.

At one of the events last year, a speaker, Dr. Eric Adams was sharing the story about the origins of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1980, NAJC president Gordon Kadota led a delegation including Roger Obata and Dr. Art Shimizu to address a government committee. Gordon’s powerful speech urging a strong charter and to entrench it in the constitution to provide the protection that Japanese Canadians did not have, had a powerful impact on the government committee. After Dr. Adams finished speaking, it was noted that Gordon Kadota happened to be present, and the audience broke into applause.

Some of Gordon’s words in 1980:

“Our history in Canada is a legacy of racism made legitimate by our political institutions, and we must somehow, ensure that no groups of Canadians will be subjected to the whims of political process, as we were.”

“We, the National Association of Japanese Canadians urge your recommendation to the Government of Canada, to include in the constitution, a just and unconditional charter of human rights which will ensure that the fundamental rights of a free society be the birthright of all Canadians.”

Gordon Kadota will be remembered for his important work on behalf of the Japanese Canadian community. We will also remember his kindness, good humour and generosity. He always had time to share a story with me, and I wish I had more time with him. Our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues across Canada, the United States, England and Japan.

We asked former NAJC president Art Miki to share his thoughts about Gordon Kadota.

Gordon first became President of NAJC in 1980, the first president from British Columbia. One of his greatest contribution was his passionate presentation at a Parliamentary Committee on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms where he forcibly articulated the need for the Charter as he exemplified the unjust experiences faced by Japanese Canadians during wartime was the denial of rights. He was president during the time the idea of redress was percolating within the Japanese Canadian community. After the disastrous meeting in Toronto in September 1983, there was an attempt by the Redress Committee to gain support of National Council to accept a community foundation as redress. This resulted in heated reactions from Council members who felt that the lack of consultation and views for individual compensation were ignored. Gordon was left with the challenge to reunite the community as he travelled across the country to hear their views. It was shortly after that I became president to carry where Gordon left off.

I knew Gordon on a personal note. He was proud of his heritage and was passionate about the Japanese Canadian community. He was extremely generous in his support of the community activities both in his volunteerism and financially. I enjoyed the many discussions we had as we pondered over questions such as increasing community engagement and the future of the Japanese Canadian community. Gordon had accumulated a wealth of information during his tenure and his files will be an invaluable resource to preserve.

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