Eddie Shimano


Name Eddie Shimano
Born May 28 1911
Died 1986
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Eddie Shimano (1911–86) was a leading writer and editor of the wartime press, both inside and outside the Japanese American camps.

Eddie Takato Shimano grew up in Seattle. After obtaining his diploma from Franklin High School in 1929, he spent time working in Alaskan canneries, took a short trip to Japan, then rode the rails around the United States. In 1934, he enrolled at Ellensburg Normal School (now Central Washington University), where he was named associate editor of The Campus Crier, a student newspaper. However, when his editorials were censored by faculty members, he dropped out of the school. After moving to Hartford, Connecticut and briefly attending Trinity College, he settled in Boston and worked for the Boston Transcript newspaper.

In 1935 he won a scholarship to Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. There he joined the English club, where he persuaded his classmates to let him produce a review of Japanese American literature. Shimano contacted Mary Oyama Mittwer, who directed a Los Angeles literary club, The Writers of Southern California. She agreed to merge the club's literary quarterly, Leaves, with the new magazine, and to recruit contributors. Henry Tatsumi, a lecturer at University of Washington, not only found Seattle-based contributors, but chose a title for the magazine, Gyo-Sho. As Shimano explained in his foreword, "GYO-SHO, literally Dawn-Bell, means 'the peal of the gong at the break of day.' In Japan the temple bell is struck at the first glimmerings of the break of dawn to announce to the inhabitants that a new day awaits. And so we think of this magazine as the bell which we strike to announce to the world a new day, symbolizing the awakening of the Nisei." Gyo-Sho, 24 pages long, appeared in May 1936, in a handsome, hand-bound edition. It was not the first Japanese American literary magazine—that honor belonged to the Salt Lake City-based quarterly Reimei. However, Gyo-Sho remains notable for its diversity of literary styles and genres.

After leaving Cornell, Shimano moved to San Francisco, where in June 1936 he was hired as English-language editor for the Japanese American newspaper Shin Sekai. He remained in the position until December 1936. Soon after, the Japanese Army invaded China. Shimano bravely took a public stand against the Japanese occupation and called for a boycott of Japanese goods. By 1938 he had become a director of the American Friends of the Chinese People, and he joined Chinese colleagues in demonstrations on the San Francisco docks. As a result, he was labeled a communist and ostracized by community leaders. Worn out from the ordeal, Shimano spent parts of 1939–40 in a tuberculosis sanitarium. During this time, he wrote a short novel, "Bread," for which he was unable to find a publisher. To support himself, he ghostwrote portions of a history of San Francisco theater for the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration.

After the United States declared war on Japan, Shimano helped his friends, journalist Larry Tajiri and sculptor Isamu Noguchi, to form an antifascist political group, the Nisei Writers' and Artists' Mobilization for Democracy. Their goal was simultaneously to stimulate democratic sentiment among Nisei and avert mass removal. Once mass removal was implemented. Shimano was confined at Santa Anita. There he won the coveted position of editor of the center newspaper The Pacemaker. He chose the title, he explained, in hopes that the newspaper would "set the pace" for Nisei and encourage them to overcome their difficulties. In addition to editing, he contributed a column, "Win, Place and Show." The Pacemaker was soon credited by Larry Tajiri as being one of the best of the assembly center newspapers. (In his column, Shimano quipped, "We might as well say that an informal poll taken in the Pacemaker office last week rated the Manzanar Free Press the best in news coverage; the Tulare News 'Grapevine' the best column; and an unmentionable paper, the most illiterate.")

After several months in Santa Anita, Shimano was sent on to the Jerome camp in Arkansas, where he was named editor of its biweekly newspaper, The Denson Communique. The Communique published its first issue on October 23, 1942, two weeks after the camp opened. He was also invited to write a weekly Sunday column for the mainstream Arkansas Gazette newspaper. In November 1942, Shimano was elected to the Jerome Community Council.

Sometime in late 1942, shortly after he arrived in Arkansas, Shimano was contacted by the Common Council for American Unity, a New York-based group organized to defend immigrants and minorities. He agreed to write an article for their quarterly journal Common Ground. With support from Isamu Noguchi and Larry Tajiri, with whom he had remained in touch, Shimano was hired as an assistant by M. Margaret Anderson, editor of Common Ground. As a result he was able to leave camp in February 1943. (Following his departure, the Communique was renamed The Denson Tribune by new editor Paul Yokota).

Once resettled in New York and employed at Common Ground, Shimano organized a public forum on Japanese Americans, which attracted some 200 people, and worked with Anderson on a special issue devoted to mass confinement, entitled, "Get the Evacuees Out!" Shimano's contribution was an essay, "Blueprint for a Slum." It described the harsh psychological toll of mass incarceration on the Nisei in the camps, and advocated full integration of resettlers into the larger society. Shimano also became active in the New York-based antifascist group Japanese American Committee for Democracy. When local Nisei organized a progressive English-language weekly, The Nisei Weekender, at the end of the war, Shimano was named editor. Unfortunately, the newspaper folded in mid-1947. He returned to work with Common Ground and did a set of book reviews, but it folded soon after.

It the postwar years Shimano was increasingly restricted by writer's block and by alcoholism. The breakup of his marriage to his first wife, Kitty, increased his difficulties. He later lived in upstate New York, where he married his second wife, Virginia, and worked as a freelance editor and ghostwriter. He died in 1986, a late casualty of the war.

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Shimano, Eddie. "Blueprint for a Slum." Common Ground, Summer 1943, 78–85.

Beyer, William C. "Creating 'Common Ground' on the Home Front: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in a 1940s Quarterly Magazine." In The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society. Edited by Kenneth Paul O'Brien and Lynn Hudson Parsons. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. 41–61.

Miyagawa, Dyke. "Remembering Eddie Shimano." New York Nichibei, April 17, 1986.

Robinson, Greg. "Eddie Shimano." Nichi Bei Times, August 30, 2007.