Sei Soga


Name Sei Soga
Born September 30 1882
Died August 8 1970
Birth Location Fukui Prefecture, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

Issei activist in Hawai'i who promoted Japanese cultural traditions and connections between Hawai'i and Japan.

Early Life

Sei Tanizawa Soga (1882–1970) was born in Fukui prefecture, Japan. She was the eldest daughter of Ryuzo and Yasu Tanizawa's four children. At eleven years of age, both her mother and her youngest brother died, which forced Soga to take on additional familial responsibilities caring for her remaining brother and sister. Despite these personal challenges, Soga was able to graduate from the Otsu High School for Girls (Kooto Jogakkō) in March 1898. She assisted her father, who was an attorney, in his election campaign for a seat in the national Diet and after her father was elected, Soga would accompany him to Tokyo when the Diet was in session.

On January 9, 1911, she married Yasutaro Soga, president and editor of the Nippu Jiji, one of the largest Japanese language newspapers in Hawai'i. Yasutaro Soga had returned to Japan following the death of his first wife and younger son while he was imprisoned for four months along with labor leaders of the Japanese Higher Wage Association in the 1909 strike against sugar plantations. When Yasutaro Soga visited his wife's relatives in Ōsaka, his sister-in-law and her husband introduced him to Tanizawa and they were soon married. Following the wedding, Yasutaro Soga returned to Hawai'i and six months later Sei Soga arrived in Hawai'i with her five-year-old stepson, Shigeo, who she raised as her own child as the Sogas did not have more children.

Community Activism and Wartime Activities

In Hawai'i, Soga became involved in the Japanese Women's Society that was once headed by the wife of the Japanese consul-general in Hawai'i. Meetings were traditionally held at the consulate and the membership included the wives of prominent individuals in business, education, religion, and medicine and gradually expanded to include Nisei women. Soga helped to oversee the management of a kindergarten in Honolulu for children of Japanese ancestry to help prepare them for entry into Hawai'i's public schools. During the war, authorities arrested and incarcerated Soga's husband, Yatsutaro, due to suspicions that surrounded resident aliens in Hawai'i. According to Yatsutaro, one of the last words Soga said to him before authorities took him away was "please be careful not to catch a cold."[1] The Sogas would not see each other for the next four years as officials sent Yasutaro first to Sand Island, then Lordsburg, New Mexico, and finally to Santa Fe. In the meantime, Sei Soga assisted her stepson Shigeo, who became president and editor of the Nippu Jiji, which would later be renamed the Hawaii Times. She also volunteered for the American Red Cross and for many years raised money for the American Cancer Society.

Postwar Activism

When Yasutaro Soga eventually returned to Hawai'i after the conclusion of the war, Soga would continue to offer her husband support. She became a charter member of the Japanese Women’s Society of Honolulu that was organized on July 12, 1954 with the disbanding of the original women's society during the war. She was an officer of the Japanese Division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and was a member of Honolulu Young Women's Christian Association's (YWCA) Japanese Committee of the International Institute. As the wife of a prominent newspaper editor, Soga regularly hosted dignitaries from Japan and welcomed artists, educators, and diplomats to Hawai'i and her home. One author explained why Soga was often called upon to assist in the organization or planning of international and cross-cultural exhibits or club functions that combined many different groups representing Honolulu's multiethnic population:

Her dominant and powerful personality inspired both loyal friendships and some moments of abrasiveness, but always great respect. Confident and comfortable in any social circle in Honolulu, she built many bridges between the Japanese community and other groups, races, and generations intertwined in the development of Hawaii in the first half of the twentieth century.[2]

As a bridge between Hawai'i and Japan, Soga embraced many causes and supported various organizations in Honolulu. She and her husband were members of Choonshinsha, a tanka poetry club, and of Hawaii Hosho Kai, a Noh chanting association. Soga also joined Furin Kai, a women's club, and enjoyed playing go, a strategy game often likened to chess.

In 1954, Soga and her husband became naturalized citizens of the United States. Three years later, her husband would pass away on March 7, 1957, at the age of eighty-three. In June 1968, Japan's Imperial Household awarded Soga the Sixth Order of the Sacred Treasure for her leadership in the Japanese community in the Islands. Renowned for her dedication, energy, and commitment to community causes in Hawai'i, Soga died on August 8, 1970, at the age of eighty-seven.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura, University of Hawai'i

Footnotes

  1. Yasutaro Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai'i Nisei (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008), 25.
  2. Barbara Bennett Peterson, ed. Notable Women of Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1984), 354.