Shimeji Kanazawa

Name Shimeji Kanazawa
Born December 29 1915
Died April 7 2014
Birth Location Kamuela, HI
Generational Identifier


Nisei activist who was the community liaison between the Japanese community and the military government in Hawai'i during World War II. She later supported community causes for the elderly like Project Dana.


Shimeji Ryusaki Kanazawa was born in Kamuela, Hawai'i, the eldest child of Torazo and Saki Ryusaki. Her father worked a variety of jobs in Waipi'o Valley and made okolehao (Hawaiian moonshine). He also grew and sold vegetables, operated a taxi stand, and worked as a cowboy and mechanic at Parker Ranch. Her mother was a picture bride from Shizuoka, Japan, who made tofu, raised animals, and worked to save money while caring for eleven children. From an early age, Kanazawa's parents instilled in their children important values that would influence Kanazawa's life. According to Kanazawa, she "learned to value cultural traditions of respect, especially to elders within our family and the community at large." [1] Despite the financial burden of raising a large family, Kanazawa's parents ensured that their daughter would be educated and she attended Waimea Elementary School and Hilo Intermediate School. In 1934, Kanazawa graduated from Hilo High School.

World War II Activities

After Kanazawa's graduation, she worked at a number of public schools on Hawai'i Island and was promoted to the Department of Education's Vocational Division in Honolulu. When war broke out on December 7, 1941 , Gustav Olson, who was the Vice Consul of Sweden and administrator of Queen's Hospital which became inundated with civilian war casualties, needed a liaison between the Japanese community and the military government that had instituted military rule in Hawai'i. The Swedish Vice Consul had taken over the former Japanese consulate in February 1942 and served as a diplomat, interpreter, legal advisor, and inspector of Prisoner of War (POW) compounds and incarceration centers. [2] Kanazawa explained that Olson wanted someone who spoke Japanese, but more importantly wanted "a girl with a Red Cross heart." [3] Due to her job, officials gave Kanazawa a special pass to freely travel throughout the island, and she worked with families whose sons were enlisted in the army or whose husbands or fathers had been incarcerated. As Kanazawa explained, "I had to go down to the Military Intelligence Office and find out why the husbands were taken away, and the parents would come crying on our shoulders because they don't know what to do. We cry with them too . . . . so much crying every day." Empathizing with these families, she often used her own funds to help the families separated by incarceration. When women and children arrived from the neighbor islands to O'ahu without money or a place to stay while waiting for ships to the mainland to join their husbands in incarceration centers, Kanazawa put them up in the consulate building. She explained that "We had futon and they slept on the floor" and she also bought them winter clothes with her own money and supplied them with food she paid for herself. [4] "My parents helped me," she said. "My mother sent vegetables from Hawaii" that she gave to these families.

During the war, Kanazawa also inspected the living conditions in the incarceration centers for Japanese Prisoners of War (POWs) and Hawai'i internees and ensured that they were treated in accordance with civil, military, and international laws. Kanazawa became known as the "Florence Nightingale of Hawaii" as she once took a group of approximately thirty internees to meet their families in the Crystal City , Texas, internment camp and traveled through thirty-seven states in three months. [5] The national office of the American Red Cross recognized Kanazawa for her actions during World War II and Kanazawa later worked for the Veterans Administration.

Postwar Activities and Community Activism

After the war, Kanazawa wanted to move to Tokyo to work for the American Embassy but met Kinji Kanazawa who was a community organizer who saved the Mō'ili'ili Language School, later known as the Mō'ili'ili Community Center, from being confiscated by government officials. The Kanazawas married and for a short period of time, they moved to Boston where Kinji enrolled in an accelerated law program at Boston College and Shim attended the Chamberlain School of Retailing as she hoped to open a bridal store. When they returned to the Islands, Kanazawa worked at Liberty House, Sears, and McInerny department stores while raising their son Sidney and daughter Joanne.

Even with family responsibilities, Kanazawa continued her community activism and she co-chaired a committee along with Judge Betty Vitousek that established Hawai'i's Family Court under Governor William Quinn. She also helped to create Project Dana, a volunteer interfaith based program that supports Hawai'i's elderly to "age in place" at home and in the community. According to Kanazawa, "Project Dana serves the frail elderly, housebound and handicapped—those in need of support services and personal contacts. The project is also designed to give much needed respite to family caregivers, and above all, to provide a network that will make an ongoing assessment of their additional needs, and that will recruit and train volunteers to fill these needs." [6] Due to her innovative work on behalf of the elderly, Governor Neil Abercrombie made her a lifetime member of the State Policy Advisory Board for Elderly Affairs as she had served for a number of years in the Executive Office of Aging. [7] Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also appointed her to the National Advisory Committee on Aging and due to her work in the community, the University of Hawai'i awarded Kanazawa an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree.

In 2013, less than a year before her passing, Policy Advisory Board for Elderly Affairs (PABEA) awarded Kanazawa lifetime membership on the board. "My mother made no distinction between blood relatives and friends," remarked her son Sidney Kanazawa. "They were all family." [8] Her friends were her legacy as "she loved and respected everyone. She found that there was a common human spirit. Everyone needed guidance and compassion and everybody needed love." Kanazawa's life was thus characterized by her community activism to support individuals in need both during World War II and after as she worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of both inmates and elderly.

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

For More Information

" About Our Founder-Shim Kanazawa. " Project Dana website.

Fujimori, Leila. Shimeji Ryusaki Kana­zawa: 1915-2014. " Honolulu Star-Advertiser , Apr. 19, 2014.

Stone, Scott C.S. Living Legacy: Outstanding Japanese Women of the 20th Century in Hawai'i . Honolulu: Japanese Women's Society Foundation, 2002.

Transcript, Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox , guest, Shim Kanazawa , aired Sept. 4, 2014. PBS Hawaii.


  1. Brian Suda, "Shim Kanazawa: A Pioneer for the Ages," Generations Magazine: Hawaii's Resource for Life (Apr-May 2011), 13.
  2. Gwenfread Allen, Hawaii's War Years, 1941-1945 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1950), 138.
  3. Transcript, Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox , Guest: Shim Kanazawa, aired Sept. 4, 2014, PBS Hawaii, accessed on Mar. 30, 2017 at
  4. Dee Buckingham, "Shimeji Ryusaki Kanazawa: Deemed 'Florence Nightingale of Hawaii' for WWII Actions, Hawaii Reporter , July 21, 2010, accessed on Mar. 30, 2017 at
  5. Buckingham, "Shimeji Ryusaki Kanazawa."
  6. Shimeji Kanazawa, "Giving Thanks for Being Able to Give, Thanksgiving Day Service, Honolulu Hongwanji Council, November 22, 1990," (n.p.: Honolulu,1990), 4.
  7. "Shimeji Kanazawa, Policy Advisory Board for Elder Affairs Lifetime Honorary Kupuna Award Recognition, Governor Neil Abercrombie, flickr, no date, accessed on Mar. 30, 2017 at
  8. Leila Fujimori, "Shimeji Ryusaki Kanazawa: 1915–2014," Honolulu Star-Advertiser , Apr. 19, 2014, accessed on Mar. 30, 2017 at

Last updated April 16, 2017, 10:34 p.m..