A Tribute to Hosokawa

By Gil Asakawa
July 15, 2011

Many readers of the Pacific Citizen — especially older readers — will be familiar with the name Bill Hosokawa.

He wrote a column that ran in the P.C. for decades, "From the Frying Pan," which was a running commentary on Japanese America. In 1969 he published the first comprehensive history of Japanese Americans, "Nisei: The Quiet Americans," which 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 P.C. readers probably aren't familiar with. 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.

In the JACL universe, Hosokawa has a large national profile. He didn't always agree with JACL, and could be curmudgeonly and quick to criticize the organization or even the P.C. But his name is one of the foundations of our community's national history.

In Colorado, he's downright legendary, and not just with JAs. His legacy looms large in Denver and throughout his adopted state for his work as a writer and editor, a supporter of civil rights and a diplomat who built lasting bridges with Japan. He was, as he used to quip, "The most famous Japanese American in Japan."

That legacy is being celebrated with an appropriate acknowledgement. A Bill Hosokawa Memorial Committee (full disclosure: to which I've recently been drafted) is overseeing the sculpting of a bust of Hosokawa to be reproduced and placed in two locations: The Denver Public Library main branch downtown, and the Denver Botanic Gardens.

The Denver Botanic Gardens is paying further tribute by naming its redesigned and expanded Japanese Gardens the Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion and Japanese Garden.

It may seem like a lot of attention if you only knew Hosokawa through his columns in the P.C. and the handful of books he's written. Outside of the JACL, he was a reporter and editor for many years with The Denver Post, and ran the newspaper's Sunday magazine, "Empire," through its peak years of the '60s and '70s. After decades with the Post he worked for the rival Rocky Mountain News until he retired in 1992.

Throughout his career he maintained the "From the Frying Pan" columns in the P.C., and he also wrote a weekly column in Denver's Japanese community newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Jiho. I was fortunate enough to join him as a columnist for the Jiho for a few years until the paper folded.

Outside of journalism, Hosokawa saw the importance of promoting better relationships with Japan.

He was a founding force behind the Japan America Society of Colorado, which promotes cultural and business ties between the state and Japan. And, in 1976 he took on the role of honorary consul general of Japan in Colorado, a position he held until 1999. 

The Denver Botanic Gardens' current Japanese Gardens is already a much-loved feature and is one of the most popular attractions within the gardens. Once the expansion is complete, the Hosokawa name will denote not just the current bonsai gardens and traditional tea house and garden, but also an indoor area for more fragile bonsai and a space to host events; enhancements to the Tea Garden, and a Sand and Stone Garden.

The Botanic Gardens is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to make these plans come to life; the expansion is due to be finished next year with great fanfare.

It would have been interesting to read what he'd write about the hullaballoo. I bet it would have been funny, smart and humble — that's how he lived his life, and how he wrote about it.

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