Cornerstone: Chapter 17-4

The following is a translation of an excerpt from Ishizue: Kashihara Genjiro no shinko to shogai (Cornerstone: The Faith and Life of Genjiro Kashihara) by Teruo Nishiyama. Note: This translation is a provisional one and may need to undergo further revision.

Note: This translation is presently incomplete.

Yoshiro’s Overseas Study in the U.S.

After graduating from Kyoto University, Yoshiro made a decision to study in the U.S. He then went to Tokyo to get English hands-on training to realize his goal. He looked for a job that involved the Allied Occupation. He found a job as a live-in male servant in an officer’s home. This paid off as Yoshiro passed the examination for foreign students with the best score. The competition rate was high, with 50 students applying for each opening.

On July 29, 1951, Yoshiro boarded a navy ship and departed Yokohama Harbor. Yoshinori went to see him off. He felt as if he was in a dream when he realized that he went on his own long-distance trip on the same month and day 20 years earlier.

Yoshiro studied philosophy at Yale University for a year. Fortunately, he later received a scholarship to go to Chicago University. He still had some time before his classes began, so he worked at a swimming camp in New Hampshire.

After finishing his three-month summer job, Yoshiro went on a train from New York to Chicago. An African-American gentleman with a commanding presence named William Greene happened to sit next to him. Mr. Greene was about 50 years old and was a college-educated Freemason Grand Master. The Freemasons had a long history and influence in the U.S. and were involved in various efforts to resolve African-American issues.

The two men talked on their long train ride and understood one another in a way that transcended the difference in their ages and ethnicities. Yoshiro continued to exchange letters with Mr. Greene after he went to Chicago. This experience opened Yoshiro’s eyes to racial issues.

In 1953, Yoshiro received a formal invitation from Mr. Greene to give a 30-minute speech at a Michigan Masons Convention.

The convention was held in a grand hall at the largest hotel in Grand Rapids. There were 350 people there, roughly half of them black and the other half white. Guests included congressmen, professors, and others dressed in a dignified manner, wearing frock coats and black bow ties. Yoshiro was in the middle of all of them, the only one wearing a grey suit. Struck at the formality of the occasion, he felt his heart beat faster.

As dessert was being served, Yoshiro went to the podium and was greeted with applause. He then began his speech:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor and pleasure to be with you, my friends, tonight, and speak about what I think to be proper for this occasion. Before going on to the subject, I would like to express my admiration to the efforts and courage of all the members of this organization and particularly Mr. Crampton and Mrs. Whitby have made and shown. I would like to congratulate you on the fact that the first exchange of prisoners of war is being made and I really hope that the exchanges are carried on until the last one is returned and this becomes the first step toward bringing peace and harmony to this world of ours. Although we cannot make any prediction about what the countries behind the Iron Curtain are trying to do, let us hope and pray that their peace movements are sincere and not as tricky as they used to be. I also would like to express my deep sense of gratitude to Mr. William O. Greene for giving me a chance to know many wonderful people like you, my friends.

“Since I am younger and have less experiences than most of you, I restrict my speech to the topic which does not require me years and years of experiences to handle, that is, to the topic of common place of human beings, the humanity, in terms of which only the old people and the young people, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, and the while and the colored can be united. Therefore, I think, it is pertinent to my purpose to tell you about how and why Mr. Greene and I became friends in a very short time.

“It was just in ten or 15 hours, which seem to be too short a time for people to make a friendship, but that 15 hours seem to be an eternity to me. What happened to us was nothing dramatic, but was just what would happen to everybody in everyday life, especially when making a trip in a train, which I always think to be a very interesting miniature of our human life.

“One day, last year, in the summer I took a west-bound train from New York to Chicago, were I was to go to university. Fortunately, I could get a seat. I said “fortunately,” because in Japan, during and after the last war, we had to line up for hours and hours to be able to get a seat, and rush and fight for it, but still we had to be mighty lucky to get a seat. I feel awfully sad when I recall the trip I made from my town to Tokyo, the capital of Japan, a year after the war. It was so crowded that I had to stand near the steps where the cold winter wind blew into the train through the broken windows all through the night. Most of the people were hungry and shivering from the coldness, and I was not an exception. I think you must appreciate the abundance of the United States. You should appreciate what you take as a matter of fact and what people of the rest of the world take as abundance and luxury. The American people should realize, let me say frankly, that there are many countries both in Europe and Asia where people may be working harder and getting far less than you do, not because they are dumb but because their countries do not have enough resources.

“Most of you might have heard of an antipathy against America in Europe and Asia, and it is due to mainly too great difference of wealth and richness. You might say that it is a jealousy, but I think it is more serious and deeper than that.

“Anyway, fortunately, I could get a seat, and in a few minutes, almost all seats were taken except few including the one which I took. Then a dark-colored gentleman came in and asked me, “Is this seat taken?” I said, “No, it is not.” It was a very hot and humid afternoon, and I was feeling tired and melancholic. I imagine that most of you have the same sort of sad feeling as I do, when you the place where you have lived for half a year, a year, or more than a year because your feeling is attached to that place. The place does not necessarily have to be your hometown, but can be any place where you have lived for a certain period. I stayed in New Haven, attending Yale University from 1951 to 1952, and to say farewell to New Haven meant a lot to me, particularly because my first year in this country was spent there. It meant to leave my several friends whom I might not see again for the rest of my life. Sitting in the train, I was indulging in the memories of what happened at school, the fun I had, the friends I made, and the streets I used to walk, and so on.

“Then the chain of my memories was broken, when this gentleman, sitting next to me, began to talk to me. He introduced himself as William O. Greene, and I realized that I had not introduced myself yet. After a few exchanges of conversation, I found that he was going back to Detroit, after finishing his speech in Washington D.C., about his trip to Europe. And also he found out few things about me. Since I was a foreign student, our topic centered around the racial problems, and international problems, particularly he gave me several ideas about the problems which your group of people has been and is facing and trying to solve. Now I do not recall exactly what he said, and also what I said to him, simply because of my poor memory, but I remember one thing.

“It is that Mr. Greene was and is a man who always loves and fights for humanity, in terms of which only various people of different colors, languages, creeds, customs and religions can build up a unified whole. This was the impression I got while I was talking with him. When I was at Yale University, I talked with many people, among who there were ministers, professors, students, lawyers, men in the streets, and most of them expressed their feeling for the necessity of promoting human relations and bettering international relations, but I could not feel their sincerity in my heart. They can talk about it. But what is important is not the fact that they think it necessary to promote human relations and international relations, but the reason which they give for their belief and feeling. Some think it necessary because otherwise they cannot prevent another war, and some people think it necessary only because they love humanity. They love and evaluate humanity so much that they cannot help revealing the hidden treasure of all human beings, the humanity, to many ignorant people who think they are the only human being.

“In our long life of traveling, we make lots of friends. We cannot live without a friend, but we often make a friend for the reason that we can get a profit out of him. In this way, we are desecrating the dignity of humanity. We should become friends only because we love and admire humanity in us. We love others for the same reason as we love ourselves.

“As a people, we always or usually belong to a particular nation. I belong to Japan and you to the United States. We cannot deny this fact. Now, nations can be friends as long as their national interest (especially economical and military) go along the same line, but once their interests go to the different directions, a war happens regardless of whether we like it or not. In such a case, an individual has been powerless, and we, as an individual of certain nationality, have to be loyal to our own nation. This is the tragedy of human beings.

“This was and has been the trouble of the world of ours. In this world, what we do for our own nation is often not good for the rest of the world. This fact becomes most explicit when we are engaged in a war. Now I think, what we have to do is construct the world such that what we do for our own country becomes good for the world too. This is the nation of humanity, the utopia, in which only we, as human beings, can be united by one strong tie which can never be cut off, and the fences of races, languages, customs can be thrown away.

“Mr. Greene and I became friends not because I could get profit out of him, or vice versa, but because we were fellow travelers with humanity in our hearts. We are all fellow travelers not in the sense of taking a train together from New York to Detroit nor taking a train named desire, but in the sense of riding a train named humanity.

“About two months ago, I received a letter from Mr. Greene, inviting me to this party as a guest speaker, to which I did not reply, until he sent me a telegram, urging me to accept his offer. I did not give a reply simply because I could not make my mind. I knew that he had been waiting my answer with growing impatience, and I felt sorry to him and was ashamed of myself being indetermined I could not choose either one of two opinions in myself, one urging me to accept and the other not to do so. The fact that my spoken English is not good enough for a formal occasion like this was holding me back, and the feeling that I should accept and make more friends was urging me to accept it.

“But when I received a telegram from Mr. Greene, I realized how foolish I was. I realized that what matters is not how well you speak, but how humanely you behave. This is the only thing that matters in the world, and my mind was made up. Still now, I have a kind of feeling that I am not the right person as far as speaking and experiences are concerned, but as far as human values are concerned, anybody is the right person for this occasion and this idea gives me a sense of relief. Thus I accepted Mr. Greene’s kind offer, and here I am standing and finishing my speech. I would like to finish my short speech by expressing my hope that you will continue your enduring and courageous effort to realize your final purpose, which is the establishment of brotherhood in the world.

“Thank you, my friends, for your patience and kindness to listen to my poor speech. Thank you.”1

The audience erupted in a long thunderous standing ovation. As Yoshiro thought about Genjiro, Yoshinori, and Kazuko, tears welled in his eyes.


  1. This text of Yoshiro Kashihara’s speech at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge was culled from a pamphlet entitled Jinrui-ai to iu na no ressha—Kashihara Yoshiro sensei o o-shinobi shite (A train called “love for humanity”: Remembering Rev. Yoshiro Kashihara), published by Myodo Daikyokai Shiryobu.

    Rev. Nishiyama’s book makes references to some things Yoshiro Kashihara may have said in the speech that was not included in this pamphlet. I include these sentences here:

    “I participated in World War II. Fortunately, I was spared but when I was drafted, I felt two contradicting feelings. One was a feeling that because my country was in crisis, I ought to fight for my country at the sacrifice of my life as a Japanese citizen. The other feeling I had especially stemmed from my being involved in religion, the feeling that as a human being, I should not cooperate in killing people.

    “I could not resolve this contradiction. Then I thought to myself: National interests led to making today’s friends into tomorrow’s enemies. I felt that the only path to resolve this contradiction was to create a world in which no nation’s interest conflicts with another. This is a world united by the one strong tie called humanity. To give this an analogy, we are all companions traveling to an unknown destination riding a large train called Earth.”

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