18 June 2004

Herbert Nicholson, Grandfather Goat

One of the near-saints in the lore of the family I grew up in was an old man we called Yagi no Ojiisan 'Grandfather Goat', a Quaker missionary whose principal contribution to postwar Japan, Okinawa, and Korea was organizing the delivery of goats to farmers who had lost their means of livelihood in the wake of the horrible destruction of that war. The Goat Farmer ("The largest circulation goat magazine in the world") mentions one of his exploits:
Goat soup is traditionally served at various festive events, and served raw--as sashimi--it is considered a delicacy. Goat soup is often served before or after the athletic events as the meat is high in energy, and it is said to be the best cure for a hangover and thus served after drinking parties. However, most Okinawans are not so familiar with its milk.

People in their 50s and older may have some hazy memories from the past of drinking goat milk as children. Many doctors say that, for small babies, goat milk is far better alternative to cow's milk when mother's milk is not available. Right after the war, U.S. military provided many Okinawan children goat milk because of its high nutritional value.

After WWII in 1947, Pastor Herbert Nicholson of LARA (Licensed Agencies for the Relief in Asia) introduced about 200 goats to Okinawa. Over the following years another 2,615 goats were brought in by LARA to produce goat milk. The Okinawans popularly called those goats "LARA goats."
Okinawan associations in Hawai‘i also played a big role in providing relief for their ravaged homeland.
The various relief efforts spanned four years (1945-1949), during which time 150 tons of clothing, hundreds of small appliances, toys and sundry items were collected. But the relief efforts didn’t end there: Hawaii Uchinanchu [Okinawans] and other compassionate individuals and organizations sent $20,000 in medicine and medical supplies, collected $50,000 to purchase and transport 550 pigs and 750 milking goats, and demonstrated their foresight by assisting in the effort to build the University of the Ryukyus. These relief missions revived efforts to establish a unified organization of Okinawan individuals, clubs and groups.
After that concerted effort, the fractious associations from separate villages, towns, and islands of Okinawa finally managed to form the Hawaii United Okinawa Association in 1951.

The only other thing I knew about Yagi no Ojiisan as a kid (human, not goat) was that he was a Quaker and had a cabin at Karuizawa, in Nagano prefecture, where he kindly allowed us to stay for a few weeks during the summer of 1957, when the current Japanese Emperor Akihito met the current Empress Michiko on the tennis courts of the same resort. (My father was raised a Quaker, and it was by virtue of Quaker cronyism that Nicholson allowed us to use his cabin. It certainly wasn't any connection to royalty.)

But I wasn't aware of his earlier history:
Historians have acknowledged the important, even heroic, role of former missionary Herbert Nicholson in providing material aid to Japanese Americans from the Los Angeles area interned at Manzanar. Nicholson made literally dozens of trips to the camp, bringing news from home, personal belongings from storage, and gifts from friends, and handling numerous business transactions.... But others also combined opposition to removal and internment with concrete acts of service to improve conditions for the interned Japanese Americans.(27)...

(27) Betty Mitson, "A Friend of the American Way: An Interview with Herbert V. Nicholson," in Voices Long Silent: An Oral Inquiry into the Japanese American Evacuation, ed. Arthur Hansen and Betty Mitson (Fullerton, Cal., 1974), 110-42; Michi Weglyn and Betty Mitson, eds., Valiant Odyssey: Herbert Nicholson In and Out of America's Concentration Camps (Upland, Calif., 1978) [the latter being "Interview and personal stories of Herbert Nicholson, pastor of the West Los Angeles Japanese Methodist Church in 1941, who traveled to many of the internment camps during the war" according to the Go for Broke Educational Foundation]
Confirmation that Nicholson was a Quaker, not a Methodist, comes from testimony by Victor Okada of Los Angeles:
After 25 years as a missionary in rural Japan, Rev. Herbert Nicholson, a Quaker was asked to take over the Japanese Methodist Chruch in Pasadena. Nicholson and his wife visited Manzanar, Poston and Gila River camps. "While the majority of people on the outside kept their distance, we were fortunate that people like Reverend and Mrs. Herbert Nicholson, a Quaker missionaries who had served in Japan, would visit and bring a truckful of item like baby cribs, blankets, newspapers and magazines. Through his church in [Pasadena] other churches regularly donated things for the internees. P 105 Muts Okada"
UPDATE: A website on Quakerism in Japan indicates that Herbert and Aladeline Nicholson were among the Quaker missionaries near Mito (a conservative Tokugawa stronghold) during the early decades of the twentieth century. My father says we first crossed paths with Nicholson when we lived in Kokura, Japan, just across the straits from war-ravaged Korea during the early 1950s. Although Nicholson was ojiisan 'grandfather' to us kids, he was known as Yagi no Ojisan 'Uncle Goat' to Japanese school children at the time. Apparently Nicholson and Albert Schweitzer were among the few, if not the only, model foreigners profiled in Japanese schoolbooks in those days.


Lyle Borton said...

Actually Herbert Nicholson was a Quaker and a Methodist. He was a Quaker and his wife Madeline was a Methodist. In his book "Comfort all who Mourn" (published in 1982) Herbert Nicholson explains how he became pastor of a Japanese American Methodist Church in West Los Angeles and was pastoring that church when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec 7 1941 (Page 74-75). Initially during the war he represented the “Friends Service Committee” as he went from camp to camp to aid the internees, but it got too hot and relations with the Friends Service committee was severed “with no hard feelings”, probably in 1942 (see page 104). His book covers the period of being a Friends Missionary in Japan prior to WWII, his service to the internment camps during the war and his post war “Uncle Goat” period as well as his testimony at the Redress Hearings. A great read, whenever I read it I still cry. What a wonderful couple they were. For anyone wanting to understand the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942-1945 this is a must read.

Reference: “Comfort all Who Morn” wrote by Herbert Nicholson and Margaret Wilke Published by Bookmates International, 1982. Library of Congress Cat number 81-71161. It was also translated into Japanese and published in Japan, but I do not have that information at my fingertips.

Asso. Prof. said...

Lyle Borton,
Please contact me.
I am doing research on Herbert Nicholson.
Evelyn Yee
Associate Professor

marianicole said...

Hi, I am beginning some family history research. Herbert Nicholson is one of my ancestors (my name sake is Maria Nicholson). Could recommend any other sources of information of Herbert Nicholson?

Dave Armbruster said...

Madeline and Herbert Nicholson are my great aunt and uncle. I have fond memories of visiting them in Pasadena growing up. Madeline was my maternal grandmother's sister.

Asso. Prof. said...

Lyle, Dave, Maria please contact me at my office.
Evelyn Shimazu Yee,
Associate Professor
Curator- Special Collections
Azusa Pacific University
"Founded by Quakers"
(626) 815-6000 ext. 3267