1 Oct

Biography: Kanichi Yamamoto

When Kanichi Yamamoto first learned of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, he wished to write to the Master and declare to Him his belief but he was concerned that his English was too poor.  His spiritual mother—Miss Elizabeth Muther—encouraged him to write in his native language, assuring him that the Master would comprehend the spirit of his letter[1].  It is reported that letters received in English by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s secretary would be translated into Persian before being given to the Master, but Kanichi’s letter was not translated beforehand.  Upon receiving the letter in Japanese, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had said to His secretary jokingly: “Well, do you not know Japanese?”  With a bow his secretary responded, “No Master, I hardly know English!”  “Then what shall we do with this letter?”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá questioned him with a smile.  “Perhaps you should do with it as you did the others”, had been His secretary’s reply.  “Very well!”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá exclaimed, “I will turn to Bahá’u’lláh and he will tell me what to say”.[2]

Indeed, Kanichi Yamamoto received an inspired response to his letter:

“O Thou who art attracted by the Word of God to the Kingdom of God!  Turn with the whole of thy being to God to make thee a sign of guidance in the midst of people who are veiled from God…”[3]

So began an odd but charming correspondence.

Among the names ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ascribed to Kanichi, two are befitting for the distinction he possesses:  “the single one of Japan” and “the unique one of the extreme Orient”[4].  Kanichi Yamamoto was born in Japan in 1879 and embraced the Faith in his 23rd year—he was the first Japanese believer.  He learned of the Faith while living and working in Hawaii.  He worked in the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Smith in Honolulu and it was there that he encountered two young Bahá’ís – including Miss Muther. He immediately accepted the Faith.

During ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to California in 1912, Kanichi had the bounty of organizing the Master’s  address at the Japanese Independent Church, where He proclaimed:  “…the people of the Japanese nation are not prejudiced.  They investigate reality.  Wherever they find truth they prove to be its lovers”.[5]

There was one subject discussed in his letters to the Master that greatly preoccupied the young Kanichi’s mind:  marriage.  Although the subject was broached in 1906, it was not until 1909 that Kanichi married a young Japanese woman named Ima. By this time, Kanichi was living in Oakland, California, working as home-help for Mrs. Helen Goodall.  The Yamamotos assisted with hosting Bahá’í meetings in the Goodall’s home, greeting and caring for visitors, and when the Yamamotos moved to Berkeley they enlisted their children in Bahá’í classes[6].

Kanichi and Ima had five boys, the three eldest of whom were given Persian names by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and one girl, Fumiko.  Shortly after the birth of Fumiko, Ima succumbed to influenza, leaving her sister, Tame, to raise her two youngest children while Kanichi cared for the four eldest back in California.  After some time, Tame and the children joined Kanichi and the others in California.  Tame and Kanichi married and together had six more children[7].

During World War II, the Yamamotos were forced to relocate to an internment camp where they had to work in the fields[8]. After the war, Kanichi and his family returned to Berkeley where he served the Faith until his passing in 1961.

[1] Barbara R. Simms, Japan Will Turn Ablaze! (Bahá’í Publishing Trust of Japan, 1992, revised edition), 20–21.

[2] John Leonard, Western Disciples (Leonard, Haifa, 1995), n.p.

[3] Simms, Japan Will Turn Ablaze!, 21.

[4] Ibid., 23.

[5] Simms, Japan Will Turn Ablaze!, 42.

[6] Simms, Traces That Remain, 10.

[7] Ibid., 11.

[8] Ibid., 15.

Photo from www.centenary.bahai.us


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