The Story of Kanao Inouye - Dundurn
May 09, 2024

The Story of Kanao Inouye

For the past two decades, I have been fascinated by the story of Kanao Inouye, a young Japanese Canadian from Kamloops. B.C. While he was born in Canada in 1916, he moved to Japan in 1935 and in due course served in the Japanese military. During World War II, he served as an interpreter in the Hong Kong camp that held hundreds of Canadian POWs. Afterward, he was charged with war crimes and became one of the most sinister figures in Canadian history.

Inouye became the "most sadistic of camp guards" and according to many historical accounts was the embodiment of evil. I wondered how accurate these assessments were and whether a fair review of the actual documents would reveal a different situation. Moreover, I thought it was important to see the man in the context of his time and family. For one thing, his father had served Canada heroically during World War I. What made his son such an evil figure? Was there something in his past that had been overlooked? I knew that he had several family members who had remained in Canada, and I felt that it was vital to find out what they thought and how the war and the anti-Japanese hysteria of the war years had affected them. 

I intended to try and track down what happened to him and began research at various archives in Canada and Hong Kong. But I was also interested in finding out what happened to his Canadian family. His mother and three sisters remained in the country throughout the war and even when it was over. I thought that it was an important part of the story to know of their experiences as well. While I thought it likely that there were descendants still living in Canada, I was unable to contact any of them. Thinking that they might still be living in B.C., I reached out to the Vancouver Sun in October 2021 and arranged for an ad to run in the personals column asking for any descendants of Kanao Inouye to contact me. There was no response. At that point, I was about to give up on understanding what had become of the family when, several months later, I got a response from Kanao Inouye's grand-niece in Toronto. By chance, she had become aware of the newspaper ad. I called her, and she was most generous in providing background information. Through her, my study of Inouye includes not only the legal and diplomatic struggle that surrounds his trials but also the ordeal his family back in Canada went through during the war years. It was a bit of serendipity, but at least it enabled me to write a fuller and more balanced account of this fascinating incident.

Patrick Brode was born in Windsor, Ontario. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1977 and has practiced law ever since. He has written four works on the history of law in Canada including Sir John Beverley Robinson: Bone and Sinew of the Compact, a finalist for the City of Toronto Book Award in 1985, and The Odyssey of John Anderson, a finalist for the Trillium Award in 1990. Traitor By Default is his latest novel.