“Thank You, America, for sending missionaries,” Dr. Paul Tashiro says, “for without your missionaries—the ones who came from your nation to mine back in the 1940’s— only God knows who I’d be or what I’d be doing right now…”
Paul Tashiro was born in 1933 to Zen-Buddhist parents running a geisha-girl house in Tokyo, Japan. At the young age of 12, two years younger than the minimum required age of 14, Tashiro volunteered to die for the Emperor as a kamikaze pilot during World War II. The barbaric “training” began with throwing recruits ten miles out into the Pacific Ocean to let them swim back to shore in the dark. Many never made it back. They were taught to fly and strategically crash, not to land, a plane. The grisly agenda continued until it was obvious that these young men were unreservedly willing to die.
Brainwashed and ready for his suicide mission, Tashiro learned that Japan had surrendered on August 15, 1945. Disenchanted rather than relieved, “I questioned,” he recalls, “the very foundations of my life—my nation, my temple religion, the eastern philosophy I had been taught to believe, my emperor.” He joined the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia, drug pushing and pimping to earn a living.
On October 21, 1949, he came across an evangelistic tent meeting being held by the OMS Japan Holiness Church. He left that meeting with Christ in his heart. Accepting a call to full-time ministry in April 1950, Tashiro joined the OMS Every Creature Crusade as an interpreter and evangelist. The kamikaze pilot once willing to die for the Emperor was now willing to give his all to the Lord.
After several more chapters of adventure, including a divine healing from severe tuberculosis in both lungs, Paul Tashiro’s pilgrimage brought him to the United States. He preached and taught for 16 years in Kentucky before serving as an Old Testament and ancient languages professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary from 1991-2013. Now a Professor Emeritus, Dr. Tashiro maintains close ties to WBS from his home back in Kentucky. He has generously given the seminary his vast library.
He has a wealth of publications and professional memberships to his name. He and his wife, Eiko, even had an audience with His Majesty the Emperor of Japan when they traveled to Japan in 2007. On this trip, Dr. Tashiro accepted the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, a prestigious achievement award given by the Emperor through the foreign affairs ministry of the Japanese government. He was recognized for his work in strengthening Japan-America relations through accomplishments such as serving as president of the Japan America Society of Mississippi and Academic Dean of the Japanese Supplementary School in Jackson. He was also the senior minister of the Jackson Japanese-Speaking Church in Christ United Methodist Church.
Dr. Tashiro has told his story hundreds of times and in nearly every state. He usually wraps up his program with this anecdote:
“Years ago in Tennessee, I was sharing my history in a church when, near the end, an old man—obviously blind—came awkwardly down the center of the church with a crippled hand and a cane. He came up to me at the altar, and placed his cane down. With his one good hand he felt my forehead, my hair, my face. Then, his eyes seemingly peering into mine, he recounted his legacy of World War II—how he had lost his eyesight and the use of much of his body in an attack by kamikaze pilot.”
“For my injuries,” the man boldly admitted before Tashiro, God, and the congregation, “I hated Japs. Had you come a few years earlier, Mr. Tashiro,” the war vet continued, “I would have wanted to kill you. But God has worked in my life,” said this man, “and I see that he has worked in yours, too. And, therefore, I can love you. Because of Him, I can love you.”
As the service ends with How Great Thou Art, there’s not a dry eye in the house.
Read this and more stories in the 2016 Summer Compass!