Yoshimaru Abe was an entertainer, artist, haiku poet, garden designer. Born in 1914 in Fukuoka, Japan, Abe immigrated to Canada in 1927 to join his parents in Port Hammond, BC. There he worked for the local lumber mill while also working on the family strawberry farm. With other Japanese community members, he engaged in shibai acting – which were traditional performances of kabuki plays based on samurai themes. He both sang and acted in local productions that were invited to perform as far away as Seattle. In Port Hammond, he met and married Yoshi Homma, daughter of Issei community activist Tomekichi Homma.
When war broke out in 1941, Abe was sent to road camp in Jasper, Alberta. He later transferred to the internment camp at Tashme. It was in Tashme that Abe became interested in writing. He wrote for the Tashme monthly newsletter, and joined a community group haiku club where members gathered regularly to share their writing. From Tashme, Abe eventually relocated to Manitoba where he eventually found work in construction.
In Winnipeg, he and a few other Japanese Canadians formed the first Japanese Canadian organization, the Manitoba Japanese Canadian Community Association, which was to facilitate Japanese Canadian settlement in Winnipeg. He helped edit the Japanese version of the community newsletter, The Outlook, and continued his leadership and participation in the Buddhist church. During the 80’s he became involved in Redress activities with other local Japanese Canadians involved in the movement.
Abe’s interest in the visual arts began in Japan, where, inspired by a local sumi-e artist, he began painting and drawing, as well learning the art of shodo calligraphy. Throughout his long life, Abe continued painting and drawing; his annual Christmas cards were handpainted renderings. He loved to draw cityscapes and the rugged terrain of Shield country in Lake of the Woods. Later in life, Abe became an avid collector of Japanese woodblock prints and Japanese swords. His expertise in these areas of the Japanese traditional arts was exceptional. He was the designer of the Japanese gardens for the Japan Pavilion at Folklorama which won an award, and he became the designer of the Japanese Garden at the current location of Manitoba Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Winnipeg.
Abe died peacefully in 2006 with a legacy of quiet achievement and accomplishment in his community in Winnipeg.