The Yoshio Hinatsu Mystery


Cover, Vancouver: A Short History, 1936. Illustrator: Yoshio Hinatsu.


Title page, Vancouver: A Short History, 1936.

I purchased the little pamphlet history shown above at a recent paper ephemera fair. I was taken with the art deco illustrations on the cover and on interior pages and wondered who was Yoshio Hinatsu, the illustrator, and what became of him. (I wasn’t the first local historian to so wonder; Illustrated Vancouver had raised similar questions in 2010).

When the pamphlet was produced in 1936 – Vancouver’s Golden Jubilee year – Yoshio apparently was a student at Templeton Jr. High School and was a member of the school’s Archivists’ Club. The portrait of Club members which appears below is from the City of Vancouver Archives collection.

CVA 371-801 - [Ken Waites and Templeton High School's Archivists Club] ca 1936

CVA 371-801 – Ken Waites (teacher, seated) and Templeton High School’s “Archivists Club”, ca 1936.

The ‘Not-So-Great Leap’

This portrait stumped me for quite awhile. Because it was made around the same time as the history was published and because there were six students pictured (the same number as the authors and illustrator of the history), I leapt to the conclusion that the photo was of Hinatsu and the history authors. That ‘leap’ got me into all kinds of trouble. For starters, although there were six people in the portrait, I had a hard time identifying anyone who had Japanese features. And the list of authors/illustrator shown on the history’s title page indicates there were three girl authors, two boy authors, and illustrator Yoshio. I had initially thought of Yoshio as being male. His art deco illustrations looked to me like something produced by a guy. But my ‘leap’ led me to question Yoshio’s gender. I inquired of Asian friends whether Yoshio was typically a name given to girls or boys. Answer: Boys. I then tried to get the facts to fit my biases by trying on yet another hypothesis: what if Yoshio’s name was misprinted (and ‘Yoshio’ was actually, say, “Yoshiko’ – a girl’s name).

I was in need of more facts and fewer guesses!

Facts from Nikkei Centre

Additional facts ultimately arrived in my inbox. The big break came from an archivist with the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, to whom I’d sent a query early on in my research into Yoshio Hinatsu.

The Nikkei Centre was able to set me straight on a number of things¹:

  1. Yoshio was a guy. No question. This was confirmed by the archivist speaking to a couple of Yoshio’s Templeton classmates.
  2. His parents were Kahei (father) and Mestuko (mother) Hinatsu. Kahei (and presumably, his wife) immigrated to Canada in 1907. Some sources thought that Kahei was an importer/exporter. They apparently lived in Japantown in the 1936-41 period (at 1876 Triumph Street).
  3. Yoshio and his parents (and his sisters: Kimiye and Fumiye) returned together to Japan on November 15, 1941. This was just a couple weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 which marked the beginning of the Japanese Internment in Canada.
  4. It was unknown by any of Yoshio’s classmates if he and/or his parents returned to Canada after WWII. (But it seems to me doubtful).
  5. It isn’t known what Yoshio did for a living when he was in Japan.  He was a bank clerk in Vancouver before he left Canada with his family in 1941.

Although there were comments from Yoshio’s classmates about there being at least one group photo in which Yoshio appeared, I have been in contact with the Vancouver School Board’s heritage division and they in turn contacted Templeton School and no images have turned up that include Yoshio.

The Illustrations

The artwork created by Yoshio for A Short History seems to be a combination of realism and fantasy. There are elements of different Vancouver periods (ocean liners, tall ships, automobiles, railways); there appears to be an early sketch of Hastings Mill. And there are far more art deco buildings in the Vancouver of Yoshio’s imagination than ever graced the streets of real Vancouver (even in the most deco-ish 1930s). Finally, the wrestling t-rex dinosaurs in the leftmost cloud formation is an oddity.


Center-fold illustration inside Vancouver: A Short History, 1936. Illustrator: Yoshio Hinatsu. Note: Fighting T-Rexs in the leftmost cloud formation. Odd.


¹Many thanks to Linda Kawamoto Reid, Research Archivist at Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre for tracking down this information.

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6 Responses to The Yoshio Hinatsu Mystery

  1. kevindalemckeown says:

    Maybe not so odd in the context of a teenager. I think young illustrators even today are fond of monsters, real and imaginary.

    Can you make out the writing on the sign of the storefront? It looks like Tobacco Jim’s to me. Was there ever such a shop in early Vancouver?

    Enjoy your posts. Thanks for doing this!

    • mdm says:

      I’m pleased that you’re enjoying the blog and appreciate your comment. You are correct that the writing on one of the signs in the centre-fold illustration says “Tobacco Jim’s”; there is another piece of signage on a building drawn to the right of “Jim’s” that reads “Danny’s Cafe”. I’m not familiar with any small businesses in early Vancouver having either name. It is possible that one or both was a genuine business for a time, but neither rings a bell with me.

  2. Fascinating. I wonder what happened to old Yoshiro back in Japan? His descendants might be intrigued we are still interested in his work today.

  3. Barry Best says:

    I’ve just come across this same booklet in my great Grandfather’s collection and had the same questions that have been raised by all others in this blog. My Great Grandfather (Lewis Elliott) was the head of the printing department at Van Tech during this time and it’s most likely that the booklet was produced there.
    The wrestling dinosaurs seem reminiscent of Japan’s infatuation with Godzilla?
    Thanks for the great information on Yoshio Hinatsu.

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