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Kitaji Bibles to Be Displayed at Gilroy Museum

Above and below: Pages from the Kitaji Bibles.

GILROY — The Monterey District of California State Parks and the Gilroy Historical Society will host a special showing of the Kitaji Bibles, before they go to the Hoover Archives at Stanford University, on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Gilroy Museum, 195 Fifth St. in Gilroy.

Said to be the most significant artifact associated to Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs, the two Bibles were owned, transcribed, and illustrated by the late Captain Masuo Kitaji, who lived at GYHS from 1945 to 1973.

Like many family Bibles, these volumes record family milestones – births, baptisms, marriages, and death. These also note historic events (birthdates of U.S. presidents, space capsule launches, World War II battles, the atomic bomb), but more importantly, include a 1945 newspaper clipping explaining that one of the Bibles was a 10-year labor of commitment to create a bilingual resource for ministers working with bilingual followers.

Kitaji said he had to preach to worshipers in both English and Japanese while serving as the Japanese Salvation Army Corps leader in Oakland in 1932. That’s when he conceived the idea of creating a bilingual version of the Bible. He began implementation in 1935, transcribing passages from the accepted Japanese translation of the time onto blank pages bound between the printed pages.

What makes these Bibles truly extraordinary is the clear, nearly flawless handwriting (no blotches, no cross-outs) and exquisite illustrations by the captain. Museum and archive curators say they have not seen this caliber of writing and illustrating other than the work of medieval monks.

“The Kitaji Bibles … are extremely important in telling the story of the site,” said Matt Bischoff, historian and cultural resources manager for the Monterey District.

“Get ready to have your jaws drop,” said curator Kris Quist of the Monterey District.

These family heirlooms were rescued from destruction by a self-described “finder” and were taken to a New York auction gallery for assessment and for private sale. The Kitaji family was shocked, having assumed the Bibles were still somewhere within the family. They had last seen the Bibles decades years ago, at the time of their beloved uncle’s death in 1973.

Capt. Masuo Kitaji

The Bibles then passed to their aunt, the captain’s widow, and they believe she maintained them until her passing in 1985. It’s unknown what happened to them next. According to the finder, they were in a Bay Area recycle center’s donation box in 2016.

The Kitaji family is grateful to both the finder and the auction gallery. The precious heirloom was rescued, and better yet, was examined by experts and translator so that their contents, mostly written in Japanese, were better understood and a new value assigned to them.

In 1938, H. K. Sakata purchased the Hot Springs, which date back to 1865, and added the word “Yamato,” meaning “Japanese.” Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs became the only Japanese-owned mineral spring resort in California. Under Sakata, GYHS reminded many of similar places in Japan and thereby became a place of physical as well as moral, emotional, and spiritual healing. It provided respite from the toils of many hard-working Japanese immigrants.

The Flower Growers Association celebrated its beginning there in 1939, and some of the building materials from the 1939 World’s Fair Japan Pavilion were integrated into the bathhouses and clubhouse. A fresh water pool became a popular summer attraction in the 1950s and ’60s, giving a new generation lasting memories of picnics, sun, and recreation.

Today, only a fraction of the structures from the resort’s heyday still exist, and the site is closed to the public due to the instability of the remaining structures. Efforts are under way to restore some of the buildings to their former glory. Guided tours are available.

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