Interviewed by filmmaker Susanne Tabata, produced by Nikkei National Museum.
A 10 part series of Nikkei life stories featuring Midge Ayukawa, Alfie Kamitakahara,Tak Miyazaki, Marie Katsuno, May Komiyama, Tom Sando Kuwabara and Shig Kuwabara, Shirley Omatsu, Kazue Oye, Susumu Tabata and Irene Tsuyuki. On DVD 30 to 47 minutes each. $20 each or $150 for set of 10. Please inquire for shipping for 10 piece set.
Public viewing copies are available from Moving Images.
Born August 1, 1929 (35 min)
Tak Miyazaki was born at the Japanese Hospital in Steveston, BC in 1929. Although he was a fisherman’s son Mr. Miyazaki would always get sea sick while on the water and never thought he would be a commercial fisherman. During relocation Mr. Miyazaki travelled with his family through British Columbia by boat and train before arriving in Bridge River, eventually moving on to Minto City, both self-supporting internment communities.
After internment, Mr. Miyazaki’s father wanted to come back to the West Coast, to fish – the only profession he knew. To do this he needed a permit so he had to temporarily stay in the interior working in a sawmill. Eventually moving back to the West Coast, both son and father bought commercial fishing boats and continued to work in the industry for many years. When Mr. Miyazaki was no longer able to work in the fishing industry, his son took over his business. Mr. Miyazaki was a representative of the Steveston community during the redress settlement and is also an active member of the local Buddhist community.
Born November 19th, 1912 (30 min)
Kazue Oye was born in Steveston, BC in 1912. Since her family lived in a house provided by a fishing company, they did not pay taxes. To attend public school at this time a family had to pay taxes. Mrs. Oye attended a school provided by the Japanese Canadian community. This school did not provide education past grade 8 and Mrs. Oye wanted to pursue her education further so she travelled to Japan to complete her schooling. While in Japan she and her classmates sang in front of the Emperor.
After finishing school and returning to Canada, she met and married her husband with whom she had two children, Elsie and Robert. Shortly after Robert was born, her husband passed away and she raised her children alone.
Relocation for Mrs. Oye brought her to the self-supporting community at Christina Lake with her in-laws. Shipments of food were brought in once a week and they lived in a local lodge. After the war Mrs. Oye supported her family by working on farms but her brother and father wanted to return to the coast to fish again. The entire family did return to the coast and Mrs. Oye worked for BC Packers for many years, earning enough to send both of her children to the University of British Columbia.
Born August 30th, 1929 (44 min)
Shirley Omatsu was born in Vancouver, BC. In Japan, her grandfather believed the West was where the future lay and her father was encouraged to go to Canada. Mrs. Omatsu has fond memories of growing up on the 300 block of Powell Street in Vancouver, including watching the Asahi baseball team and her school life.
Mrs. Omatsu remembers coming home on Sunday December 7th, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. Her father was clinging to the radio. She did not understand at the time why the adults were acting so serious. Almost immediately the Japanese School was closed and her Buddhist minister was sent to a holding cell.
During relocation her father told the authorities that he not only wanted to keep his family together but did not want to burden taxpayers any more, so the family decided to become self-sustaining. They moved to Notch Hill in the Okanagan and the RCMP found them an abandoned blacksmith shack that her father fixed up. They found the local people treated them very well and were not discriminated against. She stayed temporarily at New Denver internment camp hospital when she became sick.
After internment she decided to go into hairdressing and moved back to Vancouver where she met her husband. Eventually she managed a high-end salon.
Tom Sando Kuwabara
Born March 29, 1922
Born Feb 6, 1924 (47 min)
These two brothers were born in Skeena River, BC to a fisherman father. Their mother died when they were very young and the boys were sent to live with relatives in Japan for eight years. When given the choice, they decided to come back to Canada. When their father came to Japan to collect them he also decided to interview potential wives and remarry to help raise his family.
The new family returned to Skeena River where their father continued to fish with two boats. The family then moved to Steveston where father and sons lived in a company home while their mother lived in a rooming house.
One day after arriving in their new home, Pearl Harbor was attacked. During relocation, both Shig and Tom were old enough to be separated from their family. They expressed feelings of disagreement with their situation and were sent to a prisoner of war camp where they were monitored with machine guns in barbed wire fences. At this camp they were considered to be equivalent to Japanese soldiers and were made to wear red circles on their backs so they could always be seen, especially during an escape. The camp did provide some opportunities such as Judo, Haiku clubs and lifelong friendships. Tom also kept a diary that he started while in Hastings Park which was later published into a book.
After the war ended they were offered jobs in Northern Manitoba. The brothers parted ways to pursue their careers and begin families.
Born January 29, 1929 (43 min)
Both of Alfie Kamitakahara’s parents were from a small village in Japan. Growing up in a large family in Steveston, Mr. Kamitakahara describes his childhood as a ‘Huckleberry Finn’ lifestyle; afternoons spent rafting down the river and getting caught with a slingshot. His father was one of the few issei (first generation immigrants) who spoke English well and often was the community representative. Their family had the only telephone in the village and Mr. Kamitakahara would often listen in to hear what was going on.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all fishing boats in Steveston were confiscated; Mr. Kamitakahara remembers being part of a convoy headed up the river. When sent to Hastings Park he was old enough to be separated from his younger siblings and had to obtain a pass to see his mother. After Hastings Park the family travelled to Slocan. Upon arrival they discovered their housing had not been built, so they had to stay in tents that night which collapsed under the snow. He has many memories of life in Slocan including local talent shows, fighting forest fires and the arrival of Japanese food sent by the Japanese government courtesy of the Red Cross.
After internment, Mr. Kamitakahara moved to Alberta to work on a farm which was very hard work, having to cope with ice, snow and mud, all using a horse-drawn tractor. He later married an accomplished hairdresser and started his own insurance agency.
Born June 26, 1930 (33 min)
Midge Ayukawa grew up in a mixed-background neighbourhood in Vancouver, BC as the only girl in a family of boys. Her father was self educated and both parents were from Hiroshima. She was sent to Japanese school but felt out of place with her classmates there.
After Pearl Harbor her father was sent away to a labour camp and she and the rest of her family went to Lemon Creek. While packing for relocation her mother insisted on bringing the kitchen stove.
After internment, Mrs. Ayukawa stayed in camp an extra year, lived in a German POW camp for a short time and eventually moved to Hamilton to attend university. She found this time to be a very difficult adjustment. At Lemon Creek everyone had spoken a mix of Japanese and English, and she had to transition her language use. She financed her way through university and obtained her Masters degree before going on to work in Ottawa. After her children were born, her husband passed away and she decided to move back to BC. She earned her PhD at the University of Victoria studying Japanese Canadian history.
Born May 19th, 1922 (34 min)
May Komiyama was born in Vancouver, BC and grew up in a non-Japanese neighbourhood of Marine Drive because of her father’s career. Her father was one of the few people who had been baptized as a Christian in Japan, but her grandfather disowned him so he came to live in Canada. Her father wanted his children to be good Canadians and good Christians.
After school she began her training to become a nurse but was forced to stop after Pearl Harbor was attacked. She had to leave the school so quickly that her fellow students did not know where she went for many years. One of her sisters was also a nurse and helped at Hastings Park. The family was moved to Kaslo, where they lived in a house outside the centre of town but were very involved in the community. Another sister helped in the school.
After internment she moved to Guelph to complete her nursing school. At first she was housed separately from other students. One patient told her he was frightened at first of having a Japanese nurse, which she found amusing. She married a man who she had known all her life. He was a minister who had been ordained in Vancouver during curfew and had to get special permission to go to his evening ordination service.
Born December 3, 1925 (45 min)
Irene Tsuyuki was born on Powell Street, the heart of the Japanese Canadian community, in Vancouver, BC. Her mother passed away in childbirth so relatives adopted Mrs. Tsuyuki and her brother. Her father owned a shoe store and she enjoyed helping there during the busy Christmas season. She attended public school and Japanese school.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed, her father was in the hospital due to diabetes complications so her family was one of the last to be relocated. Because of this, she was able to complete grade 8. When they arrived in Tashme her father stayed in a temporary hospital. She remembers many things from Tashme including the lack of privacy, school life, many concerts, and watching Japanese movies.
After internment the family moved to Japan due to her father’s poor health. Her father become very healthy in Japan and even stopped taking insulin. Mrs. Tsuyuki never felt welcome at her job in Japan and eventually applied to go back to Canada. A family friend sponsored her to return to Canada and she eventually married one of their sons.