Its all downhill once they know more than you.
My Baachan’s family owned various businesses, including vegetable oil refinery, logging, shipping, and silk production. So her family was well off and until she was about ten years old, my Baachan was pampered and had maids. But her father was not so good at maintaining the family’s empire and their fortunes began to decline. I have probably inherited his business acumen.
In Canada, besides being the year in which my Baachan was born, 1889 was also the year the Japanese consulate first opened in Vancouver on Howe Street with Consul Fukashi Sugimura. About 200 Japanese residents were living in Vancouver by then.
I took the liberty of showing him saying the Japanese equivalent of “Cheers!” because he looked like he might enjoy a party. When I lived in Japan and told them that I did not drink alcohol they would say, “But you look like drinker.”
In Japan, besides being the year my Baachan was born, 1889 was also the year Japan got a new constitution.
In 1867, the same year as Canada’s confederation, Japan reluctantly opened up to the West, after two hundred years of military rule.
Unlike a revolution, Japanese restored the position of the Emperor and this new era was called the Meiji Restoration, the title adopted by the Emperor. They began to actively adopted western ideas and looked abroad. In this drawing based on another picture, notice how even the Emperor is dressed like a European.
Years are designated according to the year of the reign, so 1889 was Meiji 22.
The benefit of other people's babies
My baachan was born Taki Kinoshita on February 8, 1889 to Manzaburo Kinoshita and Kuma Izumiya (according to the Baptismal Certificate which will come up later).
I don’t have an actual photograph of her from that time. This drawing is based on a photo of “a happy Japanese mother and babe” by C.H. Graves in 1902, which is now in the American Library of Congress online archive. I don’t even know if it’s a boy or girl, but babies all look the same to me.
My Baachan was born in Shitata a village/ neighbourhood on Oshima Island in Yamaguchi prefecture in Japan. Not many people who visit Japan, visit Yamaguchi, and of course fewer still get to Oshima, never mind Shitata.
This is from a talk I gave at the Vancouver Maritime Museum on February 15, 2018, as part of a speaker series associated with their Lost Fleet Exhibition on the Japanese Canadian fishing boats confiscated during World War II. I'll add a slide a day or so til I'm done.
Baachan was what we called my paternal grandmother, Taki Nakamura.
She was 4’7” and raised eight children.
She was vegetarian and smoked roll-your-own cigarettes.
She lived 91 years, through most of the major events in Japanese Canadian history.
But I can’t really say I knew her that well.
She didn’t speak much English, and I didn’t speak much Japanese.
As a kid, whenever we visited, she would offer me Vicks cherry-flavoured cough drops, which I usually accepted happily.
Every Easter, she sent me and her many other grandchildren, chocolate Easter bunnies.
This is my attempt to understand her life and times.
From an Asian Canadian.
Sorry if we woke you up.