My Baachan turned 88 years old in 1977. 88 is a big year as a birthday in Japanese culture because the characters for those numbers resemble the character for rice and signify good things. So we had a big dinner with as many relatives together as possible. At the time, the accounting was that she had eight children, 35 grandchildren and 29 great grandchildren.
Not long after my Baachan and her family arrived in Chatham, the war in Europe ended and later that summer, so did the war with Japan. But they still weren’t allowed to return to BC and anyway, they had nothing to return to. Many had their properties sold off by the Custodian of Enemy Property, without their permission.
So they worked on this farm, which grew many things, such as tobacco as shown in this drawing (based on a 1947 black and white photo taken in Chatham NNM 2010.23.2.4.154), as well as sugar beets. It was hard work, but the farm supplied plenty of food.
Chatham had been a destination for the Underground Railroad and they had a significant population of people of African descent, though the restaurants remained segregated. Canadian baseball player Ferguson Jenkins was born here.
The houses in Popoff did not really line up into streets and avenues, but they were numbered. There were larger bunkhouses in the middle and communal baths. The internees also built a community hall.
My father walked about 3 miles to the High School set up in a church in Slocan City, run by Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin from Quebec.
This is a simplified version of the map sketched in 1993 of the Slocan area around 1945, published in the NNM publication, Karizumai, A Guide to Japanese Canadian Internment Sites.
Toward the end April of 1942, Baachan and her family joined others from Victoria by ship over to Hastings Park in Vancouver, at the corner of Renfrew and Hastings. Some of the buildings are still there. This is a simplified version of a more detailed map (NNM 19126.96.36.199).
My Baachan was in the former Livestock building used to house women and children. It stank of animal manure and urine.
Men were in an arena, waiting to sent off to road camps.
My father and other teenaged boys (13-18 yrs old) were in a separate dorm a bad influence of the men, smoking, gambling.
They needed passes to leave, which they showed at the Guard House.
The Government arbitrarily designated a 100-mile (160 km) “Protected Zone” in which people of Japanese descent, whether Japanese Nationals, Naturalized Citizens or Canadian Born, were not allowed. Most people of Japanese descent, around 20,000 people, lived in this area. The forced removal was called the Evacuation, like the Government was doing them a favour. My Baachan and her family were living in Victoria, which fell within the zone. She and the rest of the Japanese Canadian community were “evacuated” in April of 1942.
Men who were Japanese Nationals were sent to road camps in the interior of BC and even further, separated from their families. My Baachan’s husband was dead and her eldest son was Canadian born, so it did not affect her directly, although this issue of family separations became a sore point for the community.
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.
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.
I am loving this story, listening to the audiobook downloaded to my phone from the library, usually while washing the dishes. Every chapter is a delightful surprise, after a spry 100 year old man steps out of the window. We also find out about his past extraordinary encounters with major historical characters. It reminds me a little of Forrest Gump. This story is perhaps more of a parody of human behaviour. I have given talks on Japanese Canadian history, using my grandmother's life to illustrate the major events, and am intrigued by how a long life intersects with historic eras.
It is almost disorienting when places deal with subjects I actually know something about. I once helped with an exhibition on Japanese Canadian fishing so I knew the content of Lost Fleet. The Vancouver Maritime Museum did a really solid job and included some materials I hadn't seen before.
I attended a presentation by Landscapes of Injustice, an extraordinary undertaking looking at the incarceration and dispossession of Japanese Canadians during the 1940s. It involves many grad students from various institutions, along with a council of Japanese Canadians from across Canada, some of whom spoke about their work and experiences. Involving people not personally connected to the events somehow makes it feel like this really was a significant episode in Canadian history and not just family history. Eiji Okawa, raised in Japan, looked at community records and his translation Japanese written at the time seems essential to understanding the Issei.