Elmer Hara, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 15 June 2016

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Elmer Hara, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 15 June 2016

Abstract
Elmer Hara was born and raised in Vancouver, and then was exiled with his family to Japan during the interment era. In this interview, he explains that his father, Tokio Hara, was a businessman with the Japan-Canada Trust Savings Company and the Tamura Trading Company in the Powell Street area. As a financially successful family, Elmer narrates how they boarded the Gripsholm and the Asama Maru in order to reach Japan. He discusses the bullying and discrimination that he and his siblings endured when they relocated to Japan, and explains that this was due to their English-speaking ability and foreignness. Elmer speaks about how he always wanted to return to Canada, and returned in the 50s to become a successful telecommunication pioneer. He narrates how his mother allowed him to pack his prized possessions, such as his toy train and other sentimental “treasures” from his childhood, when they were forced to leave their home in Vancouver. He describes the experience of leaving Vancouver as horrific, an event that greatly changed his family’s life and affected his father.
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Erin Yaremko (EY)
My name is Erin Yaremko and it is June 15, 2016. I am interviewing for Landscapes of Injustice, I am in Regina, Saskatchewan, and I am here with Elmer Hara.
Elmer Hara (EH)
Hi. My name is Elmer Hiroshi Hara. I should mention something about the middle name, because many Japanese Canadians, when their birth certificate was—when their birth was registered in Canada Pauses. the Japanese parents often did not give a middle name. And therefore you can distinguish the immigrant from Japan in the olden day, if they didn’t have a middle name they were from Japan. And with the middle name, you were Canadian. So we Nisei—as we call a second generation—we were very proud of our first name, like mine, Elmer, and Hiroshi the middle name. Of course the surname. So where do you want to start? Laughs.
EY
Can we begin in your childhood?
EH
Okay. Waiter brings Elmer sushi.
EY
Can we begin by discussing your childhood in British Columbia?
EH
Okay. Yeah. I was born to a family in Vancouver, BC. East 8th Avenue. I still remember the old house there. The family was father, Tokio Hara, mother, Yuko Hara. Father came to Vancouver as a business man, to manage the Japan Canada Trust Savings Company and Vancouver was on Powell Street, across from the Oppenheimer Park. And my mother joined him in 1920, in the 1920s, early 1920s, when she married him. And I was born in 1933. My sister was born in 1934, that was Agnus Atsuko Hara. And of course before that my brother was born six years earlier, 1927. Arthur S Shigaru Hara. To a family of five. So I remember my public school as being enjoyable, and one thing that I remember of the Canadian culture is in public school it was Laura Secord Public School, at the junction of Broadway and Lakewood Avenue. It was close to the intersection of Commercial Avenue and Broadway, in Vancouver. The thing I remember the Canadian school was that the term “that’s not fair” or “to be fair” was a primary guiding principle that we had as school kids. And I was in Laura Secord up to grade three. But every time there was something that wasn’t fair going on, we could say “That’s not fair” and the kid would stop doing that, whatever it was not fair. And that remained with me to this day, and the hard times I had in Japan which I’ll speak about. I remember that, this principle of being fair, which I think is typically Canadian, or it’s stance mediate permeates the Canadian society and that is really something that I’m pleased about. And proud about. So this fair play carried through— well, I was in grade three when the Pearl Harbor attack took place. That was December 8, 1942.
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EH
Sorry 1941. That day my mother made me go to school, she packed me a lunch and I went to school. But on my way back from school, it was about three o clock. . . Three kids from the public school, Laura Secord, jumped me and beat me up. Which I didn’t know why. I still remember them breaking my thermos bottle, and I hadn’t drunk any of the contents because the soup that my mother had filled it with was actually at boiling point. And today I look back, I think she was so overwhelmed by the war happening that she just didn’t think about the safety or about how hot the thermos bottle soup was. But thing that I remember very well was the next day when I went to school, and I was all beat up and scratched up and—but my mother still made me go to school. The principal came out when we were lining up to go to classes. He came out and he asked me, “Who did this to you, Elmer?” And I didn’t know the kids. The thing that impressed me was that this principal’s name is Mr. Rammich, but he tried to find out who beat me up. And he told all the other kids that Elmer was a Canadian, and you should not think of him any differently.” And that I remember very well and still brings tears to my eyes. So we—my father was a well-established Japanese Canadian business man so though he had applied for his Canadian citizenship, he had not obtained it yet. The RCMP, they let us stay in our house until we were to be moved. And that happened in, I think, in February, January or February. We were ordered to pack our things and get ready to travel by train, to a place there where we will go and stay before we get onto the diplomatic exchange ship, Gripsholm. Which was leaving from New Jersey Harbor across from New York Harbor. We only had about 24 hours notice to pack. And my mother gave me one suitcase and said, “Put all your things that you want to take, don’t worry about the clothes.” So I put my electric train, my line electric train, Laughs. and basically that’s what I had ,and some other toys. So I had one suitcase. My sister had a suitcase, and my older brother had a bigger suitcase. So we gathered at the Canadian National Railway Station down at Main Street, in Vancouver. And we boarded the train the next day and left for Montreal. And as a child I was so curious about seeing the Rocky Mountains. Laughs. I tried to stay up all night to see the Rocky Mountains, I never succeeded. I was a wreck for the rest of the trip. It took one week to get to Montreal. Then we transferred to a train to go to, West White Sulphur Springs— White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It was a summer resort where the US Presidents would spend their summer time. I think we spent about two, three months there, and then got onto a train and went to New Jersey City.
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EH
And transferred to the Gripsholm, the Swedish American line, luxury liner. There were diplomatic personal, and also some German diplomatic personal were staying at the White Sulphur Springs. The hotel was Greenbrier, The Greenbrier Hotel. So from Greenbrier we went to New Jersey, got onto Gripsholm and sailed for Rio de Janeiro. And we stayed there one night, sorry not one night, about three nights. And nobody got off, and then we sailed across the South Atlantic towards Mozambique, today it’s Mozambique. Laurence Marcus was the port, today it’s name is Maputo. And there we waited a week or two for the Japanese exchange ship Asama Maru. The NYK Asama Maru. And we exchanged ships and then we sailed across the south of the Indian Ocean, and then arrived at Singapore. We stayed at Singapore for a week I think, and then traveled to Yokohama, Japan. I think that was about September by then. Then from Yokohama we traveled by train to Kobe, which is the—almost the middle part of Japan. Port city, well established port city. That’s where I started and my older brother started high school, my younger sister, one year younger, started public school in Japan. Being English speaking, we stood out of course and I was bullied. But being almost a head taller than the other Canadian—other Japanese kids—I could fight Laughs. my way through them. And it was tough. And my sister endured the same bullying, but not as much physically, but mental bullying through until that was when the war ended in 1945. Of course when the war ended we were English speaking kids, and it was our day. My brother, older brother, had to go into high school, and maybe you should interview him because to this day he, well personally, privately tells me he doesn’t like going to Japan because he was so bullied that he just didn’t like Japan. And he didn’t have the opportunity to get even with them because he left Japan a few years after the war ended. Of course, my brother older brother Arthur. . . He went to high school and after the war, well he. . . Endured the bullying of his classmates. But after the war, since he spoke English and Japanese, of course, he worked for the American forces. And he became an interpreter and that gave him good access to extra food rations that we wouldn’t, couldn’t get as Japanese citizens. And the food shortage was very real. My sister, used to talk to me about how she endured the bullying, and she would always cry. She didn’t have the protection of me in the school because she was at a different place.
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EH
Now after the war, since I was English speaking and my sister English speaking, we all did well. And one thing that saved me in the Japanese school was that I was very studious and did well. I actually—in when we first started school in Japan in 1942, my father gave me a big thick Chinese-Japanese dictionary, and a big thick—right on the table, bang—the Japanese dictionary and said, Elmer you gotta study this.” So I studied well. I knew Japanese literature better than most of my classmates in the same year, and the teacher would sometime reprimand the other students saying that “Why don’t you know as much as Elmer knows?” Laughs So being—doing well in school saved me, well saved my sanity because I knew I was smarter than the kids. And also being bigger, a head taller Laughs. I could beat them up if I wanted to. But not my older brother, he was a big kid too, but so were his classmates, so he suffered. And well regarding my older brother suffering, I often go to Japan, seems like every other year right now. So one year a few years back, oh was 19, no about 5 years back ago, I wrote to one of his classmates, I found his name, and the one who was bullying him. And wrote to him, said, “I want to come and make a visit to you and talk to you about the times during the war.” Not in a sense of a Laughs. the Yakuzas thank you visits. In Japan when you cause a Yakuzas to go to jail, they will find out who you were and they will come and pay you a visit. And say thank you by beating you up. Laughs. So then I said, “Not in the sense of the Yakuza thank you visits, but I want to know why all these things happened with my brother.” I got a letter back from his wife saying that basically that boys will be boys but unfortunately my husband is suffering from Parkinson's and cannot eat and cannot speak so it’ll be fruitless to come for a visit. I showed that letter to my brother and he said, “Well Elmer, things will be looked after in the end.” Of course I don’t believe that, Laughs. I would have beat the guy if I had the chance. Laughs. So, coming back to Canada—so as soon as I got to Japan, I had my mind made up, “I’m going back to Canada.” So I kept on telling that to my mother. And my parents are very smart people, like when I—in grade six, I graduated grade size public school in Japan, and that’s when they sat me down and told me, “You’re an adult now. You can think for yourself, and make decisions. The only thing you have to think about when you’re making a decision is about your mother. And you know she’s a Christian, so she will make correct decisions. So you think about your mother when you make decisions, make the right decision.”
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EH
So that guided me. And they allowed me to make up my mind. So of course my mother knew, and my father knew, that I wanted to get back to Canada. So from grade six, I entered the middle school system in Japan, that was my brother’s school. I passed the entrance exam. And then I went to high school. And after I—and then high school, the armed forces instructed the Minister of Education to make all schools first of all co-educational and also equal, no distinction between class or. . . because there used to be ranks about schools in Japan. Today it’s there again because in the university entrance exams but, so, going to high school I studied hard to get into the middle school of my brother’s, and then I intended to graduate from there but the Armed Forces policy, their American Foreign Policy, made me switch to a not too popular local school. I got mad. Laughs. Said, “I’m not going to study anymore, I’m gonna go back to Canada right away.” So I started playing tennis. I got good at it Laughs., and represented the university and the provincial tournament, and all West Japan tournaments and Japan National Tournament. I had a very good time playing tennis. And, my mother knew I wanted to come back to Canada so she contacted her friends in Vancouver, spoke to my father and my father spoke to his upper management. And they decided to sponsor me to come back to Canada, or pay my way to come back to Canada. I had my birth certificate, I went to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo and asked for my passport. There was no problem getting that, so came back to Canada in 1953. And then entered UBC after working in the sawmill for a while. Or sawmill in what was it? Hope-Princeton Highway. In the BC Interior. Came back in September 1953, went up to Hope-Princeton Highway and worked in the sawmill, came back to Vancouver and looked for a job in electronics, because during my stay in Japan I got interested in science and started building radios. And I was pretty good at electronics, building things, so I found a job in Vancouver in 1953, December. Called—what was it called? Fontaine Research Labs. There making telephone answering machines, the first ones to be made. I think they even beat the Japanese. Laughs. Anyway, that’s another long story about that history of the—it’s called the Coda phone, and you’ll find it in the references in the internet. Okay so, I found an electronic job and this boss Mr. Fontaine was pretty good. I said, “I’m going to university, I’m going to get my PHD.” And he says, “Okay Elmer you work part time” and since he was doing research and development work, part-time was okay. So then I attended University of British Columbia and every year I finished, I was an honours physics. Every year I finished, my boss Fontaine, Mr. Fontaine, would say, Elmer how’d you do?” I’d say “Okay yeah, I passed.” “Okay, double your salary.” Of course he started me on Laughs. minimum wage, 52 cents an hour. Several hours we deserved more, but by the time three years passed he doubled, doubled,doubled my pay and by the time I reached grade three, four university and graduation, I managed to get a scholarship to—well I was payed to get my Master’s Degree in physics. And while I was doing my research in Master’s Degree, it was on a nuclear resident magnetometer. It’s one of the earliest developments works, but when I was working there, I—a visit of—the Head of the Radio Physics Laboratory in Ottawa, of the Defense Research Board, came to visit. They were looking for recruits. And he said, Elmer, okay, if you finish your Master’s, come and work for us.”
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EH
“And if you do well, we’ll give you a scholarship to get your PHD” So I said, “Okay yes sir.” Laughs. So once I got my Master’s Degree, a Master’s of Science Degree, I went to Ottawa and started working for the committee—Defense Research Core, telecommunication establishment. After three years there, I got the scholarship to go to University of Toronto. And got my PHD there. Since my supervisor had very little money, he kept me there a long time. And I was good at electronics, my Laughs. scholarship was no load on him, he kept me there for five years. That’s after I had my Master’s degree and I was getting mad at him. Laughs. So finally I told my supervisor, Dr. David May, I think he’s still alive Laughs, that I’m going back to Ottawa. Because the computer the University of Toronto had was very. . . mediocre, and they had a brand new one in Defense Research Board Committee—and they changed the name to Communication Research Center there, so. I spent another two years finishing up my PHD and finally they got it. And so from then on, research. And actually it’s like play—it’s not hard work. So I was lucky all the way through. Of course I didn’t mention I got married while I was in UBC in second year. Laughs. And I had a son then. . . ███████That’s another long story. Laughs. My sister married a dentist in Japan and she did very well in her marriage.
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EH
Married a very good and contentious dentist. But she lost her husband and then she also caught a—became ill with multiple sclerosis, which I think that was the disease, but she passed away about ten years ago. But she never got back to Canada, as she wanted to. My brother got back to Canada when I was at UBC, and he asked me—he wanted to come back because of the Korean War was on there, and he being an interpreter, well they got all sorts of intelligence, and his family name was one on a black list that the North Korean’s were going to assassinate. So he wrote to me saying, “Hey I wanna come back.” So that’s towards the end of the Korean war and anyway I, at that time the Japanese consult, consul general in Vancouver was asking me,“Can you come in for a talk, we want to talk to you.” So I went for—they were actually looking for some new staff who were bilingual, and Canadian. When they mentioned that, “Oh,” I said, “My brother wants to come back.” “Okay, get him to send his resume,” and my brother did that and then after a while the council general called me up again and told me, “Okay, we’ll hire your brother.” “What do you mean you haven’t even interviewed him,” but the general said, “Well your family is well known in Vancouver and there’s absolutely no problem.” So my brother started with being a clerk at the consul general’s office. And from there when the Mitsubishi Canada started, they hired him and he went right to the Board of Directors. And he stayed there a long time. Laughs. He’d often complain to me, Elmer, they’re not going to let me go, I can’t leave, I can’t retire,” so I said, “Well how about me,” he said Elmer you speak your mind too much, you’ll never survive here.” Laughs. And actually he did have—suffered from ulcers for a long time. So there are more impersonal things about my brother that he doesn’t want to talk about. My guess, he worked for the counter intelligence core of US Army. Because when the Defense Research Board interviewed me for the job in the Defense Telecommunications Research Center, I told them, because they were looking at my resume saying, “Hey you haven’t been in Canada all your life.” So I told them, “You should check with the CIA, my brother’s name, my our whole family name, you’ll find out that we’re all cleared.” Laughs. And I think that’s how I got my job there, too. But my brother doesn’t want to talk about those things. I keep on telling him he should write it, but no. Laughs. Doesn’t even talk about it with his children.
EY
Can we go back a little bit and. . .
EH
Okay.
EY
Do you remember your family home in British Columbia?
EH
Yeah, East 8th Avenue, 24th I think it was. It was a typical Canadian home. The owner was Mr. Beaton. Yeah living there was. . . well, going to school—oh yeah and living there one thing had to do with public school until grade three, until the war started, I had to, or we had to, go to Japanese Language School after three o clock. We’d come home from public school, have a glass of milk and doughnut or a bun and then off to Japanese Language School. And I did well in learning Japanese language. And yeah. And we had a sandbox in the back yard—that was my heaven. Laughs. Except the cats would come and do their business. Laughs. Yeah so, and the neighbor kids were very friendly. And public school was very enjoyable, especially because I was one of the smarter kids and teacher’s pet. So was my sister. And I my older brother was going to high school. I’ve forgotten the name of the high school but anyway.
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EH
Yeah he did well in high school, too. And of course father would—he didn’t have a car, but he would commute by the street car from East 8th Avenue, it’s close to Commercial Drive and Broadway Avenue. And go to his office in the Sunbahn building I think it was, at the corner of, oh Cordova? And well, it was on Powell Street. And he looked after the business of the. . . He looked after the business of the Japan Canada Trust Savings Company, and also the trading company, Tamura Trading Company. And mother was a typical housewife, and she had a good life there too. My sister and I used to laugh at her English, Laughs. Yeah because one time she said, “Why are you so laughing?” And we couldn’t stop laughing at her. Laughs. How she said it. Laughs.
EY
Do you remember anything specific about the home, do you remember any rooms or anything, any special items in your home?
EH
Well the chesterfield I remember. Of course the bed—my bedroom, I had a bedroom to myself. There was a—in the corner of the bedroom, at the head of my bed, there was a little hole in the floor. And I was afraid of the hole—floor—cause was afraid that mice would come out. Laughs. So it took a long time for my father to realize that I was afraid of the hole, although I told him many times. We finally, my older brother and his friends took a pieces of wood and hammered it shut. Laughs. That made it very easy for me to sleep. Yeah there was my bedroom, parent’s bedroom, my older brother’s bedroom. I think my sister had a bedroom, too. And at the second floor. Main floor, there’s a kitchen with a wooden stove and then dining room, then the living room, with the sofas and chairs. And there’s a basement with the big furnace that burns sawdust. The backyard my father cultivated chrysanthemums. He was—that was his hobby, and he would enter them into competitions. And there was a garage, in the back, way in the back, facing the lane way. Typical Vancouver they have lanes. I remember there used to be some bees in there. Laughs.
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EY
Were there any items that you wish you could have taken with you when you had to leave?
EH
My train, my train was the treasure, and I was glad that my mother let me take that, yeah. I don’t know what my sister took, probably her dolls, yeah. And I remember trying to run my train at the Green Brier hotel in West Virginia. Unfortunately, US they use direct current, so I almost burned my transformer up. Although I did listen to my brother saying, “You’re going to burn it up.” Laughs. Yeah. No it survived that. Laughs. Yeah.
EY
Do you remember what kind of items your parents had within the home? Were there any special items that they had to leave?
EH
They had some Japanese decorations. But no, I don’t especially remember, no. Of course all the cutlery was Western. Knives and Forks. The coffee pot, the old fashion coffee pot. Hmm.
EY
There were many—
EH
Oh I had a tricycle, Laughs. my treasure which I couldn’t take. Laughs. Yeah.
EY
Do you remember who your neighbors were in British Columbia?
EH
To the. . . Let me see, facing 8th Avenue, to the right, there was Norwegian brother and sister, two brothers and a sister. They were very kind and sometimes they were helping with the yard, the garden. And on the left side. . . there was a little lady I think, yeah. No they were all nice.
EY
Are there any people that you remember leaving, other than your neighbors? Were there friends from school that weren’t Japanese or Japanese Canadian?
EH
Oh yeah, as a school kid, no I don’t remember never kept contact with them but my older brother Arthur did. With. . . John Westlake, no not, Gerry? There’s a Johnny Nei his brother a contractor a very racist, and he didn’t appreciate me coming visiting him, his house which is about 10-15 blocks away. He was very rude. But Westlake was a good friend to my brother, and they were friends when he came back too.
EY
Do you remember feeling, other than the one person, do you remember feeling a lot of racism within the community at the time when you were younger in British Columbia
EH
No, that’s a thing, I don’t remember any racist bullying except on the day after Pearl Harbor day. And the bullying in the schools in Japan were terrible, but I could beat them all, but my sister didn’t have that luxury.
EY
In what ways did being uprooted from British Columbia change you and your family’s lives?
EH
What? Say that again.
EY
In what ways did being uprooted from your family home in British Columbia, how did that change your life and your family’s lives?
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EH
Well we were rich, Laughs. more than the middle class. And we became poor. Like in Japan, there’s not enough to eat so I had to grow our own food. So I grew wheat, I figured out a way to increase the yield by transplanting the wheat. And also in Japan they stomp on the wheat seedlings and doing that that could increase the yield, many times. Growing. . . Sweet potato, if you use compost you can really get a good deal. Yeah, I became a good farmer. So. Yeah so, it was all this good life back in Canada that I remembered. No bullying. And the bullying in Japan I endured, and overcame.
EY
And what brought you to Regina?
EH
Pardon?
EY
What brought you to Regina?
EH
Oh just my research. I’m one of the pioneers in fiber optics telecommunications. And at the communication research center, we were doing research there. University of Regina established industrial research chair, that’s with the. . . well, what was it? Some network that the national research consul set up. And SaskTel put up the money, what I think it was several million dollars and they wanted to have expert come and do the research. But nobody would. I told them I don’t want to leave my good job at the research center, and oh I was by then, by then I was Director of New Technology for the department of communication, but of course I have a good pension there, I would have to give it up and come to Regina. I told them, “No, no way.” But then they came back and said, Elmer we have a deal that you can’t refuse.” They talked to my Deputy Minister at the Department of Communications and, “We’ll send you as an exchange, executor of exchange program, and so you don’t have to give up your pension, your benefits, and the university will cover—pay us.” So that’s how I came in 1986, yeah. And after five years the program—see because SaskTel was a new bottom line president, from the United States, I told him what he should do, and you’ll be a really big company in fiber optics, but technically for building, intelligence buildings, he had no ear for it. Chang was his name. A Chinese name but he doesn’t look Chinese. Laughs. He missed a good opportunity. So then the program ended then, and then at that time the Federal governments were having problems and they offered me a deal that I could retire early at age 59. Yeah. They gave me one year pay, and I could collect unemployment insurance if I wanted to. I didn’t, but Laughs. yeah. So coming here was okay. Laughs. So actually, leaving Vancouver was horrific because you’re moving to a new environment, hostile, you don’t speak the language. And we had to endure that for 10 years. And just to tell you a funny story about the bullying: in Japan after the war, it was my time. The bullies wouldn’t touch me but there were bullies that were bullying the other kids in my class, there was a grade six, and one day there was a big bully picked on my good friend. We shared tables two by two.
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EH
Desks. And he said, “You stay after class, I’ll beat you up.” So during class I told my friend, “Look I’ll show you how to Laughs. bury that guy, first of all you grab his shirt collar, make a fist—” and my friend was left handed and the bully was a head taller than my friend— “and you just aim for his nose, keep your head down. And turn your shoulder as hard as you can.” Laughs. So this not too long after the war but anyway, the school ends, the kids move all the desks around, make an arena. Laughs. And the Bully comes out, “Okay I’ll beat you up.” The bully doesn’t know boxing, he just flails at his head. My friend puts his head down, he goes bang, head snaps back about four or five shots. Blood is gushing from the bully’s nose, and the bully says, “I quit!” And ran away. So all the other kids jumping up and down, yelling, “Banzai, banzai!” Laughs. One guy yelled, “Elmer!” And my friend, “You guys are the king now!” Laughs. So being modern I said, “Okay this is after the war, everybody’s equal, it’s Liberal, everybody’s equal. If anyone is being picked on, come and talk to us, we’ll look after.” So until then the whole year was really heaven for the kids. Laughs. Book that’s written about the Asama Maru exchange ship, my youngest sister did contribute to that.
EY
Yeah, I was—Ed Tanaka showed me a couple of books today. So I’ll need to try and get ahold of those. I know there was one that was published in Japan.
EH
Yeah.
EY
By a group who were still there. Yeah. Oh, sorry, this is yours. That’s your stuff. Yeah, but you have a very, very unique story. That’s for sure. Very unique. A lot of the stories I’ve been getting has been from families, from Haney or Maple Ridge or, mostly fishing families.
EH
Yeah, right.
EY
So, there hasn’t been—
EH
From the Steveston area?
EY
Yeah, yeah, so those have been more of the stories I’ve been hearing. I know a couple of my coworkers have gotten stories that have been a little different, but they’re definitely similar. . . Because a lot of our links are from other people who were in the same area that knew each other, so. And it’s still—the struggle more has been finding people who are older and who were above the age of five. Because I found a lot of individuals who were five and under.
EH
Yeah, my brother will remember more because he was older. So I was nine, so he was fifteen then.
EY
Wow. Pauses. He’s eight-nine?
EH
Mmm-hmm. He’s doing okay, although he says he can’t fly anymore because something in his ears. Yeah, now and then he’d ask me, like I go to Japan more often than he does, he says, “Why do you like going to Japan, Elmer?” “Well, I’ve got my high school friends.” Laughs.
EY
Mmm-hmm.
EH
He says, “Well, no, I don’t like going there.” Laughs. His memories are very poor.
EY
It’s very interesting, though, that you still go there. And you’re okay with going there, because most people are like your brother.
EH
Yup. Well, it’s more what happened after the war because I had a good time. Even though the teachers would treat me with a little bit of Laughs. difference because I spoke English.
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EY
So, did you feel there was racism in Japan against Japanese Canadians?
EH
Oh, yeah, it was rampant, oh yeah. If you were different, they pick on you. It happens all the time in the school, and a lot of kids commit suicide. The suicide rate of children is much higher than here. And you can see their stories on the internet. There are website where they write about their problems. And some of the stories are like, you know, the subjects of bullying, they get even. Laughs. Their stories are very, you know, interesting.
EY
Well, that was similar to yours. You took a swing at it and. . .
EH
Yeah, and brought down the Laughs. bully’s kingdom.
EY
Mmm-hmm. Pauses. So what made you want to go into physics, of all areas? Was it always an interest to be in the sciences or math?
EH
Well, I used to like to tinker with my toys and build things, building blocks, mechanic sets. So, my mother would show me books that had science in them. And then say, Elmer, you’re going to get a PhD.” Laughs. So I had my mind made on a physics PhD.
EY
When did your mother come to Canada? Or was she born in Canada?
EH
No, she was an arranged marriage in the early 20s, 1920s.
EY
And was your mother, was her family wealthy in Japan?
EH
Well connected, yeah. The company called Tamura Trading Company was from a wealthy family. And my father was. . . what was it? His father was related to one of the women that married into that family, so he got hired. Her mother was the daughter of a warlord’s chancellor, in one of the areas of Japan.
EY
What is her family’s name?
EH
Koki. K-O-K-I. I don’t think you’ll look them up. Her father was. . . her grandfather was the first Methodist minister Laughs. in Japan. I found some, you can find some reference to him on the internet.
EY
So did you ever speak to your parents about what made them want to come to Canada?
EH
No, it was business. Because my father was hired by the Tamura Company, and he was assigned to Vancouver.
EY
So the company was very large. Was it spread across Canada or just . . .
EH
No, it was big in Japan but not that big in Canada, just in Vancouver. But they traded in salmon, salmon roe, lumber. I still see pictures, remember the pictures about my father standing on top of big logs that they exported to Japan.
EY
So it was mostly an export company?
01:00:21.000
01:00:21.000
EH
Export to Japan, yeah. Or import to Japan, yeah. And the banking business was pretty good but, it was all taken away. Even though the Canadian deposit there, the money was taken away.
EY
Did the company continue in Japan?
EH
It’s still there.
EY
Still?
EH
Yeah, my distant cousins. Laughs.
EY
So do you still see that family when you visit?
EH
No, not them. We’re not too closely related, so. Oh, you want to record something about the money that was deposited to the Japan-Canada Trust Saving Company or the company funds? I remember something.
EY
Mhm.
EH
Okay, you want to write or record? It’s on, okay. When I went back to Japan in 1970? Yeah, 1970. Just after my PhD. I met my sister and she told me that, “Oh, I’ve been wondering what to do with this money that the Bank of Japan sent to me. They said it’s the money that belongs to the Tamura company.” And it was something like a thousand dollars, and in those days it was pretty good money. Laughs. So on my way home, in Tokyo I contacted the branch, or the main branch of the Bank of Japan, and they said “Oh, no, we don’t know anything about that.” So I left my name and my hotel room number, and they called me back in a hurry Laughs. about in the evening and said “Oh, yes, yes.” Then, okay, so, “Do you want this back?” They said, “Yes.” Laughs. So I gave it back to them, Laughs. yeah. But talking about funds, my father before leaving Vancouver on the Gripsholm, he paid up his life insurance. The full sum was about three thousand dollars then. Quite a sum. He paid up the premium, fully paid, so that if anything happens, us, the beneficiaries, could get it. So when I came back to Canada, I asked for the payment, and they said, “No, the Enemy Custodian Act says that Canada can take it.” So never saw a penny of it. Laughs. I forgot the name of the insurance company. Laughs. It was a big one. London Life? I don’t know.
EY
So did your father work when he came back? Or did he continue—
EH
No, he never came back.
EY
No, he continued to work there?
EH
He was a broken man by the end of the war. He of course, the company kept him on payroll, so that’s how we survived, my mother survived.
EY
Did you and your brother come back around the same time?
EH
I came back in ’53. He came back at about four years later, so ’57. Before 1960 he came back.
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01:05:08.000
EY
What made you want to come back so early compared to other people in your family?
EH
Always wanted to come back, you know, right after the war I wanted to come back. But the opportunity came up because some friends from Vancouver came to visit our mother and father, and they started saying, “Okay, if Elmer goes can you help him out?” And that arrangement was made before 1952. And it was the Suzuki, Jimmy Suzuki’s family, that helped me out first and then it was Gordy Kadota. Oh, probably you know Gordon Kadota in Vancouver, yup. We worked on some interpreting, assignments together.
EY
So you continued to do work on the side. What makes you want to do that?
EH
Oh, yeah. Keep my language up. Laughs. I’ve got to keep my memory going. Laughs. I tend to forget things these days.
EY
You had mentioned earlier what kind of work you were doing. What kind of —
EH
I was translating. As an aside from doing my research. Japanese-English consecutive interpreter or conference interpreter. I did that for the Federal government. It was good. They paid, even if I wasn’t a public servant, they paid the extra money, a thousand dollars a day. I was doing translation work. But these days I don’t charge too much, like I was up until late yesterday or this morning, doing a translation of a family registry. This lady phoned me up on Monday and said, “Oh, can you do a hurried up translation of this, my children’s family registry?” I said, “So, when do you want it?” She wanted it by Friday, or by Thursday, so. I said, “Oh, okay. That’s going to cost a lot.” And then—but my rates vary according to a means test. Are you a student? If you’re a student in need of funds, no, I do it for nothing or just ten dollars or something. They briefly speak with the waitress. So anyways, for students I’d do it for a nominal fee. So she started explaining, “Oh, I’m a single mother with two kids.” I said, “Oh, okay.” I said, “No charge.” Then she started crying. Oh I’m talking in Japanese by this time. She started crying. She explained that she’s a single mother because her husband got into a car accident in Saskatoon and he’s an invalid, and his mental capacity is not there. So I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it done for you.” So I got it sent out this morning. She was taking her two children back to Japan to visit her grandparents. Her husband would be looked after by the nursing home. His mother would be there to take care of him.
EY
That’s absolutely terrible. What a terrible situation.
EH
Yeah.
EY
That was very, very nice of you though to do it for her.
01:10:22.000
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EH
So she said, “I have to pay something.” So, “Okay, you look after the mailing cost.” And the. . . you know, like a notary, notarization is? The cheapest one in Regina is twenty dollars, so I knew that girl, so I asked her to do it.
EY
So do you enjoy, you said you like to do it still? So it’s kind of . . .
EH
Translating? Yeah, it’s good. Especially when I’ve done the same one before. Laughs. It’s easy. Laughs. Like the family registry is very similar. Some of them are made different, but.
EY
Are there any stories that we haven’t spoken of that you’d like to. . . that have come to mind?
EH
Probably after. Laughs. I have to go to sleep.
EY
That’s usually how it happens.
EH
Yeah. Give me your email and card. Do you have a card?
EY
I forgot my cards but I can give you my email. Yeah.
EH
You have my email?
EY
I have your email, I think. Yeah.
EH
So send me your contact information.
EY
You had emailed me a quick paragraph. Yes, I have your email.
EH
Oh, right. I did. Right.
EY
Yes.
EH
Okay.
EY
No I ran out of cards last week. So I need to get some more made. So do you have a son or daughter?
EH
Yes. They’re in Ottawa. Son, when he was—since he was a little kid, I kept on telling him to get good marks in school, study. It means money. Laughs. He sure did well and he got a PhD in economics. And I hardly had to pay any of it his costs.
EY
Wow.
EH
Yeah, he’s married and has two children. He married a girl from Germany.
EY
Oh, very interesting.
EH
He’s a half, too. A half, well half-breed. Laughs. In Japan they called him half.
EY
Your wife was. . . What was her background?
EH
Half Jewish. Canadian.
EY
Very interesting.
EH
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Metadata

Title

Elmer Hara, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 15 June 2016

Abstract

Elmer Hara was born and raised in Vancouver, and then was exiled with his family to Japan during the interment era. In this interview, he explains that his father, Tokio Hara, was a businessman with the Japan-Canada Trust Savings Company and the Tamura Trading Company in the Powell Street area. As a financially successful family, Elmer narrates how they boarded the Gripsholm and the Asama Maru in order to reach Japan. He discusses the bullying and discrimination that he and his siblings endured when they relocated to Japan, and explains that this was due to their English-speaking ability and foreignness. Elmer speaks about how he always wanted to return to Canada, and returned in the 50s to become a successful telecommunication pioneer. He narrates how his mother allowed him to pack his prized possessions, such as his toy train and other sentimental treasures from his childhood, when they were forced to leave their home in Vancouver. He describes the experience of leaving Vancouver as horrific, an event that greatly changed his family’s life and affected his father.

Credits

Interviewee: Elmer Hara
Interviewer: Erin Yaremko
Audio Checker: Jennifer Landrey
Final Checker: Jennifer Landrey
Final Checker: Nathaniel Hayes
Final Checker: Natsuki Abe
Encoder: Natsuki Abe
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Keywords: Japan ; Exile; Japan-Canada Trust Savings Company; Tamura Trading Company; Gripsholm; Asama Maru; 1900-2015

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.