Jean Higashi, interviewed by Josh Labove, 23 September 2015

Jean Higashi, interviewed by Josh Labove, 23 September 2015

Abstract
Jean Higashi begins by reflecting on her earliest childhood memories living in Greenwood, Alberta. She recalls what her parents did for work, who they were as individuals, and her relationship with them. Additionally, she remembers what it was like to have 1700 Japanese-Canadians brought to Greenwood and how this impacted her childhood and her community. Jean talks about how she moved from Greenwood to Calgary as well as the foods she missed. She describes her marriage to her husband, Showney, a Japanese Canadian man. After his death, Showney left behind a number of items for his children one of which was his parents’ handmade trunk. This trunk was designed to preserve his family’s most valuable possessions while they were interned. Attached to the trunk is a letter written by Showney which Jean reads aloud during the interview. Jean goes on to explain what the Redress movement, apology, and compensation meant to her and her family. She concludes the interview by outlining what she would like her grandchildren to learn from the internment and dispossession of Japanese-Canadians.
00:00:00.000
Labove Joshua (LJ)
It is September 23, 2015. My name is Josh Labove, and I am here with Jean Higashi in Calgary, Alberta for the Landscapes of Injustice project. So, Jean, you were talking before, you grew up in Greenwood BC.
Jean Higashi (JH)
I was born in Greenwood.
LJ
So maybe you can just start off here by telling us about your childhood, your earliest memories in Greenwood.
JH
All I really can think of is that it was a very small town. It had been a mining boom town and at the turn of the century it was very active. Copper was mined and, of course, when the First World War came the price of copper dropped and then the depression. Greenwood was perhaps down to about 200 population. It had been a city with and it bolstered about twenty-three saloons and it had all sorts of the amenities of a city but then it came down to about 200.
LJ
What did your parents do in Greenwood?
JH
My father worked in the mines. Later on he was in the logging business but he was a labourer.
LJ
You met your husband in Greenwood and life has changed from there in all sorts of drastic ways.
JH
Well, yes because practically overnight there was some 1700, as I wrote here, enemy aliens were brought in.
LJ
How old were you at the time?
JH
I was nine.
LJ
Do you remember what that was like?
JH
Oh, yes I remember very well because I remember going with my mother and father to look in the buildings because these old hotels and buildings, they were refurbishing them to bring the Japanese in. Because the mayor of Greenwood, he invited them to come. He wrote to the BC government to invite them because most places did not want the Japanese, they were against it but he could see that it would be a good thing for Greenwood because the population was down so much. I remember going with my mother and she was very upset when she saw the very small areas that they would be living in as a family because, as I've said, there was nothing going on there and then you have that many people come in overnight, or over a period of a week or a month it changed the town. It changed my life.
LJ
How did it first, initially, change your life? I know you would eventually meet your husband but what was sort of the first ...
JH
Perhaps more people? I don't really remember that much about ... because when you're a child you just go on with your life.
LJ
Yeah. The Japanese Canadians that were interned, were they going to school with you?
JH
Yes, I was the only Caucasian girl in my class but there wasn't enough room in the regular school so they brought ... the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, the Catholic Church, they brought them and they opened a school in the old fire hall. Not only was the community Japanese, it was essentially Catholic because all the children went to the Catholic ... the ones that could. That was a big part of the life too, the Catholic Church in Greenwood.
LJ
Do you remember talking to your parents about this huge influx of new residents?
JH
No, it was just ... I don't know what they thought. When you're young, you know, I don't really recall that. I never really thought about that very much. They were not against it. Some people were, I am sure in the community but I wouldn't have known them. I think I remember some people had moved away because they were coming but I don't know about that.
LJ
How did you come to, you said before we sat down that you sort of had a life in the internment camp and that eventually you would go to meet your husband there.
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JH
It was just ordinary life. It was just like any other place; young kids playing. When the Japanese came they brought different things, different games for us to play. One thing that I wrote about here is that all the Japanese girls went to sewing school so when I was twelve I went off to sewing school and, of course, there would be forty women and girls in the class. The teacher didn't speak English, of course. This would be in an old building with wooden tables and benches and, so, I learned sewing at that point.
LJ
Sewing, yeah. What other sorts of games and stuff do you remember?
JH
Mostly I remember playing jacks. Do you know what they are? You throw up a ball and there are little, yeah. We were very good at it because played it all the time.
LJ
I know how you play it but I don't actually know how you keep score, so ...
JH
Well, you have to go through the routine until you drop one or something and then this other ...
LJ
Oh, okay. Yeah. So this would have been a popular game among both the interned Japanese-Canadians and ...
JH
Yes, but there was not very many Caucasians okay Reading from notes?
LJ
Right, so how many Caucasians were in Greenwood then?
JH
Well, the total population, I believe, would have been 200.
LJ
Everyone? Children and women?
JH
Yes. Now, that might not be quite accurate but that's what I understood.
LJ
So your circle of friends quickly became ...
JH
I just lived in the Japanese culture, I believe.
LJ
What sorts of things do you remember picking up and adopting from Japanese culture in Greenwood?
JH
Hard work, honesty, good things, you know, good character things, I would say.
LJ
When did you first meet your husband in Greenwood?
JH
Well, his sister and I were friends and it was a small town so everybody knew everybody.
LJ
How old were you at this time?
JH
I don't know. We just went to the same school so I always knew him.
LJ
Was it love at first sight?
JH
Well, I don't know. I have written about it ... I feel reading it to you might be better because some of the things ... this is what I tried to remember anyway. Reading from notes: I lived in a very small town, that one time, had been a copper mining boom town. It had a smelter for the ore that was mined, many hotels and amenities, and bolstered twenty-three saloons in its heyday. The price of copper dropped. The First World War and then the Depression years turned this place into, pretty much, a ghost town. The population was about 200 and then one day trainloads of 'enemy aliens,' as they were called, were brought into live in the abandoned hotels and buildings. Some 1700 Japanese arrived in a very short time. My life changed. I grew up in an internment camp. I grew up in a completely different culture. When I went to school I was the only Caucasian girl in my class. There was not room for all the hundreds of children to attend the regular school, so the Catholic Church brought in the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement to establish a school in the old fire hall. This also made our community, essentially, Catholic. Our community welcomed the Japanese, although, not all places did. We had RCMP officers, the BC Security Commission, and we had guards. Most of these guards were Japanese men who were veterans of the First World War. They fought in Europe on our side. I don't think they were really guarding anything, except patrolling the old buildings for fire safety. In these buildings, each family would have a room for their whole family usually roughly made wooden double bunk beds on each side to hold all the children and mother. There was room for a small table between, and all belongings were in this one room.
00:10:09.000
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JH
The men lived separately. Many of the men were sent to road construction camps. There was a communal cooking stove and bathroom facilities. This was shared by everyone on each floor of the old buildings. To me, this was quite exciting. Imagine, living that close to all your friends. I did not look at it from the perspective of adults that had been removed from their homes and businesses. As a people, the Japanese are industrious, law-abiding, obedient, and quite superstitious. I never did embrace the superstitions, but I knew all about them. They were a part of our life. Cleanliness is surely ahead of godliness for the Japanese. A public bath was built and the men and women used it on opposite nights. It was a social gathering as they all went off to the bathhouse with their towels in a bundle. I have bathed in a regular Japanese bath. You wash thoroughly outside the wooden tub and then soak in the very hot water. The water is heated underneath with a wood fire and the water is up to your neck. It is usual in the home for the men to bathe first, then the boys, then the children and, lastly, the women. Some of the families had managed to bring a few of their treasures and it was all new, and interesting, and exciting to me; colourful and beautiful handmade things; bright materials; and dolls that I had never seen; new games for a young girl to learn. For a while, the specialty was jacks. We were all so very good at jacks. All Japanese girls went to sewing school, so when I was twelve I spent the summer mornings at sewing school. There was no such thing as home-ec in our school in those days. When school started in the fall, we went two evenings a week. The school was in an old building with worn tables and benches. The teacher, or sensei, did not speak any English. There would be about forty women and girls in each class. I learned to look at a picture, take measurements, draft a pattern, cut out material, and sew. I do appreciate this learning experience. I was reluctant to give up all my summer to sewing, but I was able to have the afternoons for swimming. We swam in the cold waters of Boundary Creek. The girls stayed on one side where it was sandy and the boys were on the other side by the rocks. Most of the girls didn't swim, but all the boys did. I could swim, so I swam to the other side. I came out of the water to see all these young boys. I really only saw one. His name was Showney. My mother died when I was about fourteen so, once again, my life changed. Through the Japanese culture I had learned well the value of hard work and sticking to things that had to be done. Just as well, I became the caretaker. My sister was seven years younger so we were on our own. I went to school, cooked, kept house, sewed, knitted, canned fruit, butchered venison and canned it. My older sisters had left to go away to work and get married, and my brothers were all in the armed forces. There was little or no communication in those days, so we were seldom in touch. A strange way to grow up. My sister went to the convent for music lessons and each evening I would sit with her as she practiced. She eventually grew up and left home to live in Vancouver. A wonderful and talented person, and such a good mother to her family. Through these times Showney and I became friends. We were just two young people growing up. My father was very concerned and eventually forbid me to see him. I continued to see him. After I graduated I went to work and when I was in my twenties we decided to build a house. I don't know what words to use to describe this, other than catastrophe. My father did not speak to me and I went to stay with a kindly old couple.
00:15:00.000
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JH
Intermarriage was just too terrible to contemplate and the awful possibility of children was beyond comprehension at that time. Members of both families did all they could to stop us. We were married at Holy Trinity Church on a Thursday night at nine o'clock after choir practice. Showney's brother and wife were our only witnesses. His mother made a lunch of rice, fish, and seaweed, wrapped it in waxed paper and put it in a shoebox; our wedding banquet. It was the first intermarriage in the community. Later on, others followed. It was my belief that to be disowned by my family was their loss. Some years later that rift was mended. In the end it was positive. Our life together was very ordinary. We went to work, we had friends in, we had very little money, we didn't drink, he went fishing. The one difference was that all our food was Japanese. We had rice every day, all kinds of vegetables, fish or meat, tofu, seaweed, usually pickles. We at with rice bows and chopsticks; the rice bowl is held in one hand and the food is dipped in soy sauce. I was explaining to these ladies, you see how ... My very favorite food is still Kamaboko. It is made by scraping fresh fish, adding egg, cornstarch, sugar and salt, and frying. Showney's? mother made the very best. Our first son was born six years after we were married and our second son was born eight years later. I neglected to ever tell them that they would never be accepted in society or that they were different. These children have become successful in so many ways. They are well educated, they contribute to their communities, their countries, and beyond. They care for their families and they're good citizens. We are a family proud of our heritage. They still eat Japanese food and their children love Sushi. In this marriage of fifty-five years, we argued over many things. Not once did we ever argue about race. I have now lived in Calgary for just over one year. It is the first time that I have lived away from an Asian community and I think I am adapting. And then I go on to tell that I have brought some of the very few things that I kept when I left my home. You might find them interesting and I will try to answer any of your questions about them. And so today, I have shared with you a part of my other life. It is my hope that you will share with others a part of your very interesting experiences. We all have a story. I am a child of war. I am a woman of peace. I am at peace.
LJ
Thank you.
JH
Arigato gozaimasu.
LJ
That raised a lot of questions.
JH
It raises questions for you, does it?
LJ
Maybe we can talk more about your ... you mentioned difficulties first with your parents ...
JH
Well, just my father. My mother had died when I was young but then there's other members of the family.
LJ
With your dad and other members of your family what was that like?
JH
Well, those days, and maybe it's still the same, they never talked about it. You were not allowed and that was it. As I said, to be disowned, I thought it was their loss. When my father did eventually make an overture, I accepted it because if I didn't accept it then it would be my loss.
00:20:12.000
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LJ
Yeah. How long was that period?
JH
It was a number of years and it was a small town that we lived in.
LJ
When the internment was going on, presumably you were living at home, maybe you could just tell me a little bit about what home looked like, where it was in proximity to the camp and ...
JH
It was a little bit out of town and it was a nice house for those days. My mother was not well and she had help, like young Japanese women came to help at the house. I was young and I don't know any of the details, really, of it.
LJ
So if you wanted to get to the internment camp from ...
JH
No, it was all ...
LJ
It was all basically right there?
JH
Yes, and houses had numbers. We lived next door and wherever.
LJ
The war ends and you're still in Greenwood now. What was life like living in a town whose primary business, for a period of time, was the interning of Japanese? What was it like to live there in an intermarriage but also to live there as a professional?
JH
Well, first the war was over by the time we were married so when the war was on I was in school.
LJ
After the war was over, living in Greenwood, what was life like after the war?
JH
I guess it was just like any other place?
LJ
What were you doing in Greenwood? What job did you take up?
JH
Office work. I worked in the office. My husband was a welder, a mechanic, and did welding. So just, very ordinary jobs.
LJ
You stayed at that office for ...
JH
Different offices. In the end I worked at the sawmill in the office and then when I had my first child then I quit there. I mostly worked in sawmill offices but in the end I worked for West Power for the hydro.
LJ
For what would become BC Hydro, presumably?
JH
No, it was a separate entity. It was in the Kootenays, smaller. They've got their own ...
LJ
They've got their own thing up there.
JH
I worked with them until I retired.
LJ
You mentioned you've been in Calgary now for a little while but now maybe a little adrift or separate from an Asian community, a Japanese community.
JH
But I still keep in touch with my Japanese church in Vancouver. I write to them and they write back.
LJ
What's been the hardest part of the transition? What do you find yourself missing? The food, the people?
JH
Just a minute. I write things. Reading from note: Purple, pink, mauve, and white sweet peas. The scent of them fills the room and my heart. My mother bringing in a bouquet and putting them in a glass jar. They grew quite wildly against the old shed with its greyed weathered wood, the tendrils grasping so cleverly onto the chicken wire and string. I am taken back to long ago hot summer days by their unique smell. I have been away from sweet peas for many years now, but at times I reminisce and I am sure I would still know their special scent. Just as I have left the west coast for this place over the mountains, the sights and sounds and smells are different. The people, the languages, the food, the smell of miso, pickled vegetables, daikon, bins of dried roots I know I will not see these things here but I cannot help but look each time I go to the store. Perhaps, they have brought in some tempura. The aroma of another time. I go across the city with Tracy to the Asian store and see special rice bowls, white porcelain with delicate blue cranes painted on them, our everyday dishes that I gave away when I left. I would not need them here in this new place. I see trays of every kind of fish, the vegetables, tofu, noodles, dark sauces, and spices, and my very favourite, Kamaboko. In this store, I breathe deeply and smile at Tracy. It smells like Vancouver. The smells of home, of childhood, and the smells of my other life.
LJ
You call it your other life. You've used this term before. What do you mean by that? What do you mean by your other life?
00:25:02.000
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JH
Pause. There are no Asians here Laughs.
LJ
But it's your life right?
JH
Oh yes, I'm fine. Oh yes, it's all in your attitude. I'm quite happy. But I feel that is my other life.
LJ
Which part? The war part or the internment part or the ...
JH
Just that whole ... Asians. No, I don't think of it as war or internment, no.
LJ
But a life with a vibrant Asian culture.
JH
Oh yes, mhm.
LJ
You have in this apartment, a multitude of things some of which I'm wondering if we can talk about. A few pieces of art that you showed me before, um, did a lot of these things that you have here come with your husband to Greenwood?
JH
You're fed up with me reading.
LJ
Nope.
JH
This is the trunk letter. When we were moving out when I was getting rid of everything in the big house in Burnaby, there was this trunk in our basement. We were going to throw it out because it was just an old wooden trunk. I said “no, just leave it in the basement in front of the sofa as a coffee table.” We put old Christmas tree lights in it. It was just sort of a useless thing. So I was cleaning out everything and so it was going to be thrown out because I was throwing out lots of things and taking lots of things to the church. Anyway, I said to Gordy, my nephew was there, I said “we'd better have a look inside first.” Inside, there was a letter taped inside the trunk. It said “to Mitchel and Shawn” and it said “not to be opened until the trunk is to be destroyed or after I am gone” and it's signed from Showney. This is the letter in the trunk.
LJ
Now, before you read the letter, did you know that this ...
JH
No, I had no idea.
LJ
So, you found this ...
JH
I found it in the trunk.
LJ
Wow, okay.
JH
It was dated January the fifth 1998 and this is in 2013.
LJ
Okay, yeah.
JH
Reads from note: This seemingly insignificant, old, homemade trunk for me holds a lot of memories. When we moved from Greenwood in 1992 it was almost destroyed but fate deemed it ended up in Burnaby. We were always going to throw it out because it's, you know, ruffled. At the time, in 1942, the Canadian-Japanese knew they would be moved to the interior of BC or east of the Rockies. In preparing for this forced move my father, Shisuichi Higashi, built this trunk. The deal was, everything the family owned was to be stored in our house to be returned after the war. Only a large clothes bag and suitcase were to be taken by each person. The result of the ultimatum resulted in my parents, my dad, and his wife Tazu building boxes and etcetera to store our valuables. My mother made our clothes for a cold climate and all the clothes bags for our deportation. When the day finally arrived, I think it was the CDR Passenger Line or Prince George which picked up the Canadian-Japanese from the Upper Vancouver Island at the government wharf on Union Bay, for me, I cannot express the feeling of dismay, shamed and hated by all my former friends, and outcast because of my parents' origin. I was born at Union Bay of naturalized parents, but, back to the trunk. When I look at it, I wonder what my dad was thinking when he built it considering the year, the one horse town, hated, curfewed, and stripped of most of his valuables, guns, radios, cameras, his job. In spite of all this, my parents built strong boxes to store their China and other valuables only to watch the local residents, we could see from the boat, going through the windows of our house taking everything my parents had carefully and painstakingly stored.
00:30:05.000
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JH
I hope these people weren't religious persons and believed in another life and judgment day. Somehow, my father was a resourceful man and the trunk, somehow, survived. They did get it to Greenwood. Before you destroy it, please think about where your roots are. You will never know how proud I am to see two sons who have come so far. You are a tribute to your family, the fight against racial prejudice, and our good decent people. In your body and soul is the seed of past generations of your family. You may have had, and will have in your lifetime: stress, strife, but in your minds you are fighters and hopefully never beaten. So getting back to this old trunk, I know that I couldn't build it as well under the conditions at that time. While you are destroying it, this crude old trunk, please think of another time when your dad and grandfather were the underdogs and where you are today. I may not be here when you find this letter, but I want you to know that there never has and never will be a prouder father and my greatest gift: your success in my lifetime. Your father, Showney.
LJ
Thank you. So you discovered this and ...
JH
Yes, as we were getting rid of everything in the house.
LJ
So I have to ask, where is the trunk now?
JH
Well, actually it was really quite funny that night because Gordy and Barbara, my nephew and his wife, they're just wonderful. We had already taken it outside. I took the letter out, because we were going to get rid of it, and that was in the dump that was supposed to go there and they put the Christmas tree lights in the other pile but Ivan didn't come that night. So, Gordy is sitting there with tears in his eyes and he says “I've got to get that trunk back in.” So he went and I phoned, Shawn is the older one, so I phoned him first and before I finished ... oh, it was Tracy then ... before I finished saying what was happening we will take the trunk and have it. I said “you can just put it out in your backyard or whatever.” They have it in their guestroom here in Calgary and Mitchell has the original letter. We made copies of the letter.
LJ
What's it like to take a look at the trunk now knowing the letter that was inside of it?
JH
I'm just so glad that we didn't destroy it.
LJ
Yeah. Did you husband ever talk about ... that letter is certainly full of emotion and all of his very personal feelings about what was going on. Did he talk about ...
JH
Yeah, sometimes we did in later years. I think maybe we started to talk about when the redress was going on but at times he might get a bit too involved and I said “let's look on the positive side. Things turned out very well.”
LJ
What was redress like in your family and in your house?
JH
One thing, it was very important. When the announcement was going to be made on the ... it was a big day for us, Mitchel was at university and Shawn was working somewhere. I think he was at Calgary at the time, working. I phoned them to make sure that they had the ... and Mitchel was at the dorm in UBC and everyone gathered around and they both said it was very emotional and very important to them.
LJ
Was it something that your husband was active in working toward? Was he ...
00:34:58.000
00:34:58.000
JH
No, not that way. After he had died, you know you have all sorts of papers that belong to him, so I was thinking “okay, I have that certificate” that they got from the Prime Minister of Canada and the apology. But what did I do with it? What I did was, I made books and I put all his other papers and things ... oh that's not it, this would be it ... I wanted to put it in so I put together all of the things that had to do with him, like his birth certificate, his parents' marriage certificate, and anything to do with school. Just to keep it and have one for each of the boys.
LJ
You're very organized.
JH
It's a work in progress. There are some of the things from the papers. He was from the island and one lady was writing a book so she asked to fill in some questions. When I was going through the things I even found the cheque from the redress, the stub from it, and the deposit into the credit union. I got these put to letter size, the acknowledgement. This is the questions they had asked him. A lady in Union Bay was writing a book and here are some of his answers for them.
LJ
Do you remember when the redress stuff came? You've got the cheque stub there.
JH
Yes, it was a good time. We're in a Japanese community, we're all friends so we all went out to dinner. Every year ... we used to call it the twenty-one club because they got 21,000 dollars ... so we would try and go out for dinner. Yes, it was a good time.
LJ
At this time you were still at Greenwood?
JH
Yes.
LJ
Was there much of a Japanese-Canadian community in Greenwood at this time?
JH
Yes, but a lot of them had moved away by then. I don't know what the ratio would have been at that point. I don't know.
LJ
Did your husband ever talk about wanting to leave Greenwood? You settled in Burnaby toward the end ...
JH
No, he didn't want to leave Greenwood. He wanted to stay there and go fishing. We had a place at the lake there so he liked to go fishing but I said “it was time to go” because we had children that were, you know, grown up and gone and for them to come back and visit in the summer, there was really nothing there for them. I felt if we lived in Vancouver it would be nicer for them to have something to come back to.
LJ
Did he ever miss the island? I know you said he was born over there.
JH
Oh yes, he always talked about going back to the island but it's really not practical laughs.
LJ
It can be tough, yeah.
JH
Just like it wasn't practical to stay in Greenwood, I felt, because when you get older you're going to get ill and you have to be in a place ... and there's winter roads and one of you definitely will get ill.
LJ
So on that trunk, you mentioned that you all stored Christmas lights.
00:40:00.000
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JH
We had it in the shed in Greenwood. All those years, we just had it in the shed we didn't ...
LJ
Your husband never mentioned ...
JH
He said that his father had built it but maybe he thought about it more of a ... you know. But he knew it was just an old wooden trunk.
LJ
Do you happen to know what was kept in it before it held the Christmas lights? What of his family's heirlooms would have been in there?
JH
I don't even know how it got from his parents' house to our house. I don't remember that.
LJ
Yeah. Some of the things that you have here, are these some of the things that would have been of his parents'?
JH
Well, yes. The things at the bottom, the parents' ... I'll go back to my reference book.
LJ
Sure.
JH
This is about the painting of Jeejan.
LJ
I noticed that you have a number of tea sets. Were these things that you collected over the years or ...
JH
In the days when we were young, we would have afternoon tea and we would use those cups. The neighbours would come in and we'd have afternoon tea all the time.
LJ
So these would have been yours before ...
JH
No, during my marriage. I have very little from my parents. At the bottom, that's a picture of my parents, at the bottom. That tea set, that came from England. My grandmother brought it from England. She gave it to me and I liked the looks of it.
LJ
Two kinds of tea sets.
JH
Yeah, there is a bit of a mixed up family you see laughs. This side we have the tea sets and there ...
LJ
Tea sets.
JH
Tea sets, yeah.
LJ
Well, it's a Canadian family.
JH
It's a Canadian family, yes.
LJ
So a number of these, you would have purchased then?
JH
Yes, or they would be gifts. Mostly they would be gifts, I would think.
LJ
I don't know too much about what the retail options would have been like in Greenwood but if you wanted to buy, or go to the store and get things, was this mostly the Eaton's Catalogue or were you ...
JH
We would deal through the catalogue but, at one time, they did have stores and they would have China and dry goods and groceries and all that sort of things. They don't have it now.
LJ
When was the last time you were in Greenwood?
JH
I went there this spring because my sister that lived in Grand Forks, my older sister, she passed away. So I went for her service. She was ninety-five. She was very active in the community in Grand Forks.
LJ
So a lot of the stuff that people would have gifted or that you would have purchased you may have gotten it from ...
JH
We lived in a very small house. I raised two boys and the house was 720 square feet. It can be done laughs.
LJ
It's tough.
JH
No, that was life. It wasn't tough. It was very ordinary. It was usual.
LJ
How close in age were your two boys?
JH
They're eight years apart so it's like raising two only children.
LJ
Yeah, I'm eight years apart with my siblings so.
JH
It's different; advantages and disadvantages.
LJ
Yeah. They don't step on each other's toes as much in a 720 square foot ...
JH
Oh, no. They get along very well and, of course, Shawn the older one he was just very very good to Mitchel. Now Mitchel, he has two boys. They're eight years apart, in Chicago. It's the same thing again.
LJ
Family tradition there, I suppose.
JH
Now, some of the things of Showney's parents, the mother especially is a very strong Buddhist, so some of the things there are the beads and the things for their prayers and that. No one in the family ... shall I read you this about ... I wrote about how I came to have this picture and then I decided I should write about him and I call it 'the in-laws.'
00:44:56.000
00:44:56.000
JH
Reading from notes: I like to think of him in the kitchen on a Saturday night, puttering back and forth, stirring the pot, tasting, adding, muttering back to Bajan. She did not like him in her kitchen but he persevered on Saturday nights making udon noodles. It was his specialty. I was going out with their son, and we would sit at the rough kitchen table and he would give us steaming bowls of broth with fat noodles, bits of meat and vegetables, and topped with green onions. Bajan would finally give in and go to her room with many instructions and a stern frown. Soon, we would hear the dinging of a gong summoning her Buddhist gods and the droning of her prayers. Jeejan was delightful and all the community loved him. He was never without a brown paper bag with little candies in it for the children. He was always happy with them, and those were the days when you could offer them candy without any incrimination. He ran the local plumbing shop with his eldest son but, of course, he was aging. It didn't stop him from being at the shop every day and, at least once a day, slipping out to the local pub a few doors down the block. His son did the same, but more often. They never went together. I think they each thought the other didn't know. Everyone else knew. Jeejan Shisuichi Higashi came to Canada as a young man from a village near Hiroshima. He was perhaps twenty-one years old. He went to Vancouver Island and worked for Canadian Colliers in the coal washing plant. He also went to night school to learn English and was able to read the paper. In 1912, he sent back to the neighbouring village in Japan for a wife. Tazu Fukai arrived in Victoria and they were married with her signature written in Japanese. She really never did learn to speak English but she was considered quite educated which was not always the case for girls. Her father was the one in the village with an education so she was able to go to school. She was a picture bride, but it seems she was not the one that he was expecting, or so the story goes. I think he would remind her of the fact, at times, when there was some argument. They had six children but one daughter died in childhood. My husband was the youngest son and I do believe he was his mother's favourite. He was the sweet-natured one and caused them no trouble, except for marrying me. Jeejan liked to spend time in the garden and it looked like it was the garden of gnomes, odd shaped buckets of many colours, boards and slats set every which way, and pieces of gnarled wood that he had collected. He used these pieces of wood for the base of his artificial trees that he crafted. His brown stubby fingers shaping delicate pink tissue into cherry blossoms, winding them around string dusted yellow for the centers, and placing them along branches of the old wood. A work of art, and everyone loved them. Bajan also made flowers but hers were perfection from her special classes in Japan. I don't think she quite gave Jeejan his due as his creations were definitely folk art. I still have the little wooden dowel that she used for shaping the rose petals. Showney's mother worked constantly to take care of the family with what his father provided. She was a good cook and spent many hours preserving vegetables that grew by pickling, and drying, and canning. She made their meager income stretch so they were never hungry. When they lived on Vancouver Island, before coming to Greenwood, they had an abundance of fish and seafood that the boys would supply by going out fishing. Bajan was deeply religious and lived her life practicing Buddhism. She would speak at gatherings, which was unusual for a woman to do in those times. Interestingly, none of her children have followed it and, even then, they never paid any attention to it as far as I can remember. I have kept her papers and prayer beads that were left. No one else in the family was interest and they have all passed on now. Jeejan was watching Shawn one day when he was a young boy when I had to go to work for a short time. He expected him to stay right at home but, of course, it was a small town and Shawn was used to having the run of the town and the surrounding hills.
00:50:00.000
00:50:00.000
JH
He was telling me about it later. He said “Shawn, bad boy! Saganagan.” I got the message. Mitchel always remembers going to see Bajan and the first thing she would say was “oh, Bajan so old. Pretty soon die.” The boys could imitate her perfectly. Both of Showney's parents went into an old age home for a while until his father passed away. His mother came back and lived with her daughter for a while until the daughter became ill. She then came to live with us in our very small house. My sons were always so very good to her and showed her great respect. They would say goodbye to her when they left for school and greet her when they returned. It was not easy with the language barrier but she was no trouble. Every day she wrote in her diary and I still have them. It is all in Japanese and, as she was going blind, the characters are very large and done with black marking pen. Eventually, she went into a care home. She begged me not to send her to the older son's home. She wanted to be with us, or, in the old age home. Life played strange tricks on us. I write this as I am living in an old age home and recalled with fondness, my in-laws.
LJ
Do you remember first meeting them?
JH
It was a small town and we would just be in and out because the daughter was a friend and we would just be in and out all the time.
LJ
Do you remember when they first realized that you and Showney were going steady?
JH
Yeah, sort of but they were so against it that, you know, that was our life. They were totally against, everybody.
LJ
How did they ...
JH
Laughing Obviously, I'm a difficult person.
LJ
How did they come around? Or did they come around?
JH
Yes, they did. Well, Showney was a good person. We lived within the rules like, you know, didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't get pregnant. We didn't do anything wrong so it's kind of hard, isn't it, to find fault other than your race laughs.
LJ
You mentioned this dinner at a banquet in a shoebox that she prepared for you.
JH
Well, I had to mention it because other people get married with their white gowns and banquets and everything. We had rice wrapped in seaweed and it wasn't saran then, it was wrapped in wax paper. That was our wedding banquet.
LJ
Was that a token of her acceptance?
JH
Well, I wrote this on our fiftieth anniversary. There are some mementos in here. Reading from notes: On November tenth 1955, Showney and Jean Clark-Higashi were married at Holy Trinity Church in Grand Forks. The wedding took place on a Thursday evening at nine pm after working that day. Showney's brother, Mass Higashi, and wife were in attendance. Showney's mother made them a lunch of rice and fish. It was wrapped in wax paper and put in a shoebox and given to them to take as they began their journey. It was a simple beginning. It was a great beginning. It has sustained us.
LJ
She was a good cook, you said?
JH
Yes, because she could cook with very little. They didn't have a lot and there was no prepared foods. Anything they had from the garden they dried and took, but that's what everybody did in those days.
LJ
How about you, were you a ...
JH
Oh, yes because you had to. You had no money.
LJ
What was the specialty of your kitchen?
JH
We ate rice every day laughs. I would say mostly vegetables, venison, we always had venison, and fish.
00:55:07.000
00:55:07.000
LJ
You said you butchered venison. How did you come to butcher venison?
JH
Well, because we lived in the country my family hunted and Showney eventually did go hunting, and my boys did.
LJ
Wow.
JH
As I say, it's a very ordinary life.
LJ
I don't know if that's ordinary.
JH
Well, I think so. It's different from ... I see my grandchildren.
LJ
Sure. You have how many grandchildren now?
JH
I have four grandchildren. My older son has a boy, nine, and a girl, seven. My younger son has a boy, ten, and a boy, two.
LJ
And they're not butchering venison.
JH
They're not, but they long to go hunting.
LJ
How important is it to you to impart some of these stories about their grandfather and ...
JH
Well, it's rather interesting because when Mitchel came up from Chicago I was showing him what I had been doing, putting all these things together, and I gave the one about Showney I gave to each of the boys. Shawn likes to have them but he doesn't really want to see them. I think he feels about the internment in a different way. Mitchel sees it more as a history. Mitchel said to me “what are you going to do with these books?” because I have lots of them. I said, “you're going to have them” and then he could do what he wants. Perhaps down the line he will ... I think his son is interested also. But another thing, and this has got nothing to do with the Japanese, we were married fifty years and that's when we got our first grandchild and so we're all quite late. And because we were Depression children, essentially, we don't have treasures. So I started writing to this unborn child and I now have some volumes because I write to each of them. I write love letters and I write to them all the time.
LJ
Do you imagine what your husband would be writing to them? Your writing to them but ...
JH
Yes, well he was still living then, of course, when they were born. Yes, he would approve it because when he died I went to the safety deposit box and brought everything home and there was a letter for each of the boys, that was in the safety deposit box. I have given talks, like through the church and groups about putting it in writing, because it's very important to put it in writing. I said “it is their treasure, a letter from your father.” To me it is. I didn't read the letters. They took their letters and went on their own when they came back, you know, when he died. We don't have valuable things in the sense of jewelry or money or anything but ...
LJ
But some of these tea sets and things that now become valued and treasured, right?
JH
Especially Mitchel's wife, in Chicago, she loves them. I sent a lot of them. They shipped them from Vancouver when I realized how much she likes them. When he comes on his carry-on bag we'd put them in and he takes them because I have more in the cupboards. I sent a lot of them.
LJ
Wow. There are some beautiful things here for sure. You're right, certainly during the time you wouldn't have a whole lot of valuable things but ...
JH
No. This is the one I did. I'm doing one of, like, my parents and then one of Showney's parents. This is his parents. This is their marriage license and these are all sorts of papers. The imperial Japanese Government passport and here's his passport.
01:00:06.000
01:00:06.000
JH
This is citizenship, decoration of intention to apply for citizenship. Nobody else in the family ... they would just throw them out but I find them interesting. This one is to congratulate them on attaining Canadian citizenship.
LJ
So that letter was from Secretary of State for Canada.
JH
Yes.
LJ
When was that letter ...
JH
That was June the fifteenth, 1949. This one would be for the mother in '53. Here's some pictures. Some of these are Buddhist things. Oh, this is rather interesting. This would be from a lawyer about the claim and this was in 1948.
LJ
So this is a letter about a claim in front of the BC Security Commission?
JH
Mhm.
LJ
Japanese Property Claims Commission. It looks like they were meeting in Grand Forks BC in 1948. And there are a number of letters here from the custodian regarding property sold.
JH
This is the one that's interesting. It tells you how much they sold it for.
LJ
Reading letter: In order to clarify any misunderstanding which may exist in the minds of persons of the Japanese race who are being evacuated from the protected area to work project and camps, twenty-five cents per hour is the rate of wage paid by the government with the following exceptions.
JH
Is that where it says how much they paid for the house?
LJ
They paid fourty dollars for the house. That's incredible.
JH
That's interesting.
LJ
Yeah.
JH
But they didn't give them the fourty dollars.
LJ
What happened to the fourty dollars?
JH
They gave it to Canadian Colliers.
LJ
Who was his employer?
JH
Yes, I think that's what it said and it's been a while ago since I read it.
LJ
Yeah. The sum was credited to your account with this office. We now enclose the custodian cheque. There's no property of any kind belonging to you. It now remains under the control of the custodian. We are closing your account and your file and this was 1947.
JH
That was their home for fourty dollars.
LJ
Were they ever angry? Did they ever get upset?
JH
I don't know.
LJ
Yeah. One can get a letter like this and have all sorts of feelings.
JH
Yes, but we were kids. So I wouldn't have known and I don't remember them, Showney, talking about it. I'm sure they did, in their home at the time. I don't know how much the kids would pay attention, you know, children don't.
LJ
When you came into all of this stuff, and this has got to be somewhat more recently but ...
JH
Actually, I've had it for quite a long time. Yeah, I've had it for a long time.
LJ
What was your reaction to some of this, and some of this is ...
JH
Well, I grew up with it so you don't really have the ...
01:05:00.000
01:05:00.000
LJ
If your grandkids were trying to make sense of what Canada did in the 1940s to Japanese-Canadians what would you tell them?
JH
I would definitely try to put a positive light on it. I really think it's positive but also it's negative because the Japanese now are so assimilated that the intermarriage rate is ninety percent. If someone is marrying another Japanese now we are surprised. It just doesn't happen.
LJ
So what's the positive spin?
JH
The positive spin is they don't live in a ghetto or whatever you want. Their language, you know, because definitely in Greenwood we had our Patois, is it or ... I was in Ontario once and phoned a woman to find ... I wanted to meet this girl that had been in Greenwood and the mother in-law answered the phone and she knew that I was from Greenwood because when you speak with those people we would revert to that.
LJ
So what's an example of that sort of ...
JH
I don't know but Patois is French. That's what I refer to it because you just speak differently. I can return to it easily.
LJ
It's not a Vancouver thing? Is it a very particularly a ...
JH
Well, I guess it would be Greenwood.
LJ
Yeah.
JH
Did you ever meet Chuck Tosaka? He wrote a book about growing up, he was younger than I am, but he wrote about growing up ... I had given it to my sons.
LJ
I've met a few different Tosakas at different points. They're a big family.
JH
Oh, they're just a lovely family.
LJ
So they would have been living in Greenwood?
JH
Oh, yes.
LJ
Around the same time?
JH
Oh, yes.
LJ
And Chuck was about your age?
JH
No, he's younger but he became a teacher. They were a large family. He had the barber shop and the pool hall, the father did. They're a big family but they were just kind, generous, loving people. My younger sister and the eldest girl, they were very close friends. But Chuck, now, he became a teacher. I think a PE teacher. He lives in Nanaimo on the island and I'm sure that students would love him. He just would be just a really nice person. He's retired now but he's written a couple of books about growing up in Greenwood. It's just, when you read it, the whole language comes back to you.
LJ
What sort of ... You mentioned it's a mill town?
JH
Yes, it became ... originally it was mining and there was a smelter there, a smelter. When the price of copper fell so low so that all closed down. There are some small mines working there but then it became logging and lumber and that sort of thing.
LJ
So was all that, sort of, colouring the language or the vernacular?
JH
No.
LJ
It was a sort of Japanese ...
JH
Japanese, yeah.
LJ
Was there ever any ... How did Showney's family make it to Greenwood and did you ever get a sense of ...
JH
They were one of the first families to come and they were able to stay together as a family because the dad and the two older brothers worked for Canadian Colliers, I think it's called. So they were like plumbers. These old buildings, they had been abandoned so they needed lots of work on plumbing and that sort of thing to get them, sort of, operable.
LJ
And what's winter like in ...
JH
Extremely cold and the first winter was very cold.
LJ
Do you remember chatting with new arriving Japanese-Canadians during that first winter? Or, were they surprised coming from Vancouver and Victoria and Nanaimo about the weather?
01:10:04.000
01:10:04.000
JH
We were kids, you know, so I don't ... yeah, its cold sort of thing and, of course, there's no such thing as school buses or anything like that. We walked all the way everywhere.
LJ
School was far?
JH
Yes laughs.
LJ
What did my grandpa used to say, “twenty miles uphill and down”?
JH
laughing That's right, both ways.
LJ
Yeah, and it was. So his family wouldn't have been in Hastings Park then?
JH
Oh, yes they were in Hastings Park when they brought them from the island to Hastings Park. My family, of course this is when everything was ... they asked Showney once about “what was the worst thing about the event?” and he says “being in Hastings Park. We couldn't bathe for two days or four days” or whatever it was. You bathe every day and that was the rule. That was just horrendous for them.
LJ
Yeah, and pretty cramped quarters.
JH
But their family was able to stay together because of the father and the two older boys doing plumbing. Showney, he was fifteen when he came to Greenwood.
LJ
So he was a bit older?
JH
Mhm. Shawn, I mentioned that he did an article, quite an extensive book and it was featured in the local paper about it. He said “my father came here when he was fifteen and today as I am fifteen I write this” and he wrote quite an extensive ... Have you ever seen this DVD?
LJ
I don't think I have. No. I've seen a lot of DVDs but this one ...
JH
You know, that is a very interesting ... we went to the Jewish center in Vancouver and they had a big display because he saved thousands of lives, of Jewish lives during the war. What I found so interesting about it was the fact that disobeyed his orders and that's unknown. You don't do that with the Japanese but he was able to save thousands of lives. It's quite a fascinating story.
LJ
Yeah, I've heard of stories of individuals doing similar kinds of ... but small stories like this of small braveries are always kind of ... but there probably were moments of that in Greenwood too, I'm sure. Folks bucking orders from the RCMP and ...
JH
I suppose you have all these papers about the Japanese, I'm sure you would have access to all those.
LJ
Yeah.
JH
Showney's parents as they got older. What have I got here? On Vancouver Island they have the cemetery.
LJ
Is that where you husband is?
01:15:00.000
01:15:00.000
JH
No, that's where one sister died. I think it was vandalized during the war. So they took all the headstones and then put them in one place and then I think that was just a with a recent donation to it or so.
LJ
You said that the cemetery where one of Showney's sisters was buried?
JH
Yes, that was on Vancouver Island.
LJ
And it was ...
JH
Vandalized, because I guess they had a separate part in the cemetery because of the Japanese on the island and they had a separate ... so it would be vandalized during the war. That sort of thing would happen.
LJ
Wow.
JH
That sort of thing happens. Did you see, I think someone got in touch with my sister because she writes poetry and have you seen the book at all?
LJ
Yeah.
JH
Okay, because I just had it out just in case. Now, what other books have we got here?
LJ
You've done a lot of work putting all this together.
JH
Well, I've been getting settled in here so now I ... this is the one that tells about the picture; 'portrait of Jeejan. Reading from notes: The painting of my husband's father hangs in my younger son's office in Chicago. It is the right place for it. When I left the big house it was one of the things that needed consideration. The eldest son was given first choice and, although he appreciated it, declined to accept it. In his honesty he said it would not have a place with him. I told them that if neither of them wanted it I would offer it to their cousin as he had admired it when he visited. Mitchel was happy to have it and has sent me a photo of it in his office. It is important to me that it be in a place where it was wanted. Although I was the one who purchased it, I did not have to own it. It had been painted by a Mr. Adams who, at one time, had been a church minister in our small town. On his retirement he went back to his talent of painting as he had formal training. I first saw his work at our district fall fair in his painting of Chief Dan George. I spent most of the time that day looking at the picture and didn't see much else. The next day I phoned Mr. Adams, who lived in another town, to ask him about painting Jeejan. He said he would come and take some pictures of him, and the only stipulation was that after it was finished it would be on display in one of the windows in a business in his town. That was fine with me. He said the cost would be eighty dollars and I agreed. I thought the price was very reasonable but, of course, that amount of money was a great deal to us at that time. I wish I could remember the year, and I will try to find out. I do remember thinking about that amount of money for many days after, and I never told my husband. After some weeks, one evening I got a phone call from my husband's brother. He asked if we knew anything about a picture of Jeejan that he had seen in a store when they were out of town shopping. Of course, he recognized his father and went inside to buy it. He was told it was not for sale and they didn't know who it belonged to other than the artist. They also told him that other people had come in wanting to purchase it. You know, it's a picture of an old Asian you see. When he came home he phoned the other members of the family and they knew nothing, and we were the last ones to call. I told him that “yes, I had it painted.” When Mr. Adams had come to take the pictures of Jeejan, he was sitting outside in the warm autumn afternoon witling on a piece of wood. The picture shows him with some layers of flannel shirt and vest for his small body, his white hair tufted up in the middle a fine contrast to his brown skin, the hint of a smile and his eyes bright amidst the leathery lines of his age. He also looks old. To me, he is beautiful. When I gave this painting to my husband at Christmas, it did bother him that the painting showed his father's age. Sometimes it is difficult to be forced to see that your parent has become old.
01:20:00.000
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JH
It is a classic portrait of an elderly Asian man and it hung in our home all those years. I never regretted having the painting done, even though it had been quite out of the ordinary at the time. I am satisfied that Jeejan is now with my son. Mr. Adams entered this portrait in a juried art show and I have the newspaper article about it. But I just wanted the story of the picture to go with it. So Mitchel copied this out and put it in an envelope and taped it on the back of the picture.
LJ
And he keeps it ...
JH
Yes, whoever it goes to down the years.
LJ
He keeps it in his office?
JH
Yes, in his office, yeah.
LJ
It's a distinctive portrait but it's funny that people said they wanted to buy it.
JH
Well, there would be ... I think some people like Indian art. You know, pictures of Indians and it has that look about him. You know, if you like that sort of thing.
LJ
Sure, I could see that.
JH
Yeah. laughs
LJ
Let's see. Maybe, as a way of sort of wrapping up, you can ... The goal of this project is to collect stories that can be preserved and shared. You've done such an amazing job here of offering up so many. You have so much wonderful stuff to that end. So I'm wondering if there's something we haven't talked about or that you haven't had a chance to share that you want to open up and discuss now. If there is something that we haven't had a chance to touch on.
JH
I just told you about my life. I feel it was very ordinary but different. Life, you know, I wrote the one time about change and some things are certain and change is definitely a certainty in your life. There is going to be change. A lot of it is your attitude and accepting change. Things are not going to stay the same. Attitude is everything. As hard as these times were, when I see the things that my sons have accomplished, these things, their CV, then you realize that, you know, it worked didn't it?
LJ
It did, yeah. You've got some very sharp kids.
JH
It's to do with hard work. Some people say “oh, you're lucky.” No, there's no luck. It was hard work was what it is, that they had done.
LJ
Where did they get that hard work from?
JH
Oh, definitely from us. That was the expectation. Education, like from both of us, we expected ... very easy going, lots of freedom, they could do all sorts of things but there were expectations.
LJ
Higher expectations than there were for you all?
JH
Yes, but there was no opportunities, there was no money, I had no mother, I had no one to tell me, you know, direct or anything like that. It just didn't happen.
LJ
Yeah, they both, looking here, have done incredible things.
JH
What was I telling you?
LJ
We were just talking about the successes of your children and the expectations that you raised them with.
JH
Yes, education. They did not have to do chores around the house as long as they were reading. They took full advantage of that and they are great readers. Shawn is a surgeon, he goes ... I mentioned about going beyond our country. He goes to, he hasn't since he's been in Calgary, to Mexico to operate on cleft palate children. Mitchel has discovered a gene that saves lives. So, they make my life interesting.
01:25:26.000
01:25:26.000
LJ
And your grandkids?
JH
Oh, they're terrible. They're kids laughing.
LJ
You don't mean that.
JH
This is the first time that I have ever lived ... my children went ... we sent them away to school at fifteen and sixteen. Shawn went when he was sixteen, Mitchel at fifteen, and this is the first time I've ever lived in the same city as them since that time.
LJ
It's a different time in your lives too.
JH
Yes.
LJ
So what's it like now to be all together.
JH
The great blessing is both boys married lovely girls, wonderful girls. Now, Mitchel is in Chicago so I don't see them but Shawn's wife, here, is ... I give thanks every day. She is just wonderful. I can't say enough about her. Mitchel and Mandy, they come in the summer, and Mandy told Mitchel “now, you're not going there for holiday. You're going there to take care of your mother and do errands for her.” So when they come she makes sure that they do everything that has to be done. So, very fortunate.
LJ
You're a proud mom.
JH
Very grateful laughs. Maybe it's not proud. Maybe it's relieved, you know, when they succeed it's sort of a relief. It's not proud, it's just pleased for them too because I think there is satisfaction is working hard. There is satisfaction.
LJ
But really, a feeling that their lives will be ...
JH
I have a feeling that I did what I set out to do. One of my hopes was that I would live long. My mother died when I was young so I grew up without a mother. So, I wanted to live to raise them and so whatever happens now is fine with me because I felt I've done my job.
LJ
To put them in a position to ...
JH
To contribute, mhm, and take care of their family. Showney has his ashes in Burnaby and we have ... my cup runneth over. That's really what he felt. We always felt that.
LJ
Very thankful, grateful?
JH
Oh, very, yes. Very thankful, very grateful. If you want to, you can find all sorts of fault and things that didn't go right and could have done and all the rest. If that's what you want to spend your life doing but ... you have to have a good attitude.
LJ
So where do you get a good attitude? Where does it come from? Where did it come from for your husband?
JH
Well, I don't think as good of an attitude as I did but I worked on it laughs because you must. You must have a good attitude because, like I said, when my family made the overtures if I didn't accept it then I would be the loser then. I would be at a loss.
LJ
The power of positive thinking is ...
JH
I guess that's what it is and maybe in this whole ... all the wrongs that were done and, you know, you can go back and everything but perhaps we should look on the positive. When I see these things and what they've done then to me it's positive.
LJ
Yeah, there's no question. I mean, you've raised two tremendous men who've done some incredible things with their lives.
JH
Well, my older son when he drives me home he gives me three seconds to get out of the car and he said “if you can't do it in three seconds then what you have to do is you have to tuck and roll” laughs.
01:30:00.000
01:30:00.000
LJ
Three seconds?
JH
To get out of an SUV and I'm trying to be careful because I'm elderly.
LJ
Three seconds is pretty brisk.
JH
Laughing. Well, thank you so much for your time.
JH
What else do you want to know? I don't know if there's anything else. I have all sorts of ... Oh, this is all to do with daddy's papers that I'm going to have all filed and everything somewhere along the line. My young son is musical and, at one time, he ...
LJ
Was your husband musical?
JH
Yeah, sort of. There's music in my family but I'm not musical at all.
LJ
So what was the music in your family?
JH
On my father's side they played instruments. My mother was a pianist, she played the piano. I'm from a family of eight and my younger sister is the only one that's musical. The rest of us had nothing.
LJ
You have other things, yeah.
JH
Interesting. The two boys, the older boys, are not musical at all. Mitchel is very musical. Kind of interesting.
LJ
Was sport a ...
JH
Yes, my husband was very good in sports, you know, small of course but yes he excelled at sports.
LJ
So what was his ...
JH
Well, track. Mostly track. Both boys ... Sean was fast, sprint, and Mitchel could do long cross country. Both of them are very good swimmers. They swam competitively and were lifeguards, both of them.
LJ
Was that a way that they connected with their father, in particular? Was it through sport?
JH
No, no no no. He went fishing, I'm sure to escape these wild boys laughs, but they went hunting. He wasn't all that keen about getting up in the morning but they would make him get up and go hunting.
LJ
So that was their father son bonding activity?
JH
No laughs.
LJ
He didn't much like it?
JH
No, it was work to him but they insisted on it laughs. But we lived in this very small house and, as I say, Mitchel is musical and he would practice and, of course, it was just a living room and it had a television, and Mitchel would come in and Showney would be watching television. Mitchel would just turn off the television and practice. Most fathers would not appreciate that. Showney never complained. He never, ever complained.
LJ
The music would likely fill the house right?
JH
Yes. Most men, they want to sit in the evening and watch television but if he was going to play his music that was it. He would, when they were small, read to them all the time and then they turned into great readers.
LJ
To get out of chores.
JH
They what?
LJ
To get out of chores.
JH
Laughing Ah, to get out of chores. Well, it worked. There was, you know ... So as you can see, my life is a mess isn't it?
LJ
No, I don't think so. I thought you just told me it was all about attitude.
JH
Laughing. Well, it is attitude but sometimes it gets a little bit ridiculous. This was in the bank in Burnaby when I left the town. Actually, I wrote this for the boys. This is what I was thinking. Reading from notes: She is the last of the family to leave the village. She has lived here years, a lifetime, time enough to see the others leave for the city, for other parts of Canada, and even for other countries. They have worked at their jobs and had families in the city. Friends and family assure her, it is not the right thing to do.
01:35:08.000
01:35:08.000
JH
You live in the city when you are young and retire to a quieter life when you are old. She tells them about all the changes in life. Nothing is more certain than the changes. She climbs the hill behind the house to look down on this place. It was not so steep in those earlier years when she would take the sons to the top. She will not go that far today. She is content to remember the spring walks to see the buttercups and the secret place where the lady slippers hide. It is not so hard to leave the little house. It has served her well. It is where the sons grew strong and healthy as they roamed the hills, went fishing and hunting, swam in the waters, took violin lessons. They left at an early age for their schooling. They will not come back here to live. They return only in the fall for the hunting season. They plan to come back every year for the hunt, but those ever present changes will gradually affect their annual trek to the village and they will come no more. She walks through the cemetery, grandparents who came from the old country because of land, parents who toiled this land that was nothing more than the dry side hill, old-timers buried here who she remembers from her childhood. They have gone on just as she will do now. Parties are planned, farewells are said, promises of visits and letters are exchanged but a change is taking place and it will not be the same. A return to visit is not the same as talking daily over the back fence or the morning meeting at the post office. The unspoken subtleties of everyday life at the village will fade. The time between letters will lengthen. The trip does not take long. Trees and fields fly pass relentlessly just as her life has moved. It takes less than a day to make this change from country living to the big city. She appreciates her sons have provided well for her. As she enters this place, she sees it has pink carpeting. She smiles with an inner delight at the prospect of living with pink carpeting. No one in the village would have pink carpeting. New neighbours come to greet her and give important information about garbage days and certain dogs down the street. The old man next door tells her about the plants that grow so well here and what the weather is like in the winter. These things are good to know. Perhaps it is not so different from the old place; so many things for her to take care of, transferring a lifetime from one place to another. In the bank, there are so many people in line and so many behind the counters. It will be confusing. Finally, her turn comes and all the forms and signatures are handled. The clerk says “welcome to our bank.” Then she looks up again and, with a lovely smile says “welcome to Burnaby.” So that was my trek.
LJ
It's not a long trek by kilometers but it's a long trek by culture.
JH
Yeah, it was moving a lifetime.
LJ
You lived there with your husband for how long?
JH
Twenty-something years. That was our life and at first he was not ... but we were three minutes beyond the freeway and go back to the cabin at the lake, which he did all the time and that's where he died. His brother lived in the town, down below, and he was up at the lake and his brother wanted him to come down for dinner and he said “no.” He said he would come for breakfast and that he was going to come back to Burnaby. He said “no, I'm going to bed now. I'm tired.” He died of a heart attack after that and he didn't come for breakfast and the brother got his son in-law and they went up. As Mitchel wrote in the thing, he said “he died at his very favourite place in this world.” He loved the lake. He really did, but he knew that we had to live in the city.
LJ
But he loved the lake.
01:40:00.000
01:40:00.000
JH
He loved the lake, yes. We scattered some of his ashes on the lake.
LJ
Fishing, that was his thing?
JH
That was his ... he loved fishing, mhm.
LJ
Catch and release or ...
JH
No, catch and eat laughs.
LJ
So what were you eating? What was the catch?
JH
Trout, it would be trout.
LJ
Mmm, lake trout.
JH
Lake trout, oh yes. Of course, they served it here so I make sure that I choose that when we have lake trout.
LJ
So he would be bringing this in and then you'd have to clean it and cook it.
JH
No, I did not have to clean it. No, there are rules laughs. He'd clean them. You catch them, you clean them. But one time, it was really hot and I was up at the lake too and he said “do you want to take these down?” because it was really hot and there was no room. So I brought them down and cleaned them. I guess he thought that was a good idea so next time he thought ... but some ways, you know, you have to get smart when you're married. You learn things. He cleaned them laughs.
LJ
He cleaned them, okay.
JH
You have to have rules laughs.
LJ
No, that's fair. You've got to draw the line somewhere.
JH
Anything that happens I write about. This is one thing ... you still have that on or off?
LJ
I do, yeah.
JH
Oh, this is called 'a privilege'. Reading from notes: The clean cool sheets feel so good as she slips under the quilt. It is a wonderful promise of rest in this comfortable place after a long day. Her legs stretch out searching until she can feel the warmth of the hot water bottle deep in the bed. She puts her feet out and allows her toes to curl deliciously around the heat of the bottle. What luxury. She smiles to herself with pleasure. Each night, as he retires early, he places it there for her. Is this a token of his love for her? Is it his duty to keep her warm and comfortable? Does he get it ready for her just because her hands are sore and painful? She tells him it is a privilege. It is a privilege to do a service for another. It is an offering that must be given with a joyful heart. Some nights, the hot water bottle is not there. When she climbs the stairs on those nights she knows it will not be there. It is his way of showing his displeasure with their confrontations of the day. It is his way of saying it was her fault. Sometimes, after serious disagreement, she is surprised to find the bottle in there warming her bed. She realizes it is his way of saying he is sorry. As the years pass, they have come to speak openly about the privilege. He insists he is doing it as a favour and she should appreciate and be grateful. She explains that everyone does that for his spouse. It is one of those household activities. The discussions are ongoing as to the necessity of this exercise. The day has been cold and windy and tonight they are cozy in their home together. She made tapioca pudding for his dessert. She climbs the stairs knowing that the privilege will be there to warm her this winter night laughs.
LJ
So this is a warm water bottle?
JH
Yes, mhm.
LJ
Where did this start?
JH
I have no idea but the argument was ongoing. If it was a privilege or ... laughs.
LJ
Or a requirement, yeah.
JH
Yeah laughs.
LJ
The privilege is in heavy quotations.
JH
Of course, at his funeral service, my son brought up the business of, you know, “mother will miss the privilege” laughs. Oh, dear. I guess I write all sorts of things.
LJ
You do. Yeah, no it's wonderful.
JH
You can see laughs.
LJ
Well ...
JH
But then I have nothing to worry about. It's finished. It's done. If you're ill or anything, that's it.
LJ
Well, that's sort of what we think about recordings too. They're a way of preserving memories that are, not quite done and finished, but they're available for ...
JH
Now, can I ask you, what will you do with this now?
01:44:15.000

Metadata

Title

Jean Higashi, interviewed by Josh Labove, 23 September 2015

Abstract

Jean Higashi begins by reflecting on her earliest childhood memories living in Greenwood, Alberta. She recalls what her parents did for work, who they were as individuals, and her relationship with them. Additionally, she remembers what it was like to have 1700 Japanese-Canadians brought to Greenwood and how this impacted her childhood and her community. Jean talks about how she moved from Greenwood to Calgary as well as the foods she missed. She describes her marriage to her husband, Showney, a Japanese Canadian man. After his death, Showney left behind a number of items for his children one of which was his parents’ handmade trunk. This trunk was designed to preserve his family’s most valuable possessions while they were interned. Attached to the trunk is a letter written by Showney which Jean reads aloud during the interview. Jean goes on to explain what the Redress movement, apology, and compensation meant to her and her family. She concludes the interview by outlining what she would like her grandchildren to learn from the internment and dispossession of Japanese-Canadians.

Credits

Interviewer: Josh Labove
Interviewee: Jean Higashi
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Calgary, Alberta
Keywords: Greenwood; RCMP ; BC Security Commission; Regular School; Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement; Catholic; Boundary Creek; Grand Forks; Trunk; Calgary ; Hastings Park ; Vancouver Island ; 1940s – 1960s

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.