Isabel Hirota, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 08 May 2015

Isabel Hirota, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 08 May 2015

Abstract
Isabel Hirota was born and raised in Steveston, moved to Japan with her husband during the war years, and returned to Canada in 1957. She narrates her childhood and working in the canneries while her father fished for Alexander Cannery. She discusses her experience of attending Lord Byng, then a segregated school, as well as the discrimination she faced high school when the topic of nationality came up and then later in Japan. She speaks about working various jobs in Japan to support her two children after her husband passed away during the war, and the struggle to get her family back to Canada. She explains that at the outbreak of war, she lost contact with her parents and learned about their internment experiences only when she moved to Winnipeg in 1957. She shares her advice to Canadians that you must always be strong and support yourself rather than rely on someone else to do that work.
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Erin Yaremko (EY)
Today is August fifth and we are here today in Lion's place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My name is Erin Yaremko and I am here today with Isabel Hirota. We are recording for Landscapes of Injustice research. Would you like to start with your childhood?
Isabel Hirota (IH)
Yes, well I was born in Steveston BC, on Lulu Island on November 25, 1915. I had seven brothers and sisters, five sisters and two brothers. And I am the fourth from the top and fourth from the bottom. Pauses. You see my father was a fisherman and so we lived in a cannery house, you see all fishermen has to belong to a certain cannery and when they do they are supplied a house to live in, and that's how I lived, until I was 20 years old. I went to school in Steveston, it was a segregated school. There was discrimination against the Japanese in those days and so we went to a separate school until grade six. And from grades eight we were, we went to the school together with the other Canadian students. I went to Richmond high school and graduated after four years, and after that I knew that I had to have some sort of work so I asked my parents that I wanted to be a secretary, so I went to school in Vancouver at the... Gee I can't remember the name of the school, it'll come back to me later. And that's where I learned typing, short hand, business, English, writing, spelling and all that. It was from nine o'clock in the morning until four o'clock every day. After I finished Business College I thought I would be able to get a job. That's when I found out that Japanese couldn't work in an office. And so the only place we can work is on the farm or in the cannery canning fish. That or maybe work as a housemaid. Those were the only things that were available to us, so with my... me as being a secretary, there was no use for me. So it just so happened that my brother in law was the... now I can't... think of my....long pause, flips a page. He was a manager of Whilley and Son (?) in Kobe, Japan, and he said he wanted a secretary and he told me to come to Japan and work in his office. So I went to Japan and worked in the Canadian firm there in Kobe, they couldn't hire me here in Canada. So I worked... for... on the-so three years as secretary, and then I met my husband when I went for a trip to Tokyo and that's... And I got married in November 19, 1940. Long pause.
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IH
So, I lived in Tokyo from November 1940 to March 1945. My first son Atsushi, Alan, was born on August the 19th, 1941, and my second son Toshi was born on April 29th, 1943. On January 2nd, 1945 my husband died during the war. In March 1945 we were forced to evacuate Tokyo, all the women and children had to evacuate from Tokyo on account of the bombing by the American planes that comes over every evening from Saipan. In July 1945 we moved to Kusui (?) Wakayama prefecture, which is the home of my husband, and that is where his mother was living by herself, so that's where we moved to after we were burned out in Tokyo, in one of the raids over Tokyo, and the industrial section of Tokyo was burned down in one night. So after that all the children, mothers, these parents, mothers and children had to evacuate Tokyo. And that's when we moved to Wakayama city. And, well you see in those days all communication was taken away, we didn't have radios, there was no tvs. Radios were all confiscated, so we didn't know what was happening in the outside world. All we got was news of what the army was doing, which was in favor of Japan, not anything that was unfavorable would come over the radio. Pauses. In December 1945, I received the first food parcel from my parents, who were living in Magrath, Alberta. They used to live in Steveston but when the war started they all had to evacuate, and so they moved to Magrath, Alberta onto the sugar beets farm and that's where they had to work. And after the war, in December 1945, I received the first food parcel from my parents. My parents didn't know whether I was dead or alive because there was no communication during the four years that the wars were on so... But it just happens that there was this friend of mine that was married to a friend, and she was living in Japan at that time. So her husband was working for the GHQ in Kyoto, Japan, so he said he'd work through the Red Cross to try and locate my parents for me. So he did, it took several months, and finally I got this... found out that my parents were in Magrath, Alberta. And that year, just before Christmas, we received this food parcel and that was the best Christmas present we ever had. It contained Lipton Soup and sugar, those are things that we couldn't buy, not even with money, money wasn't worth anything in Japan at that time. The only way you could buy anythings was by barter system. So if you had say a Japanese kimono or you had a Canadian over coat, you could barter that for food and that's what I did.
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IH
So I just about got rid of all my clothing that I took with me when I went to Japan for food for myself and my two boys. ....long pause. Now after Kobe I moved to Tokyo because I knew that I had to work. I had my job as a secretary so I knew if I went to Tokyo I would be able to work as a secretary in June 1946 I moved to Tokyo Japan with my two sons. I registered with the Canadian Liaison Mission in Tokyo and I received my birth certificate from the government of BC because I got married to a Japanese during the war and so I had to notify the Canadian government that I was married and my name has changed. At first I worked as a part time interpreter and typist at Kansai Paint Company in Tokyo. I couldn't work full time because I had two small children and I didn't have anybody to take care of them. ... I wrote to my parents in Magrath if they can call me and my two boys to Canada, but my parents said they didn't have the money because they were living on the sugar beet farm and they were living on what they earned working there. So it meant I had to work on my own to pay my way back to Canada. From December 1950 to August 1954 I worked as a stenographer-receptionist to the Sales Manager of Barkley and Company. And then in April 15 1957, Atsushi and Toshi were accepted as immigrants to Canada. I had applied for their... applied as immigrants to Canada because they were born in Japan and my husband was a Japanese so I had to apply for my children's right to immigrate to Canada. And that was in April 1957 that the two boys were accepted by the Canadian government and we returned to Canada in May 1957. And I came to live with my parents who had moved to Winnipeg by that time. From June 1957 to February 1959 I was employed as secretary of the General Manager of Rayovac Canada Limited. I was working in Japan for Rayovac International, which is an American firm, and I was working there as a secretary for three years. And the General Manager recommended me to work at the Canada office when I returned to Canada so I was able to get a job with the Canadian company right away when I applied.
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IH
I was with the Rayovac for I think about two years but the reason I left that company because I was living in North Kildonan and ... and the Rayovac office is near the airport, so it meant that I had to leave the house at seven o'clock in order to get to the office by eight thirty. And then I would work till five o'clock and then come home, by the time I got home it would be six thirty or seven o'clock so it meant that I never saw the sun light because it would be too, still dark by the time I left in the morning and by the time I get home it's sunset so I said this wasn't going to work for me. So I started looking around for jobs. I tried several jobs, but I didn't like it. But finally I got a job as a clerk typist and secretary with the Consulate General of Japan and I was with them from April 1960 until April 1980 when I retired.
EY
Going back a little now... Can we go back to your life in Steveston?
IH
Yes.
EY
At a young age?
IH
Yes.
EY
Maybe discuss your childhood a little more if possible, please?
IH
Well I know that I went to kindergarten when in was around, I guess I would say three or four. My eldest sister used to take me everywhere and I started grade one when I was six years old because my sister has to take care of me because we had a big family ,and so she would take me with her when she went to school. So that's how I got to start school at an early age. At that time I was the only one in grade one there was no other, but then it had grade one, two and three in one classroom and there was other Japanese students in grade two and three. So I had a very good teacher, I can still remember her name, Miss Reese, and she was very good. And I loved reading because you see, like in our childhood we didn't have a library and we couldn't buy books because there wasn't any available for sale in those days. So as far as I can remember there was no reading material, and the only thing that I can remember was the Japanese newspaper that my parents used to read, and I don't remember having any magazines when I was growing up. So the only thing we can do for pass time is play outside. Play... skipping ... Well we didn't play baseball, but we played you know throwing balls and then playing on the swing when we were kids and I know that there was a sandbar across from where we used to live-from the cannery where we used to live. But we'd have to row over to the sandbar and so when I was in my teens I used to row over by myself, of course I didn't tell my parents because if I told them they would tell me not to go by myself. But I used to go every day during the summer and that's how I learned to swim all by myself. And then... All during that time that I was growing up, we all went to Sunday School and I think we went to Sunday School until I graduated high school. Pauses.
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IH
And we didn't have too much socials like you do today. The only socials that we would have would be meetings at the church like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And the church would have a Christmas concert and we would all take part in that, and I think in those days that was what went on just about everywhere where the Japanese were living. And I can't remember going shopping for say, for shoes or clothes when I was small because everything that I wore my mother made. She was she was a sewer you see, so she made all of our clothes for us. Long pause. My father was a fisherman so he worked on the Fraser River during the summer, and in the winter he would go up North and work during the winter as well so he made a good living. So our family were pretty, I wouldn't say well off, but we were comfortable. So my mother always said that there were five girls in our family and she said even girls in those days must have some sort of a profession on hand in case anything should happen after they get married so that we would be able to support ourselves. So my eldest sister, she was in those days already engaged, so she didn't have any set profession but she learned sowing, embroidery, and all the things that the girl has to know in those days. So she-that is what she learned. My second sister, she was sent to Japan when she was three years old to live with ... her grandparents, and she stayed in Japan until she was 15 years old and then she came back to Canada. Pauses. I can't remember what else I can say. Laughs.
EY
Did you want to speak a little more, on the cannery that your father worked for and his fishing job?
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IH
You see the house that we lived in belonged to the cannery and the rent for the cannery was paid for by the fish that my father would sell to the cannery. And there were, oh I would say about seven or eight canneries all along the Fraser River, and they were all Japanese communities living in these different cannery houses. And it just ... it happened that most of the people that live in certain canneries are people who came from the same district of Japan. And they would come to the certain cannery. I was living in Alexander Cannery, which was later called Great West Cannery, and in that cannery it was mostly people who came from Shikoku, Japan. And so we were more or less, we knew each other very well, sometimes there were relatives. And I think this happened with all the other canneries all along the way. All the people who came from certain districts in Japan would go where they know somebody and that way it happened that all these people living in different canneries sort of segregated. You know, bunches. And all these people, we all went to the same school, yeah in Steveston. We went to the segregated school. In those days, well most Japanese thought that the other girls didn't need education so, when I asked my parents after I finished grade eight, and then I went to high school, I wanted to go to university, but my parents said no they can't afford to send me. My brother, my older brother, wanted to go to university but he couldn't make it because in those days, on what my father was earning, education for university was too expensive. So none of our family went to university but most of them graduated from high school. And I think they ... my work as a secretary saved my life because during the war, during the war in Japan, I was able to support my two sons by working as a secretary and in those days because-you see there weren't many people in Japan that could read and type short hand in those days, so we were able to demand high wages and so compared to the university, Japanese university students, our wages would be about three times what they were getting. That's how good these secretaries were in those days. So in a way even when I was alone I was able to support myself and my two kids, all during the time that I was living in Japan. And then.... I can't remember what year it was but my second sister, who had married this Japanese national, and she had four children and her husband walked out on her, so she came to live with me. So here I was taking care of myself and five others besides myself, but I somehow managed. So in a way I was lucky. It took me seven years to save enough to return to Canada with my two boys. We came back by boat and we landed in Vancouver. We stayed in Steveston for a week and then we moved to Winnipeg where my parents were living at that time.
00:30:17.000
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EY
Staying on the topic of Steveston and a younger life, did you want to talk about the home that you lived in, if you remember? And then maybe if you could name the schools that you attended?
IH
Our houses, I wouldn't say shacks but it was just an ordinary houses built by the cannery so there was nothing fancy about it, it just had rooms and windows and doors and that was just about it. And all the furniture, well that mother and dad had to have it made because in those days it was pretty hard to buy furniture. Most of the furniture that we had were homemade. Long pause. I remember when I started school, the school that I went to was Lord Byng, and that was a segregated school just for the Japanese students. That was from grade one to grade six. The English students had a separate school on the same school ground, there were two schools, one for the Japanese and one for the ... for the Canadians. And we were not allowed to go to schools, so they had their own playground and we had our own playground.
EY
Are there any individuals that you remember from your school times? Or teachers?
IH
Well I remember one teacher, Miss Espland. She-I think she was our teacher when I was in grade four, three or four I think. And she was my favorite teacher. And I loved to write in those days so I didn't have any trouble when it came to language or anything connected with that. Like I didn't have trouble spelling and I didn't have any trouble in writing. And I I loved sports. All our family loved sports and so on sports day we always used to get prizes. When we were growing up our main language was Japanese, of course we could read and write English, we had trouble speaking with friends, it was only when we started high school that we started speaking English. I remember when I was in grade three there was this one teacher, she said “Any student who doesn't speak Japanese for the whole day will get a star after his or her name.” And I remember we used to try so hard not to speak Japanese and speak English, but it was very hard. Well in those days the school subjects were very simple. It was just reading, writing, arithmetic, composition, not too much history in those days. But we managed I think to read and write and do arithmetic; those were the three main subjects that were important in those days.
00:36:09.000
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EY
At a young age did you identify as Japanese or did you identify yourself as Canadian?
IH
Well you see, there was discrimination so we, we couldn't help ourselves, that we knew that we were Japanese because we spoke Japanese at home, we didn't have any friends that spoke English and all of the community was Japanese. So ... we thought we were Japanese. Oh well at least to me it never came, I never thought about that, it was only after I finished high school that it dawned on me. I remember one time in high school we had a ... an argument in school. And we decided, “What nationality are we? Are we Japanese or Canadian?” And there were about a dozen students arguing about this and I know I was for, I said, “I'm a Canadian, I was born and educated here. I don't know what Japan is like so I am a Canadian.” I remember saying that. But there were quite a few who said they talked Japanese so they said, “We're Japanese.” But from the very first when it dawned on me, as to who I was, that I realized I felt that I was a Canadian and not a Japanese because I was living here in Canada and I wanted to learn English. And I still feel that way now, because all I speak is English, well I'm bilingual I can speak Japanese too but I don't use it anymore.
EY
So you were aware of the racism in your community. At a young age how did you feel about the segregation and the racism in the communities?
IH
Well you know when these English children call us “Japs” then you know it used to hurt me, but I didn't let it bother me, you know at that time I would feel mad but I would just disregard it. So to me the fact that we were discriminated against didn't hurt me too much, in what I was doing. Long pause. It was only when I finished my secretary school and tried to get a job that I realized what real discrimination was. So until that moment, I guess I really didn't know what discrimination was. And the funny part is that when I went to Japan, at first I felt comfortable because I was living in a country who spoke the same language, had the same face and coloring.
00:40:31.000
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IH
But after living there for a few years, I started to realize that there is discrimination in Japan too. In Japan it would be discrimination against people whose parents went overseas, who came back to Japan, they were considered second class citizens. And when I was living in Japan and I used to visit these Japanese homes that I felt this discrimination, I really felt it. So I ... At that time we called ourselves people without a country. We were discriminated in Canada where we were born and we were discriminated when we went to Japan where our parents were born and we were discriminated as second class citizens. And that really hurt. Because you would think that the people of your own kind wouldn't do a thing like that. But I was surprised when I felt that. So to this day I live, I went to Japan in December 1936 and came back in... in May 1957. I lived in Japan 20 years, so I know what Japanese people are like, and I feel that Canada is one of the best countries that a person can live in because you have this freedom now. Freedom of speech. And especially for the Japanese after the war, they were given the franchise for the first time and the Bill of Rights certainly helped the Japanese people now. Then the Government of Canada apologized to the Canadian people for discrimination against us in 1982, I think it was. And that is when we were given this reparation, reparation of 22,000 dollars per person. And I'm one of the ones who got that. All that money certainly helped the Japanese people because until then most of them didn't have houses, but I know that after they got that money, most of them spent it towards buying a house, that's why the Japanese people now have nice homes. So when you compare it with the Natives here in Canada, with the Canadians, with the 22,000 dollars that we got from the government we made good use of that. And so we have good homes, and then we have-at least most of them have high school education. Now there are more people getting university education. For instance my two grandchildren are university graduated. And most parents who only had high school education made it a point to make sure that their children or grandchildren got university education without which they wouldn't be able to get a good job, and I'm glad that my two grandchildren are well established in good jobs.
00:45:22.000
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EY
Can we now talk more about your family and your parents, and maybe the experiences that they had along the internment? And maybe talk to their story and their life story?
IH
Well you see when my parents had to leave, they had to vacate from BC. You see I wasn't here, I was in Japan, but I heard all about this after the war when I came back. My parents got a notice to evacuate and I think they only had a few days notice. And they were only allowed to take 150 pound of whatever they can carry per person. So that limited to what they can take in order to move from Steveston to the Prairie Provinces. And in those days I think that ... I'm not sure what happened to their bank accounts, but there weren't too many people who had bank accounts in those days because they didn't have enough money to put in the bank to start with. And so when they had to evacuate to Alberta, they had to take their own cooking utensils, beddings, clothes to wear, and food. So that when you say 150 pounds per person it isn't much. Cause just the clothing and the bedding would take that pound. And after they move to Alberta they had to live in a shack. You know it was a shack. It didn't have any, what do you call that? Not reinforcements but ... ?
EY
Insulation?
IH
Huh?
EY
Insulation?
IH
Insulation, yes that's right. You see when you're inside the house you can see the outside, you know, strips? And the wind would come in through that in the winter, so the first winter that they spent in Manitoba in ... Alberta, they said they had a hard time. My younger sister was a-she took up hairdressing. So she was working as a house girl in Alberta and she used to do the lady of the house hair for her. And that way she was able to get a job as a hairdresser in a Canadian company. And so she was able to get a job when she moved from BC to Alberta. And she has been a hairdresser ever since until she got married. And my other sister, she took, she went to a sowing school so she was a sewer. So she would make all her husband's pants and shirts. Pauses. And in those days that made a difference when you have something that you can do without buying, you can make your own. Long pause.
00:50:50.000
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IH
I remember that during summer holidays when we were going to high school-the only way that we can learn money is working in a canning factory. And you know we would can salmons that our dad would, you know, bring in to the cannery and we were working and when the fishermen bring in the fish on Saturday morning, then the cannery would start canning. And so we would go and work in the cannery canning fish. It would be a half a pound can, and you see there were about ... about three ... three teenagers like me who was working in the cannery. And we used to watch these older ladies canning, you see, and one day we decided we're going to beat them in canning. You see you have a box for where you put in I think ... three dozen cans? You know you can it, and you put it in, and there's three dozen in one ... ?
EY
Flat?
IH
Yeah, and you see one day we decided that you know beat the ladies across from us who were well ... well they were well used to canning, so in the end finally we got to a point where we can, can fish faster than the older ladies and we used to laugh and you know enjoy the fact that we can beat them. It's simple but in those days it was something.
EY
Going back now, back to your home. Are there items that you remember your parents having to leave behind? Maybe plates or certain family items?
IH
Well I know that my parents had to leave everything that's heavy. The only thing they took was the ordinary day to day cutlery, and porcelain wear, and they the very good treasures that they had that they brought from Japan. There weren't too many but that was some of the things that they first took with them because they didn't want to leave them behind. I know that my younger sister had some of the things that my mother had taken with her. And because she was taking care of my mother until she died, you see, so my mother gave her everything that she had taken with her. And she deserved it.
EY
Are there any stories that friends or family have told you surrounding the properties that they had owned or lived in? So any family member's stories or friend's stories?
00:55:15.000
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IH
Well I remember my dad telling me that when he first came to Canada, I think it was 1902, I think when he first came to Canada. And the first thing that he bought when he had finally earned money that he could buy something, that he bought a property in ... I can't remember what section it was but it was somewhere around Marpole that he had bought a property but in the end he lost that because they weren't allowed to keep the property because they were Japanese. So my parents never had or owned any property or a house all during the time that I was growing up. The first property that my family bought was my elder brother. This was after the war that he bought this house in Steveston, it used to belong to the Matsuzaki's (?) who was a school teacher and he bought this house and he renovated it and that's where he took my parents to live. Then after he was married, his wife didn't get along with my parents so that's when my parents moved in with my younger sister. She was living in Burnaby at that time and she was married to a faller, he used to work for a lumber company on Vancouver Island and he was making good money so he built this big house in Burnaby and that's where my younger sister lived and that's where my parents lived until they died.
EY
While your parents were still alive, were they quite open about speaking about their experiences about the internment?
IH
No, that's one thing that the Japanese didn't do, was they didn't speak about their hardship, they kept quite. That's why all the younger generations don't know what happened during the war. I think that's-in some way the Japanese people were ashamed they were discriminated against. That's how they felt. You know there is this word shikata ga nai, which means it can't be helped in Japanese and a lot of Japanese felt that way. That it can't be helped that we are discriminated against. I think that is the reason why when the Japanese were told to evacuate they didn't put up too much ... too much fuss. They went quietly, exactly as the government told them to do. And I think that's one of the-that's how these Japanese people were in those days. They bow to, to ... government and hire ups. Long pause.
01:00:01.000
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IH
I guess the Japanese people were on the whole used to being oppressed. So that they don't put up a fight like the Canadians do when the government says anything. So like after the war when the Japanese people had to move inward to the Prairie Provinces and to Ontario, they didn't make any trouble against the Canadian government, they went quietly.
EY
Changing the subject now, in what ways has your family or does your family remain close to Japanese culture, after the war? Or did they?
IH
Well at home we had nothing but Japanese food. Well we couldn't afford Canadian food because you see meat is expensive whereas my father was a fisherman, so fish is free. You see he would bring home whatever he caught so we always had fish and fish is nutritious. Well in those days ... fish was looked down as plain food, well as meat was expensive food. But we survived off fish, fish and vegetables was, and rice, was the common food that we had. And actually rice was imported from Japan in those days. Because rice wasn't grown in California in this early days. So I remember mother buying one hundred pound sacks of rice every so often because that was our main staple. But I don't ever remember being hungry, we always had food. Plain food, but ... we had always had more than enough to eat. So to me, I didn't feel as though I was poor. Of course I didn't know how the rich people lived in those days but I didn't feel I was, I was poor or what can I say? Well growing up, I was happy as a kid. I didn't have any trouble. Always got along with my friends, we went to church. Pauses. I know there were three of us: myself, another girl, Hanako, and another girl, Mitsuko. The three of us used to go to church together every Sunday. So we would walk from our cannery to the church, which is about two miles, and we would walk along the Fraser River from Alexander Cannery to downtown Steveston where the church was. There was a Japanese hospital too, built by the Japanese fishermen that was the only hospital in Steveston at that time, and there was a Canadian doctor that would come once a week to the hospital so if you had any trouble then you'd go to the Japanese hospital on that day.
01:05:38.000
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IH
I remember there was a dentist because I used to go to the dentist because my parents were very, at least my mother was very strict about our teeth. She made sure and checked our teeth and if we had any cavity she would send us to the dentist to have it repaired, so I remember as a small kid being taken to the dentist by my eldest sister. And I remember that my eldest sister always used to take me everywhere at that time, I didn't know why but now, but looking back, I can remember because I can realize that there was one, there was three younger kids underneath me, so my mother had her hands full. So my eldest sister took care of me, so she took me everywhere. And I remember her telling mother, she used to tell my mother that she would take me with if you dress her nicely. I remember that, and so in those days I remember wearing nice clothes compared to the others. I always had nice clothes. And I thought nothing of it at that time but you know when you reminisce-well in those days it it was something that not too many people. you know, had the kind of dresses that I had because mother made all of them herself you see, she made sure that all the rest of the girls had the same kind of dresses, that they were dressed well. I guess that still remains with me because I notice that as you get older it makes a difference when you're dressed nicely and you have your hair combed nicely that people treat you differently. So I make it a point even if I'm old, I make sure to hand wash all my good blouses by hand so that they won't get out of shape. And I've noticed especially here that it makes a difference when you're dressed neatly.
EY
Going back to your parents, did you have quite a lot of family here outside of your siblings and parents?
IH
No, all of them are dead, I'm the only one living. My six brothers and sisters are all dead and my parents are dead, and I'm the only survivor now.
EY
When you lived in Steveston, did you have ... a large family? Any cousins or aunts and uncles living in Steveston?
IH
No I don't think we had any cousins in those days, it's only after our brothers and sister got married and had families. But even then, from a big family ... my brothers and sisters only have a couple of children each. So we don't have a big family.
EY
Are there any stories you would like to tell before we end this session?
01:10:34.000
01:10:34.000
IH
Laughs. I can't remember of anything that is worthwhile. It's been such a long time ago. You know I'm 99 years old going onto-I'll be 100 this November, so it's a long time. And so you know so many things has happened but you know unless you ask me a certain question ... it's hard for me to remember what to place.
EY
Well I think today with just one last question, if you could pass on a message to future Canadians about your experience, what would that be?
IH
You mean to the Canadian? Not to the Japanese Canadians?
EY
No, to future Canadians. So individuals coming into Canada, or even those who are just young Canadians.
IH
Well the only thing that I can think of is well, according to my experience, you have to be strong yourself and not depend on people. I can remember ever since I was a small kid that I never depended on anybody, I always did everything by myself. And to this day I'm still doing it. And so, I guess you have to have confidence in yourself and without the confidence you're nothing. So I guess the best thing would be to know yourself, and know what you can do and what you can't do. And concentrate on things that you can do best. That would be the best way to get along and make a living for yourself. Long pause. This 99 years, all this time I have been working all my life, so even when I'm at home I don't keep still, I still keep on doing things by myself. And I think that it's because I'm moving around that I'm keeping myself healthy. And I still keep my exercise that I've been doing for 30 years every day. The first thing-I get up in the morning, I do my stretching exercise on the bed and I do it for about 20 minutes and I stretch every muscle in my body by different kind of exercise. And that's why I think that even at 99 I can walk, I don't need a ... What do you call that?
EY
Stretcher?
01:14:26.000
01:14:26.000
IH
Stretcher yeah, I can walk with my ... just my cane. And I think that makes a difference, is the exercise I do every day that helps me. A lot of people say they exercise, that's fine but the secret is exercising every day that counts and it shows. And people don't realize that, even my son doesn't realize that. So I'm able to keep my weight down, I watch my diet, the best my doctor gave me this recipe for keeping my weight down and it's you can eat whatever you like but eat in moderation and keep your ... What do you call that, food value? I can't think of the word.
EY
Calories?
IH
Yes calories, keep your calories to 1700 calories per day and my doctor said you can live on that if you can keep that all your life, and that's what I've been doing and so right now I just have two meals a day. I have big breakfast and then supper and that's it. I might snack a little in between but I don't eat as much and I think that's why I'm staying healthy because I don't over eat. I think majority of the people over eat, laughs you can tell by looking at the people walking here most of them are fat. Laughs.
EY
Well I think we'll end our discussion on that note. Laughs. Thank you again.
IH
You're welcome. Laughs.
01:17:04.000

Metadata

Title

Isabel Hirota, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 08 May 2015

Abstract

Isabel Hirota was born and raised in Steveston, moved to Japan with her husband during the war years, and returned to Canada in 1957. She narrates her childhood and working in the canneries while her father fished for Alexander Cannery. She discusses her experience of attending Lord Byng, then a segregated school, as well as the discrimination she faced high school when the topic of nationality came up and then later in Japan. She speaks about working various jobs in Japan to support her two children after her husband passed away during the war, and the struggle to get her family back to Canada. She explains that at the outbreak of war, she lost contact with her parents and learned about their internment experiences only when she moved to Winnipeg in 1957. She shares her advice to Canadians that you must always be strong and support yourself rather than rely on someone else to do that work.

Credits

Interviewee: Isabel Hirota
Interviewer: Erin Yaremko
Audio Checker: Jennifer Landrey
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Keywords: Steveston ; Lulu Island; Tokyo ; Wakayama ; Magrath ; Alberta ; Canada ; Japan ; Alexander Cannery; Great West Cannery; British Columbia ; Manitoba ; Burnaby ; Marpole ; 1940s – 1950s

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.