Ritsuko Inouye, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 11 September 2015

Ritsuko Inouye, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 11 September 2015

Abstract
Ritsuko Inouye discusses her life before the internment era and how her family moved to many different places in British Columbia such as Victoria, Haney, and Vancouver. She describes the actions her family took during the internment era such as moving to Greenwood prior to the forced uprooting and then the decision to move to Ontario. Ritsuko describes the role of various types of education, such as learning about farming, canning, and obtaining a degree, in her life after the internment era. Lastly, Ritsuko discusses her role in the redress movement and the internal politics of the movement. Ritsuko focuses on her life before and after the internment era as she explains in great detail about her life in British Columbia before Pearl Harbour and about her life in Ontario following her family’s decision to move east. She discusses her own feelings towards her Japanese cultural heritage. Ritsuko describes how her mother owned a dress making business, which was lost during the internment era, and her mother’s efforts to restart this business in Ontario. She discusses the impacts of the internment era policy as she witnessed families separated, communities separated, and local dialects dispersed.
00:00:00.000
Kyla Fitzgerald (KF)
So my name is Kyla Fitzgerald, and we are sitting here with Ritsuko Inouye, and today is September 11, 2015, and we are here at Ryserson University. So thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and share your life story. Could you start with, perhaps, giving us some memories of your childhood?
Ritsuko Inouye (RI)
Well I remember just being in various country area all the time. We moved around because my father was in the logging business. That's where I was born, in a logging camp. We moved around. All I remember is we moved to Port Coquitlam laughs one time and then we moved to Hammond, and there we did some farming as well. During the time we were in that farming area we had-my mother went to school, sewing school, in Vancouver so left me, three of us children and a father, of course, and I had to start cooking when I was only nine.
KF
Oh my god.
RI
Up to then we just a care free life. There was a creek. We used to spend a lot of time at the creek. In BC there's plenty of water around. Laughs. From then on she came back and we had our childhood diseases laughs. Then we moved from-when we were in grade seven, I think, I'm not too sure of that, I think we spent seven and eight in Haney, BC in Haney Public School. Both of us were quite tall by that time for some reason. From there, we finished high school and my mother had a shop there while we were ... Although, I was too young to learn I did learn something, definitely. Most of our summer months, we spent a lot of time working, like strawberry picking. Actually, I worked at a cannery place in Haney, BC where they processed strawberries and other fruits. And a lot of the strawberries went over to England, to be made into jams. And I had to pay unemployment insurance when I was only twelve.
KF
Oh, my god. You don't hear that every day laughs.
RI
No laughs. And then we took off to Vancouver. My mother decided we should go back to Vancouver and whether it was her business or not, I really don't know. She also had another shop in the Kitsilano area. I went to a girls' technical school. My brother was in a boys' one. There we learned all kinds of trade, which was very interesting. And I was thinking, you know, me and Brian, we did mechanical work, cooking, as well as nursing things, all kinds of things. And then some of the older girls there were artists and other people were, you know, doing sirens in the background salon work, things like that. And I thought, “Hmm, I don't mind being a nurse.” After, you know, taking a few courses, lessons, from them because there was a variety of them. And I thought, “Hmm, that seems logical.” So I left it at that and then, of course, the first year we were there that's when December the 7th came along. So we left school early a little bit. I helped to close off the shop, because I used to help there quite a bit. So we ended up ... All this time we were renting, we didn't have, you know, a place that we had to sell. We just rented living quarters, in Japantown, in what they called the Japantown area along ... Oh gee, I can't remember the names.
KF
Is that ... Sorry to interrupt, is that Powell Street in Japantown?
RI
Yeah, near Powell Street. Yeah, mmhmm. So we all got our walking papers from the government to go inland. So we ended up in Greenwood because we had a family friend already there, in a house. So we decided we'd go there. My brother ended up-Because he was so big they didn't want him to be there, because he looked almost like an adult because he was so big. So he went with father to, I guess he told you where it was, Tijon (?). So it was just my mother and myself and my younger brother. And we ended up in a one room hotel room laughs. But it was interesting. There were all kinds of different people from different areas from Vancouver, Steveston, all over. So you meet these people and then you learn how to play the Japanese card games laughs. And then we learned how to bake as well because there was a baker on our floor. So we never baked bread, and buns, donuts, and things like that, which were all very fattening, mind you, but ...
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KF
Quite decadent.
RI
But, nevertheless, we learned, which was really you know great for us. That means you don't have to go and buy it as you know you normally did. We also made these Japanese food as well, you know, if they can get the powders and whatnot and make all these, like, tofu, and kunyak (?), and things like that. Yes. We learned all those tricks. Gradually, people learned how to skate there as well for the first time because it gets down to minus thirty-five in Greenwood, BC. That's where we were. But it's a dry cold, you know, so it's different. In the summer we played baseball, like everybody else does laughs. So, gradually, some of the young people started leaving for school, and the older ones had other friends or had a job or a place to stay, so they left. And I said, you know ... Someone said to me, “Do you want to come?” And I said, “It depends on what my mother says.” She said, “No, you can't go.” But that's what got us leaving early. We got there in, what, May the '42? And we left there in October '44. No, '43, we left Greenwood October '43. We met a bunch of soldiers on the train laughs. They were being kind. And then first place we went to was Guelph. It was an American sanitarium, in a very expensive place, where a lot of the well-to-do people had patients there. So it was very interesting. First time I ever met a sex maniac, yes, it was a nice looking blonde boy and his attendant said to us, “Do not get anywhere close to him,” and that's where we found out for the first time. It was interesting news. Also, there were a lot of people who ... It's not very interesting but, in a way, it was very interesting to us as a young person to hear a lady walking up and down the caged veranda, which was a fair sized veranda, and she was swearing blue murder laughs. Absolutely swearing that I've never heard of the words before in my life, but she was swearing. That's all she did, went up and down. A lot of people who were insane or, you know, were there, and so you had to be on watch sometimes. Their anger may flare up and things like that, but there's quite a few of them there, yes. And so we helped in the kitchen and in the dining room, helped out mother every day. Father did not go with us for a while because he already had a job in that place. I can't remember the name of the place that was just west of Greenwood where they had, the Doukhobors had a logging camp.
KF
Oh, I see.
RI
It was in the news, not too long ago, when there was a fire in British Columbia.
00:10:21.000
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KF
Oh, really? I'll have to look it up.
RI
Yes. I forgot the name of the place, but anyway ...
KF
But at Doukhobor settlement, for sure.
RI
Yes, and it was getting close to the border. That's why they were mentioning that and they came across, you know, they were trying to protect them. BC tried to prevent the fire from going over the border. So, yeah, that's why it came in. So, for a while there, just, uh, just Lanky (?) and I and my brother Matt (?) and my mother working at the hospital. She decided it wasn't such a good idea for us ... The school didn't really, you know, we went to high school. They were very kind to us, yes. We never had any trouble. I know I'd been interviewed in the early stages about the experience I had regarding racism and I said, “You know, when we went to Guelph we didn't have any trouble at high schools.” Mother felt that that was not a very good idea to, you know, have all kinds of influence when the patients are insane and, you know, not quite normal. Anyway, we went to a farm but we only stayed there a short period because the living conditions were so awful. They arranged for us to go Blenheim, Ontario to a fruit farm and then we attended Blenheim High School and we had a wonderful French, you know, in Ontario schools, of course, French was important and since we didn't have any lessons in grade nine, there were about four or five of us Nisseis that needed instruction, and the French school teacher, she was so kind, she stayed after school and taught us for about a month or two so that we could catch up. Yes, very kind. Later on, I just want to interject this one is, when I go to the reunion to meet my classmates and, one year, one of the classmates said to me, she said, “You know, we really didn't know why you were there.” Why we had moved into the Blenheim area. She said, “Our parents didn't tell us why you were there.” They had no idea so they accepted that we just moved in because we need to be there, you know? Yeah. I thought that was very interesting that the parents didn't tell the children. Everybody, sort of, accepted us as we were and we didn't have any trouble. Although we were far away from school, we were always able to get a ride or we had a bicycle. We'd bike to school. So that school, people either became nurses, school teachers, or went to university. There's a few odd ones like, I think, one of them went to tech school to learn something else. I forgot, but the other's dead. So I ended up going to university for that reason. Although, there was some rejection from the family, mind you laughs, for a girl going to university, you know. This is really in the early stages. This is 1947, you see. So I said, “Well, maybe I want to go to,” because my classmates were going and I had the marks to go, so I said, “I wouldn't mind going.” They agreed to it and I worked all through summer. I always worked summer for about -we all worked because we'd get out early in May and then we don't start until the middle of September, the people who worked on the farm, so we had a long period of working on the farm. A couple of years I also worked during the summer, at an American cottage, and I learned to cook a lot better. The first time I remember having to work with a black lady and she was a cook that the family had brought up. So she was ... Although she left early and left me with the cooking, but she gave me some hints about cooking, you know. That's one thing about coming here. Being on a fruit farm we learned all about, and also on the vegetable farms, we all learned about different vegetables, different fruits, how to preserve them, and how they went selling them, and things like that. It was really interesting in that sense that you never seen anybody doing things like that before. So during the winter, summer, despite the fact that we worked six days a week we spent all our time preserving for the winter. We preserved everything from fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, everything, and I made sauces and things like that. I even made wine laughs.
00:16:02.000
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KF
Always got to have wine, right? laughs.
RI
By accident laughs. So that's the part. For the first year I went back for the summer work at the, you know. When I went to university I was a school girl with a family. I also picked up a lot of information about cooking there as well. I seemed to like cooking and I always like cooking for myself at any time. I picked up all these pointers and it really, to this day, it really helps me to have a variety by just having picked up all kinds of information during my lifetime. So, first year I did that and went back and did some farm work as well. The second year they said, “Well, maybe if you want, you go to be on your own.” So I did that for a year. In the third year the family moved to London. In that sense, I had to find a job in London laughs. When you're not used to living in the city, “What do I do?” You can always wait at tables but I don't want to do that. So I looked after, about, four children because I was used to this couple of children where I was, you know, school girling. So I thought, “I can do that.” So I did that. When I finished I got my BA and came to Toronto to find work and I worked for the government and stayed with the government until the end, yes.
KF
Let's go back a little bit. I have a few questions about when you started. It sounds like a really, you know, fruitful life.
RI
Well, I found that afterwards, when I think about it, it was such a learning period for me because we were brought up as purely Japanese and not knowing too much about what the other people did and to learn so much during that growing period, I think, was great.
KF
Yeah, I like that, learning period. It is about learning isn't it?
RI
Mmhmm.
KF
Always learning something new.
RI
So if I was in British Columbia, I don't know when I would've learned all that.
KF
Right.
RI
Yes.
KF
Okay, well, let's start with, I mean, you've mentioned a few locations where you moved quite a bit as a child but if we talk about, sort of, pre-internment or pre-war time, the last community that you were in was in Vancouver?
RI
Yes.
KF
Do you think you could describe a bit more of what Powell Street and Japantown was like at that time?
RI
We were only there from, what, September, more or less, or late August.
KF
Oh, so quite short.
RI
Only for a month. So the life in Vancouver isn't what I ... All I know is when we were going to school, when you had the fog you could hardly see the streetcar coming. Other than that, I'm not ...
KF
So what community, in your memory as a child, sticks out for you the most?
RI
It's just that, I think, it would be in Haney because that is more memorable than, you know, when you're very young. So it was a much more active life at that time. Day times are, more or less, school days and then you went home. We had a garden. We had ... Also, mother needed help sometimes. There's a cooking cart, as well. So, because mother was always busy I ended up helping grandma in cooking.
00:20:38.000
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KF
Your mother had several shops, correct?
RI
She had a shop there. She had also students and so, yes, it was much busier that way when you have a student and you had to keep track of them.
KF
Just for the sake of the interview, what kind of business did your mother ...
RI
A dress making business.
KF
Dress making.
RI
Yes. So I picked up quite a bit of that and helping her out, yes.
KF
Where did she learn to train?
RI
When I was nine, she went to school and she went back to school ... I'm trying to remember when she went back to school because she went a second time. It was still when we were in Haney and she went for another week or two and she learned how to tailor this time, not just for dress making but tailoring. So she was making suits as well.
KF
She went back to school in Canada or in Japan?
RI
No, there was a Japanese lady running a sewing school in Vancouver and she went back to there.
KF
Oh, wow. You said you've picked up a few of those skills as well.
RI
You just naturally pick it up.
KF
Yeah, did she ever make your clothes for you or ...
RI
Oh, yes. I never had any problem with clothes. As long as I could get the material she would make it, yes.
KF
Yeah.
RI
She was good at knitting. I'm not good at knitting but she was good at knitting.
KF
What kind of clothing, like dresses or tops and bottoms?
RI
Mostly dresses.
KF
Yeah?
RI
Yes. She will make pants but it's such a detailed thing that she prefers not to.
KF
Oh, pants are more detailed, are they?
RI
If it's tailored, yes. She's learned to tailor first, so, yes.
KF
Oh, I didn't know that. I didn't realize it was more work.
RI
It's so much work. When you look at any tailored pants that you buy, really good tailoring, and if you buy a good suit you could tell how well they're made. That's why the men's outfits are so expensive, yes.
KF
That's really interesting. I never knew that.
RI
They have all kinds of things to make you look good, like stiffness and whatnot.
KF
Right, and I guess, I don't know, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like there would be a lot more measurements, like, arm length, you know, all of that.
RI
Oh, gosh, yes. When you have customers who are, sort of, hunched over or lopsided or something ...
KF
Oh, you have to take that into account?
RI
Yes, because the length of the skirt, when it's supposed to be straight, you know, it could be at an angle.
KF
So dresses, mostly, for you then?
RI
Yes. She always had a shop. When we went to London she had a shop at home, yes. So I saw a lot of the ... even some of the university girls laughs. Well, I knew some of them, so.
KF
It's so funny, my grandmother in Tokyo used to make all of my mother's and uncle's clothing. When I was ... Probably up until I was about six years old, made my clothing as well. She'd make them in Tokyo and then send them over in packages. The great thing, I mean, it is a lot of work, but you always had the perfect fit. You know, you go shopping now and things don't fit well or you want to change something but if you don't have the skills you don't, you know, I don't really know how to deal with it properly. I remember, as a little girl, everything just fit, just right. Did you find you had the same, everything? RITUSKO Yes, people said afterwards, they said ... my classmates went and got ... The reunion, one of the girls said, “We didn't mind your dresses all the time.”
KF
Really? So your mother was quite skilled then.
RI
Yes.
00:25:25.000
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KF
Oh, that's neat. With regards to school, you've mentioned a few schools along the way as well, can you describe your childhood friends and what school was like when you were younger?
RI
One of the things I can't remember is my childhood so much. I'm trying to remember, but my younger brother seems to remember a lot of things and I said, “I don't know anything about that.” School, I don't know, childhood, neighborhood children, because you're always in a neighborhood of some sort. It's just the neighborhood children. We had relatives in the area. Actually, I only had one family of relatives but we were always nearby so, yes, but all the rest were just children from school or neighborhood children. I don't recall. When you move, like we did from Hammond to Haney and Vancouver and whatnot, you don't have a constant. Even when I go to my reunion, when they talk about their childhood stories I really, sort of, have no idea what it was really like when you have a continuation of childhood friends. That's one thing I'm missing in my life is that, because we moved so much you just don't have that connection at all. I said, “That's funny because I sort of admire them when I hear their stories, when they talk about their childhood.” When I go to my reunion it's in their own area, you know, a lot of the school people came from there so, of course, they grew up together from public school right up to high school. So, yes.
KF
I know what you mean a little bit. I mean, we stayed in Victoria but, for some reason, I moved schools quite a bit. I went to kindergarten, and then switched to another school in a totally different part of the city, and then I stayed there until I was in grade five, and then my mother and father put me in a late French immersion program. So you have to go to another school which is in another part of the city, and then I moved into another middle school but I stayed with the friends because that was a natural progression, and then when I finished grade eight my parents wanted to put me in another school that was in a totally different part of town, a different district. So I think I switched schools four, five times. So I totally know what you mean. I mean, I still see some friends from those later days but my brother on the other hand, it was a much smoother, I guess more continual like you said, he went to school with the same kids from about grade one up until high school. The relationships, not to say that they're more, I don't know, more important or anything like that but ...
RI
There's this connection.
KF
Yeah, more established in some way. Yeah, I didn't move to different locations but I get, yeah, my childhood, it was a lot of breaks and always starting fresh with new friends.
RI
Mmhmm.
KF
So, the people in your neighborhood then, were they mostly Japanese or was it a mix of people?
RI
In Hammond it was mostly homogeneous, but in Haney, where we were living, a little bit apart. So they were mixed, yes.
KF
And, what other type of people? Was it Chinese, was it Hakujin?
RI
No, actually, Haney didn't have any Chinese, just Caucasians and Japanese. Japanese were doing a lot of the farming work, a few had shops, and we went to Japanese School, of course. I forgot about that. The Japanese School, we started when we were very young. When we were very young we went every day after school and then we got only, what, two days or three days and it came to eventually be one day laughs. So, that's why the Japanese is still very basic for me because we had so much of it and the teachers didn't like us when we said we couldn't do our homework, we had so much Japanese.
KF
Did you enjoy Japanese Language School?
RI
It's just another learning experience. That's all. I didn't find it one way or the other until we got to doing the translation. I found that was much more interesting, yes, when you could, sort of, translate back and forth, yeah. The teacher decided we should learn how to translate so he would give us stories and then we had to translate. Yes, I found that was interesting.
00:30:32.000
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KF
Did you ever ... Well, I should start by asking how was your parents' language skills? Was it mostly Japanese that was spoken in the household?
RI
My father mostly but my mother, because of the shop, she picked up English.
KF
Right. So did you ever have to do translation for your parents? On behalf of your parents?
RI
Oh, yes. I mean, when you're at the hospital that was the worst time because when I was younger I just didn't have any idea about the body in Japanese. So, how do you translate that? Who are you going to ask, type of thing. It was one of the hardest things when your mother was sick, because she died young. And I said, “How do you tell the doctor what kind of operation?” Because she went to Japan one time to have an operation and, now I may understand what it means you know when they want to have an operation in Japan and not in Canada, I think I partly know what it is, but she never ever mentioned it. You know? In those days they didn't talk about those things, you know, your parents. So when she got sick and I said, “I don't know how to say that in English,” because I said, “I don't know what it is in Japanese.” So when she was sick I said, “I have no idea.” But I think the doctor had some idea, maybe because she had examined her, I don't, you know, but I didn't ask the doctor. I don't think it was right for me to ask the doctor laughs.
KF
So you spoke Japanese, mostly.
RI
When I was young, yes.
KF
When you were young. When we were talking before we started the interview you said that your upbringing was quite Japanese.
RI
Mmhmm. I always use my Japanese name. Many of the Niseis changed to English names or adopted English names.
KF
I see.
RI
I said, “No, that's my name. Why should I change my name?” So I always kept my name, yes, and always used it. I have a baptismal name and that's about it. I never use it other than sometimes for business, but other than that, no. I always used my Japanese name. There's the short form, Ritso, it's very easy for most people to remember.
KF
Ritso?
RI
Yes.
KF
What other ways then was your upbringing Japanese? What other aspects of your life?
RI
Well, I like Japanese food but, you know, in this day and age I can't go to a Japanese shop to buy stuff. I just have, sort of, imitation laughs.
KF
Yeah. What things do you imitate or try to recreate?
RI
Things like, flavoring like shoyu and miso. I love miso. I mix it with things like salad dressings and things like that just to bring up the flavor. Yes. I love miso in any form.
KF
It's great isn't it? I love it.
RI
This is why I always say, you know, when I had my operation I went one month to recover in a retirement home. The food would be the same every day, but I got so fed up with that kind of food, you know, because you're used to things like shoyu. Sure, there's shoyu to put on but I'm not that kind of person where you put shoyu on something. It's mostly, other than for tofu or something like that, it's mostly for cooking. Miso and a few other flavors, it's just missing. The basil soup is not chicken or anything like that. All the things are missing. I thought, “I don't think I ever want to go and live in a retirement home where they cook for you. I can't stand it.” One day, I think, yeah, my niece brought some Japanese food and I wasn't able to get out yet. So she brought some in from the funeral.
KF
Oh, that's nice.
00:35:06.000
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RI
So I was able to have some when I was in the convalescent home, too. She brought some, so that helped, but, oh, I get so tired of it. During work we had to go up to do some work up at Thunder Bay and the other different food was Chinese food. All the rest were the usual stuff. I got so fed up and I said ... After two weeks we're allowed to go somewhere so I went to my cousin and had some Japanese food laughs. It's just that, you know, I like it but it's just constant. No change whatsoever. It makes it very difficult for us.
KF
It's nice to have variety, absolutely.
RI
I always wonder, you know, people who are born here I said, “How do you manage to like that thing every day?”
KF
I certainly miss a lot of things and some of it you just cannot duplicate.
RI
That's right. Miso or anything like that.
KF
Yeah, or even certain companies will come over and make miso, like there's a local company in Vancouver that makes miso. It's good but it doesn't taste the same. It never tastes the same. So every time I go back to Japan I always have a list of restaurants and food that I'm like, “This is what I need to eat,” and then I go to the grocery store and I bring like boxes and boxes of stuff. Oh, my god, curries and, you know, fish flakes, the things you just cannot get.
RI
It's so expensive here if you can get it.
KF
Totally, and, you know, I find that you just cannot recreate it. Like you said, the monotony of eating the same thing every day, I find Japanese food has this amazing spectrum of flavors, like it's so much broader than a lot of North American food, I find.
RI
Yes, and then for each meal you could have such a variety instead of two or three. I find ... People say, “How can you eat all kinds of food like that?”
KF
But you just have to eat a little bit of each.
RI
That's right. I said, “I like them so I have them refrigerated so I can eat them any time I want.”
KF
Yeah, I certainly miss that. When you move out and you're learning to cook again, it's a whole new learning process laughs.
RI
That's another story.
KF
So you had mentioned that you started working at nine or cooking at nine?
RI
Yes, because my mother went ... That was the first time she went to the sewing school, when I was only nine.
KF
So that's when you had to start learning how to cook. So what kind of things did you start cooking at nine?
RI
Mostly a mix of food. I would just mix everything together because I didn't know how to cook separately as well. Yeah.
KF
And then you started working at twelve?
RI
That one, because, you know, in the summer time you're always looking for jobs and mostly I went picking strawberries and working things like that, raspberries, mostly berries, and then the cannery, because I was almost five foot, two and a half, three, when I was already around twelve. I've shortened about three inches. My brother was not quite as tall as he is now, but almost as tall. You see, both of them are very tall. I can't remember ... In fact, in a school picture I have in Haney the only person taller than me was an Indian lady, Native lady. The rest of them, even the Caucasians, were shorter. So I stayed about the same height for a long time. I started shrinking in my old age laughs, and because I was big enough they felt that I could work there sorting strawberries and a few other berries. They said, “You can come in regularly.” So I was working in the cannery for, you know, at twelve. When I get my check I said, “Oh.” They had deductions for unemployment insurance. I said, “When am I going to collect that?” and I'd get my little book with the stamps laughs.
KF
Do you remember how much you got paid at that time?
RI
Gosh, I don't know. It wasn't much. You know, the first time I ever got a check.
KF
Yeah, but at twelve to be working it's ...
RI
Mmhmm. So we worked there for summer. I guess we were there for summers in Haney, yeah, so seven and eight.
KF
Did you enjoy your experience working at the cannery?
RI
Yes, it's, you know, and also the man who ran that place also collected butterflies so we would go out and collect butterflies for him. He also had this Japanese archery, it was in the basement, but he had it all set up so we used to go down and do Japanese archery. I wanted to do it at the cultural center, but I couldn't bend my knees anymore. I couldn't squat like that and I just can't go through that period of, you know, getting ... It's just like meditation period where you sit properly and I just can't go through that anymore so I thought of it but I had to give it up.
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KF
For those who don't know, what's the difference between, say, common or, I guess, archery here versus Japanese archery? What's the major difference?
RI
Japanese archery, you know, that normally you learn from about six feet. The one here is about, so long. That's it.
KF
Right, so it's longer?
RI
Oh, definitely, yes.
KF
And that's the arrow that's longer or the bow that's longer?
RI
The arrow, no. The bow is long. Oh, yes. It's about ... When I was doing it it's almost the height of me when I was doing it, yes.
KF
Wow. So it was more than just a cannery then, in some sense.
RI
He had these interests. It was there so he said, “You want to try this?” “Sure.” And because I was tall enough to do it, I wasn't too short yet. I'm already short laughs. That's why when our cultural center here decided to have it, I thought, “I'd really love to do it but I cannot get down on my knees.”
KF
It's a little bit hard on the knees then?
RI
Definitely. I couldn't sit like that. If I were to go to Japan now I couldn't even sit like them anymore. I have to stretch my legs all the time.
KF
Yeah, if you're not doing it all the time you can feel quite stiff can't you?
RI
Mmhmm. Unless they have those ones with the open pits, you know, then you can sit there.
KF
Yeah, for sure. Now, we've talked a lot about the work that you were doing and how you helped your mother and you worked at the cannery, what sort of things did you do for fun?
RI
Well, let's see. Well, in our young days it's just all sort of after school or everybody skipped and, you know, played marbles, and all these sort of things. That's about it. You didn't do an awful lot. There's no, sort of, organized anything. You just went and did something. You played baseball. There was no organized stuff. You just went and, you know, if somebody was doing skipping everybody joined in. I think nowadays everything's organized. You've got to wait until something starts or something like that but when we were kids it was just natural things you did. You ran around like mad and went to the creek or went to the lake or whatever it was close-by. There wasn't really anything that I can say, you know, all kinds of funny games kids played but I can't remember all the games that we played. Not only that, I get sort of told off. I was quite often told that, you know, “After all, you're a girl. You're supposed to be staying at home helping your mother.” In those days that's about it laughs.
KF
Yeah, yeah. You mentioned you went to a girls' technical school.
RI
Yes, it's the same place where they have that technical school now. They don't call it a technical school. They have one there.
KF
Oh, do they? Here in Toronto?
RI
No, Vancouver.
KF
Vancouver, oh.
RI
I know my grandnephew went to ...
KF
BCIT?
RI
Maybe that's what it is. Yeah, it's over in, oh, beyond Commercial and around. Yeah, that one.
00:45:11.000
00:45:11.000
KF
I think, yeah, I think it's ...
RI
I don't know if the girls' one existed later on. I have no idea. When we were there, I don't know when it started, but there were already senior girls there when I started because there are a couple of girls who are quite good artists by then, yes. I know some girls were doing hair dressing already.
KF
Right.
RI
But I thought it was a good introduction to what you may want to do.
KF
Well, it sounds like, when you described in the beginning of the interview, quite a diverse amount of subjects were covered.
RI
That's right. You had these boards with electrical wires and all this sort of thing. So you thought, “Oh.” I thought it was rather interesting in that sense that they had such a, you know, I kept thinking ... In those days you never think a girl's going into mechanical work type of thing and, yet, there it was for us to do.
KF
Wow.
RI
I thought, “Oh, that's strange.” Yet, you had your other, you know, very house-keeping type.
KF
What was your favorite subject at the technical school?
RI
I don't think I had any favorite subjects because it was just your first year learning stages. You're just being introduced to all these different kinds of activities that you can do in the future. So I never had any favorites. No. But I found it rather interesting. So I kept thinking, “Oh, this is what nursing is like.” Mind you, it was just bed making and a few other things but, you know, you do it the proper way in other words and then you say, “Oh, so this is the way they do it when you go to the hospital.”
KF
Right. Perhaps we'll move up a little bit. We'll tackle around the war time area, but just before that when you were moving throughout these different places from Port Coquitlam, Haney, Vancouver, all those different locations, do you have any childhood objects or mementos or items that really stick out for you at that time? Any memorable toys or even within your teenage years?
RI
Now I seem to be a pack-rat but in those days I wasn't. The only thing I remember is I used to hate dolls. I had two brothers and I wasn't a bit interested in dolls but when my mother went to Japan and brought a Japanese doll home and she dressed it up, she put the thing together herself, of course, being a dress maker, and so she said, “This is your doll.” I said, “Oh” but it traveled with us to the ghost town but I don't know where it went after that. I can't remember. I can't remember seeing it again. I know the clothes did last until we got to London. I remember seeing it there and that was about it. Yes. That's all I remember. It came along with us because she liked it I think, not so much me. My mother liked it.
KF
Do you remember what the doll looked like?
RI
Well, it had a Japanese haircut. You know, it was straight, a little long. It had a purple, pink, yellow ... You know that purple is quite popular in kimonos, so one of the colors was purple. My mother made it just like a kimono, yes. I thought, “Hmm” because I wasn't interested in very Japanese things at all. Some of my family friends they take up odori and things like that. I wasn't interested in that kind of thing. I wanted to tap dance but nobody wanted to teach me. I mean, my mother wouldn't allow me to tap dance laughs.
KF
When was this? Around what age was this?
RI
Grade eight, around there. I took just a few months of piano lessons. I said, “I'm not interested in pianos.”
KF
But tap dancing?
RI
I wanted to but I never picked it up.
KF
Well, maybe now? I mean, you're still quite active, Ritsuko.
RI
No, not anymore.
KF
Not anymore. When you were moving as a family, do you have any recollection of the items that your family brought each time you moved? I mean, it sounds like your mother had the items from her dress shop.
00:51:01.000
00:51:01.000
RI
Oh, yeah, she had samples. She had books that landed right to London where she eventually ended there but it's in Japanese. I couldn't read it, but she had samples and I don't know where it went. I had already left London for here so whatever was left the people looked after what's there. So, yeah, I didn't feel I had the right to forever say, you know, “This is my mother's. I'll grab it” type of thing. I didn't feel I had the right so I didn't claim anything too much.
KF
You'd also mentioned that your family were renters, owners.
RI
Mmhmm.
KF
What type of living quarters did you live in when you were younger?
RI
It was sort of like a house of some sort. When my mother had a shop ... She had to find a place where she could open a shop and she found a place that was a bar on the side. I think that was a barbershop on that side and some sort of a, maybe a rooming house, and a bar underneath or something like that. So she was looking for that shop. So that's where we went. We went in the upstairs, yes, in Haney. In Vancouver we were in a tenement type of a rental.
KF
Okay.
RI
In Ontario it was mostly farm houses. Some farm houses were just terrible because we didn't go through the same-going through the PE buildings (?). So we didn't know what that was like but when we came here ... All the people in Alberta who worked there found it was so cold and we found the same thing here when we first came to the farm. Well, the place we went to there wasn't much heat. I said, “Oh, my goodness. This is cold.” So I thought, “Oh, this is really crazy.” So that's why we left there. They didn't try to help us out too much so we decided we'd leave but I had a very interesting experience though during those farm days. There was a lot of coloured people in the neighborhood, in the Chatham area, so we saw people coming to help pick berries, fruit, and work on the farms. We saw high school kids from the city hired to go work on the farms.
KF
Interesting.
RI
They had a senior person there with them but not much older than the high school kids. They were camping by the shore and they had a camp there. Another thing we also ... We weren't allowed to meet them, but anyway, we'd see them. We had POWs around. Yes, they were able to be hired out to work on the farms. We were not allowed to talk to them at all.
00:54:55.000
00:54:55.000
KF
Right. So would you describe, I mean, just to finish up this portion, would you describe your childhood or even yourself as more Japanese than Japanese Canadian or vice versa or did you ...
RI
I wasn't very Japanese. As I said, my family and friends were taking up odori and things like that. I didn't like those things at all. I never bothered very much with it, even today, yes. It's nice to see but I see enough odori and I'm fine with that and that's it laughs. But I must say, some of the councilors they have a very interesting ... I worked part-time ... After I retired I worked part-time for Ethnic Press, one of the Japanese-Canadian press. They get tickets for various things and they said, “You ought to go and see a piano person in Japan.” I said, “Okay.” So I went and then they played. I guess they were hired by the Toronto Symphony to take part in their concert. Later on, I found out from a person, he said, “You should hear a group of something playing jazz.” He mentioned when I was just talking to them, you know? I think the pianist was a name like mine. Was it Inouye? Something like that. Anyway, it was something familiar but the person said, “Oh, you should really, if you have the opportunity, you should see a bunch of something players.” They said, “You should hear them play jazz. It's really something to hear.”
KF
Really?
RI
And I did hear it at the cultural center, here. They came as a group. The first time they came, they played as a group, and they played jazz. It was really wonderful to hear.
KF
How does that even sound? I'm trying to picture it in my head or imagine it in my head but ...
RI
I know, yeah.
KF
Because, I mean, shamisen is so distinct.
RI
I don't know whether they're using different things or different, what do you call the one that you strum with? I have no idea, but it was fantastic.
KF
Oh, wasn't that neat. Wow.
RI
That's one of the things, you know, when I retired, I didn't put that in, but when I retired, during that time I was helping out. I had all kinds of tickets to various things and I went to a G8 meeting and I thought that was a very interesting experience, yes.
KF
Alright, well, let's talk a little bit about the war. You'd mentioned Pearl Harbor. Do you remember much of what happened that day?
RI
Well, we heard the news and then we didn't know what would happen and that was ... I guess, everybody said, “What are we going to do? What is going to happen?” That's what everybody was saying. I think some people said. I guess. Soon after that I think there were curfews and people were rounded up and all that sort of thing. I don't know who they were but it's all in the book, I guess. There was a, sort of, like a tension all the time with what's going to happen. Of course, you know, you hear these stories from people saying so and so got caught and all this sort of nonsense. They had a curfew. I don't remember the secrets of that period. I never kept a diary. I wish I did.
KF
How old were you when Pearl Harbor happened?
RI
I was fifteen already. No, I was, let's see, yeah, I guess I was fifteen because when we went up to Greenwood we had to go and get our sixteenth birthday certificate. Sixteen was the age of something. We had to get a special registration.
KF
Okay.
RI
So that must mean that I'm fif ... No, I'm already sixteen. November sixteen, December. So I was already sixteen, I guess. Was I that old? I'm trying to remember. 1941, the 26th.
KF
Yeah, fifteen or sixteen at least.
01:00:48.000
01:00:48.000
RI
Yeah, so by December, but all I remember is going, you know, we went to school for a while. Nobody said very much because that school there wasn't all that many students. We had a small class. Everybody just went to class and that's about it. I think people started leaving around the beginning of the year. I think I stayed until, about, February. Almost, not quite finished the third term, I guess, what they call a third term. You just heard all kinds of funny stories going around. With the curfew everybody was sneaking out all the time laughs. You had to make sure you got in anyway but, you know, for us it was no big deal because we were too young to do anything. I can't remember what we had. We just listened to all the stories. We didn't do anything other than leaving school and then I just helped out mother close up the shop, eventually.
KF
Do you remember any of those stories that you had heard?
RI
Oh, people went out at night passed the curfew. A lot of people did that.
KF
Oh, yeah?
RI
On the whole, I guess they didn't get caught. Other than that, you heard other stories about people being picked up, but other than that I don't know too much about those stories. They don't tell you too much, you know, when you're young. Even if they hear it they don't tell you.
KF
Right.
RI
So, by, what time? I'm trying to remember when it was. I don't have that record, when it was that we got notice to move. There's moves all over the place, you know, and people moving into PNE, but we decided, before they put us anywhere else, we decided to go. There's still people there and they all said, “Where are you going to go?” Everybody had different ideas about where they wanted to go. A family friend, because the father had a stroke they were able to get a house in Greenwood. So they said, “Well, we're established here so why don't you come?” So that's why ... So we didn't know too many people in Greenwood. Mind you, there was a group of Steveston people there and I nearly had a shock when I heard their Japanese language because their language is so rough, Steveston language.
KF
Right. In what way?
RI
The women, when they speak it's just like, you know, really rough language that they use. We said, “What kind of language is that?” We couldn't figure it out at all but we knew what it meant because of the way they spoke. We could tell. I thought, “Where did they come from? Are they Japanese?” Laughs.
KF
I've heard some people, that I've interviewed, already talk about the differences with Steveston, they call it Steveston Japanese, and I had a gentleman explain some of the words, specific to the community even. It was quite interesting.
RI
It is. Gaina (?).
KF
He mentioned gaina (?).
RI
Yeah, what's that? laughs.
KF
Yeah, he mentioned gaina (?) and a couple others.
RI
What was the other one that the girl used? You know, it just sounds so different.
KF
Right, and where were your parents ... Just to track ...
RI
Fukuoka.
KF
Fukuoka? Oh, okay. Yeah, so the Japanese would be definitely different.
RI
Oh, yes.
KF
Quite a shock. Wow.
01:06:00.000
01:06:00.000
RI
Yup. So there was that group. There was a group from Vancouver Island. What's that name of the place up there?
KF
Cumberland.
RI
Oh, the Cumberland area of Greenwood, yeah. They were in that building, number three, and then, I don't know where ... The others are from all over, I think, yeah. Also, it was run by the Catholics, the schools. They were from Downtown Powell, the Sisters of Atonement Catholic School. They just, a whole bunch came over and took over the schooling for everybody, yes. That was taken care of in the schools. Other than that, yeah, there were different people there and I just, because I'm from the country and the other people are all from the city somewhere I felt really, very still from the country. I mean, in Vancouver I'm only here a short time when the war broke out.
KF
I have two questions. Do you remember, when you were about to leave, what you left behind? The second being: what did you take with you to Greenwood?
RI
I think just mostly whatever you can with your cooking utensils, clothing, and whatever stuff that mother wanted to take with her. Other than that there was just three of us. I didn't have any mementos that I was carrying with me.
KF
Okay.
RI
Just whatever you can take with you, yes.
KF
So, I guess, things like clothing, cooking utensils. Did you have very much ... I mean, I mentioned this a little bit already with favorite toys or whatever but did you have any toys or anything like that that you wanted to take?
RI
I didn't really care much for toys.
KF
You didn't care, yeah.
RI
Yeah. We were getting too old for things like trucks and things like that.
KF
Right, because you were a teenager when you left.
RI
I don't know about taking any school books or not. I don't think so. Nope.
KF
You'd mentioned that you helped your mother close her shop before your left. What do you remember of helping her with that?
RI
Well, she still had customers and she tried to finish it off and so we tried to do that and get rid of all the stuff. She had a fair amount of material as well. If she could give it away to friends, she did. Some of the things she wanted to keep, she kept, and took it with her most of the way. Other than that, I don't recall anything specific. She didn't take her sewing machines. She must have sold it or ... I can't remember what she did with the sewing machines. Maybe she left it to other people. I know she gave some things away. I don't know what happened to that one. Packing wasn't too much of a problem. We had just moved so it wasn't really a big deal. We hadn't collected too much after that. Yeah, I'm now a collector but I wasn't then. I didn't have anything special in those days.
01:11:09.000
01:11:09.000
KF
Would you say that back then you had the basic items to live?
RI
Yeah, that's about all.
KF
Yeah. How did you get to Greenwood?
RI
Oh, just by train.
KF
By train?
RI
Mmhmm. We were lucky in the sense that my younger brother may be small but he was already what, if I was fifteen he was twelve, anyway, so we didn't have any trouble traveling. We were all waiting for the train to arrive. Goodness gracious, I saw mothers with babies and no husbands or anybody helping out and I felt really sorry for her.
KF
Right. I had one woman describe to me, she was maybe three months old when her family had to move. Her mother said that she had to strap her on her chest with a wrap and then had to carry two suitcases on her own because her husband was away at the time.
RI
That's one thing about the Americans and the Canadians is that, you know, they divided the families here in Canada. In the United States they didn't. They went as a family. That's one of the things I, you know, talked to the government people many times and that was one of the things that I had mentioned, you know, it was sad to see that.
KF
How did you feel at the time of the whole move?
RI
You know, I wasn't really thinking too much. Except that this is sort of a nuisance. What are they asking us to do? This kind of thing but that's about all. “Why do I have to leave?” in other words. You know, your friends say “Why are you going?” type of thing. “Why do you have to go there? Why do you have to leave?” That kind of thing. That's about all.
KF
Did you ever discuss it with your younger brother and you mother about what was going on?
RI
My mother didn't say very much, nor did my father. They kept us in the dark. That's why we didn't discuss too much about it because they didn't. All they said was, you know, “We've got to go” type of thing and “We've got to pack.” We knew we had to go so that's why I was helping out mother close the shop, but other than that, you know, those kind of things are sort of an interference in your, you know, school life in other words. We didn't take too much, just what we could carry. When we got there, winter got very cold laughs.
KF
Minus thirty-five, you mentioned in the beginning. Wow.
RI
Oh, yes. In the winter it gets cold, yes.
KF
How did you stay warm?
RI
Well, the whole building was heated.
KF
Oh, so the hotel was heated?
RI
Was it heated or ... No, we had our individual stoves. Not individually, but they had one here, one over there, and the kitchen stove, and, you know, all of it kept it warm.
01:15:04.000
01:15:04.000
KF
Right. Can you describe what the hotel was like in Greenwood? What did it look like?
RI
Well, you could see in most of the cards it was a hotel that when they send you a card it had a picture of Greenwood, it always had that hotel there. It was about, how many floors? Five or six floors. Most of the people, not everybody, but many of the people that were in the building, it seems, came from Vancouver area somewhere from the sound of it because they seem to know each other without being introduced, in other words. So you get to know them, most people on your floor, who they were. So I just made friends with people on the floor, yes. They were different ages, of course.
KF
Can you tell me more about that? You mentioned that the group of people that lived in this hotel were quite diverse. A mix of people.
RI
Oh, yes because one had, I suppose like any organization, anytime, the people had the large room at the front, the people who had owned the hotel or ran the hotel in downtown Vancouver. What's that hotel name? I forgot the name. Anyway, so they had, the girl had, I think she already had gone to university by that time, the daughter, and there was another daughter there, too. On the other side was a big family, about seven, and they were all young children. They were all very cute. We had only one big large room. A lot of people had only one big large room depending on the size of the family, some were smaller than others. On the whole, they were about the same size. So that's the way it was. It was a hotel so there were rooms. I think the one on that side must've been bigger because there were bigger families on that side.
KF
Was there a name for the hotel?
RI
We were all numbered. I think we were number three.
KF
Number three.
RI
No, number three was over there with the Steveston people. Number ten was a hospital. I'm trying to remember all the numbers. I can't remember even the numbers. You know, I wasn't there very long so I forgot so much of it because, you know, just one winter, one summer. So I'd forgotten so much of it. I went back only once and the library wasn't open so we left laughs. So we didn't even stay. Most people came. That hotel was in Vancouver. I think that big family with children came from Steveston, or in that area. I think he was a fisherman. I wonder where the Okawas (?) came from but most of them came from Vancouver, I think. We were all farmers and the rest of them were all city folks, I think.
KF
What was the hotel room that you and your family stayed in like?
RI
Well, we had a, because my father was still in Tijon (?) and so was my brother so we had room, double underneath, and a bunk for my brother up in the top. So that was the way it was arranged and the rooms weren't big. I mean, it was very small.
KF
Would you say larger than this office?
RI
Well, enough for a double bed and maybe a side. So a little larger than this room, I think. Maybe a little bit more, yeah.
KF
Did you have a kitchen or was it communal?
RI
No, we just had a table.
KF
A table?
RI
Mmhmm.
KF
Right.
RI
Where you can eat and just a little area there beside the bed and that's about it. They didn't give you much room. Nobody had any. People sat on trunks and things like that.
KF
Right. Can you tell me what everyday life was like in Greenwood at the time? What did you guys do? You mentioned card games and baking.
RI
Something about the Catholic Church, I never liked. I'm sorry but something about it. They confirmed ... One time when I went to the funeral up there and the father had died in a family and all the children were Catholics. The father wanted to die as a Catholic but he wasn't baptized. So they left him in the back of the church and I was absolutely astounded that, you know, they can't, sort of, give a little and accept him into the Catholic Church. I thought, you know, how could anybody do things like that? It's bad enough that, you know, we didn't get any help when we, you know, many other churches didn't care what happened to us, the same thing you see? But, to see this kind of a thing it, to me, was one of the eye opening things about the Catholic Church. It was completely new to me. I thought, because when we were kids we used to go to, you know, church just like any family did but it didn't mean very much laughs. So when they put the body way back in the, you know, in the entrance I thought “This is utterly crazy.” I thought, “How can the church do things like that to anybody?” So I never, never liked the Catholic Church. So I didn't join the Catholic Church school. Although, I got my certificate back from, you know, the high school so I had my grade nine. So I, in other words, wasted a whole year. Not quite, because when I got to next year to Guelph I was able to get into grade ten anyways so I didn't lose a year. I just missed a few lessons and whatnot but you just, sort of, went around for walks. We found things to eat, like, you know, when you're up there and there's nothing and you don't get as much variety of food so you went out looking for dandelions, you're looking for lettuce, you're looking for something you can make tea leaves out of, and what else did we pick? That's about it. I remember those, definitely. In the winter months, of course, we stayed in most of the time, other than going skating because, you know, when it's cold you can only stay out too long. Then they'd start playing cards and I thought, “Oh, what kind of card is that?” So we learned to play Japanese cards.
01:23:38.000
01:23:38.000
KF
And, what are Japanese cards exactly or card games?
RI
You know, the gaji ones?
KF
Oh, yes. So you learned to play there in Greenwood?
RI
Yup laughs. I've forgotten it now. I can't remember half of it. Sometimes when I was in the early days I used to look at it and thought, “Which one is which?” There were magazines and whatnot so I used to read magazines but I didn't do very much, yeah. I spent time just chatting away and cooking, learning to cook laughs.
KF
What kind of ... I mean, I think just only from talking to you briefly food and cooking has been a very important aspect of your life.
RI
Yeah, when you look at the time I spent there I think, you know, it's worth ... As I grew older, you know, and what I had learned in school, and then I put it all together and I said ,“Oh, yeah, now I know why” laughing. Even today I talk to a lot of people and saying, “This is the way you cook.” This kind of thing.
KF
What were you cooking in Greenwood at the time when you were learning, because, like you said, there were limited supplies in some ways, so what did you cook?
RI
You ended up making your own things like tofu and konyaku (?), things like that, you know, mostly Japanese food. So there was always rice. In those days I ate a lot of rice and doing not too much in the way of exercise other than going out for a walk and having picnics and whatnot. You put on weight and I thought, “Oh, dear.” So I didn't do very much when I was there. As soon as I heard people were leaving, I wanted to go, too laughs.
01:25:59.000
01:25:59.000
KF
Well, what prompted you and your family to move to Guelph?
RI
Well, you arranged with the, what was the name of the ... Not the Custodian. What was the name? We had an office in Toronto, we negotiated with them and they will find a place for you. So you say you want to go and then they'll let you know. We had an office, a branch office, in our building. It was for everybody but there was an office, you'd go there, and say you want to move. So they would arrange through the office in Toronto at that time and they will find a place for you, say, for a family. So that's why we went to Guelph, first. We didn't know what we were getting into.
KF
And whoever that person was in the office was the one who determined the sanitarium as the destination you went?
RI
Yes, the people in the Toronto office decided, maybe, as a family they can go there.
KF
Okay.
RI
But, of course, nobody really knows what kind of hospital it was. It was just a sanitarium at that time. It was called the Homeless Den (?) at that time. I don't know what it is now but it's different. I know that it was a very expensive thing. There were people who were priests. There were people who were wives of senior vice presidents. There were Kellogg daughters. People like that were in there, you see? They were either dementia or what we used to, at one time, call the 'crazy hospital' type of patients. Yes, that's what they were.
KF
So within the sanitarium then, was there a wing or a portion of the building that was blocked off for families?
RI
They're not really blocked off, no, but they were all in their areas. They were served. People who were normal were allowed to come in and have meals, but the rest of them the meals were all taken to them.
KF
Were there a lot of Japanese-Canadian families that were moved to the Sanitarium?
RI
There were a couple of nurses who were training there and there were five other Nisei girls that came to work. Oh, there was a Japanese-Canadian masseur and a son, they had a son. That's about all there were. Oh, there was one fellow. What was he doing there? Hm. I'm trying to remember what he was doing. I don't know. And then our family, yes. There was about five Nisei girls that had come to do the same thing, yeah. So there was a kitchen helper who worked in the kitchen and dining room, yes.
KF
And you worked in the kitchen, you said?
RI
Yeah, we helped set up tables and, you know, set the tables and things like that.
KF
Okay, and what kind of food would you cook at the kitchen?
RI
Well, there was a dietitian because it's a hospital.
KF
Oh, so you had prescribed menus?
RI
Oh, they all had, you know. So she decided what was going to be cooked that day and, yes.
KF
Interesting.
RI
So we found out what a dietician was. We also met some physiotherapists, occupational physiotherapists there who were there to help the patients, mhm.
01:30:04.000
01:30:04.000
KF
Was your brother and your father in Guelph at this time?
RI
Lanky (?) was but my father didn't come until we went to the farm because he was still working in the logging mill, yes.
KF
Were you, I mean, just to go a little bit back to Greenwood, how did you ... Were you able to keep in contact with your brother and your father or was ...
RI
Oh, yes.
KF
Oh, you were?
RI
Mhm.
KF
And how did you do that?
RI
Just letters.
KF
Letters?
RI
Mhm. I had a friend who went back to Japan but they used to see the black marks all over, censored laughs.
KF
Oh, so they censored your letters?
RI
Mhm.
KF
And what did those letters look like? They were blacked out?
RI
Yup, blacked out.
KF
Really?
RI
And afterwards I said, “I should have kept them.” I think I kept some but they're buried somewhere in the moving. A lot of things disappeared so I thought “What did I have?” One time I remember saying “I thought I had it somewhere.” Maybe it disappeared when we were moving. That's why I don't seem to put my thoughts to all those things that I thought I had.
KF
Things are always constantly changing and things are being moved around.
RI
And so it just disappears laughs.
KF
Yeah, it's amazing how things can go like that and then you never find them ever again, right?
RI
Yeah.
KF
So the sanitarium, just to go through this a little bit more, you know, mentioned the sanitarium but he didn't mention the colourful group of people that were in the sanitarium.
RI
Oh, no, I don't think so because it's one of those things that you pay ... I think men don't pay attention to a lot of the patients. I think women tend, much more, to be gossipy types so you hear all kinds of things. Oh, yes, there were a lot of priests there. So, in other words, the Catholics have a lot of money laughs. Some people go in for ... At that time, people went in for convalescing there, as well. I know in later years I did find out some other people who had been there just for convalescing, yes, who had money.
KF
What type of living quarters did you have within the sanitarium?
RI
Oh, we had a regular, I suppose, you know, just a bed and, yes.
KF
Was it a room like the hotel as well or did you have several rooms to live in?
RI
Let's see, we had our own rooms, I think. I'm trying to remember if we had a section or not. I can't remember. Some things just don't seem to, you know. I know the stories about that and stories about the shoyu business and all this sort of thing but that kind of thing doesn't seem so important to me.
KF
That's okay. Oh, no, that's fine. So you moved to Guelph in 1943.
RI
Yes.
KF
And how long did you stay in the sanitarium for?
RI
We only stayed there until, let's see, next ... We stayed there one winter and we went to the farm, I think. It was still early because it was cold. That's why we moved. I spent the winter in Guelph and I remember, despite the fact that we were in the cold, minus thirty-five degree temperature, we'd come to Ontario and the temperatures are way lower but because it is so damp you feel cold right through. No matter what you wore it just seemed to eat right through you.
01:34:15.000
01:34:15.000
KF
Straight to the bone.
RI
Until you become accustomed to it. It doesn't seem to bother me, you see. In those days it'd really bother you because your body wasn't accustomed to that kind of weather. I thought “It's really strange that, minus thirty-five, you're not really that cold, but here it is a lot lower and I'm so cold.”
KF
A lot of my friends who have lived in both Toronto and Victoria say the exact same thing, that Toronto, the temperature is very cold but it's a dry winter. So a good friend of mine said she can warm up quite quickly, but Victoria is damp. It rains so much. It goes below freezing occasionally but not to the extent that the east coast gets but it hits your core and you can't really shake the cold in any way. It's damp, humid.
RI
I was in Victoria one Christmas and I said “You know, it's so grey. It's impossible to live here.” laughs.
KF
Oh, it can get very, very grey. That's another thing my friend said. She goes, “Yeah, it snows and the winters are very harsh but it's sunny.”
RI
Yeah, it's sort of refreshing when you look at it.
KF
Mhm. So you went into farming afterwards and this is around, what age were you now?
RI
Let's see. Pardon me.
KF
Oh, no.
RI
Let's see, what was I? I was twenty-one in '47 so that means '46 I was twenty; nineteen when the war ended.
KF
Nineteen when the war ended.
RI
Yes, '45 because '47 I was twenty-one and '46 twenty. So, yeah. No, I wasn't young because I think I started school a little later.
KF
Did you?
RI
Yeah, because in BC they had the funny system where you were born after September or something, you had to wait until you ...
KF
You were held back?
RI
Yeah.
KF
Yeah.
RI
So that's why I think ... That's why I'm always older than everybody. Even when I came to Ontario I noticed, yeah.
KF
Oh, I see. Oh, interesting. How did your ... Let's start over again. What did your mother do while you were in Greenwood and Guelph?
RI
Well, she did have time to do a little bit of sewing because everybody needed clothing so she made some clothes just for the family. I think she made some for some of the kids in the neighboring room. Other than that she didn't do that much sewing. Of course, we farmed until we got to London. She opened up a shop again.
KF
Right. So farming, you farmed strawberries?
RI
Well, there were some strawberries but not always strawberries. It's mostly vegetables and fruit. I spent one summer doing that, not the whole summer, but doing tobacco which was interesting.
KF
Oh, how so?
RI
It's heavy work but different. One of the things that stops anybody from ever smoking is if you ever had a little bit of a taste of that, a little bit of the dew on the leaf of the tobacco you'll be feeling really sick.
KF
Really?
RI
Yeah a drop would.
KF
What did it taste like?
RI
No, it's just that when we were working on it if you touched it and then you had, it was still a little bit wet, and you somehow tasted it your body just gets so weak the next day.
KF
Really? Oh, so that deterred you from smoking then?
RI
Oh, yes. You knew what it was going to be like when you smoked too much.
KF
Wow, so you did tobacco for a while.
RI
No, not for a while, just one year.
KF
And then vegetables and fruits.
RI
Yeah.
KF
What type of veggies and fruits?
RI
Everything.
KF
Everything?
RI
Yup, everything.
KF
This is the same time that you were also canning as well?
RI
Yes, so, you know, when we went to the fruit farm the lady helped us with all the canning. She taught us. She said “This is the way you can” and we learned how to can. So we did all that kind of thing during the summer days. That's what it was like, seven days a week work laughs.
01:40:19.000
01:40:19.000
KF
And that was used, you said, as a way to, I guess, prepare for winter?
RI
Yes.
KF
Yeah, that would be quite a bit of work especially if you're preparing for a full season.
RI
Yes, when there's four of us in the family it takes quite a bit of food.
KF
Yeah. I have a little brother and he's a voracious eater. When I moved out I asked my parents, I said “Does it make a difference, food-wise, now that I'm gone?” They said, “No, because your brother eats what you would eat. So it's still like feeding a family of four or more” she said. He's a teenager, so he's really hungry all the time laughs. Can you tell me a little bit more about your experiences working at the American College? You had mentioned that you worked ...
RI
American Cottage.
KF
Cottage, yes, not college. Sorry, cottage. You had mentioned that you worked with a black lady and what was she like and what did she teach you?
RI
She was just ... The various menus she had, you know, and the different vegetable dishes and whatnot that she made compared to what, you know, Canadians would do.
KF
I see.
RI
She didn't stay very long but she really felt very lonely there because she said “There's nothing to do” because she comes from Chicago and so she said it's boring for her. She doesn't go into the water or anything and there was a big black dog, Newfy dog, Newfoundland, a huge black one and, to her, it looked like a bear. She was so scared laughs. Between all that she said “I'm going home” and took off.
KF
You said the tips that she shared with you, you remember.
RI
It's interesting because, you know, she cooks in a different way that we never think of but I would never cook it that way. Now I would say “That's really fattening.”
KF
Can you share a tip that she passed on to you?
RI
One of the nice things is, you know, if you don't mind having a little bit of fat, when you have green beans, use bacon fat to flavor it.
KF
Oh, that's dangerous.
RI
That's what I mean.
KF
Oh, but that sounds good.
RI
Oh, it is.
KF
Is it?
RI
Mhm.
KF
Oh.
RI
Some of the other ones, she didn't teach me this but the other one's ... After she had gone, they had a big party and I thought “How am I going to handle a big party?” but everybody pitched in. You should see one girl who had come from Florida. She would, you know, she's pure white but she was so brown. It was amazing. She's so tanned. She said, “We're going to make some scallop potatoes.” So she had her own concoction laughs.
KF
She would make her own sauces and things like that?
RI
No, scallop potatoes.
KF
Scallop potatoes. Oh, that would be good.
RI
Yeah, and she has a different one from mine.
KF
Oh, neat.
RI
Yeah, there are others. She taught me also how to make those little snow in the pudding and things like that. Oh, geez.
KF
Did you ever recreate them later on?
RI
I did for a while but, you know, in this day and age I don't make those things anymore laughs.
KF
The bacon fat and the green beans, though, that sounds spectacular.
01:44:04.000
01:44:04.000
RI
Oh, it is, yes.
KF
And you can just cook it like that and that's all you need?
RI
Yes, just put a little bit of the flavoring of the fat in it. Oh, is it ever good.
KF
I might have to try that at home. It sounds very good. You mentioned university. What did you study there?
RI
I just took a BA but I wanted to go into geography and I thought I would go back and finish, and go back again but I never did, of course. People who say things like that never seem to do it laughs.
KF
So you graduated with a BA and then you had mentioned that ...
RI
But in those days, you see, you can almost get any job anyway. It's not as if, nowadays, you know, even a high degree doesn't get you a job. In those days you can always get a job.
KF
Right, so the degree didn't necessarily dictate the job.
RI
Not necessarily, but if you had one, you know, you have a ... I had teaching jobs and things like that but I didn't want ... I'm not a great person with patience to teach. Although, they think I'm a teacher sometimes but I don't have the patience to keep on going. Some people have so much patience and I don't have it.
KF
Right. So you finished university and then you said you worked for the government. What did you do for the government?
RI
I worked in the weather office. It's part of the research group. They do nothing but research, where I worked.
KF
And you did that for how many years?
RI
Thirty-odd.
KF
Thirty-odd years, wow.
RI
Thirty years. Yeah, something like that and then I said “That's enough.”
KF
When did you retire?
RI
Hm?
KF
When did you retire?
RI
'86.
KF
'86, wow. Were you ever part of the redress settlement at all then?
RI
I was part of it. KYLA You were?
RI
You know, redress started ... The first inclination of the redress we talked about at the centennial time. There was a conference in Hamilton and somebody brought up the subject. Then the Toronto JCCA had an active group and, not that active but active enough, and so we started talking about that after that conference and because we were talking about it somebody heard about it. A couple of fellows from Ottawa came down, not government people, but they knew about redress for some reason. Maybe they were studying the American one, I don't know. They came to us and said “We will get you money but we want a portion of that, the payments.”
KF
And, sorry, who were these people?
RI
They're just interested in ... They think they were helping us out but they are looking at money, I guess, and they heard that there was a group in Toronto, you know, talking about it. I don't know where they heard it from but all of a sudden they came to visit us and said ... You know, because it was just the beginning when they came down and said “We could help you and if we get the money, you give us a portion of the payment.” We said “No.” That was the end of that one. That was the first time that somebody from Ottawa came down. It had nothing to do with the government. Whether they had any connection, I don't know.
KF
What year was that when you started discussing?
RI
That was right after centennial. That was '77, '76, was it? Wasn't it '76? Yeah, or '77. Anyway, and then after that we kept discussing it for a while. Eventually, there was enough interest that they wanted to have a separate committee, Toronto JCCA had a separate committee, and, I think, everybody started getting a little bit interested in it. We had a survey and most people said “Let's get an apology and a little bit of a grant.” Those people wanted to go ahead and ask for more money for anything they want whether it was for their property, or for whatever it is, then they could use the money to go and sue the government for more money for themselves. Some people didn't like that so there was another group formed in Toronto and, I guess, they got other groups in Canada interested enough.
01:50:12.000
01:50:12.000
RI
So, they said “Okay, we want the money first” and that was it. So we said “No, I think the Isseis need to get an apology first because they're getting older.” A lot of the Isseis were at an age where they didn't really need the money. In other words, they were already getting old but to have an apology, I think, would be much better. So this is what we were aiming for, is to make them, before they all pass away we wanted them to have an apology. Afterwards they can always go for extra if they want but a lot of people wanted the money first. They wanted money and so this is why the other group formed and they just took over because there were so many branches. See, the thing is, when we first started the National JCCA, we didn't almost exist. Toronto JCCA was a, sort of, keeper of the National JCCA. So there was just a group of us sitting there talking away and it got to the point where people really got interested in it and that's how it started. Every group had formed a committee of their own and, eventually, when they met at a conference they decided that, no, that's not what they wanted. So that's what happened. So the Toronto JCCA Redress Committee got kicked out so they went on their merry way. The timing was very interesting. When the Americans said “We will give redress to the American people” then Mulroney decided he wanted to one-up, I guess, he said “We will give them $1000 more than the Americans do.” The thing is, at that time, Canadians didn't have anything planned, nothing. Americans had everything planned for this redress. The first people who got it in the United States, I think, are the eldest ones first. Here, it was anybody who can just apply first so that they got the forms out. So I know there are people who got it who shouldn't have gotten it laughs. That I know of. I think many of us met the politicians and asked ... I met one politician who lived close by so I bumped into him and I bumped into him at the conference as well and I said “When are you going to give us the redress? Are you waiting for the Americans?” He said, “Oh, no. We'll do it on our own time.” It was the way it went and that was it.
KF
What motivated you to start the redress?
RI
No, it's ...
KF
Or, you know ...
RI
There's always one or two in a group that is, sort of, a spearhead. I'm not the one but there's always one. I was the president of the JCCA and I also was part of the national executive at that time. So I knew what was going on back and forth. The thing is it started at this small little nucleus of the national and then it expanded to the Toronto JCCA because it was much more active. That's the way it went, yes, because ... And it all ... The whole thing about that is that there were people who had already received money before that. Mind you, it was just a peanut's worth of the total value. I met several people who said, especially one who said “We got ten cents on the dollar but why should I need any more money? I don't really need it. So I'm not even being bothered about the whole thing.” He just ignored the whole thing. The others still felt that they ... Of course, when you look at it from the human rights point of view you definitely, you know, want some sort of restitution or whatever it is. I'm not one of those so I was quite happy with the apology, which I would like to receive, yes. Money-wise, I wasn't interested. That's just the way the committee had agreed. That was very satisfactory for me. The committee agreed and that's the way we worked towards it. The government wouldn't agree to it for a long time. There were government conservatives, I don't know how long ago before, you know. That was a long time when you consider it was the centennial, when it was '88.
01:56:11.000
01:56:11.000
KF
Yeah, I was thinking about that I mean ...
RI
It was a long time. How many conferences did I go to? I was ostracized.
KF
So you attended quite a few conferences then?
RI
Oh, yes, many times. They won't have any roommates for me either because they felt I was going to influence the women delegates. That kind of thing went on. Oh, yes. I k
KF
Wow.
RI
I knew what they were doing but because the committee had agreed, I stood by it. I wasn't going to change it because I was happy with it. I think if I was on the borderline it would be different, likely, but I was quite happy with it. You see, seniors ... I never really experienced racism, too much, during my high school days or university days. Sure, you do once in a while but not in a great degree. There were some groups that always wanted to have a little TV and you'd get invited and they'd say “Everybody has their turn.” They'd say, “How was racism when you first came to Toronto?” type of thing. I said “I didn't have any” type of thing. I don't have any gripes in that sense, because I was a teenager, sure. I'm not too sure what would have happened if I had stayed in BC to begin with. The future didn't seem to be too bad.
KF
Well, maybe just to start wrapping up a little bit, overall, you've touched on this a little bit but when you look back at the uprooting and the internment, when you think about it, how did it affect your life going forward?
RI
Well, I always look at, and I don't think people want to hear it too often, but because I didn't really lose too much I felt I have gained. I don't know if I would have lived to be this age as well as I have, and live comfortably as I do at my age if I were to be in BC. It, sort of, opened up my life, to me, anyway. And because I was in JCCA as a president, I had to submit, you know, we submitted all kinds of briefs and things like that. So many organizations, you know. This Equality Now that we had submitted the thing to had that redress in it as a report from the government that that was approved. In other words, they said it's okay to have a redress.
KF
Interesting.
02:00:12.000
02:00:12.000
RI
Yes, and that was part of the ... It was a submission that we had made, that Toronto had made, because no one else would make it. So we had made a submission and from that outcome we even had met with three out of the Royal Commission people on it. They wanted to ask us questions. Three of us met. They seemed to be satisfied. When we got the final result of all the submissions and discussions, Equality Now came out and said “Okay.” That was one of the subjects we had part of that submission was redress.
KF
And ...
RI
So because I was very active I met a lot of ... I had to go to many conferences other than, you know, the JCCA conferences, many conferences. Some were interesting, some were very dull, some were mean laughs.
KF
A mixed basket then, I see.
RI
When you're all supposed to be culturally conscious, somebody will say to me “Are you Chinese?” I thought “I beg your pardon?” laughs. It's really amazing how some people come to these conferences and it's supposed to be for multiculturalism and they come and ask what you are laughs.
KF
Oh, dear. Not what you're expecting at these type of conferences.
RI
I guess people look at it as a difficult period but, oh well.
KF
So would you say your involvement with the JCCA, and all these conferences, was that your way to regroup with the Japanese Canadian culture afterwards?
RI
I never did. Toronto JCCA started the cultural center and because we're not really 100% cultural, we're part political, so we decided we cannot handle that so we passed it on to another group; just like Momiji was, same thing. I'm not that interested in culture. I'm interested in, sort of, a history type. Not really history but some aspects of it but not the actual function itself like the odori or things like that but I would like to hear speakers on the subject and give me more insight than just looking at somebody acting or doing ...
KF
Almost like a critical perspective on those topics.
RI
Yeah. I wish I was able to get around a lot more. I would go to some of them.
KF
Yeah.
RI
That's more interesting to me, yes.
KF
So those were the type of things that you pursued over, say, people who are interested in the cultural aspect and so on and so forth.
RI
You know, because I was living with a family and I was committed to some degree I didn't spend a lot of time with everybody. To me, I felt the one thing I could do to give to the community was give my time to the JCCA. That's what I did. I learned a lot being in the organization because when I was appointed to the Ontario Multiculturalism and Immigration Council to advise the premier, being in an organization and learning an awful lot about organizations it really helps to, you know, be part of those kind of groups, yes.
KF
Yeah, I could imagine how that would be very helpful especially with such a large thing like the redress and all that other stuff.
RI
Yeah, a lot of political stuff we learned during redress. That's really something. This is why people say “What are you reading?” I say, “Political stuff.”
KF
What do you think about, you know, we're looking at current times now, what do you think the younger generations know about the internment and the uprooting and the redress settlement? How do you feel about current knowledge and the dissemination of this history to younger generations?
RI
I'm not sure how well they're doing it. I haven't kept up on it. You see, after the Toronto JCCA finished I decided I didn't want to do any more volunteering or getting interested in any organization whatsoever. I would volunteer if I wanted, like, you know, I used to go to the cultural center. I felt that was my contribution and leave it at that. I will do that to other organizations. I will help out when they need me but not on a regular basis, yes. I don't want to do any more laughs.
KF
Okay, well, final question. If you could pass on a message to future Canadians, because this interview will be archived and shared with others down the road, do you have a message you'd like to pass on about this history and your life and your experiences to future Canadians?
RI
Well, everybody will have their interpretation of what their goals are but if you can contribute to any organization or the community, in some way, I think you have done a good job of some sort because what you give to the community you give back in some sort. Sometimes it's enjoyment, sometimes it's credit, sometimes it's something else but you do give back and you yourself know you have done the best you could do and I feel that that's my contribution and I've done what I can do. I'm satisfied with that.
KF
Great.
RI
So I think that everybody should really try to contribute something in their lifetime.
KF
Wonderful, thank you so much.
RI
Oh, you're welcome.
02:06:49.000

Metadata

Title

Ritsuko Inouye, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 11 September 2015

Abstract

Ritsuko Inouye discusses her life before the internment era and how her family moved to many different places in British Columbia such as Victoria, Haney, and Vancouver. She describes the actions her family took during the internment era such as moving to Greenwood prior to the forced uprooting and then the decision to move to Ontario. Ritsuko describes the role of various types of education, such as learning about farming, canning, and obtaining a degree, in her life after the internment era. Lastly, Ritsuko discusses her role in the redress movement and the internal politics of the movement. Ritsuko focuses on her life before and after the internment era as she explains in great detail about her life in British Columbia before Pearl Harbour and about her life in Ontario following her family’s decision to move east. She discusses her own feelings towards her Japanese cultural heritage. Ritsuko describes how her mother owned a dress making business, which was lost during the internment era, and her mother’s efforts to restart this business in Ontario. She discusses the impacts of the internment era policy as she witnessed families separated, communities separated, and local dialects dispersed.

Credits

Interviewee: Ritsuko Inouye
Interviewer: Kyla Fitzgerald
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario
Keywords: Steveston ; Greenwood ; Steveston Japanese; Pearl Harbour ; education; Catholic Church ; dress making; odori ; cooking; farming; Redress ; racism; JCCA ; Haney ; Vancouver ; Powell Street ; POW; British Columbia ; Ontario ; food; culture; identity; sanitarium; friends; archery; 1930s – 1990s

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.