Akemi Kobayashi, interviewed by Alicia Fong, 24 August 2015

Akemi Kobayashi, interviewed by Alicia Fong, 24 August 2015

Abstract
Akemi spoke about her family’s history of migrating to Canada and her own childhood experiences in Toronto. There was a reluctance to speak about what happened during World War II in her family until her (ex) husband began a project in the 1980s. Her family’s silence about such a major occurrence in their lives is not uncommon among Japanese Canadian families. She would like to contribute to our project to send the message of not forgetting about this unjust history.
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Alicia Fong (AF)
This is Alicia Fong on August 24th, 2015 for the Landscapes of Injustice project. I am here with Akemi Kobayashi at Ryerson University to conduct our first interview together. recorder being moved So Akemi, um can you tell me first about where you lived as a child?
Akemi Kobayashi (AK)
Well I grew up in Toronto with two younger brothers and um, we pretty much lived in the one family home until I got married. And my parents are from the West Coast, they were born in Vancouver.
AF
And can you describe your childhood home a bit more or um, the address as well or the neighbourhood?
AK
It was basically, I think a working class area and it wasn’t what it’s now known as Leslieville, and it’s become really quite um, a desired section of Toronto. And it’s interesting because my son now lives in that same area that I grew up in, but it’s been totally gentrified and as I said, it’s like sort of a, his demographics which is you know, 30s. Uh that’s an area that seems to be um, one that age group kind of gravitates towards, convenient, close to downtown, all the services. So when I was growing up I went to school, high school, public school were all in that same area.
AF
Uh, so what did you for fun as a child?
AK
Both my brothers and I were really physically, athletically involved. So just all kinds of sports. I studied piano and dance, um and there were a lot of neighbourhood kids that was sort of like a community. It was kind of like a very safe area growing up.
AF
And who did you socialize with?
AK
It was mostly the neighbourhood kids and um this, my public school was just the next street over, so there were a lot of kids in the neighbourhood, especially during the summer holidays and school holidays.
AF
Can you tell me about the kind of work your family was involved in?
AK
My father was, worked in the drycleaning business and my mother was a stay-at-home mother, wife until I was 16. And then she went to work for the provincial government in a, an office clerical position.
AF
Um, I’m not sure if you know about your family history, but why did your family decide to move to Canada?
AK
Well, it was my maternal grandparents that came from Japan and then they settled in Vancouver. So what little I know about my, I don’t know my father’s family at all. My father was born here as I said, but when he was five he had two younger siblings and my father, my paternal grandfather died unexpectedly in an accident and those were the days when there was no social safety network. And so I think as a single parent, his mother um, sent my father by himself at that age to live with relatives that he had never even met in Japan. And it’s actually mind-boggling to think that you would send such a young child to go by ship, which took, I think about a month and a half. Um, so as I said I didn’t know my father’s family. Yes, his sister and brother um, my aunt and uncle, yes I knew them but not my father’s parents.
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AK
And my mother’s father was very entrepreneurial. He came in, to Canada in the late 1800s. And it was remarkable because I don’t think he spoke any English when he arrived in Canada, but growing up he spoke English flawlessly without any trace of accent. And um, my mother’s parents lived with us until I was about 10. So even though I didn’t grow up speaking Japanese like my brothers, um we especially me being the oldest, I think that just hearing my parents speak with their parents, I had an ear for it. So when I actually went to Japan after university, even though I couldn’t speak it, I did learn to get quite conversational after a few months because I think my ear was already attuned to it. And um, so I’m not, I think my mother’s family came to Toronto after the war, so probably about 1946.
AF
Sorry, that was uh, your mother and ... ?
AK
My mother and her siblings and her parents.
AF
And so going to back your father, um so he was born in Canada and then sent back to Japan?
AK
Right.
AF
Oh.
AK
And then when he came back, he was about nineteen and um, didn’t speak English any longer. And that was, you know the, I think he came just around the time of um, the outbreak of the war. Maybe just shortly before that. But my parents really never talked about their uh, their past. It was sort of just bits and pieces that you would pick up but I think that the war time experience was something that came out as I said, during the redress movement in mid-late 80s and it was because of my ex-husband, who was very interested in um, not only the Japanese Canadian experience of that time, but specifically regarding my parents. My mother really never opened up, my father gradually. Um, so that was when I was learning for the first time about my, my own parents’ experiences of that time.
AF
Um, and did your parents talk about uh, adjusting to life in Canada at all?
AK
Well my mother was, as I said, she was born in Vancouver, uh she was bilingual, and... She basically as I said, wasn’t a case of uh, adjusting so much, um because she was already from here, raised here. Um, and yeah. My father, you know it was basically of that generation too, like you just uh, accept things for how they were, didn’t dwell on the past and it was more like the present and the future. I know that I don’t think they were exceptional in that they wanted the best for their children, and they also had very high expectations and standards. So, um my brothers and I were good students, we excelled, we were fully engaged at school, not only just academically but in sports and music and for me, music and drama.
AF
And for your father adjusting back to Canada?
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AK
Um, just... I think he just accepted whatever. Had great spirit, hard working, kind, gentle, just growing up, my father had, when we were younger, he had three jobs. So we basically hardly ever saw him. Um, and as I said, my mother was the stay-at-home, but even then to um, help with mortgage payments, she did piecework in the garment industry. And I can remember her sitting in the kitchen sewing fingers on gloves, if you can imagine how little that paid, but basically looking after the three children. We were between us, there’s three years, um between me and my next brother and three years between the two brothers.
AF
Um, so you attended school in Leslieville?
AK
Mmhmm. In Toronto, right. So public school was you know, the school adjacent, the next street over. And then high school was Riverdale Collegiate. And uh, all of us went there, my two brothers and me. I went to U of T and my uh, older of the two brothers went to McMaster. And then my youngest brother is a neurologist at Sick Kids.
AF
And what was life like at school?
AK
Um... pause Uh, pretty normal I think. Um, just the school and I think being the oldest and being the only daughter, uh I think my mother relied on me to sort of help with the domestic stuff. Very gender-based, right? Because I don’t remember my brothers laughs um, being as involved. But very fam, you know that was the time when families had meals together, and Sunday meals were always a big family ordeal. Um, so uh lots of cooking. Family members, my mother’s uh, that was one of five children and she was the oldest, with a twin brother, um of the five kids. So we had my mom’s family over all the time, regularly and as I said, my mother’s parents lived with us until I was ten.
AF
Um, are there any um, special objects that you remember in your childhood or growing up, um like favourite toys, clothes, cars, books?
AK
I loved my mother’s clothes and jewelry because she had very elegant taste and... In fact, she was an incredible dressmaker. So growing up, it sounds funny now but she would make all of our clothes. She made suits, dress suits for my brothers, my winter coats, but I didn’t really appreciate it growing up. I wanted to go to a store like most kids, you know? And now I wish I had some mementos of uh, what my mother had um, made us. But yeah, I loved the way my mother dressed, I loved her jewelry. Um and uh, yeah I think um, just as I said, she just had very uh, elegant taste. And when she was growing up in Vancouver, um she ended up working, I think just prior to the outbreak of the war, for British families because Vancouver was very, very English. And uh, she was always so grateful that the family or the families that she worked for never treated her as, you know, hired help, like some of my mother’s friends who worked in the same domestic capacity, would have to eat separate from the family she said, and that was something that she didn’t have to do. And I think that was important to my mother, like status and um, respect.
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AF
So your mother uh, was working as a domestic worker before?
AK
Yeah, I think she worked in the factory like what happened with her four siblings, as I said my mother was the oldest with a twin brother and my uncle Dave was injured in a sawmill accident. He um, had to have his one leg amputated and his recovery was actually in Montreal. So I think a huge respons, weight of responsibility fell on my mother’s shoulders because as I said, her father was very entrepreneurial and I’m gathering that sometimes things were really ok and sometimes probably they were quite difficult. So in that sense, that insecurity I think around just stability and financial stability probably did affect my mother.
AF
And did your mother talk much about growing up in Vancouver?
AK
She seemed to have a lot of friends, she loved bringing out the photographs, black and white photographs. Um, my mother was very beautiful, um atypical in that she was tall. Um, yeah seemed to be very athletic, had a lot of friends, um and I can only gather and remember this because a lot of this was just through the photographs and the way she would just react when she would be talking about that particular friend or whatever. Um, and she did talk a little bit about when they were in internment camp, but it almost seemed like she, it wasn’t a hardship. She was able to work, she worked in a bakery, um while interned and in some ways it seemed idyllic. I had no idea, you know this situation, the circumstances, what the living situation was like. Um...
AF
And that’s all that she mentioned about the internment camp?
AK
Yeah, she never really opened up too much about it. I’m not even sure how I found out, or where I heard it from, but uh the camp that she and her family were sent to was flooded out. So it doesn’t exist any, anymore, I think it was Minto. Minto, Minto mines. And I understand now that it was um, for families who were self-supporting, in other words that you had your own income and you didn’t need government subsidy. But I think it came at a time when my fath, my grandfather was you know in a failed business situation, I told you it was kind of cyclical. Good times, difficult times, so I think that I can only imagine that it must have been very difficult for my mother and her family because they didn’t have the resources to really be in that kind of situation and that particular camp. So never heard about this from my mother, um and I think that that’s one reason that she really... It was so important for her in terms of being independent and not being reliant on anyone and that’s kind of like a big um, common thread I think, that was uh the message growing up. Take care of yourself, do well, um just don’t bring shame onto the family.
AF
And did your grandparents talk about it at all?
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AK
No, um my grandfather died when I was in grade four. Um, but he used to come once a week for lunch. Um and those were the days when I would come home for lunch from school, because I was in elementary school and it was just a five minute walk from school to home. So he was, and my mother was really, again of that generation, culture, she would always have this lovely lunch for when her father, my grandfather came. And he came once a week for uh, several years.
AF
Uh, do you know where in Vancouver that she lived, used to live?
AK
I don’t, but there was a Japantown there, Hastings Street. I really don’t know. I don’t know.
AF
In Japantown, you think?
AK
Could be.
AF
Ok. Um, can you describe whether you identified as Japanese Canadian in your early life?
AK
I, I guess it’s mostly because when I was growing up there were... Toronto was not multicultural like it is now. And so at our schools, my brothers and my schools’, we were like maybe one of two or three Asian families. I don’t even think there were other Chinese students or other Asians. It was one or two other Japanese families whose kids went to school with us. Um, growing up I would say my mother loved everything British, and I think that was just the influence of working for these families and living in Vancouver. And every Sunday until I was in my early teens, we would have a very traditional British, uh Sunday dinner. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, she, my mother was an incredible cook and baker, so several different kinds of cakes and pastries and pies. Both my parents were fantastic cooks and my father um, as we got older would do the Japanese food. And then my brothers and I got older, that’s really what we wanted. So I don’t know growing up that I really, I mean I knew I was Japanese, uh heritage but I don’t know, I didn’t always just self-identify as Japanese. It was mostly other people making you know, those bizarre comments back then about speaking English so well or how long have I been here. Um, and even to this day, I still get those kinds of comments.
AF
And did your family do anything in particular to celebrate your background?
AK
Every New Year’s, it was a big celebration of Japanese traditional New Year’s um, celebration. My parents would literally plan like two weeks in advance, you’d have to in order to pick up all the ingredients from the Japanese store. And then it was a lot of uh, cooking and preparation, and family members and neighbours and friends would be popping over the entire day. And at the end of the day we would go to my grandmother’s and my grandmother lived with an aunt and uncle, one of her sons and daughter-in-laws. So that was, that was really a tradition that all throughout my um, childhood and right up until my mother died, uh we celebrated New Year’s. And I carried on that tradition for many years after, because when my mother died my father came to live with us so, and I was married at the time and had a young child. pause They went to the Buddhist temple here, the Japanese temple and uh, coughs would help out with various functions at the temple. They weren’t regular attendees but you know, for special events they would go there. pause When my mother died, my father um, actually became very involved at the temple.
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AF
And that’s the Japanese Buddhist temple? Here?
AK
Yes.
AF
Ok. Can you describe whether you were aware of racism in your community growing up?
AK
It was very multi, um, it was um. We had neighbours, there was a Portuguese family, there was um, Anglo Saxon, not.. I would say no. pause We were welcome to their houses, and um vice versa. So these same neighbours, friends, they would come on New Year’s Day as well and uh, I think that was probably something where it was the first time that they were maybe introduced to just Japanese food.
AF
And in school?
AK
I don’t recall at all ever experiencing racism or racial comments. I think it was just because of the neighbourhood and um, the, as I said it was um, pretty much a working class uh, neighbourhood. So no, and plus as kids, my brothers and I we were so involved, like at school as I said, not only just with the academic part, but um, the sports. Both my brothers were really good athletes.
AF
Well, um can you tell me what you know about what happened in World War II?
AK
Uh again, I guess I just really growing up, didn’t know that much and um pause when I really first became involved, or knowing about it was during the Redress movement. I mean, I knew about Japan and United States had war, um but it was in the 80s when my father opened up a little bit. He talked about being in a POW camp in uh, Wawa and uh, was there for about three or four years. The uniform that they had to wear with the red target on the back of their um, their uniforms. Um, and then he talked about when he was granted a special permit to come to Toronto because the Minister of Immigration had heard my father uh, give a eulogy. And this Immigration minister was really quite moved, according to my father. And had said, if he ever wants to come to Toronto, and at that time you needed a special permit, uh to please let him know. And my father was able to come to Toronto and he did experience of course, all the, the racial bias and um, racism. He said he didn’t get, he couldn’t be served in restaurants, um had a difficult time finding even accommodations to rent. And in 45, I think that he was talking about the winters and the snow was like 3 feet, 4 feet high and there he was with his little suitcase, trying to just find somewhere to rent. And he was talking about going up and down streets and this was in, on McCaul Street. And it’s ironic because he um, was knocking on the door exhausted and he said this man with um, which is now it was probably an Orthodox older Jewish man, because he had the payots and the yarmulke.
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AK
When the man uh, saw my father he said it was such an act of kindness, he will never forget it. The man invited him in, he had, this gentleman had his wife bring tea and did rent my father a room. In irony of ironies, I married a Jewish uh um, guy. pause So he was able to get, my father was able to find a job with a Japanese farmer in King City and absolutely hated the work. Hard, hard work, get up early um, and I think he did that for about a year and then my mother and her family were coming from Vancouver. And unbeknownst to me, I only found out in the 80s that it had been an arranged marriage. Um, my mother never, it was my grandmother who never spoke English, hardly ever spoke period. And it was at a family uh, dinner at our place when my grandmother mentioned something about, “I feel so sorry for your mother.” And I thought she was just free associating and I, when she repeated it, I asked her and that’s when it came out that she said something to the effect, “your mother never really wanted um, to marry.” And when I asked my mother about that, she was absolutely stunned and said then she didn’t want to talk about it. So, we never did.
AF
So your father was in Vancouver as well for the war?
AK
Well, yes he was born there. Yeah, and then went there. And then he came here, I’m not sure what brought him to Ontario. Oh no, that was the war and being um sent to the POW camp, yeah.
AF
Did your, I don’t know if you would know, but did your mother and father meet before the war?
AK
No, I think they only met here because uh, you know it was not uncommon to have arranged marriages and they had something called an omiai. This is like a go, a go between who would, I guess a broker between the families. Um, about setting up a meeting and whatever. I’m not sure if they actually ever met before my mother and her family came here.
AF
Would you know why your father was giving the eulogy at the POW camp?
AK
No, I don’t know. But as I said, he was that kind of, yeah that kind of um, personality and sweetness to him. Um, probably people gravitated towards him and um, and then when asked to do something like that, he would always step up to the plate.
AF
And so you found out from your grandmother um..?
AK
About the arranged marriage, mhm.
AF
And did she tell you more about it?
AK
My grandmother?
AF
Yes.
AK
As I said she hardly ever talked and I do think that she was probably just kind of free associating at that point, right? So it just kind of came out and then yes, no further discussion about it at all.
AF
And um, do you know about how life changed during the war for your family?
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AK
I, I really don’t know. I think uh it was um, as I said my grandparents, maternal grandparents stayed with us until I was ten. And uh then they were able to get a place, um my grandparents with their youngest son and his wife. And it was really in the same neighbourhood as where I grew up.
AF
Was that, that’s after the war?
AK
Mhm.
AF
Ok. And so there wasn’t much talk about, um going to the internment camps or..?
AK
Nothing. Nothing. Um, I think it, it was just uh, probably not uncommon really, you know. Just get on with life and...
AF
Besides um, the story your father had about the Jewish man, um was there any other um, other non-Japanese Canadians that were mentioned in the process, uh during the war?
AK
No. No and after his stint farming, with this Japanese um farm land owner, farmer land owner, he ended up, my father ended up working for a Japanese drycleaner owner who owned, really I think it was the biggest drycleaning plant in Toronto. And he pretty much stayed there until that business closed down, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 years later.
AF
Have you heard about any stories about um, from other Japanese Canadians about um, World War II or um, other families, um who were in the internment camps?
AK
No, I would say that um, I really didn’t mingle with uh, you know, other sansei or third generation Japanese Canadians. I didn’t go to Japanese um, youth groups or the temple, um my mother actually wanted me to uh, start going to some of these um, temple, youth things. And uh, out of obligation I went but I have to say that I didn’t, I didn’t like it and I didn’t um, I don’t think I went more than once or twice. So, no.
AF
So you didn’t um, have so many Japanese Canadian friends growing up?
AK
No, as I said it wasn’t, there weren’t many in my neighbourhood and just a couple other families that went to my schools. Um, so no, and I didn’t really seek them out either. I think I just wanted like uh, a lot of us, uh just wanted to fit in, blend in, not be I mean, obviously we’re a visible minority and identifiable, but I just, I think it was just a case of uh, wanting to be uh, one with, with uh the others.
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AF
And, I guess um, from your mother or father or their family, um did they talk about anything that they missed or um, from their childhood or um, growing up?
AK
Uh, I would say definitely no. Um, but I guess I realized as an adult, a young adult about my mother, I, I wished that she had opportunities that were presented to me, you know, as a different generation, a different time. Because, uh she really was um, ahead of her time. Uh, her interests, her uh drive, her always trying to improve herself, whether it was through taking classes or um, so I think that just, yeah. Her, her, her generation, the time, the responsibilities as I said being the oldest and um, I think a lot of demands probably or expectations, and so yeah, she didn’t have choices like I did or subsequent generations. Um, but she never, my parents weren’t complainers, they you know, didn’t dwell on the past and uh, sort of the injustices. I think it, if they felt it, they never shared it with us, they never let it drag them down. If anything, I’d have taken away from my parents is just that kind of, I don’t know, enthusiasm and uh, just positive, positiveness.
AF
Um, what do you think uh, younger generations know about the internment? I guess that’s Japanese Canadian generations.
AK
I guess it really just, it’s like across the board about any political spectrum. I don’t know, I don’t think - um, maybe a little bit more. I don’t, I’ve got a 30-year-old son, uh whose father as I said, was part of doing this photo documentation. Um, but I don’t think he really even knows that much um, so I don’t think he’s that exceptional in his limited knowledge. Maybe it’s also a lack of um, interest, um. When my son was only two, when his, when my mother died and my father died uh, almost three years after my mother, but during that time my dad did live with us and it was the best time because it, I think all of us were grieving because my mother’s death was very unexpected and sudden. And uh, my son was only two at the time, as I said so just good medicine all the way around, um being together, my father having his family around him and particularly his adored, and at that time, only grandson. So um, yeah. So I don’t know, I can’t speak, yeah I just know within my own family, I don’t, I have uh, two nieces and a nephew and I really I think, don’t, they don’t know very much about this pause chapter in their family’s life and history.
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AF
And for yourself, um, have you tried to look into your family’s history at all, uh for your, for your own information?
AK
There’s nobody around, that’s the thing, to ask. You know my grandfather, as I said, died when I was in grade four, I didn’t know my father’s side of the family. Um, his two siblings have been gone for quite some time. And all of my mother’s family is, is gone as well and in terms of my cousins, I think they probably know even less than I do. So...
AF
Do you wish that you could’ve asked them?
AK
Uh, I, well I could’ve, even if I wanted to, I don’t know how forthcoming. Especially my mother, she was very, very private in that regard. It’s, to some extent I think both my parents uh, were maybe representative um, of this, that generation. Just oh, the past is the past, what can you do, um. I think the thing that I’m most um, impressed with with my parents, and I think a lot of their generation that went through this wartime experience and the horrors of it all was that they never were bitter and negative and ...
AF
Uh, in what ways uh, does your family remain connected to Japanese culture?
AK
Um, food laughs. And um, my son actually is uh doing uh, martial arts. And he’s, something that he’s uh, taken up relatively recently but when he was young, I had him in Japanese language school, I did have him in um, judo and karate but it didn’t resonate for him then. And he does regret that he didn’t stick with the Japanese. Um, but uh he did go to Japan, he’s married now and with my daughter-in-law they went to Japan a couple of years ago and met up with my very first English student from my time in Japan and Katsuko’s two daughters. And so, I’m going to Japan next year after, since 1970 to 72 I was in Japan and I haven’t been back since. Um, but I’m going next year to see my friend and um, my kids will come with me for a period of time. I might go for a month and my son and daughter-in-law will come and join me for about two weeks. So a little bit, um, my as I said, my son is doing a form of Japanese martial arts and uh, uh doesn’t speak the language. I mean, intermarriage amongst the Japanese Canadians is like, almost a hundred percent, right? So, my son is married to someone who’s half Scottish and Italian and um, I, I don’t know that they don’t have uh, especially my son, he doesn’t have really, any strong connection other than what I’ve mentioned.
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AF
Uh, if you could pass a message to future Canadians, what would that be?
AK
To my, to future Canadians?
AF
Yep.
AK
About, what do you mean?
AF
Um, about I guess um, the internment perhaps or about the history uh, what they should learn about it, or whatever you want laugh.
AK
I don’t know. Um, I don’t uh, I really strongly identify being of Japanese heritage. I’m proud of my, um, um, my cultural background. I’m very grateful to my parents, um but it’s funny. I speak French and um, and after university I had this wonderful opportunity to travel through Europe with a girlfriend, we graduated together. So those were the days when it was safe and free and cheaper and whatever. And I have to say I feel French, not Japanese. I love the culture, the French culture, the arts, um there’s parts of France that I love to spend time in. So, yeah I mean I don’t know a lot about, as I said what happened during the, my parents and the Japanese Canadian, American experience. So, not to forget, I think that’s important.
AF
Is there anything else you would like to add that we didn’t cover perhaps?
AK
Um, I don’t think so. I think obviously this project is in keeping with this fight, don’t forget and whatever new light or personal light I think from individual experiences, um is necessary. But I don’t personally seek it out um, I uh, I mean there’s lots of history books that you can um, get facts and information but this is more on a personal level and maybe that might be uh, interesting to really understand firsthand the impact. I mean, when I hear about the confiscation of properties that was never returned, um it’s a, it’s a very egregious and um, really criminal. Um, and that there was no retribution for that except for the $20,000 compensation which pause makes you know, it’s not at all in keeping, with I think the scale of the losses. And it’s not just financial, it’s, it’s just everything, your livelihood, the property on Saltspring Island, the fishing uh fleets, uh the uprooting, um the indignation and uh I don’t know the, the impact because I think as my family might be indicative of just never having gone into any of this detail. And uh, I don’t know, I think the, who knows what the, the impact of all of that was, uh you know, because when you do go through something like, like that uh, I think the scarring is there for a long time and you don’t know, um. Is it as a result of that, um so.
AF
Actually, um before we end, I am curious as well, um do you think the redress during that time was part of why some of these stories came out during that time in your family?
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AK
Yeah, and but it was with a lot of encouragement on my ex’s part, my husband’s part. He was curious, he wanted to know. My mother, as I said, was always reluctant and absolutely um, typical in not talking about it. My father, slowly started to open up but I think that was a climate of opening up. I mean, it was on, the apology by Mulroney and other members of the Japanese Canadian community that were speaking up and spearheading it and so, I think it made it um, maybe easier, more acceptable, uh ok to talk about it. Um, so.
AF
And I’m not sure, but were you involved with the redress at all?
AK
No, I’m not as someone that, that’s why it’s kind of funny that I’m doing this but I think it’s partly because of Momoye as a connection laughs. Um, no, no and uh I’d have to say yeah, I’m not someone who’s an activist in that regard. I appreciate everything that they have done and are continued to do but, yeah I’m more of a um, somebody on the sidelines or back of the, back of the line. laughs
AF
Maybe a cheerleader? laugh
AK
I was a cheerleader actually in high school and in university laughs. Yes.
AF
And so your ex, um asked about this for his exhibition or it was..?
AK
He wanted to, uh did he do a book? I know there was a photo exhibit and he literally went right across Canada. Um, pretty amazing. He had so many people that had no, that were willing to participate and being, having their portraits taken. And uh, I think it’s because being Jewish and you know, the Holocaust and even though he was born, his father is Canadian, his mother is British. It was kind of like a war bride. So I think that that drew uh, you know, the similarities in terms of persecution and uh, yeah that’s what really I think he was uh, what kind of spurred him on to taking on this project and um, asking questions.
AF
Alright. Um, there’s any, unless there’s anything else then I think..
AK
I hope it was worthwhile laughs, I didn’t have a lot of insight and uh, knowledge, and information so.
AF
That’s fine, but I think it’s representative like you said, um of other Japanese families too.
AK
Yes, I think so it’s interesting because the area where I live, um there are quite a number of Japanese, um third generation like me. Um, but whose parents live there and in fact, somebody stopped me um, he was just walking through the neighbourhood and he said, he had heard this was uh, a very, a number of Japanese families lived in this neighbourhood. And I guess, I don’t know why but there are. So it’s funny I find myself in that neighbourhood laughs, quite by chance.
AF
Yeah. Alright, well thank you Akemi!
AK
Thank you Alicia. Yeah, and good luck with your project.
AF
Thank you.
00:59:26.000

Metadata

Title

Akemi Kobayashi, interviewed by Alicia Fong, 24 August 2015

Abstract

Akemi spoke about her family’s history of migrating to Canada and her own childhood experiences in Toronto. There was a reluctance to speak about what happened during World War II in her family until her (ex) husband began a project in the 1980s. Her family’s silence about such a major occurrence in their lives is not uncommon among Japanese Canadian families. She would like to contribute to our project to send the message of not forgetting about this unjust history.

Credits

Interviewer: Alicia Fong
Interviewee: Akemi Kobayashi
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Ryerson University Student Learning Centre Study room
Keywords: internment; POW camp; racism; Japanese Canadian identity; Jewish; payots; yarmulke; omiai; food; late 1800s, 1930 to present

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.