Tom Matsui, interviewed by Heather Read and Elena Kusaka, 07 April 2015 (1 of 2)

Tom Matsui, interviewed by Heather Read and Elena Kusaka, 07 April 2015 (1 of 2)

Abstract
In the multi part interview, Tom discusses his memories and family stories related to prewar life in Japantown, Vancouver, time in self-supporting camp in Lillooet BC, and his move to Ontario after the war. Sound quality on the interview is not ideal; the interview took place in a seminar room at the JCCC, and there was considerable noise overhead. There are also several interruptions in the recordings as people come in to talk with the interviewers. Tom talks about a bicycle shop that his family had in Japantown in detail and tells a strong anecdote about hiding in the shop on Halloween evenings to avoid race related violence in Vancouver.
00:00:00.000
Heather Read (HR)
Okay so first off, this is Heather Read here with Tom Matsui on April 7th, 2015, at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and we are here to talk about the Landscapes of Injustice Project. And Elena will start filming whenever she's ready. ███████
HR
And you, for the rest of this stuff, share as much as you are comfortable interested in sharing. Birthplace?
Tom Matsui (TM)
Birthplace, Vancouver B.C.
HR
Vancouver, and when were you born?
TM
1927, February the second
HR
19, 1927.
TM
A little while ago laughs.
HR
February second. Do you have a partner, children or grandchildren?
TM
Yes, my wife's still alive, we've been married 62 years this year.
HR
Wow.
EK
True love!
TM
I'm lucky. No! Just lucky.
EK
Just lucky?
TM
Yea.
HR
And did you have any children or grandchildren?
TM
Four
HR
Four children. And any grandchildren?
TM
Four.
HR
Wow congratulations!
TM
One's getting married in August!
HR
Aw.
TM
Yeah.
HR
That's very exciting, and your occupations?
TM
My occupation? I'm retired.
HR
What did you do before you retired? You were a historian?
TM
I was a professional engineer, I worked at Dupont. And if you drive a car, you have a nylon airbag. I was in charge of the nylon spinning machine.
EK
Wow, really? That sounds like a lot of responsibility.
TM
Hmm?
EK
That sounds like a lot of responsibility! It's a safety thing right?
TM
Yeah because I was the construction office sounds of camera equipment being set up throughout
HR
So, the spinning thread?
TM
Yeah.
HR
Wow.
TM
But the airbag depends on the weave. It's got to be airtight, when it, when it fires.
HR
Yeah.
TM
And when your head hit that bag it has to cushion it and it has to fall.
HR
Wow.
TM
That's the big trick in the design of the airbag.
HR
Yeah, wow.
TM
We only made the material though.
HR
Yeah, but the material has to be strong enough and soft enough too.
EK
Heather do you want to come sit around here maybe?
HR
Oh am I in the?
EK
Uh, no it's just that I need it this way .
HR
Ah. Gotcha. Movement of interviewer
HR
Hello! laughter So once we get going you won't even notice all of the recording things. It feels like a very artificial cup of tea right now that we're having. So, thank you for the wonderful... your wonderful speech, that is a wonderful context to our talk. And I might start by asking just a few questions about, about the speech and asking you to elaborate a bit more and then we have a couple more questions from, kind of, the Landscapes interviews. So, your father came to Canada in 1908? I'm curious a little bit more about why he would have made that, do you know why he decided to come here?
00:04:44.000
00:04:44.000
TM
It took me a long while to find out why because my father was a first born and first born in Japan inherent everything. Second son and younger don't get a thing. Why did the eldest son in the family immigrate to Canada? And I could never find out, until I did some research and apparently in 1906, Japan had a crop failure, rice crop failure and it was so bad, they started to lay off government employees. And I presume that since he was in construction when there's a Depression, what goes first? Construction. So apparently from the story my mother tells me, he went to Singapore, then to Hawaii, then he probably wanted to head into the States, but around that time they started to clamp down on Japanese immigration. So he came to Canada and he was lucky enough to find a job. And, I guess he was smart enough and he got into mill-writing which is looking after the sawmill machinery and that's the apparently again - I'm researching the Hastings mill where he worked. It expanded from 1908 to 1914, where it reached the maximum size. So during that period, I think he brought his two brothers over to help him and so. That's the only thing I know that I can research. My mother never told me why he came. And of course my father died when I was 12 so I don't know anything about it.
HR
Yeah, so what then, your mother came, your mother came a little bit later?
TM
She was married in 1912, I think if you look it up.
HR
Yeah it says 1912 here and the Hikone... just for my pronunciation?
TM
Hikone.
HR
Hikone, is that in Japan?
TM
Pardon?
HR
Is that in Japan?
TM
Yes it's in the middle of Japan, it's a little bit North of Kyoto which is, what used to be the capital of Japan. And she was a school teacher, but anyway, she was quite a bit younger then he was when they got married.
HR
So did they meet through... I wasn't entirely sure, you have “he had sent photographs back to Japan for the marriage arrangers” but do you know, did he meet your mother through a marriage arrangement?
TM
I have no idea
HR
You don't know?
TM
I have no idea except, because most of the males would send their photographs back to their town or village or whatever, and the families would know that person, like my father. And it's no different than today. An arranged marriage.
HR
Yeah that's true. Yeah.
TM
And that's becoming popular because in Canada and the US they have all of these eHarmony or whatever.
HR
That is true.
TM
Meeting. You go to an arranger.
HR
Yup, I met my husband through an online dating service actually.
TM
So? I mean now, it's the same thing as way back when.
HR
Yeah.
TM
Anyway.
HR
Do you know, so your mom came in 1913, what, was she teaching right away or did she....
TM
Oh she had been teaching about two or three years, I have photographs of her. I have even a photograph of her from the late 1890s. You know, she was a teacher. In those days, if you graduated from high school then you went into teaching. Same here in the old days you went to Normal School, then senior matric, and then two years later you became a teacher. Now you have to get a bachelor or education.
HR
Some people get masters of education too! Do you do you know what your mom's first impressions were of Canada?
TM
Well I have no idea.
HR
Do you know what her later impressions were?
TM
Well Canada was her adopted home so. When the Canadian government in 1945, '46 made people sign back to go to Japan, there was no way she was going to go back to Japan.
HR
Really?
00:10:00.000
00:10:00.000
TM
So, the reason some of them went back, is because they came here like my father and they worked hard, they got a house, a farm and then they were reduced to nothing. They sold our property and then we had to live off that and by the time the war was finished like my wife's... father he went to road camp. And I guess he protested and then he was a trouble maker. So he was sent to the prisoner of war camp in Angler, so he did not see his family for four years. So and when he came out, he had a business before, but it had shrunk to exactly 100 dollars in the bank and that was all they had.
HR
Oh no, yeah.
TM
So people like that...
HR
Decided to come back.
TM
They were 20, 30 years and reduced to having just about nothing. They were discouraged and they would sign, they would go. One of the fellows there, his family came back and he came back, actually two volunteers there that went back to Japan. They had to go back because their parents went back, they came back though.
HR
Yeah, that's so interesting. And I guess your father also decided not to.
TM
My father became a citizen in 1914, okay? That's six years after. And at that time my mother says that the other people in Japantown said, “Why are you taking out citizenship?” Because you don't have vote, you don't have anything. But he did take out citizenship, so I dunno. He believed in this country too, I guess.
HR
Did, was he involved in the First World War at all?
TM
No, he was working in the mill.
HR
Okay.
HR
Okay. I love all of the photographs, the photograph of your family car and the beautiful house and because we do have this focus on property, I was wondering if you could reflect a little more about kind of the things that would have been in your childhood? Did you have a lot of toys? A lot of, what was kind of, can you paint a picture of what your family home would of been like on the inside?
TM
Well, in those days, there wasn't too many toys that you could buy so, my father actually made toys at the mill for the manager, and of course I got some of the toys but he made baseball bats out of a wooden leg and he would bring it home and I'm sure he would have provided those things to the mill managers family. So yeah in those days I'm sure that there weren't too many toys that you could buy, he made toys for his mill manager.
HR
And how about would he also make some furniture in your home?
TM
He made a Japanese bath!
HR
Oh! laughs Tell me about that, I don't know what a Japanese bath is actually.
TM
Well, a Japanese bath is, the tradition is, before you are going into a bath you actually wash yourself completely and then rinse yourself off and the only time you go into the bath is after you're completely clean.
HR
Oh that is very different.
TM
So that's the Japanese bath, family bath depending on the design of it. We, my father made a bath which had a galvanized, if you want to call it a fireplace, with a chimney coming out at the back. And then, a guard against, so that was a single family house and the other one we made in the ghost town or in Lillooet, was much simpler. It was square box with a galvanized bottom supporter by old axels from the car. And we just built a fire underneath in the stone fireplace with a chimney so the whole bottom was hot. So what you had was a floating platform. And then you got on the platform and then they rested on supports on the sides of the bath and then you took a bath, and that's what we had in Lillooet. We had that built.
00:15:00.000
00:15:00.000
HR
Did you, that's interesting to me, did you were there other things that you replicated from your home life in Lillooet?
TM
Well I, I wanted my mother not to, to have dirty water so I built her the filter and tap with running water.
HR
Yeah that's right, in the picture, that was the rain filter.
TM
I built her a filter and then drilled a hole in the cabin side so she had running water. For light we had Colman lanterns. And but at minus 40 degrees in the morning when you woke up there's no fire and it's cold.
HR
Yeah it's cold.
TM
You went to bed with long johns and toque and everything else.
HR
And where those clothing items, were you able to bring them with you or did you have to make in camp or did you have to buy in camp?
TM
No my, my mother was well prepared with winter clothing, because we could take everything I had a six foot hack saw and axes and shovels and rakes. And we took three bicycles. Those things you couldn't take to the internment camp. Because we paid our own way you could take even the cast iron kitchen wood stove, we took.
HR
How did you take all of that stuff?
TM
You just hired the people to take it and it was up by freight, but went there by freight.
HR
By train.
TM
Which my mother paid for.
HR
And you weren't, you would have traveled by train as well, you didn't get to take your car with you?
TM
No car, you didn't have any car, no radio, yeah. Supposedly no camera but I snuck my little cheapy little camera.
HR
So how old – I should actually - let me work out the math.
TM
I was when I moved I was 15. Yup.
HR
So, in here it mentions you got the camera right after you were 13.
TM
Yup.
HR
So what, so you'd be taking pictures, was there any instruction to that you had to leave the camera? People were confiscating cameras? How did you sneak it?
TM
Well, who wants a two dollar camera?
HR
That's true.
TM
They would have thrown it out in the garbage. If it was worth more camera they would have sold it. In those days my mother used to have, I don't know, a Brownie camera, you would look into it and you clicked. That's the one that Kodak produced and that's the thing that made photograph, photography popular.
HR
It's so wonderful that you have that camera with you in the camp because you've captured such lovely images of what life was like there.
TM
Well I have to sharpen a lot of them.
HR
Was photography a strong hobby for you throughout your youth?
TM
Well I got into photography because one of my brothers, older brothers friend wanted to upgrade his stuff and he sold me his trays and chemical balance and a contact printer. So that's how I got started and I said I would buy it providing he gave me instructions how to use it, how to mix chemicals. So that's how I got started.
HR
And what and you were in when you were in Lillooet you obviously maintained taking pictures were you able to develop and did you bring the chemicals and things like that with you as well?
TM
Yeah, I did. I had to use a flashlight to expose it though.
HR
And so for setting up a dark room because you described that it was a really small house that your family built.
TM
Well I just loaded the film under a bed cover and then I developed in a tank.
HR
Can you talk a little bit about your memories of time in Lillooet, I'm fairly new to this history so I'm interested to know if it was a happy time for you? Was it a hard time? Is that a complex thing for you to answer?
TM
For me it was frustrating because I could not complete my high school education, finished grade 10, and I did start correspondence course in Victoria. But you know when you do study by yourself you're you don't you don't get the incentive like if you were in a class. So I didn't do too much. Did the farming, and then I went to, to Vernon to pick apples and so on. So when my brother said, “You can come to Toronto” I jumped at the big chance and my older brother and I went there.
00:20:34.000
00:20:34.000
HR
Yeah, that was a question I wanted to ask about. Why, why did you was it for education reasons that you wanted to move to Toronto?
TM
Yes, and of course my, my next older brother he was able to finish, high school of commerce, he graduated in June. Then we went to Lillooet and he was ready to work.
HR
Right.
TM
For a year and a half we didn't do anything except go picking apples so he was ready to work, so he was ready to come to Toronto. I wanted to come to Toronto to finish off my education.
HR
How many brothers did you have?
TM
Five.
HR
Five, and that, the five brothers is all the children?
TM
Five and a younger sister.
HR
Okay. That's a large family for your mom to take care of.
TM
Oh yeah. As I said my mother had a hard time raising the family. 1932 when she was a widow, she was 40 and she had six kids to raise with no such thing as welfare in those days. She did a real nice job.
HR
And did you have other, did you have other family or did she have other family in Vancouver that she could rely on for support? Or was she...?
TM
Well don't forget brothers and sister, and eventually she brought over her older brother. And her younger sister.
HR
And when you moved to Lillooet did her family connections move there as well?
TM
No the other family went to Greenwood and my aunt was stuck in Japan, she went to visit Japan in 1941 and she was going to come back, and the next boat that never came.
HR
That never left.
TM
So she got stuck there in Japan and she really suffered.
HR
Was your mom keeping in touch with people or did you keep in touch with your aunts and uncles and cousins?
TM
Well not during the war time. Of course you couldn't communicate but after the war certainly.
HR
What, so how old were you, one of the stories that I wanted to pick out of your wonderful speech I guess, I'd love to hear a little more about how life was in a daily sense in Lillooet. I loved in particular that you dug out the basement to make a ping pong room. I'd like to hear a little more about....
TM
Well, I dug out the basement, and I used to play ping pong with Henry Tsuyuki.
HR
And that's
EK
's...?
EK
Grand uncle?
HR
Grand uncle.
TM
So anyway, and he also came because my mother was a Japanese school teacher, and like Henry Tsuyuki's mother wanted all her children to study Japanese so she sent all her children and including your...
EK
Grandma?
TM
Your mother's...
EK
Oh, grand... Hiroshi? Jim? Yoshizawa
TM
I think so, they all came to my, my mother taught them Japanese.
HR
And so she taught Japanese in Lillooet and you were speaking a little bit about what your education, the building of the school. Can you talk a little bit about....?
TM
As I said before when the evacuation took place, the provincial government would not supply education because they said we were moved because of national security and therefore it was responsibility of federal government to look after us and provide education the federal government said education is a provincial responsibility and they had nothing to do with it. So Lillooet built a one room school house and they used, actually three high school graduates to teach children.
00:25:29.000
00:25:29.000
HR
Would your brothers and sisters of gone to that?
TM
Pardon?
HR
Would your brothers and sisters of gone to that school?
TM
My sister went to the school and, I think in 45, the school, high school in Lillooet opened up and my sister went to the high school in Lillooet and I have pictures of her in high school. So yeah. Before they wouldn't let us in, but by '45 and I told you about all of the development that the Japanese provided for the town. Tomato farms and so on, we were welcomed into town, so quite a bit of difference from when we first landed there
HR
And so, can you tell me a little bit about what happened once, once Japanese Canadians were allowed to move back to the coast. What how did your family disperse, did you did people stay in Lillooet? You were obviously in Toronto eventually but...?
TM
Don't forget, the Canadian war with the Japanese didn't end in 1945, August of '45. They extended the war till first of April 1949.
HR
Right.
TM
We could not move back to the coast until 1st of April 1949. Right? And so, what was there for us to go back, our house was sold our businesses were gone. What was there? We had already established residence in Toronto since '43. There was no incentive for us to go back. Now, people in Lillooet, a lot of the farmers from Haney, they stayed till 1949 and then they moved back into farming. Like, her great uncle Tuka, when I went to visit him he was he had hot house tomato, like green house and he was growing poinsettias for Christmas, oh yeah. He was really back in the business eventually.
HR
Yeah sounds fabulous. Did your, did your whole family move to eventually move to Toronto by 1949?
TM
My, I'm, my two brothers came to the tobacco farm right, and that was the summer of '42 and then after that farming season was over and they were allowed into Toronto, so they came in, let's say '43. And then, November they had got permission for the youngest two to come out and so we came out in '43, and then that left my mother and youngest sister in Lillooet. The five brothers, four of us were here and one was in Montreal and...
HR
Of course she's coming...
TM
Going to join the family. So she came in 1945, November '45 so. That's how we became Easterners.
HR
Yeah, did you go back and visit ever? Like did you go back and visit old house or was it old friends?
TM
Ah I did. I did in 68, and then very recently my son went back and he was looking for that house 617 Powell Street. It's gone. And he was looking at it and taking a photograph and a fellow saw him and said “How come you're taking a photograph?” He says, “that was the site of my father's old house” and so this fellow said, he was maybe an owner of that new building that occupied the place and he said “Come on in, I'll show you the place!”
HR
Oh wow.
TM
So he went in and had a nice chat with the fella.
00:29:49.000
00:29:49.000
HR
Yeah. Huh, that's fabulous. That leads nicely into some of the questions that we, with the Landscapes research, want to touch on. One of the purposes of our research is to trace how the dispossession, the selling of things like your wonderful house, how that ripples through generations and what sorts of stories you've passed on through your children. So did, can you tell me...?
TM
Well my grandchildren are very interested.
HR
Are they?
TM
So are my nieces and nephews. I'm the family historian so, I've given them some of the stories. I'm still working on it. And I'm digitizing all the photos right now. I'll eventually give them things that they can look at.
HR
What sorts of things do they ask?
TM
Pardon?
HR
What sorts of things do they ask?
TM
Oh, just the same thing that you're asking, how come my father came, what did he do, what did we do, and so on. And my oldest brother was in the bicycle business because he inherited the business from my father when the mill shut down. He bought this bicycle business, 1929. Unfortunately he bought it in early 1929, and by October 1929 the Great Crash came. And then, another sad story is that dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1931and he died in '32, so. During that Depression it was a tough time for the family so, anyways. But after coming to Toronto my oldest brother ran that business bicycle business, he worked in the bicycle business as an employee and he eventually in 1946 he bought a bicycle business on College street and the and he ran it, oh '46 to... the early 2000s. 2002 I think. And then bicycle business is not very good. You buy a hundred dollar bicycle and you repair it and spend an hour on it...
HR
You don't need a new bicycle. Laughs.
TM
And you pay for the part, and for a hundred dollar bicycle you're going to have 25, 30 dollars repair. Nobody, nobody wants to go into that business. You don't mind, you take your car in and you spend a couple hundred times every time you go.
HR
Yeah that's true.
TM
And you don't bat an eyelash. But boy if you go to a bicycle shop and you say, “My children's bike needs 30 dollar worth of pay, it's only worth 100 dollars!” So it's not a very good business. You know what happened, it's funny, he would stamp his numbers on the bicycle at the bottom and he would only repair the bicycles he sold.
HR
Oh interesting, that is clever!
TM
He was clever. And he said, “If you bought the bicycle at Canadian Tire, go back to Canadian Tire and have it repaired.” It was funny!
HR
Hah, that's unfortunate because probably he'd do a better job than someone at Canadian Tire would.
TM
Well he was in the business for years.
HR
What now, now I'm just curious about your brothers, so there was the bicycle repair person, you did engineering, what did everyone else end up doing?
TM
Well, the two brothers, two oldest brother ran the bicycle business, the other graduated from the University of Manitoba, and there's a story about that one too because he was in second year UBC, okay. When the war started and I told you about all the able men being enrolled as Canadian officers in the beginning, and of course when Pearl Harbour started and he was considered an enemy and he was discharged. Well then he came East, and he went to summer school at Queen's hoping to get, get into third year in chemistry, and of course what happened was McGill, Queen's and Toronto would not accept Japanese Canadian students till after the war. We were discriminated by the three big universities. Fortunate for me I graduated, senior in 1946 when they finally opened up and I was one of the first ones to get into University of Toronto.
00:34:53.000
00:34:53.000
TM
So I had horseshoes, whereas my brother sent out application forms to McGill, Queens and Toronto and got rejected, but he had sent in an application form to University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and they took him. And you know it if you study history they should have been the ones reading the discriminating against the Japanese because half the garrison in Hong Kong was from Winnipeg. A lot of the Winnipeg young men were captured or killed at Hong Kong.
HR
Yeah, one of our researchers is from Winnipeg and she's been talking about that a bit.
TM
So, they should have been discriminating against Japanese, but they're the ones that took my brother in, so.
HR
That's a lovely story actually, huh. You mentioned the racial discrimination actually and that was one question I missed about your childhood. Before Pearl Harbour happened had you noticed, had you experienced racism?
TM
Yes, very much so. Because from very early we had a bicycle shop, okay? So, every Halloween a bunch of young, young white people would gather at the Georgia Street Bridge and they would walk down Main Street from Georgia Street to Hastings. Hastings was in Chinatown, and they would vandalize the stores you know, and then they would march from Hastings to Powell Street, which is Japantown. And so every Halloween they would kick the fruit stands and all kinds of you know little vandalism, and they walked past the police station. Did they stop them? No! They looked the other way. They were just having a little fun. And so my brothers every Halloween would stay in the store armed with baseball bats to protect the store. Just in case. It never happened but just in case. So very early we were told, “Stay upstairs, we don't want you down in the store because we might get vandalized” So very early on I learned about race and discrimination. However, there's another little story that's Japantown which is around Powell, Powell ground. We went to Strathcona Public School. So, back in 1927 when my brother graduated, grade eight, the oldest one, there were maybe two or three Japanese in the graduating class. When I graduated in 1940 it was a huge school, we had over 11,000 students in the public school and believe it or not over 60 percent were Japanese Canadians. So if there was any discrimination it would have been reversed. And then of course, after public school we went to Japanese school.
HR
Japanese language school you mean.
TM
Yeah, yeah it was kind of essential because at that point in time nobody would hire an Oriental in a professional rank like accountants, engineering, whatever. And even the even these, crafts like plumbers and so on would not hire Japanese. So what it leaves us, the older people they could be either a fisherman, farmer, lumberjack, or worse, work for Japanese store in downtown which meant that you had to have Japanese. Right? Brief interruption from staff at the JCCC to discuss lunch break that will occur soon. Heather discusses quickly
00:36:13.000
00:36:13.000
TM
So it was kind of essential, so if you wanted to better yourself, a lot of the young people went back to Japan, or not back, but went to Japan and then they studied back there and they could get into the professional ranks. One of my oldest brother's friends was a professional singer. Of course nobody would hire him or put him I an opera, so he went back to Japan and he became a star there. And I retrieved a newspaper clipping, he came back in the late fifties with the opera company from Japan. So there was a person who I knew that went back to Japan to better himself, because he couldn't get a job here. So at that point in time if he had stayed in BC, he probably still wouldn't have learned Japanese, but since the government scattered us and there's no Japantown in Canada no, whereas in the States, they did not sell their property but held them in trust. So if you go back to Los Angeles they still have a Japantown in Seattle, or anywhere else. So, in Canada there's no such thing, they do have a school, a Japanese language school in Vancouver, but I think it's only on the weekends that they study Japanese, is that right?
EK
I think so, yeah. But I think during the week maybe it's a daycare for Japanese, younger Japanese? I don't really know.
TM
Because, because the Japanese Canadians are scattered all over Vancouver and they're not going to go downtown to study.
HR
What, do you think things like the Japanese Language School and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, are they important for the Japanese Canadian community? Is it important to engage with the history and the heritage?
TM
Well I would suspect so because, we had to build up a reputation when we first came okay? One of my second brother's friends, okay? He came into town he wanted a job, this is 1943 okay. He could not finds a job because if he was hired. The unions would strike. So he finally landed a job at a candy company and they needed an able body to unload sugar, 100 pounds of sugar and he needed man power in 1943. So he hired him on the condition that he'd tell the union that he was a Filipino, and then they wouldn't go on strike. And then six months later he told them that he was Japanese.
HR
That he was actually Japanese.
TM
And by that time they knew him quite well. And he was an ordinary Canadian so, but that's the kind of attitude they had when we first came here in 1943.
HR
So definitely I can see I can see what you mean, buildings like this are spaces of positive...
TM
Well it's a showcase and again, I guess we wanted to keep our culture like the Jewish people keep their culture, the Chinese people keep their culture. So I guess it's a reasonable to keep our culture and of course a big help is the martial arts it brings in a lot of members here.
HR
I think, I'm conscious of the time and I want to make sure you have a chance to go, go get some lunch. I guess a last question, I guess a last question is going back to your nieces and nephews and your grandchildren. What, what do you think they, what do you think they carry forward from your family history and the history that Japanese Canadians? Do you think there's been a lasting affect or a lasting impact of some of the history?
00:40:01.000
00:40:01.000
TM
Well, I, I really don't know because two of my grandchildren are in Calgary and two of my grandchildren are in Switzerland. My daughter's married to a Swiss. In Calgary, well they don't have as much as a mixed population as Toronto but they get along quite well. The first one is working as a maintenance person for service for Shaw communication so she does computer programming. The second one is a teacher so, so they've adapted. Whereas I know in Switzerland, it's like a tight very island.
HR
I've heard it's not very diverse there.
TM
A tight little island and, and at one point in time my daughter said “If you want to send me a letter just say Sandra Matsui Switzerland, they'll find me.” They knew, all the immigrants in there, the Italians and so on that came in. They hired Italians for road work and so on you know. So I know, and there is racial discrimination in Switzerland, it's only six or seven million people...
HR
Yeah, no, and geographically it's quite small too...
TM
Greater than the Toronto area!
HR
That's true, that's true. That's funny to think of a whole country being the size of the GTA. Well I think that's wonderful I think let's leave it there, and we may come back some day and ask you some follow up questions but thank you so much for your time Tom. It's been very wonderful.
TM
Okay.
TM
I was lucky because in 1950 when I graduated, all these service men who got into engineering graduated. A normal graduation in 1950 would have been about 400 engineers. We had something like 1100.
HR
Wow
TM
And of course the government said “Please give the veterans first choice.”
HR
Yeah
TM
Where did that leave me
HR
Yeah
TM
The service people, the occidentals then the orientals at the bottom. But I was lucky and I found a job because, the first job is because I had bought a $100 beat up car. And I worked for a company that had three plants and they wanted a plant engineer and I think I was the only one that had lots of maintenance experience with the Royal Canadian Electrical Mechanical Engineers. So I had maintenance experience and probably because I was the only one that had a car.
HR
Hmm
TM
I could rattle between the three. The next job, I knew it was a dead end job because I worked with the president, who was an owner's son. So I was looking a new job and then I got one in Canadian Industries. But at that time in 1951 there was still the second biggest class of engineers with the service people graduating. But I think I was luck that I had three years of officer's training in the military which probably countered what the recruiting person, who was a veteran. So I was one of the first oriental engineers to be hired.by Canadian Industries.
HR
So, if you don't mind chatting a little bit further. So you mentioned you went to university in Ajax at the University of Toronto.
TM
Yeah
HR
And then just trace through your career for me a little bit. You studied engineering, you graduated from Ajax. Then, if you could but those kind of jobs you just mentioned into a chronology.
TM
Well. Back in those days in engineering, you had to have practical experience. Like for instance in mechanical engineering in those days, all the machine parts were made by manual control. You only had two hadns to move the tools, OK? Today, you get three axes and it's automatically controlled by computer, ok. So, if you didn't know, have a good background in machine shop, you could not design machine parts properly. Unless you had experience in machine shop, machining. And so it was a reqiorement that we have at least six hundred hours of machine shop. So the first year I went to work at Massey-Harris in Brantford. But by the time I paid room and board and paid travel expense, I didn't save any money. So, I was looking for another job and the started to advertise for officer's training candidates and I thought Well, they, it was only 1947 so it's only about two years after the war and “well they, they discharged my brother, I don't know if they will take me.” But, it fulfilled two things: the maintenance machine shop work counted and then even though the pay was $150 a month In those days, the fee for engineering was $250 a year. Now it's ten thousand Both laugh So it fulfilled two things and I got my machine shop work and I was able to save money and I was just testing to see if they would accept a Japanese Canadian.
HR
Hmm
TM
And because I wrote an examination and passed the examination, so they took me. I guess we'll quit.Heather laughs
HR
Aw. I've so many more questions left
HR
So this is Heather Read with Tom Matsui on April 7th, 2015 for part two of our Landscapes of Injustice interview. So, thanks for coming back after lunch. It - before lunch we talked a lot about the internment and – yes, actually we talked a lot about the internment. Before we get started what word would you use to describe that period of time? Would you say internment? Do you use other...?
EK
Can you move a little... sorry.
TM
Well, if I were in the camp like my wife was, internment camp where there's maybe several hundred people or thousand people in close quarters, yes. Whereas the self-supporting community was different. It was, yeah, it was a community but we were spread apart, we had room, because whatever we wanted size wise, the houses we built was whatever you wanted to spend on them. We weren't quite a, well we had more or less much more freedom then having two families in a cramped quarters so... My feeling is, well, it would be quite a bit different then my wife who had to live with another family and had to share a common kitchen.
HR
Did you, can you remind me did your parents, how, how did it come to pass that you were in the self-supporting camp?
TM
In order to go to the self-supporting camp you had to have 1800 dollars in the bank account. Which in today's dollars is 60, 80 thousand dollars and you had to be able to, as I say, pay for your transportation, pay for your, building a house. So you, theoretically, you, most of the people that went to say Lillooet were the uh fisherman who were well off, farmers in Haney who were well off, and business people from Japantown. Putting in in words today would be the business class. And some of them, there weren't too many rich people at that point so.
00:45:00.000
00:45:00.000
HR
Yeah, I mean probably not at that point.
TM
So, at that point if you were in the middle class, you could afford it. You see the reason my mother went is my brother graduated at 17, he was going to turn 18 in October and we were moved in May. Now if we had gone to camp and he reached 18 he would have been shipped out to road camp. So my mother didn't want that. So that's another reason why we went to self-supporting.
HR
Self-supporting? Okay. Yeah Did your mother keep in touch with any non Japanese-Canadian friends that she may have had? From Powell Street area?
TM
No I would think most of her friends were all Japanese.
HR
Did she keep in touch with any of the neighbours and friends that she had known after all of the Japanese were dispersed?
TM
Well yes because, just before she came out East she went down to Tashme, an internment camp, and visited there before she came out. You know, to visit an old friend. Elena coughs
HR
I wonder if you could talk a little bit, if you're comfortable, I'd love to hear a little bit how your wife's experience was different from yours. I don't know if that's something that the two of you talk about very much or if you're not open to sharing that - it's understandable.
TM
Well, see the difference between my wife and I is that I lost my father at age five and I lived with that fact. But she lived with her parents, okay, and all of a sudden at age 11 her father is shipped off to road camp and eventually into the prisoner war camp. So this is another different type of living without a father, all of a sudden. And she had to live with her mother, whereas my mother was a widow that was used to living. So I'm sure it was a lot more, you want to call it traumatic, for her to lose her father for four years. So I mean, I think that the major difference is a) they were really in concentrated and cramped corners, we weren't.
HR
Did she have some, did she have restrictions on what she could bring with them? I've heard you could pack a suitcase?
TM
If you went to the internment camp, you had a suitcase, 50 pound. And that I think you carried two suitcases, whatever you could carry. So the same thing with my mother she had that house, she stored all her heavy china wear, and Japanese clothes you know, expecting you know it's not going to be very long. So, and of course that's the other thing is that if you're only allowed 50 pounds you're not carrying photo albums, which are heavy, so we lost a lot of of old photographs of Vancouver. They disappeared.
HR
Yeah I can imagine of the community too, of events and stuff.
TM
We only got photographs that were carried by the people in their suitcase.
HR
Were there things that - do you know if there were things that your parents left in the house or sorry that your mother left in the house when you left?
TM
Oh well, I think what she left behind was like kimonos and Japanese whatchamacallit, dish wear and stuff like that, heavy things. You wouldn't carry that.
00:55:10.000
00:55:10.000
HR
And that would have all been sold with the house when it was sold?
TM
Yeah it all disappeared.
HR
Yeah, and did you ever receive any notice?
TM
No, no. One of the fellas living in Momiji has a story. He lived in the South Vancouver, on Marpole area and there, there weren't too many Japanese but they were living on such and such street. And he said when they left they just locked the door, so he often wondered what happened. So, he went back after the war and he was in the bar and and this fella came up and said, “You look familiar, were you living here?” And he said “Yeah I lived on such and such street.” He says “Do you know when you left couple of days later the whole house was looted.” Because they knew that they weren't coming back. And if you get one of the videos that are done, it tells about a story of the people leaving the coastal area and as they left on the boat, this one lady could see her favorite piano being...
HR
Oh no.
TM
Taken away.
HR
Out of the house?
TM
Out of the house, and you know it, it if it was a wartime rule okay? If you're caught looting you could be shot.
HR
Wow.
TM
Did that happen? No. So, yeah there's lots of stories around.
HR
Yeah, there are very unfortunate stories. Do you, in Vancouver from your memories growing up as a child do you remember racism towards other groups of people? Like for instance towards Chinese Canadians or...?
TM
Well, well we knew that - as I told you about the Halloween – so, oh yeah, we knew that, and I was often mistaken as a Chinese person, so I laughed. And even the Chinese people spoke Chinese to me laughs. Anyway, yes discrimination was there. We knew about it. But we lived with it. And in spite of it, hardworking first generation Nissei, they made a go out of it.
HR
Absolutely. So we've spent a lot of time in kind of the '40s and '50s. You've lived a long and wonderful life and I'd love to hear a bit more about that too. So we talked a bit about your university time, and there was the job at Carlton cards. Where did that fit in?
TM
Okay.
HR
Where did that fit in?
TM
Okay, when I came up from Lillooet to Toronto, it was under the condition that my brother would look after my welfare and he would look completely after me. So the two of us my next older brother and I, my oldest brother rented a room, third floor laughs one, one bedroom, with a bed and a dresser. That was it. And a when my older brother got a job, he paid for the room okay. And my brother, the older brother paid for my board, 'cause down he found a room which was half a block away from another uncle and that's where we boarded. So he paid for the board, my brother paid for the room, I had no money. And at 16 I was a late gro-I spurted up in height. I needed clothes badly and I hadn't bought clothes in a year and a half I needed clothes badly to go to Jarvis Collegiate. And I didn't want to be dependent on my brothers because they were already were helping me. So I was looking for ah, part time work and it happened that a Japanese friend of mine who played rugger with me in Britannia high school in Vancouver, he also was at Jarvis. And he lived on Spadina and across from us was Carlton cards. And they were looking for part time help, male help and he got a job there. So he said “They're looking for people, why don't you come with me and we'll get you a job?” So, I went and I got a job. That gave me an income for buying clothes and spending money. And then I didn't have to depend on my older brothers for money, you know. We had nothing. So that's where work comes in, I needed a job.
01:00:02.000
01:00:02.000
HR
And, so you worked at Carlton cards and then you did the army reserve at university time in Ajax and then what happened? Where did you go after Ajax?
TM
Well as I said, after I graduated I knew that it, it was going be hard finding a job because there were so many engineers out. And the economy wasn't that great. So I decided that I'd enlist again in another, another summer in the army and that's when I bought my hundred dollar car. Which I fixed up, because we over hauled tanks, trucks, equip-, army equipment, guns, so on. And so I had the tools that I could borrow to fix the car with, fixed it up so I, after the summer, I had a car running car. And then I went looking all over, driving all over Ontario looking for a job. And of course they always said, “Well we'll let you know,” which meant they weren't interested. Oh finally, as I said, there was a newspaper ad looking for plant engineers and this was Downty Hepburn and they had structural steel firm, a foundry and a machine shop spread out in the city. And they wanted a plant engineer or you want to call a maintenance engineer and so I applied 'cause I had plenty of maintenance experience with the army. And of course, from a very early age I worked at a bicycle shop where tools were no problem. So I knew, as I say, the reason I got the job I think is because of the three plants you had to travel, and I had a car. The other engineers didn't have a car, so I figured that's how I got my job.
HR
How long did you work at that job for?
TM
Well, I, less than a year, because I told you before I was responded directly to the president of the company who was the founder's son cough and his second son was a secretary treasurer. So, here in the city chair moving sounds start, and so I was looking for a job and then this other job was advertised in The Star that said CIL was designing a nylon intermediate plant. So I thought I'd apply because it was in Montreal and of course I had made acquaintances with my wife in Montreal. So, if I got a job it was fine and moved to Montreal. interviewer laughs. So I applied and I told you they interviewer was a veteran and of course at that time, 1951, the second class of engineers had graduate and of course he preferred veterans. I wasn't a veteran but I did have three years of military service. So I figured that counted in my favor and so I got a job. So I was glad to move to Montreal. I stayed with them for 38 years.
HR
38 years, wow.
TM
So that's the story.
HR
38 years. So all of your children, you were saying at lunch, were all born in Montreal? And did you buy a house when you were in Montreal?
TM
Yeah, yup. I bought a house in 1955, first one. loud chair noises. First son was born. Scraped together some money and bought a house. Bare bones.
01:05:00.000
01:05:00.000
HR
How much did it cost you?
TM
13,000 dollars, but don't forget I was making 2700 dollars a year. Engineers, at that point, when the first job I got, was 225 dollars a month.
HR
Wow.
TM
And when I changed jobs and I got this Montreal job I got paid 290 dollars. Big job pay! So, you're trying to buy a house.
HR
There's some saving required for sure. How did it feel to own the first house?
TM
Oh, nice. Felt great because, well I lived in a house you know and I knew how to take care of a house, so it didn't matter to me. I, and I wanted my my son, or family to live in a family home and not an apartment, you know.
HR
So, you were there for 38 years?
TM
No, not Montreal.
HR
Ok, the company for 38 years.
TM
Montreal I was there for 15 years. And after 15 years I was transferred to Toronto. In 1966, Quebec was having the independence movement. The FLQ, Front Liberation Quebec. loud chair noises throughout this speech And I used to travel to work underneath Mount Royal in a train, and a lot of times there were threats of bombs. And we'd get stuck in the tunnel and stuff like that so the company was thinking that they would move completely to Toronto, so we were the first vanguard to move to Toronto, you know. But then actually the company didn't move, the head office, but the engineering, didn't move. They settled in Kingston, which was the big plant, the nylon plant where most of the work was. That's where they finally settled. So after 10 years in Toronto, I had to move to Kingston so. And that's where I retired, you know.
HR
Which, uh, did you have a favorite of the three Eastern cities that you got to live in?
TM
pause Well, uh, Montreal in the early '50s was a very nice place to live, but then it got a little ugly around '66. Toronto was nice. I was here from '66 to '76. At that time the brand new house I bought was for 30,000 dollars. That same house today probably would run maybe even 800,000 dollars.
HR
Where was that house in Toronto?
TM
Between Victoria Park and Don Valley Parkway, and just north of 401.
HR
Very nice.
TM
Yeah it was. And it was Sheppard was only a two lane road with gravel sides and we had outdoor movies and driving range and everything else. Of course now...
HR
That's practically the country laughs.
TM
Of course now it's completely in the middle of the city.
HR
And then Kingston, Kingston. And when did you retire? 20 years ago?
TM
I retired, it'll be 26 years in, oh it is 26 years! I retired on March 31st.
HR
So 26 years ago, it was like....
TM
1989. loud chair noise
HR
My math skills are poor today. What was Kingston like in the late '80s?
TM
Oh, very nice. Kingston is a nice retirement city because it has two big teaching hospitals, has a university, has a symphony orchestra, uh, and it's right on the lake.
HR
Yeah I've had the chance to go to Queen's a few times. It always strikes me as very beautiful.
01:10:07.000
01:10:07.000
TM
Oh yeah, oh yeah. However, uh, in in 2006 I was in pretty bad shape. I had I had two heart attacks before that and quadruple bypass and then I – they call it heart failure - and so I required a pace maker and defibrillator. And then at the same time I had a kidney stone operation and had to have a hernia operation. All in one year, so I was in pretty bad shape and so looking around Kingston there's not much retirement, good retirement at that point in time. Didn't have good retirement, uh, places. And the ones that were good were pretty expensive, the one that they call the Grandma's place. But the others weren't, it wasn't, and if you ever got sick and you had to go to a nursing home, one of the fellows at the golf club, his wife was a in the hospital bedridden and the only place that they had was at least 45 miles north of Kingston. So he decided he was going to look after her at home. So that's the kind of place it was. So we had our application into Momiji Japanese residence and we just came down one day and, to see how things were. And they said “No, there's a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment that's open and these couples are looking at it. And if they don't take it you can have it.” Three days later they said “You can have it.”
HR
Oh, amazing.
TM
So, then I had to sell the house with 31 years of junk in it. That was quite a job, I tell you. So, so I didn't move in for, ah, four months, till I got the house in shape to sell. So, anyway.
HR
What did you do with all the stuff? Were you able to bring some of it with you?
TM
Oh yeah, some I brought, but the others, there was a niece and nephew, they took some. Most of it we gave away to Salvation Army and the other stuff went into the dump.
HR
Was there a, can you tell me about why you chose Momiji, as opposed to another residence that would have been an option?
TM
Well there is a certain advantage to Momiji, because if you're in Momiji and you get to a stage where you have to go to a nursing home, uh, Momiji has connections to Castle View or Ihon Nursing Home. Certain beds, in Ihon there's 25 beds for Japanese Canadians and 18 or so in Castle View or something. So, if you get to that point, there's a, you're taken care of, of nursing home. My brother was at home and he fell down the stairs and he got paralyzed and he had to go to a nursing home. And when one of the one of the city knew that he was a perpetual employee, so when one of these nursing homes bed was open, you only had 24 hours to make up your mind. Whereas at Momiji they'll help you for a long while, because they have support service. They'll do your laundry, they'll even bathe you, so on so forth. So you don't have to worry further down the road so there's certain advantage to it.
HR
For sure.
TM
And besides all my relatives are here, my cousins and nieces and nephews are around, so.
HR
Do you have relatives at the, at Momiji right now there with you? I know your wife, but are there other relatives that are...?
TM
My ah, wife's sister lives in the same floor and my cousin just moved in last October, so yes I have two relatives.
HR
That's nice, makes it feel a bit more cozy. It, ah, branching away from your family a little bit. I'd love to hear a little bit more about what the archive group means to you. Why, why did you choose to use some of your retirement years helping out with archiving photographs?
01:14:36.000
01:14:36.000
TM
My thought is, if I don't, uh, help the archive people identify, record, gather material that would show light on our evacuation treatment, so on, uh there wouldn't be much in the archives, so. Well I have several hundred photographs in here, and I write a lot of stories about them, so. Anyway.
HR
Do you, in addition to, uh, in addition to the archive work that you do, are there other ways that you give back to the Japanese Canadian community? Are there other history contributions that you make?
TM
No, the other thing is that we volunteer at Momiji because we have bazaars and craft shows and my wife does most of that work mind you. I just, I just supply the labour laughs.
HR
Craft shows do tend to be women's work. It's true. And so how can you - I know you've told me off record but can you share for the recording - how you came to be a volunteer here?
EK
Can you just give me one second, I just have to change an SD card. discussion pauses while Elena changes card
EK
Fancy fancy stuff.
HR
When we're done the interview it would be great to take a few pictures of the pictures you referred to while we were talking. We'd love to take a picture of the house and car, and I would love to get a bigger picture of the one of your mother and the two big squashes, that's a lovely photo. I also I had a question based on one of the photos, you mentioned the irrigation, and the farm photo I love the farm, did you build the irrigation?
TM
No, no it was part of the farm we leased for the Japanese village, okay, that's leased land. And part of it we used for a, for our garden but the other half, they people from Haney, the farmers, used for tomato farm and that was the start of the tomato factory, the tomato industry in Lillooet. From there it expanded to the mayor's farm and the councilor's farm and the other farms north, so. Yeah, they, I guess eventually they appreciated the Japanese coming in and the increasing industry in Lillooet. But we, we weren't welcomed at first.
HR
There was a lot of fear at the time. Speaking of the tomatoes, one side interest that the project has is food. Do you have any memories of food associated with your time in the...?
TM
Well the one that's is funny is that there is an Indian reservation across the river, okay, and they are only, the Indians are only supposed to fish and hunt only for their use okay? The very first year, at night, they would come around the back door, knock on the door and they would sell us salmon for 25 cents. Next year it was a dollar laughs. And then they would sell venison, but my mother didn't like venison so. But salmon we did.
01:20:09.000
01:20:09.000
HR
Did they ever show anybody how to hunt and fish?
TM
No, they're not allowed to.
HR
Oh okay.
TM
We weren't allowed to, so.
HR
Was there ever, was there any more, other than sales was there ever any interactions between the First Nations reserve and the Japanese camps?
TM
No, not, not really but the ice was broken between the town, Lillooet town and the Japanese village through softball. And that was the first breakthrough, and there's a, there's a story, one of the fellows tells. He was a member of the Asahi baseball team and he's the one that organized the baseball team and challenged the town and they, it became kind of an annual thing.
HR
Ah, that's neat. That's nice that it did become a place where they were nice and welcomed you. It's unfortunate that it didn't start out that way.
TM
Well we had to make an effort though.
HR
Yeah, were there any Japanese people there beforehand or...?
TM
No, no, and actually doctor Miyazaki, he was in Bridge River and he eventually moved to Lillooet when they closed Bridge River, and he stayed there for 30 years as a local doctor and so his house now is a museum. They, it's donated to the town and it's a museum, so. They appreciated having a doctor, nobody else would come there, so all and all I think Lillooet benefitted by having the Japanese there so.
HR
Yeah, certainly a small town with such a large influx of people to stimulate the economy and all that working.
TM
Yup, but they didn't have a doctor so that was a real benefit to them.
HR
Have you, did you ever go back to Lillooet after...?
TM
No I haven't. My sister did, she went, there's a jade mine there and she had bought a piece of jade furniture, not furniture, jewelry.
HR
Did not know there was a jade mine there.
TM
The jade is not first grade quality like the Chinese one, but Chinese don't have any more jade, so.
HR
What did your sister say about going back? Did she, was it - I'm curious if the town is still there, where you lived still exists or if that got torn down?
TM
Oh no, it's just bare ground now. They have tours, ghost town tours and they go to Lillooet right, so and actually one of the ladies in Vancouver who helped identify a lot of the younger people, I got in touch with her and she helped me. She went back and one of the photographs she recognized, and like a V shaped tree, she said it's still standing there. So she's been back there.
HR
Were there lots of, were there lots of kids? Did you, was there, how big was the community?
TM
Roughly 350, our town, yup, at the beginning. Of course, lot of families moved out to Toronto, quite a few of them came out here, but there was a lot of them that came back to Vancouver, so.
HR
And at what point, at what point would it have completely folded?
TM
1949, when there were allowed, a lot went back. I think they were city slickers, I think they went back to the city. Rather be in the city than stuck out in the wilderness.
01:25:22.000
01:25:22.000
HR
It, uh, some of the pictures that you have from that time, the chicken, the farming, it seems very, to someone living in Toronto, it seems a little bit idyllic, was it...?
TM
It wasn't happy, it was just a necessity.
HR
You were just making-do, because that's what you had to do.
TM
Sure, the people were, were growing vegetables and canning and stuff like that, so it, we had no income. So you had to make do, keep your living costs down.
HR
Was it, a few other interviews I've heard people talk about a kind of community banding together. Like someone, someone tells a story about their father who would travel periodically and he would bring back shoes for the entire for the entire group he was with. Was there, I'm curious if you have stories like that. Was there...?
TM
No.
HR
Neighbors helping each other.
TM
No, in Lillooet people could go into town and buy their shoes from the general store so that was no problem.
HR
I guess you wouldn't have been limited the same way.
TM
No, no. See some of the internment camps were really isolated, so they would be in trouble, yeah.
TM
We weren't. There was a teeny tiny town there.
HR
Town there, yeah.
TM
With all the other services so no problem there, had public schools and high schools so you know.
HR
So the last nothing we wanted to chat with people about is family, and we touched a bit upon that this morning in terms of things, nieces and nephews and your grandchildren ask you, we're curious do you think anyone else in your family would be interested in sitting down for an interview? One thing the project is interested in is seeing...
TM
You'd have to go to Calgary or Switzerland if you can afford it fine.
HR
The Calgary ones might not be out of question, you mentioned you had some nieces and nephews in Belleville that...
TM
That's my sister's, on my wife's side. I don't talk with them.
HR
Well the Calgary if you wouldn't mind, if you'd be comfortable passing on the Calgary folks or mention us to the Calgary folks we do have researchers in various parts of Canada and a travel budget. You don't have to answer now, I can leave it with you and you can think about it and check in with us.
TM
I don't know, I know I commit them I commit them
HR
We can, I can, I can send you an email with a bit of information, you can pass it on to them or not pass it on to them. It's a part of our interest is in seeing how different people tell different stories, so talking to some of your family members would be....
TM
Well see my children have been raised, if you want to call it middle class living, because I'm a professional so they haven't had any hardship if you want to call it. You know.
HR
Did they ever ask you about, you mentioned your grandchildren asked about the war years, did your children ever or did they kind of move away from that?
TM
Well, I guess like most of the second generation Nisei, most of us kept quiet about those years that we were, we were in an internment camp. But gradually we started telling them about it, but for a long while when they were kids we never mentioned it.
HR
Why do you think that was?
TM
Well, let's say that we would like to forget what we went through. Now it, it will be the same if you can call, we're the Holocaust victims of Canada, we were the race that were picked out, all of our processions sold, sent into internment camps, road camps. Only thing we didn't end up in the gas chamber, and the irony was that Canada was fighting for democracy and freedom and what did they do to the Japanese Canadians. Exactly the same thing as the Nazi government did. So anyway this is a period that most people want to forget about. So I guess that's why we never talked about it till later in life with our children, you know.
01:30:08.000
01:30:08.000
HR
And it feels important to tell the story now?
TM
Yeah, although the grandchildren are interested in what happened.
HR
Why do you think your grandchildren are interested?
TM
Hmm?
HR
Why do you think your grandchildren are interested?
TM
Well, in a way, there half and half and there is, few in Switzerland there is discrimination whereas in Calgary, my daughter in law is a Catholic so the children went to Catholic school, and there where they went there were a lot of Filipino children, Catholic church priests were Filipino, because they're short of priests. And so in a way they were in a mixed group in Calgary so it wasn't as bad. But you know it's, if you grew up in the neighborhood with the children and you went to public school and high school I mean there's no discrimination because you grew up with them, and my son keeps contact with his classmates. He comes over every year and goes over to Peterborough to play golf with his old chump you know. They haven't had the problem that we had so.
HR
What if you could - so one of the goals of Landscapes is to write teacher education curriculums and to make a museum exhibit and really try and teach about this history to Canadians. Can you, I guess, can you reflect on that for me, do you think that's important for the story to be really widely spread?
TM
Well, the main thing is that, I guess tolerance is one of the things you have to have. Today if you take Toronto, when I first came to Toronto in 1943, well over 50 percent were British decent, and we were treated that way. Today, if you go into Toronto if you go into anywhere what sort of a mixture of people do you find right? It's a totally different city then when we came in 1943. A lot more tolerant. And a great city, you can find all kind of of great food from all over the world.
HR
It's true there's Japanese food, Greek food.
TM
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah, my kids are more they tasted more outside food then we have. They like Vietnamese food, they like Indian food.
HR
Did you cook, what would it be a more stereotypical Japanese food for them when they were growing up? What did your kids eat growing up?
TM
In Montreal it was fine, but we spent 10 year, like they were in their teens, in Kingston there wasn't a Japanese store only a Chinese store. So no we didn't cook as much Japanese things there because the only time we got Japanese supplies was when we came into Toronto to buy it. But now that we're here, it doesn't matter, you go anywhere and you can get any type of food you want so. It's great!
01:35:38.000
01:35:38.000
HR
Have you had a chance to go to, I live quite downtown, close to Maple Leaf gardens that's now a big Loblaws?
TM
No I haven't been downtown, last time I was I watched the hockey game right near the top. So I haven't seen the inside, it's changed completely.
HR
It's completely changed, I saw games there as a kid too, and it's funny to walk in it's the biggest grocery store I've ever been in and I feel like you can get anything you can think of on their shelves. They have a giant wall of cheeses, they have a whole big the meat section is huge, they just have a giant hunk of chocolate that they'll hunk off pieces of chocolate for your purchase.
EK
Sounds amazing!
TM
Well Loblaws bought TNT, which was a Chinese grocery store.
EK
Loblaws bought TNT?
TM
Yup.
EK
Oh my gosh!
TM
Oh yeah it was about two or three years ago.
EK
Really?
TM
Yeah.
EK
That's my favorite store.
TM
It's getting run down now, Loblaws got their fingers in it and ruined it.
HR
Where would you get Japanese groceries in Toronto?
TM
Well there's one downtown near Bathurst and Queen, and there's one at Steeles and Woodbine. And there's another store at Mississauga and one at we call it J-Town, Japan Town. When my children come in Calgary they want to go to this J-Town because they can get stuff here that they can't get down in Calgary. Oh yeah. We find the Chinese grocery. Like we go to this Best Co. They're product line is much more superior then Loblaws.
HR
Funny all the differences of things like that. I think probably that's all the questions I have for you today, is there anything else that you would like to share?
TM
No. No ha I guess I've gone through this now, two or three times.
HR
I bet you have. So thank you very much if we do have questions, we are planning on bringing our student group up here later in the summer to meet everyone and chat more. So if I do have anymore follow up questions I will be in touch for sure. But sincerely thank you this has been really wonderful, really appreciate the time.
TM
We had the public school come in here about a month ago and what they did was different this time. Was that we had table of eight with one volunteer sitting at a table and they put a presentation on the screen and then afterwards we had a discussion.
HR
Sweet. How old were the kids?
TM
Oh these were public school kids, high school, it's a private school I think. But I know that any little group like that there'd be one or two person that would occupy their time. So I had eight and I said, “Okay each one of you have a question.” As soon as I answered their question I said “Next, next...” So I gave everyone a chance.
HR
That's very kind of you.
TM
Because I know that there's always some dominate child that will occupy the time if you let him or her.
HR
You're a teacher at heart then.
TM
My wife is a teacher.
HR
Was she?
TM
Yes she was a bacteriologist and then 17 years as a house wife and then at 40 she became a teacher.
HR
Wow good for her, like a classroom grade school teacher?
TM
Yeah she could teach high school or public school and then by the time she graduated there was a strike on, so she decided to teach public school.
HR
That is amazing, and so she taught school while you were in, I should do the math again or I'm going to fail – she taught school while you were in Kingston?
TM
She taught, took, when I was here for 10 years she took the course. Bachelor of Education, it was a very first time that they had started the Bachelor of Education program at the U of T. And she was one of the first ones to graduate from there. And then she went to Kingston and she was lucky to get a job.
HR
Yeah, yeah.
TM
And now, you read the stories now, that a lot of teachers are going to get fired.
EK
Really? Fired?
TM
Yeah because of the declining, declining school population and they're trying to consolidate schools.
HR
Yeah they're closing schools.
TM
Yeah so.
HR
Yeah my PhD comes out of OISE which is now where U of T does it's education, so I get all kinds of emails about school closures and cut back and all that.
TM
Oh I wouldn't want to be a school teacher today.
HR
No I have several friends who are and one, its taken her eight or nine years before she was able to find a stable position she just kept hopping from maternity leave to maternity leave because the schools kept changing their enrollments and all that.
TM
My granddaughter was lucky she went in as a first year teacher and she had to go and look for another job, except she had applied and the two teachers that had seniority had declined and so she got the job. So she was lucky.
HR
That is very lucky for sure, yeah. Tom: Oh yeah.
01:40:11.000

Metadata

Title

Tom Matsui, interviewed by Heather Read and Elena Kusaka, 07 April 2015 (1 of 2)

Abstract

In the multi part interview, Tom discusses his memories and family stories related to prewar life in Japantown, Vancouver, time in self-supporting camp in Lillooet BC, and his move to Ontario after the war. Sound quality on the interview is not ideal; the interview took place in a seminar room at the JCCC, and there was considerable noise overhead. There are also several interruptions in the recordings as people come in to talk with the interviewers. Tom talks about a bicycle shop that his family had in Japantown in detail and tells a strong anecdote about hiding in the shop on Halloween evenings to avoid race related violence in Vancouver.

Credits

Interviewee: Tom Matsui
Interviewer: Heather Read
Interviewer: Elena Kusaka
Transcriber: Erin Yaremko
Transcriber: Heather Read
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, Toronto, ON
Keywords: Japantown ; Powell Street ; Vancouver ; Lillooet ; self-supporting; Hastings Mill; bicycles; construction in camp; engineering; Toronto ; 1930s 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.