David Mitsui, interviewed by Joshua Labove, 22 September 2015

David Mitsui, interviewed by Joshua Labove, 22 September 2015

Abstract
David begins the interview with his earliest childhood memories including the different places he moved to in Ontario, where he went to school, and how his parents, after being interned, raised him. He recalls what it felt like growing up in an area where there were not many visible minorities. David explains that his curiosity regarding the internment and dispossession of his family stemmed from his interest in his grandfather’s participation in the First World War. He tells the story of how his grandfather enlisted in the Canadian Army, despite the BC government’s unwillingness to accept his application, in order to prove his allegiance to the country. David also describes his grandfather’s role in gaining the right to vote for Japanese-Canadian veterans. David then recalls the moment when his father, shortly after leaving for the Greenwood internment camp, was notified that their property had been vandalized and looted. He then moves on to reflect on how his grandfather may have felt about the Redress movement and the government apology had he been alive to experience that moment.
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Labove Joshua (LJ)
Today is September 22nd 2015. I'm Josh Labove in Edmonton, Alberta for the Landscapes of Injustice project with Dave Mitsui. So, I'll start with a very broad question. Just tell me about your childhood, growing up, and how you got to be where you are today.
David Mitsui (DM)
I was born on November 22nd 1954 in Hamilton, Ontario. I have an older brother, Victor who was born on January 3rd 1953. Initially we lived with my grandfather in Hamilton for about, I understand, two years, we lived on York Boulevard. After about two years we moved out to a place called Smithville, Ontario which is between Hamilton and St. Catharines. Our mailing address was but we went to Smithville for school. So, public school, we both went to College Street Public School for grades one to eight. We were both involved in sports and probably organized sports in later part of public school. We both played fastball and we both played hockey. Victor being a year older, we were on sort of the same team every other year. Smithville was not a big place, it was about 1200, but it had five schools. Students would have to be bussed in from about I would say fifteen miles radius of Smithville. We were in the public school system but there was also a Catholic school, there was a Dutch reform school, Elementary, high school, and a Catholic school. In our public school, I think there were about six or seven hundred students grades one to eight. We never had a kindergarten. My brother, Victor, started off in grade one in a one room school house in Smithville. I recall going there on certain days with my mom when they had kind of an open house. All of the different rows were different grades. It was shortly after that, I think about 1958 was when the public school was built where we continued to go on until grade eight and then grades nine to thirteen was at South Lincoln High School. We were both quite active in the school sports teams as well as with student council. For myself, I was on all the sports teams that we had, like basketball, volleyball and track and field. We didn't have a football team. I think we were the only school in the area that didn't have a football team. So I never played football growing up, but there was soccer as well. As Victor got older, he more so became involved in the administration side of the sports and he would be the team manager and I was more of the athlete. He was involved with the student's council as well and when I got to grade ten, eleven, twelve, I became more involved in the student's council. For a while, both of us were on the school square dance team and we both, I think he was only there for one year but I was on the team for five years I believe. We competed with the local schools and that was a fun experience. It's something that growing up we never get access to, you know, square dancing in Southern Ontario, in a small school, a high school of about 350 students. So it was a rural high school but we certainly had a lot of opportunities. I recall when I was in grade nine or ten and my mother and father received this letter in the mail and it was a graduate student doing research from out of Brock University. Brock is in St. Catharines, Ontario. Researching prejudice and racism in the Japanese community and I don't recall all the questions but basically it was “Have you been or felt you were discriminated against or have you felt there was racism or things like that.”
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DM
I have to admit growing up, we weren't raised as Japanese. We were raised as Canadians because both my parents were interned during the war. They wanted us to be raised as Canadian, whatever that meant. However on holidays and special occasions, my family, mainly my maternal family would get together and my grandmother, and my aunts and my mom would make Japanese food and that was the only time that we really experienced the Japanese culture. My grandmother could only speak Japanese. My parents could both speak a little Japanese, but we were never raised with the language. We were just raised with English.
LJ
No language school?
DM
There was no language school in certainly rural Ontario. There may have been a language school in Toronto but not where we were growing up. The language that I grew up with other than English in high school was French. So I'm more proficient in speaking French than speaking Japanese. We would visit my grandfather as well, he lived in Hamilton and we would see him quite often, but he never spoke about his past. But to get back to this survey, my mom asked me “Have you ever felt discriminated against or racist remarks?” I remember telling her yeah, you know the kids on the playground would say “Hey chink and they would say you jap” or comments like that. But I would say for the most part we didn't feel a lot of racism or discrimination. We were the only Japanese family in the area and there was one Chinese family in the area and they owned the typical Chinese restaurant. In the basement of the restaurant they had a pool hall and my brother and I used to go to the pool hall quite a bit. You'd always hear comments about the Chinese family. They were the Jowlee family and there were two brothers. There seemed to be more racist comments made about them than there were against us and we all looked the same. I think in part it was because it was a small community, everybody knew everybody. Everybody knew Victor and I were both involved in sports, not only at school but in the community. We were pretty good athletes. We were just treated like all the other kids our age growing up, whether we were playing hockey or whether we were playing fas ball. Most of the racist remarks probably came from teams that we were competing against, because there weren't many of us around. We were the visible minority because there weren't many other visible minorities. In fact, I think all my years of public school and high school even there was one black family. So it was mainly white Anglo-Saxons and Protestant growing up. I've been asked before “If you had to do your high school days over again, would you?” And I know many people would say no I'd completely skip them. But for me I loved my high school years and growing up and I think the opportunity that it afforded me because growing up I remember grade nine, it had nothing to do about being Japanese but in grade nine I was the shortest kid in high school. I was about four foot three going into grade nine. You had the typical initiation and I remember being shoved into lockers and the whole bit and then it came to sports. I tried out for all the sports teams because I was a pretty good athlete even at that age and I made all the teams.
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DM
Victor was sometimes on the second string but I always made the starting lineup, no matter what sport I was in. I think, in my mind, growing up ... and it wasn't my race, it was “if I want to compete with all these tall guys, I have to be better than them.” That was my attitude when I grew up, if I wanted to make the team I had to be better than them. I had to show them that I was better than the next guy. I think that, I guess my success with that attitude helped me where I am today in many ways. Even in high school, basketball, the coach would go down the halls and look at who all the tall guys were right? Well, until I tried out, he didn't even give me a second look but after playing and going to practices, I made the team. So it was something that really motivated me to keep continuing to do well. Even in square dancing, you could imagine growing up and all the girls were taller than you, really taller than you. My partners in square dancing were always taller than me and we would have to compete in Southern Ontario at different locations and do our dances. You think of square dancing as being sort of like a western folksy type of dance and here's this oriental kid, short oriental kid, dancing and we always had two teams and our teams always won first or second place. A lot of it was because we enjoyed it but a lot of it was because of our teachers too.
LJ
You said it's not commonly a Japanese past time, square dancing. Seems like maybe a family tradition of sort of bucking convention a little bit. Did you enjoy being in a place where maybe ... or what did it feel like to be in a place where there weren't a lot of folks that looked like you or came from your background?
DM
I don't think I even recognized that I was different. I was just me and my parents raised us just to be us, not as anything special, but just to be like all the other kids in the neighborhood and schools. They didn't dwell on the fact that they were interned and they experienced huge racism and discrimination and things like that. They supported whatever we wanted to do and encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do. I think that was the basis for us growing up, to do your best, whether it was athletics, dance, or school. I think school was seen as very important. My parents especially emphasized you have to go to school. There was no question we weren't going to university or college after high school. It didn't matter what we wanted to go into, but it was “you need an education.” I think a lot of that is because my mom and dad both had high school education and then experiencing the internment and everything else and going to schools when they were interned and things like that were pretty hard on them as well.
LJ
Did your parents talk much about their experience in the internment?
DM
Not a word. Not a single word. Not until, I would say, the last few years did my mom and dad talk about it. My dad passed away in August 2011, my mom is 83 years old. None of my aunts and uncles talked about earlier either.
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DM
My mom's younger brothers and sisters, she's the eldest of eight never talked about it growing up. Same as my dad's family, he has a brother and two sisters and they never talked about it growing up.
LJ
So how did you, did you sort of come to a point in your life where you became curious or wanted to discover more about their internment past? Or have you sort of made peace with not really knowing what life was like?
DM
Well, it all started, my dad tells me, when I was about five or six years old and we would go visit my grandfather and on Remembrance Day my grandfather would put on his military uniform, his legion beret and he'd put on his World War One medals. Apparently, when we were visiting him on Remembrance Day, I used to always sit on his lap and I asked grandpa for the medals. He said “No, those are grandpa's but some day you'll get them.” My grandfather passed away in April 19th 1987. His will was read after that and I was living in Edmonton by that time. I moved to Edmonton, Alberta in 1978 and my dad called me and said “somebody is looking for you” and I said “oh, who would that be” and my mom got out this letter and said “Oh, this Regimental Secretary from Calgary.” And I said “oh, I wonder what that's about.” She said “Do you want me to contact him?” and I said “well, I'll give him my phone number and have him contact me.” About a year before that I had received my grandfather's medals in the mail. So I had them. This Regimental Secretary out of the, it was called the Museum of Regiment, and he had just read Ken Adachi's book “Went to War.” He was fascinated with the story about my grandfather that was in there. So he phoned me up and said ... this was about 1990 I guess he contacted me and said “We're in the process of developing a display to honor the 10th Battalion and we want to feature your grandfather who was decorated as part of the 10th Battalion and we would like to put his medals on display.” I said “well, that's a great honor but I just got these medals and I'm not too willing to pass them over right now. I'd like to keep them.” He said “Well that's understandable but maybe we can get a photograph of them and then we can include them in the display, and when the display is done we can invite you to be part of the opening.” And I said “that would be great.” So in 1993, he contacts me again and said “we would like to invite you and your family down and we would like you to say a few words about your grandfather and give you the honor of unveiling the display.” So my wife, my daughter, and my step daughter we went down to Calgary and we went to the museum and finally met the Regimental Secretary and I just can't remember his name offhand. There were several people from the Japanese community there as well. Jim Hoyano, who's a long time member here, past president and at the time he was the president of the EJCA and his wife was on the board of directors for the National Association of Japanese Canadians and she was there.
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DM
So I did a speech about my grandfather and in the end unveiled the display, a permanent display that is now called the Calgary War Museum. I think they just renamed it. That was back in '93 and as part of preparing for that ceremony, I started reading and doing more research about Japanese Canadians and the internment. There's a ... Barry Broadfoot's book, Years of Sorrow Years of Shame, and Roy Ito's Stories of My People. There were a number of resources available. There wasn't the internet that you could just Google anything at the time. I started reading about the internment and became more and more interested. Especially about how my grandfather got to be over in Europe and then once he came back what was his life like and things like that. It just really snow balled from there and I think the pièce de résistance was in 2003. I got a call from a gentleman from Ontario who owns a private company but he was an amateur historian, Michel Gravel. He had started to research World War One battles in Europe. He found out about this village called Cagnicourt. It's about half an hour north east of Arras and Northern France was the center of all the war in World War One. He was learning that this little village of Cagnicourt was going to be celebrating its 80th anniversary of being free from German occupation. So he contacted the mayor and he said “Do you realize that this anniversary is coming up and are you doing anything about it?” I guess the mayor was familiar with the date and the anniversary of being free from German occupation and he said “We'll do something; I'll make sure we do something as long as I can get the young people of the village to participate because they wouldn't know anything about the war.” This was ... I guess, Michel Gravel started this journey about four or five years before that. So he was in constant contact and finally about a year before, about 2002, he had enough information. The village was going to have a celebration and they wanted to honor all of the Canadian soldiers that were involved with freeing the community of German occupation. They wanted to have the families of the soldiers because all of the soldiers were dead, passed away by that time. So he had several families involved already and he finally got a hold of me in July of 2003. The tour was leaving September 2nd, but everyone else had committed a year or two before. I spoke with Michel and he said “We would love to have you participate. I know about your grandfather and he was with the 10th Battalion and they were a part of the regiment that helped saved this village of Cagnicourt, can you come?”
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DM
Well, we started classes on September 3rd and I teach on the first day of classes and I said to my wife “I can't go, I've got an obligation here” and we talked about it for a couple of days and then she said “You know you have to go, you have to find a way to go, go talk to your boss.” So I spoke with the chair of my department and said “this is the situation, what can I do?” And my boss said “You have to go.” And I said “okay fine, but who do I get to teach my class?” And she said “Well, who do you know that knows material and can teach or, you know, you can do all your class notes for.” And I said “you know, my wife was a lecturer, or a sessional, and taught some recreation courses in the past, would you approve of her doing it?” And she said “Absolutely.” So I went home and said Diane, I guess you're going to teach my class laughs so that was the good news. I got to accompany a group of twenty-seven people. I found out and I didn't know this until I started doing more research about where we were going and some of the battle sites we were going to visit. But our guide was Norm Christie, and Norm Christie is a historian and he was also a long time member of the Commonwealth Graves Commission so he looked after all of the cemeteries in Europe. When I was restarting the research, I found out that he had written several books about different World War One battles and they were all under For King and Country, it's a series. I started reading about the different battles and he described them so vividly. When we got off the bus at the parking lot, he'll start describing the battle and he said “The Germans would be on that line there, Australians would be there and British would be there, and the Canadian Battalion would be on this side and when they advanced this would happen.” It was just an amazing experience to accompany that group whose family members were involved with all these battles. There was this one battle site that wasn't identified. I asked Norm, I said “my grandfather was awarded a military medal for bravery on Hill 70, is there a possibility that we could go there?” And he said “Let me look at the schedule for the next few days and I'll get back to you.” Later that day, he came up to me and he said “Yeah, we'll work it in; we'll go to Hill 70.” It's one of the only major battles that wasn't identified with some sort of a marker. All the other battles had huge markers or monuments or whatever. I remember, on the bus, we were driving and its mainly pretty flat in that area but there are little rises and when you look at Vimy Ridge it's on a ridge and that was a major defensive battle for the Germans because they could see everything in front of them. Hill 70 was just one of many hills, little hills, little pimples on the landscape. The bus parked and we had to walk up this incline and he said “This is Hill 70.” We stood at the top of Hill 70 and we could see probably about five or six kilometers down and he said “That's where the advance came from and this is where the Germans were.” The German cement machine gun nest was still there.
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DM
As we were walking on fields, we kicked over the dirt and you could pick up bullet casings from German and British guns, you could pick up shards of barbed wire. I found two fully intact eighteen pound British shells that were all rusted. Everyone was picking up stuff and they find this all the time in the battlefields. They also find live ordnance. What the farmers do is when they find it they pick it up very carefully and they put it on the side of their field where there's a road and regularly the ordnance team comes and picks it up and then destroys it but it comes up all the time. So there's still live ammo out there on all those French fields and Belgian fields. The reason for going over there was because of this village of Cagnicourt and a village of about 200 and they had a celebration of 1000 people. We were in a parade of about a hundred and we were marching in the parade as part of the delegation and we went to the cemetery. So it was a Canadian or British cemetery and there was a French cemetery and we went to both and honored the dead that were buried. That evening, they had a banquet, and there were about 300 people at the banquet. It was in the largest facility in that village, and it was the potato sorting warehouse. It was beautifully decorated but it was the only place that would facilitate that many people. The next day we went to the surrounding cemeteries and some of the ... Oh, no it was later that afternoon we went to the surrounding cemeteries and some of the Canadian dignitaries were there. The Minister of Defense and there were some other senior military officers from the European office was there as well. We all had paid our respects to those soldiers who were killed in those battles as well. I think that was the turning point in my interest in really trying to get to know and understand not just my grandfather's experience but the other soldiers, Japanese Canadian soldiers of World War One that were also part of the, we figure now at least 225 Japanese Canadians from British Columbia that went to Calgary, Alberta to enlist because the British Columbia government wouldn't let the Japanese Canadians enlist because they would have to give them the right to vote and they didn't want to give Asians the right to vote. So they denied them enlistment, but Calgary did and they became part of the Calgary Regiment. Tape paused.
LJ
Josh Labove, still in Edmonton, Alberta with David Mitsui. So talking about your grandfather, did he talk much about his military experience with you or the evolution of coming out from BC to Alberta to enlist?
DM
My grandfather never spoke a word about his previous life at all, mainly because he didn't want to recall his war experience. He spoke a little bit of English but not a lot of English. Growing up we could understand a little bit of Japanese but certainly not have a conversation with him. We could understand enough to let him know what we were up to and tell him things that were happening in our life, but not for him to sit and tell a story to us or to recount some of his experiences. I learned about my grandfather mainly from my dad and my aunts. My grandfather Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908. His father was a naval officer in the Japanese navy.
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DM
He was away a lot when they were battling China and other places. But my grandfather wanted to enlist as well. He tried to enlist but for whatever reason, and we don't know why, his enlistment was refused. We think as a result of that, he left Japan and he came to Canada. He landed in Victoria and became a dish washer and chauffeur. That's where he started in Canada. He became involved in the community I think quite quickly because there was a pretty large Japanese immigrant population in the lower mainland already. He moved to the Vancouver area after leaving Victoria. That's when he met his fellow soldiers and they wanted to enlist when World War One broke out in 1914. As I said, the British Columbia government wouldn't let them enlist even though they had started to form a Japanese Canadian contingent that wanted to enlist in BC but they had to disband because of that. After going to Calgary and then having come back from the war, about fifty percent of them did not come back. So they lost about fifty percent. When my grandfather was discharged in April 1919 and came back to Vancouver, like all the other ones came back to Vancouver as well, the Japanese Canadian community raised money and they built the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park and it was dedicated to the soldiers of World War One. On one side of the pillar are the names of those who returned and the other side of the pillar are those that did not return. At the base are petals outlining all the battles that the Japanese Canadian soldiers were involved in. Still wanting the right to vote, and wanting to form a group to lobby the government, they first of all created the local Legion Branch Number 9. There was a lot of resistance from other Legions that were mainly white Anglo-Saxon and Protestants that were against them. I guess the head of the Legion permitted them to create their own branch of Japanese Canadian soldiers, vets. In 1931, my grandfather was the president. They brought together a number of vets, as well as Japanese Canadian businessmen and the secretary of the Legion and they travelled to Victoria with the sole purpose of lobbying the legislature to get the franchise. After the vote, it turned out that they had won the right to vote by one vote from the legislators but it was a hollow victory because only the Japanese Canadian vets were given the right to vote in 1931.
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DM
The rest of the Japanese populations weren't given the right to vote until 1949. When they found out that they had won that concession, they returned to Vancouver and their sole purpose at that time was not to celebrate that the vets had won the right to vote, but they gathered around the cenotaph and they wanted to honor their fallen comrades. So that event was pretty historical. I submitted a proposal to the Honorable Peter Kent back in 2007 that the Japanese Canadian veterans of World War One getting their right to vote was a historical event and should be identified as such. I got a letter back from him in July of 2011, it took a while, stating that he approved my proposal and the Japanese Canadian vets of World War One getting the right to vote is a historical event. That started the process of getting a plaque made and getting the wording on it embedded and having it installed. So we're at the stage now of the wording has been embedded, I'm not sure if the plaque has yet been made but we are looking and we put in a request to have the plaque installed at the site of the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Vancouver in Stanley Park installed in April of 2016 which is sort of the beginning when the Japanese Canadian war vets were enlisted to fight with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. It's also the 100th anniversary of World War One, and 2017 would be the 100th of Vimy, the battle of Vimy Ridge. So I guess we were waiting patiently for this election to be over because nothing is happening during this election period. We were hopeful that something is going to happen, can happen, next April. Let's see, where was I, going back ... So after they won the right to vote, World War Two happened. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. That brought into play all of the discrimination and prejudice and fear of the yellow peril as Barry Broadfoot stated. William Lyon Mackenzie and his cabinet and the BC Premier and his cabinet fearing that the Japanese Canadian along the Western Pacific Coast were a threat to their existence and the War Measures Act was introduced. From my understanding, things happened pretty quickly starting in 1942. Some of the men were immediately taken to internment camps or work camps, with families to follow.
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DM
My grandfather owned a seventeen acre poultry farm in Port Coquitlam, and the address is 1945 Laurier Avenue. My dad was given permission, and actually I have the certificate, it's called the security certificate that allows him to stay on the farm while he takes care of the house and business, and the rest of the family is sent to Greenwood and the internment camps. Shortly after my dad left, he went to Greenwood as well. Someone contacted the Mitsui family at Greenwood and said “Your house has been basically vandalized.” They were told before they left to put all the valuables in the basement and it'll be there when they got back. The house was broken into and everything was stolen out of it. The house was sold by the government, I think I have it written down here, for long pause ... So the BC government sold the house and paid the family $2,291.00 dollars minus legal costs to transfer the title. It was bought by a person, a fellow named Edward James Gilmore for $893.70 and included a bill of sale of everything the family owned including farm tools and, quote, “Japanese fancy goods all packed in boxes.” I heard that the family, my grandfather's family never got the money from the sale of the house. The government used it to pay for their internment, okay? We were, my wife's daughter and her husband, moved to Port Coquitlam about five years ago. When we were looking up their address in Port Coquitlam, this real estate ad popped up on Google. It had this house for sale, 1945 Laurier Avenue, formerly owned by World War One veteran Sergeant Masumi Mitsui. So we clicked on that link and sure enough the house was for sale. Only the farm house, not the 17 acres because it's all developed land now. And the family wanted $700,099.00 for it. So my wife said “You need to contact the real estate agent because we're going to be in Port Coquitlam for Thanksgiving.” Which is just the following week. So she sent an email to him on his link and within ten minutes we get a phone call. “This is the real estate agent, I'd love you meet you. I've got a lot of information about your grandfather.” So we were there for Thanksgiving and on that Sunday we had a private showing of the house that my grandfather had built and rebuilt in 1941 because there was a fire. There were four bedrooms and the kitchen was modernized but the rest of the house was basically the same.
LJ
What's that like? I mean there you are in the house with a real estate agent who's looking for a commission and you're looking at your grandfather's prized asset lost from the war and you're finding it through someone who's getting ready to sell it?
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DM
It was, an eerie experience. We thought we would also meet the family who owned it but I think they decided to leave the city that weekend. So we never met the family that lived there that was selling it but they had lived there since apparently 1960 or something like that.
LJ
And he wasn't aware of it?
DM
No, but the house was in the process of being designated with some historical designation like a heritage home. So it would put limits on what you could do with the house in terms of modernizing it or changing the exterior or whatever. It was a cottage style home but it was just, I don't know, an unreal experience to ... especially just walking ... The downstairs was pretty much, the kitchen was modernized, the living room area and dining room, you know the spaces were the same but it had been upgraded a bit. Going upstairs to the bedrooms, the ceiling was rounded and it had like cedar planks, thin planks and four bedrooms and I'm thinking, “hmm I wonder which one my dad had and which one was my aunt Lucy and my aunt Amy.” You could tell which one was the main, master bedroom. It was ... yeah. I was thinking if things were different and this property was still owned by my grandfather, what it would have been like. Then I thought, “well, if he was still here maybe I wouldn't be here” because of just how things, how life continues on. My wife thought that I should contact the, I'm not sure which one, citizenship or immigration or whatever and say “you know, maybe you should buy this house and make it into a museum because it is historical.” Apparently, the house during the war was used by the Japanese Consulate for a period of time. I looked at the farm house on the website recently and apparently it was sold just last year 2014 for $600,061.00. You know my wife says “That should be your place” and I thought no that's history. That's a long time ago and I'm not into digging up old wounds like that and you know that's my history but it's not my history. It's my grandfather's and my father's place, or was their place. It just made me, I guess, very sad.
LJ
But not angry?
DM
Not angry, no. And certainly I couldn't feel angry with the family that currently owned it because they were never involved with that and certainly politicians today weren't involved and it was the political atmosphere and climate at the time when World War Two was happening.
LJ
Your grandfather didn't live long enough to see a formal apology or redress. What do you think he would've thought had he been there to shake Prime Minister Mulroney's hand or hear those words?
DM
Well, he fought for redress his entire life. He always wanted to have some compensation for loosing that property. He never forgave the government for the decisions that led to the internment of the Japanese Canadians and losing all the property that was involved. In fact, he was so much bitter about what happened to him, he never went to a public Remembrance Day service after World War Two.
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DM
He was always very supportive of the military and respected the military but he never forgave the government. And that is why on Remembrance Day he would be at home in his military uniform with his Royal Canadian Legion beret and his medals.
LJ
And you have those medals now?
DM
And I have those medals now. It was not until 1983, he was living in Hamilton with my aunt Amy and her husband Tak, that a Hamilton Spectator reporter found out that he was living in Hamilton, that he was still alive. He interviewed the family and the main Legion in Hamilton learned about his existence and they invited him to their Remembrance Day ceremony. That was the first public ceremony he went to after World War Two. In 1984, there was a federal election and Brian Mulroney in his platform had indicated ... and because of lobbying from the National Association of Japanese Canadians had lobbied for redress. There was a national redress committee that was formed and it was chaired by Art Miki out of Winnipeg. They lobbied him during the election about redress and a public apology for the internment. Brian Mulroney said “If I'm elected I will support that.” So after he got elected, the redress committee went after the Prime Minister and said how are we going to do this and this is what we want and we want compensation and that was the start of discussions. There was nothing settled, there was nothing to indicate how Brian Mulroney was going to follow through with it. But in 1985, on August the 2nd, the War Memorial Committee had raised funds to restore the cenotaph and wanted to rededicate it. They invited my grandfather who lived in Hamilton to Vancouver and he was ninety-three at the time. They wanted him to be a part of the ceremony. So my two aunts, my dad's sisters, Amy and Lucy, accompanied him to Vancouver. He was given the honor of relighting the lantern at the top of the cenotaph. He was in a wheel chair but he stood at attention and he saluted and he said “This is my last duty to my comrades.” I think that was sort of the part of the first phase of getting redress talks started by having that type of profile. So he passed away in April of 1987 and the public apology and compensation came in 1988.
LJ
Not too long after.
DM
Nope. He passed away six months before his 100th birthday in September. He was one of the last two surviving Japanese Canadian vets of World War One. We think the other one was somewhere ... may have immigrated or returned to Japan, but we're not sure.
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LJ
Yeah but certainly to have served and then to have become an enemy of the state makes his story uniquely tragic in many ways.
DM
Well when he had to report to the security commission at Hastings Park, that's where everybody had to report to, he said “Well, what good are these medals” and he threw them down at the officer and left. My aunt Lucy apparently had gone with him to report in and she retrieved the medals.
LJ
She had the better sense to pick them up.
DM
Yeah.
LJ
Where do you keep the medals now?
DM
They're in a safety deposit box in the bank. I take them out once a year and three years ago I was asked to become part of the Japanese War Memorial Committee in Stanley Park in Vancouver and we planned the annual Remembrance Day service. My first year there, I gave a speech about my grandfather and I had the medals and a photograph of him with his medals. Since then, I've been a part of the committee and I go there every year and embark on the ceremony and I lay the reef on behalf of Local Branch Number Nine, Legion Number Nine.
LJ
What is it like to look at them? You go to the safety deposit box and pull out the medals. Do you go back to thinking about being a little kid sitting on his lap?
DM
I do, and I think of how fortunate I am that I have these medals. Because I had spoken to friends and acquaintances that had fathers, grandfathers and uncles that were in the war and knew that they got medals but they have no idea where they are. In World War One, all of the medals are inscribed with the recipient's name. So when you see World War I medals for sale, on Kijiji or whatever or an auction, that's how they know who they belong to, because on the edge of the medals is his name.
LJ
That doesn't happen anymore.
DM
Nope. When I went to France with that tour group in 2003, we had a lot of military people with us and they said that, well, some said that I could wear the medals but on my right chest. Normally you would wear them on your left breast. Some said “no, only the recipient can wear medals.” When I opened the Military Museum in Calgary, the Regimental Secretary asked me to put my grandfather's medals on my right breast. So I figured if he says I could wear them then I wore them. In looking back now, I have a pamphlet on military medals and what they mean and what they stand for and who could wear them. Nobody else can wear them except for the recipient, so I don't wear them anymore. It would have been 1995 or 96, I got a call from a historian with the War Museum in Ottawa. They were developing a new War Museum at that time. I think the new War Museum opened somewhere around I think in 2005 or 2004 or something like that, in the early 2000s. This historian said “We are looking at including a display about the Japanese Canadian and the internment and they want to display seven prominent Japanese Canadians and your grandfather is one of them.” I was quite thrilled that they had selected him. They said well we would like a photograph and we would like to have his medals but I said “no you can't have his medals.”
01:05:10.000
01:05:10.000
DM
They said we would like to include him and they wanted my permission, I guess because I've been the spokesperson for the family on this, and I said sure. So I kept in touch with her over the years and then she gets back to me about 1999 or 98 and she said “Remember I told you there were seven, well there are three only but your grandfather is still one of the three and we still want to pursue that.” So I was there a year after the museum opened and he's there with Joy ... what's her name?
LJ
Kogawa?
DM
Yes, yes. There's one other person there and I can't remember. There was something about the display that just, it was great to talk about the internment and they had pictures and everything else, and my grandfather's photo, the three photos, and a little description underneath but there was something there that just didn't seem right. It took me a while to figure it out but when you walked into this area where the display was; on the floor they had projected the Japanese flag. I wasn't the only one that thought that this was strange. You don't walk on countries flags. I guess the National Association of Japanese Canadians also made comments about it and contacted the museum. I haven't been back to the museum since, but I think they may have changed that and may have changed the tone of the display as well. I've got to go back and see that for myself.
LJ
Your parents obviously didn't talk much about the internment you said, but I'm wondering if they had any prized possessions that they may have taken with them to Hastings Park. Your grandfather obviously had his medals but if there was anything that didn't get locked up in Port Coquitlam but went with them into the camps.
DM
Well, one item, prized item, that I have in my possession is my great great grandfather's ... and it's called a wakizashi. The wakizashi is the small samurai sword as opposed to the katana, which is the long battle sword, two handed battle sword. Yeah, wakizashi. When the family was told they had to move or be relocated, my dad and grandfather buried some valuables. The Japanese sword was one of them, the samurai sword. I'm not sure what other things were buried.
LJ
They buried this on...their property?
DM
Somewhere, my dad buried it somewhere and after the war he recovered it. Otherwise it would have been confiscated as a weapon. How he got that is an interesting story. My dad went to Japan in 1938. Apparently, and this is what he told me, he and a buddy had stolen a police car and driven it into a lake. As part of, I think his consequences, my grandfather sent him on a slow boat to Japan for a year laughs and he stayed with family over there. When he came back, the family had given him the wakizashi, and that's how he got it. He had it at home for the longest time. I remember he would bring it out once in a while, I remember seeing it when I was in elementary school. In fact, I took it to elementary school one day as a show and tell.
01:10:27.000
01:10:27.000
LJ
Oh boy, that must have been a dangerous show and tell.
DM
Laughs Well, the teacher was quite fascinated with it and she kept it in her desk thankfully laughs. But we think it was made sometime in the 17th century. How they make Japanese swords, it's a family heirloom. Apparently it's not a priceless heirloom. My mom took it to one of those antique roadshow things where they get it assessed when it was in Hamilton. They said it was, you know there were a lot of them around and this wasn't really noteworthy other than being a family heirloom. So it wasn't worth the hundreds of millions of dollars that some of them are worth. But my mom went to Japan in 1970, for EXPO 70, Osaka 70. That's the only time she's been to Japan. She met the Mitsui family when she was over there and she saw the katana sword, the matching pair to the sword that I had. She tried to bring it out of the country and the Japanese government wouldn't let her take it out of the country.
LJ
So it's still over there.
DM
It's still in Japan somewhere. I've never seen it. I've never met any of my relatives over there. So that was the medals and my grandfather's World War One medals and the sword are the two valuable possessions that they were able to take with them.
LJ
And hold onto?
DM
And hold onto, yeah. There are some photographs as well because I have ... Well, just the evening before my dad passed away, we were in Hamilton and he was showing us some old family photos. We're trying to put names on these photos, oh that's so and that's so and so but there's this old 8x10 photograph and it's half-eaten by mold but it's his grandfather's portrait in his military uniform. So they must have been able to take some family photographs as well with the possessions. They would have been disappeared or stolen with the rest of the stuff.
LJ
What brought you ... sort of moving ahead, to your life a little bit? What brought you to Alberta? Maybe you can say something about the Japanese-Canadian community here and reflect on it having lived in other parts of the country.
DM
Okay, I grew up in Smithville and went to University of Waterloo and graduated in 1978. As part of my studies at the University of Waterloo, I took a course in my final year on a course called “Comparative Study of Leisure Systems in Europe.” I was in a group of I think thirty in our class. We went to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and England for six weeks. We studied the recreation and leisure and sport systems in those main cities. There were four students from the University of Alberta who also joined us. One of them was my future wife. So in 1978, well this was in May, June, of 1976 that we went on this trip and after the trip we kind of just kept in touch and then she wrote me in, I think it was January of 1978.
01:15:23.000
01:15:23.000
DM
I was working at a place called Seam Hincks Rural Treatment Farm just north of Toronto. She said “I've got to take holidays, would you like me to come visit for a week?” I said sure, because I got that week off. I used to work a whole week for eighteen hours and then we would get that following week off. So I said these are the dates I'm off. So she arrived and we kind of renewed our friendship and she said “You know there's jobs out in Alberta, why don't you come out to Alberta?” So I thought about it and thought about it. We kept calling back and forth and writing. In July, I decided that it may be a good move to go out there and see what there is. So I called my ... I went home on one of my weeks off and I said I'm thinking of moving to Alberta and there was no response laughs. In talking to my mom afterwards, she said “This is just a passing fad.” The following week, the next time I was home I said “yup, I'm moving. I'm going to leave on this date, and oh by the way can I have the car” laughs. I was using my mom's car. Now it's more serious laughs. Before I left, my dad said “If you're going to take that car, it needs a ring job; it needs a motor job on it.” I said “okay, can we do that before I go?” My dad said “well, I guess so.” My dad was a good mechanic before he worked at Stelco for thirty odd years, he owned his own garage. So he and I took the motor apart and we got the car back together, and he did a little bit of body on it and I think I left sometime around the first week of August. My mom was up at the cottage in Peterborough, so I stopped there for a couple of days. After that, I just drove west. Actually, there's a funny story. I stayed with friends in Dryden, Ontario. One evening before I was continuing on my journey, they had a friend stop by and this guy was leaving for Vancouver the next morning as well. I said “oh I'm heading to Alberta tomorrow morning.” He goes “Well what are you driving?” and I said “I've got a Datsun B210 just a little small car.” He goes “Oh I've got an empty five ton truck why don't we go together?” and I said “yeah, we could follow you.” “No, no, no. Drive your car into the back of my five ton truck and get to Alberta, you can go your way I'll continue on to Vancouver.” So I thought the car is not going to fit into this truck. Well, sure enough it fit in, we blocked the wheels and off we went. We got around Medicine Hat. Between Medicine Hat and Calgary we started to look for ramps because I had to back the car out of the truck to get the car out. So we drive by this department highway's lot where they've got sand piled up and everything else and graters and they've got a ramp. So we backed it up, pulled the car out and started up and I go north to Edmonton, to Spruce Grove actually and he continues onto Vancouver. When I got to my, at the time girlfriend's place, Marge's place in Spruce Grove, I called home and my dad said “How's the car working?” and I said “dad you won't believe the gas mileage I got out of that” laughs.
01:20:10.000
01:20:10.000
DM
I said “I used less than a tank of gas to get from Winnipeg to Alberta” laughs. Then I had to tell him the whole story. So I moved to Spruce Grove, in August of '78. We got married July of '79. I worked as a recreation therapist at Alberta Hospital Edmonton for about a year. Then I applied for a new position at a new facility that was just opening up called the Edmonton Remand Centre in downtown Edmonton. It was opening to take inmates in September of 1979. I had applied in June of '79, so I changed jobs and I worked at the Edmonton Remand Centre for four years. My third year of employment there, I had put in a request for an education leave to do my master's degree at the University of Alberta. They required an eight month residency. So I took courses and went back to work. I went back to work May of, it would have been '83. In my spare time, '83, '82, to June of '84, I wrote my thesis and defended my thesis. During that time, July of '83, another position came up at the university and they wanted someone to start a pilot project on developing a professional practicum program in the recreational degree. Based on my broad experience in recreation, I got hired. So it was a two year contract. I left the government and went on a two year contract and took a pay cut and ended up staying there until I retired in June of 2014. So it was a good move. During my time at the university, they also encouraged us to have professional involvement with our field. So I was actively involved in the recreational field and served on board of directors of the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association from about 1988 to 1993 and then I served on the board of directors of the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association from 1993 to 2000.
LJ
Did you ever get the sense from your folks, obviously this move to Alberta was not a passing fad, but did you ever get the sense from them that they lived to see you thrive and do what you love and be successful at it?
DM
Well, that's a good question. When I was in grade thirteen and we had to start ... in Ontario we had grade thirteen ... we had to start thinking about what universities we wanted to go to and what ones we were going to apply to. I was always an athlete then, so applying to physical education degrees and McMaster and, where else, Queens University in Kingston and Western in London, I think made sense to my mom and dad.
01:25:03.000
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DM
But then I applied for a recreation degree at the University of Waterloo. I had no idea what recreation was. “What are you studying? recreation? leisure? what's that?” Well I said “it's how people spend their free time.” “Well, alright what are you going to do with that?” Well, I don't know, maybe be a director of recreation for a small town or work with people with disabilities and what have you. As I went through my degree, they got a little better understanding of it. I think the same with my brother, my brother went to the University of Toronto and he studied geography and history. I think perhaps his intention was always to go into teaching but he never went that direction. He got involved with the restaurant service industry, so that's the direction he went to. Anyways, in talking to my mom it would have been maybe ten years ago, she said “You've had a good career and based on your education and going into recreation, I'm proud of what you've done and you've done so well.” I said “I'm sure you had a lot of questions when I was in high school, and I didn't exactly know what I was going to end up doing.” She made that comment after I received a national award from the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association for my involvement in recreation initiatives across Canada and sent them the brochure from the awards banquet
LJ
And they liked that.
DM
And they liked that, yeah.
LJ
So you said that your parents raised you as Canadian, whatever that means. Have you sort of adopted some sort of similar approach in your own parenting or do you find that you wanted to find some of those quote unquote Japanese things and bring Japanese identity back into your home and your family in a way that maybe wasn't there when your parents were raising you?
DM
My first marriage, and I was married from '79 to '93 and had a daughter born in '84, she's 31 now, I don't think there was any, anything directly that I did to encourage or embrace Japanese culture. Other than going to a Japanese restaurant and enjoying the food. During my first marriage, I never went home that often. So I always missed out on New Year's and Christmas. That's when the two largest celebrations are that were in our family.
LJ
What would you all do for news years or Christmas?
DM
Well, Christmas on my mom's side of the family basically with seven siblings. It was a large family, so there was a large family gathering and as we got older, the cousins would have boyfriends or girlfriends so they would also attend as well. So it got up to be around twenty-five or thirty-five people and I was pretty close to my aunts, uncles, and cousins. So Christmas was, sometimes you spend it with one side of the family and sometimes you spend it with the other side of the family but it was always my grandmother, my mom's mother always made sure there were some Japanese cuisine. They spent some time making the Japanese cuisine. So my aunts and my mom would all get together to do that, because my grandmother wanted to do that. For New Year's especially, they would make a lot more Japanese cuisine, sushi and things like that.
01:30:10.000
01:30:10.000
DM
The extended family would go to my grandmother's house on New Year's Day and it was a drop in. Certainly my mom's brother and sisters had extended friends as well and they would all come on New Year's. So we got to meet some of their friends as well. This was always a treat for them because in the '60s and '70s there weren't that many Japanese restaurants laughs. They were not of Japanese origin so these were all foods that they would only see once a year and they would not miss it for anything laughs.
LJ
Do you have any favorite food or food memories of those occasions?
DM
Oh, well I think my favorite is sashimi, which is raw fish. I like sushi as well and any of the raw fishes. The sashimi, I enjoy. It was always a treat, but going to a Japanese restaurant I like to order a variety of things as well. It's just not something that I have every day at home.
LJ
Yeah, it would have been special. This of course is making me think of ... I still, dominantly, live in Vancouver and off course the cuisine, the Japanese cuisine there is quite good. Did your family ever go back to Vancouver? I know your grandfather did go to Stanley Park towards the end of his life. Were there sort of ill feelings toward the province and did they ever go back?
DM
When I lived in Spruce Grove, they came out a couple of times. They came out with friends. The one time they came out, for when I got married the first time in 1979, they continued their trip and went through BC to Vancouver. My mom's family, Kawamura family grew up in Powell Street in what was, at the time, called Gastown, which was where the Japanese community lived. I don't think that there were any ill feelings about going back. It was, I think, when she went back she said it was just very different. It was all built up differently. The streets are still named the same, but the buildings are all different and things like that.
LJ
Yeah, there's been a lot of change in Vancouver to say the least.
DM
Yeah, there's still some of the buildings there where Little Japan exists now. Some of the hall, the main hall there, and some of the residences, some of the businesses that used to be owned by Japanese businessmen, well, they're still there. I was there last year in September for the NAJCHEM and went on a small walking tour of that area. But where she lived, it was all different on Powell Street.
LJ
Where abouts on Powell Street?
DM
It was in the section that was referred to as Gastown.
LJ
Okay, yeah I'm trying to imagine a decent clip of west I would think along Powell Street
01:34:34.000
01:34:34.000
DM
Probably, yeah. You were asking about my involvement here? So, let's see in ... I got divorced in '93 and about that time, this facility was being renovated. The Argyll Community League, community center, as a result of the redress the NAJC received an endowment grant as part of that redress and local Japanese Canadian Associations could apply for grants. The EJCA received $250,000 dollars to help redevelop this center. They were having a, I guess a grand opening. My aunt and uncle from Hamilton came out, Tak and Amy Kuwabara my dad's sister and brother in law because their grandson Ryan Kuwabara was going to be playing at a hockey camp at the university here coach by Claire Drake. Ryan was playing at the time with the Kukaro bunnies in Japan. They were going to be here a week for the camp. So my aunt and uncle came out and we had dinner with them and they said “Oh, we're going to this opening tomorrow, do you want to join us?” So I came with them and this was the first time that I heard of the EJCA and the center. I didn't really think anything of it, I was busy with my life and I got remarried in 1996 and my wife, my current wife Diane who I married, has a French background and a German background but loved everything Japanese. So we started coming here after that for just special events. You know, once a year or maybe once every two years. About five years ago I guess I started taking ... we wanted to go to Japan, because the first time we went to Japan was about 1999 with my daughter Meaghan when she was in junior high. She was studying Japanese language and Diane and I went as chaperons with their school group. My experience with them was everyone else is Caucasian. I'm the only one that looks Japanese. So we get off the train and all the teachers and all the parents started talking to me and I can't speak a word of Japanese. The teacher, the sensei is white and he's standing back laughing laughs.
LJ
Does he speak Japanese?
DM
Well, he's their instructor laughs.
LJ
Right. Right. Oh Boy.
DM
So next time I go to Japan I need to learn to speak Japanese. So it must have been about 2005 or 2006 maybe, I took one term and I studied Japanese with the extension at the University of Alberta and it was really intensive. It was like almost a first year Japanese language course. It was quite difficult. So I took that and we went back to Japan in 2007 on our trip. After that, I should try to get back at Japanese again. So I started taking a class here and took it about two and a half years I guess. While I was taking Japanese, the president of the association, Cathy Tennant said “Why don't you run for the board? We'd like to have you on the board of directors here.” I said “no, no, I can't speak Japanese yet” and she said “Oh no, you don't have to speak Japanese, you just have to have an appreciation for Japanese culture.” So I said okay and I put my name for the board and got elected for the board. Then after a year on the board, I won't say I was railroaded but I was encouraged to put my name forward as president so I've been president for the last three years of EJCA and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
01:40:21.000
01:40:21.000
LJ
What's Japanese Canadian life like today in the community like in Edmonton?
DM
I think we have a pretty vibrant association here and it's mainly, not being Japanese, but having an appreciation for Japanese culture. It is trying to teach others and educate others what Japanese culture is about. As part of our association, we have a lot of education focus, not just the language, you know, of teaching adults language but anyone can attend if they're members of EJCA. We also partner with other organization to teach Explore Japan. Explore Japan is for high school students that are in the Japanese language program. We have a Japan Today which is for junior high students, all junior high students. The schools can sign up and then they register their students and pay so much and they are given a day or half a day of experiencing Japanese culture like putting on a kimono and doing calligraphy and martial arts and learning basic, like, greetings in Japanese.
LJ
It sounds like these aren't necessarily things that you got to do a whole lot of as a kid.
DM
I didn't get to do that at all.
LJ
So what does it feel like to be able to offer that to kids with the feeling that this is not stuff that you got to have growing up?
DM
Just envy. I wish I had this growing up. I'm glad that my daughter Meaghan was able to study Japanese language and she was quite good at it but she hasn't done anything with it since she left high school. But one day she may want to go to Japan and I don't think it would take her long to pick up the language again.
LJ
When you first went to Japan you didn't speak the language, but what did it feel like beyond the language barrier. Did it feel like this is a place that makes sense to me, this is where my family came from or did you say “I'm Canadian, I see the difference now that separates us.” What was it like?
DM
I think I felt like I was a fish out of water because when I look in the mirror, I look Japanese. When I open my mouth, I'm not Japanese. Initially, I was embarrassed because I couldn't speak the language. I think I have gotten over that now. It's just a very difficult language to learn when you're an adult and you're not raised with it. I can understand more words than I can speak. So I can understand more when I listen, more than I can speak. My first experience in Japan was with a home stay family. Diane and I were with one family, my daughter was with another family. Our host family was amazing. The mother couldn't speak any English and could understand very little. The three kids were learning English because English is their second language in Japan. They could read and write it but they have difficulty speaking it because they never hear it spoken. The father is an architect and he had a little bit of English and could probably understand more than he could speak but it didn't take us long to be able to communicate by either gestures or writing things down.
01:45:00.000
01:45:00.000
DM
He had this dictionary that he always brought out and when he was looking for a word, he would look through it and he would find the word he was looking for then he would show me and “oh, okay that's what you wanted me to know.” Following them and their routines every day, it's different but it's the same. You know you get up, you get dressed, you go to work, you interact, you come home, and you have dinner together. Makiko was an excellent, excellent cook. I remember the first morning we called for breakfast and we were given the seat of honor. The seat of honor is on the low table on the floor with the dad. The mom and the three kids sat at the table. My wife and I looked at each other we're thinking jeez with our knees I wish we had the table laughs but it's the traditional Japanese presentation and the food is always immaculately prepared and it's so beautifully displayed. My wife goes gaga over the ceramics and the dishes and presentation. It was all of those things that I never grew up with. You know, you get some of that when you went to a Japanese restaurant but certainly not every day in the home. We would go to the school with the kids every day and joined in their activities and we would join them for lunch. Makiko would make us these bento boxes. The first time we opened up one of these bento boxes we were just amazed with all the delicious food that was in there laughs and I'm sure it took her hours to prepare. She would do that for the kids as well and the husband. We kept in touch with them for a long time after. For some reason we stopped writing letters back and forth. I think we'll need to contact them again, I think all their kids are grown up now and married and moved away. They're empty nesters.
LJ
I guess, just you know, in sort of wrapping up a little up. Your grandfather's story is obviously incredible in the best and worst sense of the word; your parents as well. What does that feel like, we've talked about it now for a little a while, to think back on those stories that have been around you? Do you ever not think that your grandfather was a hero? Do you ever sort of you know, I don't know. How do you make sense of all of those stories that are in your family? Do they seem common place or ... ?
DM
Well they don't feel common place and there's a bit of regret in that I wish I had the knowledge that I have now growing up when my grandfather was still alive, to spend time asking questions and talking to him. You know when you're growing up, he's just grandpa. You spend time with him but you would talk about current things and don't have the maturity or the understanding to ask about pervious things and to get that level of understanding. So what I have learned about my family is mainly through my mom and dad and mainly my two aunts. I regret not having the chance to have that conversation with my grandfather. But certainly, is he a hero? Yes, I don't know if I could ever live through what he lived through. Especially in the war, and certainly there were a lot of other Japanese Canadians that had similar experiences than him. Certainly there were many decorated Japanese Canadian vets in World War One. But it seems like my grandfather has been singled out because he lived the longest perhaps.
01:50:41.000
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LJ
Is that a tough job to be the spokesperson then, for that legacy?
DM
Well, it's a big responsibility. I questioned myself on how am I going to pass this on because I've spoken with my daughter a few times and she doesn't seem to have that interest but neither did I at that age. So I said maybe I just need to be patient and wait for her to start asking questions. I've got other cousins as well that I've lost touch with. Certainly, sitting down with them and going over what I've researched and everything I've found out about our grandfather would likely be of interest to them, too. So maybe if my daughter isn't interested in carrying on the legacy then who would be interested and how can that be continued, you know that family legacy, how can that be continued because having his medals is a wonderful gift to have right now but how do I make them available to my other relatives, because it's either that or turning them over to a museum.
LJ
Have you thought about that?
DM
I've been asked by many museums for them.
LJ
Yeah, sounds like it.
DM
But the thing is with museums, they turn over their displays and many artifacts, they never see the light of day for decades. I don't want that to be the case. The only one that I know wouldn't do that I think would be the Nikkei Museum.
LJ
What was your grandpa like as a grandpa? I think a lot of folks know and have heard stories of him as a soldier. But what was he like as a grandfather?
DM
Well, he was somebody we always went to, we always visited. Usually once a week or every couple of weeks growing up in elementary and high school but not so much once I hit university because we just weren't home. He lived with my grandma. Well, we all lived together on York Street until we moved to Smithville. I recall staying there overnight and staying with them. He was always, always had his favorite chair and he always had his Japanese books and I can't remember which soap opera he was into, but he liked his soap opera. My grandmother had the garden and always had, must have had the greenest thumb in the neighborhood because all of her vegetables were always so perfect but it was because of the language we didn't talk a lot. It was always so, I remember just growing up always so happy to go visit them and go see them. As I got older, the one thing I remember he always had a shot of cherry whiskey. He liked his cherry whiskey and he said “Grandpa's daily drink” or he called it daily medicine or something like that.
01:55:14.000
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LJ
Cherry whiskey, oh boy.
DM
I did taste it once and said oh this is sweet, very sweet laughs.
LJ
So yeah there was a language barrier so you weren't very chatty but were sports a part of it for you all? I know you were very athletic it sounds like.
DM
Because he had injuries from the war, he wasn't out walking or he didn't see us play sports at all.
LJ
And your grandma? What was your relationship with her like?
DM
She always fed us, that's what I remember laughs.
LJ
It's a good relationship laughs.
DM
She always had food available for us and my dad's younger brother, Harry, was an upholster. A very good upholster and had an upholster business in the house on York street. My grandmother would make futon, comforters, out of some of the material that Harry had. I think I just threw out the comforter that my grandmother made me back when I was in high school. Yeah it was made out of, it was new at the time...what do they call them, those quilt that they use for moving? padded quilts? Harry would make them and my grandmother would put on oriental type of fabric on top of it and do whatever she did with them and made comforters and futons out of them.
LJ
Well, I guess in closing, especially since you mentioned a desire to figure out where all this legacy goes and here we are recording these stories for the future. I'll just ask, is there anything we haven't had a chance to talk about or any stories or anecdotes or thoughts that we haven't had a chance to discuss that you really want to share.
DM
There are a couple of stories my dad shared with me of my grandfather's war experience. One was the Battalions suffered through some of the first mustard gas attacks on the battlefield. The soldiers were told to remove their underwear and urinate in them and breathe through them because it would neutralize the gas and that's how they survived the gas attacks, because many didn't survive the gas attacks. The other one was when my grandfather was responsible for leading his men because he got field promotions because his leaders would get killed or injured or be wounded. He had to find a way to keep his men moving and charging up the hill and gaining that ground or trench or whatever. My dad told me that he used to carry a couple of canteens all the time. Whenever they were in a village or wherever, he'd always look for alcohol whether it was wine or some spirits that was available and he would fill his canteen. He encouraged his men to advance or after a tough battle, he would give them a drink out of his canteen.
LJ
Dangle the carrot
DM
Yeah, so he, I guess he knew how to keep his men moving and hopefully alive. It's something I can't relate to and you know the battle or war like that. I see old clips of some of World War One battles, the mud, and the trenches they had to go through and the barbed wire. It's an amazing story for anyone to survive those conditions.
LJ
I think I'm always amazed at the desire and the yearning to want to serve in that way. Especially during World War One, which is why I think some people do respond to your grandfather's story, because there were so many obstacles put in his way to enlist. Which is already not a fun prospect and he picked up and moved to put himself in harm's way which I think is something that folks certainly in the more peaceful Canada we live in today find hard to imagine. Wonderfully hard to imagine but hard to imagine still.
DM
Well, I think for the Japanese Canadian vets of World War One, it was demonstrating their allegiance to their new country. Wanting the respect of the government enough that they were considered Canadian citizens and could vote, because if you're able to vote in a democracy you're part of that democracy. If you're in a democracy and you can't vote then you're not considered part of that country and they wanted to demonstrate that they were truly deserving to be part of Canada and to be Canadian citizens. That's not the case with anyone else. They were denied their rights to be Canadian citizens for such a long time, even though they put their life on the line for Canada. I don't know maybe it was my grandfather's history of samurai in the blood and his father being a naval officer, and he wanted to prove that he was worthy as well.
LJ
Well, David thank you very much for taking time and sharing these stories with me. It's been a pleasure.
DM
Well, it's been a pleasure recounting and doing the research on my grandfather as well and my family history. Someday I'll hear it all.
02:03:32.000

Metadata

Title

David Mitsui, interviewed by Joshua Labove, 22 September 2015

Abstract

David begins the interview with his earliest childhood memories including the different places he moved to in Ontario, where he went to school, and how his parents, after being interned, raised him. He recalls what it felt like growing up in an area where there were not many visible minorities. David explains that his curiosity regarding the internment and dispossession of his family stemmed from his interest in his grandfather’s participation in the First World War. He tells the story of how his grandfather enlisted in the Canadian Army, despite the BC government’s unwillingness to accept his application, in order to prove his allegiance to the country. David also describes his grandfather’s role in gaining the right to vote for Japanese-Canadian veterans. David then recalls the moment when his father, shortly after leaving for the Greenwood internment camp, was notified that their property had been vandalized and looted. He then moves on to reflect on how his grandfather may have felt about the Redress movement and the government apology had he been alive to experience that moment.

Credits

Interviewee: David Mitsui
Interviewer: Joshua Labove
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Edmonton, Alberta
Keywords: Joy Kogawa ; Hamilton ; Smithville; Ontario ; St. Catharines; College Street Public School; South Lincoln High School; Brock University; University of Waterloo; Queens University; Museum of Regiment; Regimental Secretary; National Association of Japanese Canadians; Calgary War Museum; Michel Gravel; Norm Christie; Common Wealth Graves Commission; Japanese Canadian War Memorial; Legion Branch Number Nine; Canadian Expeditionary Forces; Pearl Harbor ; Port Coquitlam; Greenwood ; Redress ; Apology; Brian Mulroney ; Hastings Park ; Stanley Park; Alberta ; Spruce Grove; Edmonton ; Powell Street ; Argyll Community Center; Edmonton Japanese Canadian Association; World War One; World War Two; 1900s – 2000s

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.