Sadao Donald Mukai, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 21 August 2017

Sadao Donald Mukai, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 21 August 2017

Abstract
Don tells the story of his family from his birth in Lethbridge, Alberta during the internment to their return to the coast in 1950 and eventually to Steveston, where he grew up. His father was a boat builder who lost his workshop and waterfront property in Steveston during the dispossession. Don speculates on the emotional and psychological impact of internment on his family, especially his parents and oldest sister. He also tells of his upbringing in Steveston and the work ethic it instilled in him, and of his work as a school counsellor and in real estate. Don is strongly concerned that current world events indicate that racism, human rights abuses, and intergenerational trauma are far from over.
00:00:00.000
Rebeca Salas (RS)
So this is Rebeca Salas, I'm here with Don Mukai, we're in Steveston, and it's August 21, 2017, and we're here to conduct his oral history for the Landscapes of Injustice project. Alright, so, I'm going to turn it over to you, Don, you can start, uh, perhaps from, from the beginning like we talked about, and um, maybe even start with uh, your name? If you want to, we just had a chat about your name.
Sadao Mukai (SM)
Yeah, okay. My name. My name is Sadao Donald Mukai. But uh. I thought my name was uh, Donald Sadao Mukai, until university when I was trying to, get my uh, degree kind of worked out in terms of what the name should be on it. And um, yeah, when I was younger I was called Donny, and in elementary school they used to call me Moose, because I was a little bigger than some of the kids, and um...my brother, Tom, he's uh...I guess he'd be the third oldest, but he, he'd always be teasing me and calling my Dinky because he was, six feet. And I was only five feet six, I was the runt of the family.
RS
laughs
SM
So he used to, tease me and call me Dinky. And then...as I got older, um...I guess, after I left high school, I decided I was going to be Don. laughing And so now I'm Don.
RS
laughs
SM
Yeah. pause Anyway, I was born, in Lethbridge, Alberta. Um, at that time the family was living in Taber, I think the west part of Taber called Dogtown. Uh, where a lot of the Japanese Canadians were um, basically interned. Um...they uh, they had a little kind of ghetto there. Um...and they didn't have a hospital in Taber, at that time. So uh...I think shortly after I was born, I think they eventually got a hospital, but, at that time, to uh...get to the closest hospital, I think was Lethbridge, that's why I was born in Lethbridge. And um...my early memories, are very...are very limited. I can't remember too much. Um...I think...I was having trouble with my cousin, who's about the same age. And she's a female, but she was bigger and stronger than I was, and uh. I think that was a bit of a problem for me at that time. And she used to beat me up, both laugh. And, people used to make fun of me and say, well how come you can't kind of...you know. Defend yourself against a woman or a, a girl, kind of thing. And, you're supposed to be, you know, man and all this kind of stuff, right. So it was a bit of a problem. Um, but...I survived that. Maybe a few scratches on the face, and, a few beatings but. That's one thing I can remember. But you know like a lot of the memories, early memories, I think sometimes are, are memories that, maybe not, uh...you know, I can remember, but...people telling me about it, so. You know, you kind of wonder, where the source is, but um. Yeah, and then, I remember...that part of my life was very uh, limited in terms of memory, but. Um...one of the things that uh, I've thought about since, about where we went to during the internment is that uh...it's a pretty, pretty tough place to I think uh, make a living from what I can gather. It's dry, and the only, it's...the only reason it's green is because it's, uh, irrigation, because if there wasn't irrigation there would be...it'd all be desert, I think. It's so dry there. And when I went back there I thought uh...I've been back there a few times and um...I was thinking it's a good thing...laugh I grew up on the West Coast because, laugh I don't think I would have liked it,
RS
Hmm.
SM
-growing up there or living there. Um...it's, you know I don't know if it was the badlands but uh...that's my sense of it. And uh...they uh. What, what I can remember too, it sounded like it was a pretty, difficult time for the family. Living there. It was kind of like they were...out of their element where...I think the family was used to living on the coast near the water, and. Being involved in the fishing industry. And uh. So I think it was quite difficult for them.
00:05:19.000
00:05:19.000
RS
Hm.
SM
breath But anyway, um. pause We moved from there back to the coast...in 1950. And uh, we ended up in New Westminster on the waterfront. And it was quite a, uh...it was quite a, interesting place, I think it was, unpainted wood with a lot of cracks in the walls, and. Over the water. And uh...you know. The plumbing I think just went straight into the water. And it was kind of like a shack. That um. I, I can't remember, that much about it, but. I went up north, uh...in uh...in my late teens and early twenties to work at the, North Pacific Cannery on the Skeena River. And, my sense of the place that we lived in in New Westminster was like the, so-called Indian village. That were kind of, on stilts over the water and. Um, they had a, oil stove but, they had to go, outside to the, outhouse and. They had uh, they had to go outside to get, communal water from the tap, outside. And it was a very small place to live in. And I thought it was probably like that. And then, I don't think we lived there very long. Less, maybe a year or less. And then we moved to the boundary of, um. Richmond and New Westminster. Uh, just down the Richmond side. And we lived uh...we lived...tutting sound in a rented house. But what I can remember about the rented house, it was close to the bus stop. And I remember finding some, loose change, loose uh, money there, some bill, and some, I don't know, some five dollar bill or something and I got pretty excited about that, and. I remember visiting a, neighbour who had. An interesting house with uh, just crammed with all these, antiques and curios and. Um...bearskins and stuff on the floor and it was laugh kind of an interesting place I used to go and visit there. And uh, and when we left that house after about a year of renting, I think the house was...pretty much, destroyed because. My brothers, my older brothers were into fighting a lot and. And there were dints in the walls, and. Doors were ajar, and windows were broken. And uh...I was thinking, we weren't very good tenants, I don't think.
RS
Hm.
SM
Because I've done, I've done quite a bit of renting over the years, I started...renting to um...people, that were, I thought pretty bad tenants. But I, we must have been pretty bad tenants at that time too. Um...so um. clears throat then we moved from there. To...uh...Steveston. And um...I think my dad said that he spent about 9000 dollars. Buying uh...three acres of land. Which is, part of the um, West Wind subdivision in Steveston now. Between uh, Moncton and Garry...and um, Railway and Number Two Road. Where a lot of uh, Japanese Canadians are living now. Uh, it's not quite Steveston Village where a lot of them live as well, but. It's closest kind of. Nice little division, close to Steveston. I've got a brother-in-law that lives there now. And um...yeah, and friends and extended family living there, so. It's um, it's a very popular place, for a lot of the Japanese Canadians that came back, after the war.
00:10:19.000
00:10:19.000
SM
Anyways, so we, we moved there, I think um...my dad was lucky because he did get a little bit of money for the um...the shipyard that he owned in Steveston. During the war, um. He was somebody that um...came to Canada. Uh, when he was eighteen in 1928. Uh, he came from a very uh...impoverished community in uh, in Wakayama-ken in Japan, and uh. He had, three older brothers and, two, older sisters. And I think, it was very difficult for him, to make a living there and I think, the family was having a difficult time because of the uh, the depression and, all the problems they were having trying to survive. Um...and, and even though he was um...he had some skills, in terms of carpentry in Japan, wooden boat-building, I think he became a master uh, wooden boat, uh, shipwright, uh...learning his trade there. He worked in the family shipyard. And uh, and shipyards around the area. To learn his trade. And so from a very early, age he learned how to build. And uh, make boats, out of wood, um. Because his older brothers kind of, were mentoring him. And helping him get started. And relatives were involved in the industry as well. In fact um...my mother was from a family like that as well. Um...even though from what I can gather from my mother's side, um...her father was working in the...sugar cane fields in Hawaii and then, things got really bad there and he, decided to come to Canada. But he had some skills as well in carpentry and then he got involved in uh, wooden boat building as well. And so they've kind of, had that connection I think that's why they, that's how they met and got married. But um...sniff yeah, so he came...at, at a very young age, here. And uh, fortunately his older brother, his oldest brother, decided to come here in, 1912. And so, that uh, made it easier for him because, he had connections and. He had uh...established himself as a carpenter and uh, a wooden boat builder. Um, in Steveston and up north in uh, Port Essington. Yeah, that's near Prince Rupert. And so um...he was lucky because that, that, and then he had relatives that were here as well, so that. Um, and, and family friends in the same village of Hikigawa in in, Wakayama-ken, so he, he was able to um...find employment and survive. Um, even though he was quite young and uh, he was single. Um...and, and it was hard. It was hard at that time to get jobs and things because. The uh...the atmosphere of course in Canada at that time was pretty...pretty negative towards the Japanese Canadians, the uh...they were trying to eliminate them from the fishing industry. Um...restricting, immigration...restricting fishing licences. Restricting how they could fish. Whether they had a motor on their boat or not, and. Of course they didn't want them to have motors. And uh...and all kinds of other restrictions that made it very difficult. So um. He was lucky his older brother had established, actually, a shipyard.
00:15:02.000
00:15:02.000
SM
In Steveston in, in 1934? Um...and uh, in 1938 his oldest brother had to go back and look after his parents. So, he bought out, his older brother for uh...I think about $12 000 at that time, so he had uh. Eighty feet of waterfront, in Steveston. And it was about, 200 feet deep so it's almost like three lots. Right on the waterfront in Steveston which is a, ideal location for, for his business because he'd be doing a lot of repair work. And also build new boats. And uh, of course Steveston was the uh, largest uh...small craft, commercial fishing, uh...uh, centre in Canada. At that time and also, probably now. So, it, it was quite a significant loss for him. Because he had, his residence on the property. Where, his family lived, where he had a...he had a newborn baby and uh...toddlers, and, and I guess the oldest was my sister who was six. Five, six years old. Living on the property as well. And um, and I think he was, probably one of the...he claims he was the only, privately owned shipyard. Owned by a Japanese Canadian on the coast, but. Who's to know, sometimes he was bragging all the time, you never know if he laughs he's got his facts right. But yeah, but it was quite amazing because he was only twenty-nine at that time. And that's pretty young, to...to have your privately-owned shipyard. In one of the...prime locations, in Canada basically. Uh, in Steveston there, right on the waterfront. And just starting his business, he had three employees. Working under him. He had about um...three or four boats on the go. And another two boats, ready to go. In terms of uh, drying the lumber, because you wanted the lumber to be dry. Before you put it together. So that, you could build really tight hulls that would uh, be very seaworthy, and that was one of his uh. His key, kind of uh, selling points on his boats is that they were, they were leak-proof and really tight hulls. But anyway, yeah, so he was only twenty-nine, and that was in 1938. And by the time he was shipped out, during the evacuation internment in...1942, uh...he had, he had a, quite a thriving business going on. Boats going up, and. Boats on deck and, people working for him. In a, prime location. And um...so, you know...he didn't talk about that experience so much, about losing everything, but I remember, um...once he mentioned that, you know he could have been very, bitter and angry all the time, but uh. He wanted to make sure that, you know, for the family's sake and for the kids' sake that, he didn't show that part of his, uh, his mentality too much so that, he kind of...tried to be more, cheerful and happy and optimistic and. Tried to present a different picture of what happened to him. But he was really quite uh, upset about it, because I remember once he said, you know, took away...twenty years of my most productive...part of my life. And uh, and where he was really going to take off. He never did recover but he came back after the war. He tried to buy the shipyard back but of course...he wasn't able to because the cost was too uh, great, and uh. Yeah, so eventually, when we moved to that property on Railway Avenue...he had a shipyard that he, an old shipyard that he um, bought in Queensborough. And then he uh, he bought uh, he. He worked, I think, uh, also for a...a relative. Yamanaka Boatworks. As well, when he came back after the war.
00:20:03.000
00:20:03.000
SM
But um. He eventually decided that, commuting to Queensborough from Steveston was a bit of a hassle because it was just a gravel road from, Steveston to New Westminster at that time, so it wasn't uh, a very pleasant trip, but it was long and...I guess he thought it was pretty arduous because he spent a lot of time on the road, bouncing around. Um...so he rented, from 1956 to...'62, he rented the uh, part of the Britannia Heritage Shipyard...site there, uh. A part of the Phoenix Cannery, ABC Packing Company. Um. He rented the uh...shipyard there and he was building boats there for a while. And then, um...yeah, I think in '62, he, by that time he built a, a...a, um. Net loft, uh. Shipyard, in the back of his property. So he put the huge building on the back of his property. I don't think neighbours liked it too much laughs. Because it was quite a, huge building it was tall and long and wide, and. But um. He had it set up so that he could. He used to fish in the summer and uh, build boats in the, the winter, and uh, he used to build a boat a year. And that uh...he, he worked for other people and he worked um, with other people but I think he, he liked the idea of, of doing, uh, things on his own, because then he could have control of everything. And uh...and I don't think he liked the idea of being under, pressure to work for somebody else. Uh...I think that was kind of, beaten out of him I guess during the war. He probably had that experience where, he thought he was a slave and, had to work in the sugar beet fields, and. And uh, fortunately, they realized that he was too...valuable to uh, work in the sugar beet fields so he started working in, in the...joinery and carpentry and doing uh, some pretty uh, substantial kind of work in, renovations and house building and stuff like that, so. He was able to MAKE some money, during the war, which, uh...I mean, you know like, people were getting twenty-five cents an hour, but you know, like he was getting like uh, a dollar fifty an hour. pause Even though I'm sure some people wanted him to just get, paid twenty-five cents an hour, he uh. He fought his way up to the, the level where he was getting paid, as much or more than uh, the local people. The Caucasian people. Because he was more skilled than they were. And so, I think he had about $12 000 when he came back to, Steveston and 9000 of that went into, buying three acres of property in Steveston. So. That was quite amazing and, I thought, well, you know. For him and, and a lot of the people that survived that whole, experience of being uh, discriminated against and...and restricted in terms of what they could do. And um. And then having all their...well they didn't have too many rights to start with, but. They, they really came down heavy on them during the war and, treated them like uh. Enemies and aliens and, less than human I think. Because I think there was talk about living in uh...sheds and, chicken coops and...and places like that in Alberta that, uh. Were pretty uh, horrendous, in fact uh...my oldest sister was saying that it was very difficult to make uh, connections with people because people didn't...didn't, want you there or, or have much um...need for you other than for slave labour, and uh...they uh. They were treating her like the enemy all the time, and. And making, uh, fun of her and putting her down, and not kind of, making it easy for her to make connections. And so she was having, difficulty making connections with people. Um, but also she said, they moved so much, she said, she remembers going to thirteen different schools. In, in that time. Uh, when they were interned for seven years, so. In uh...you know and that was like a critical time in her education, she was uh, six...when she started but thirteen different schools, she said it was very difficult, and she. She still had difficulty kind of overcoming all that uh...kind of uh...I guess alienation or...disconnection with the community and, being accepted and respected and treated, treated like a, regular human being.
00:25:34.000
00:25:34.000
SM
But she came back, after the war. Even though our education was interrupted like that, she came back after the war and studied hard, and, and excelled and she was one of the first uh, I think she was the first Japanese Canadian, pharmacist, uh. And, you know of course, before the war they couldn't become pharmacists because they weren't uh, able to be bonded because they couldn't become citizens, even though they were born here. Because they weren't uh, allowed to have the vote. They didn't get that until, 1949. So that kind of precluded a lot of people from getting into professions and getting into government jobs, and. And a lot of the opportunities that everybody else had. So um. That's why they, they excelled in...in, the fishing industry but they excelled too, too much so of course they tried to, eliminate them, and. The uh, they went into, um, logging and farming, and, things like that, but even then, because they worked so hard, and everybody in the family worked, and they were such, uh...uh, well. Such competitors, in any market that they came into. They, they weren't, uh...they weren't liked too much. Maybe not only because they weren't quite human but, they were too much competition. Um, but anyway so, we um. The uh, the home that they established on Railway Avenue, was the home they were in until uh...until actually they went up to uh...the old folks' home or, or um...extended health and uh...into the uh, seniors' homes. Just before they died and they lived a long life because I think my father, made it to ninety-six...and my mother made it to um...about ninety-nine I think. Which is amazing, because of all, all the stuff they went through. Because I remember my mum. When she went to Hasting Park, and that was quite a horrendous experience for her, I think, because. Um, well they didn't have proper washrooms. And uh...bathing facilities, and. The food was so bad everybody was getting sick and, they were all crammed into, places that, that smelled of urine and, and animal feces. And uh, a- apparently it was just, horrendous. But um...they ended up there because...I think in, the beginning of February of '42, my father had to go to a...a road camp, near Jasper. And I don't think he joined up with the family until, about a year later or so, a year and a half later. In Alberta. But my mother, I think fortunately had her, younger sister, who came from Ocean Falls where she was, at the time of the, evacuation and she came and helped, with the family because she just had a newborn. And uh, and toddlers and, kids that were under six, so she, she had four of them so it was quite difficult, kind of trying to...survive with all of that, and. I remember my mom saying she, she was very close to having a nervous breakdown a few times because of, the hardship and uh...and then saying, saying that, you know, having four boys in a row wasn't uh, wasn't easy for her, because we were, fighting all the time, and. It was very difficult, and, and when I came back, uh, when I went to school, I remember going to uh, kindergarten, in the United Church in Steveston. And apparently that was one of the uh, first...uh...uh...amalgamated, congregations where the Japanese Canadians and uh, Caucasian population were together.
00:30:24.000
00:30:24.000
SM
Uh. And so I went to kindergarten there but um. Yeah it's, it's interesting because the public school too, at first they didn't, they didn't want the Japanese to, um, rent the cannery houses and, uh, they wanted them just to live on the boats and things that, were on the water, and you know they didn't want, they wanted to restrict their...place of residence, but they also wanted to segregate them in the school system, they didn't want them to be, uh, in the same school as the Caucasian population, so. That was kind of interesting, the, some of the uh. Fortunately some of the leaders in the community, decided that that wasn't a smart idea. So I eventually went to Lord Byng Elementary School in Steveston. And, I found that that was kind of an interesting experience too because. There was a lot of anti...Japanese feeling at the school. And yet, I don't think it was most of the students, but, but a few of the, students weren't very kind to me. Quite mean, and I remember being called a Jap, and. Nip, and you Nip, go home, Jap, go home. They'd spit at you and they would throw rocks at you and stuff, and fortunately the rocks weren't very big but. Just, just the idea that you weren't uh, welcome back, kind of thing, after the war. Uh, I don't think that was really good , uh, feeling, but. I think that feeling kind of dissipated after, the first, two years after we came back, because um. My dad was talking about how we got involved in. In uh, supporting the, um, construction of the community centre. And um, and I remember, before the war too, he was talking about how he helped, build the original, uh, one of the original buildings on, on the...Lord Byng Elementary School site, eh. But um, you know he said he helped build the uh...on the...the, what is it the, Steveston Men's Association Building. And then he helped, uh, establish the, Steveston Judo Club. And uh, the Cultural Centre. And so he was very community-minded, but I think, a lot of the, Japanese Canadians were, because, that was one way for them to, they thought that they could kind of, be accepted. For the greater community and, and. Possibly get their rights and, the vote and all that kind of stuff, so uh. Uh, they, it was kind of, pushed on them to kind of, do a lot of community service so that...they would be accepted so I'm sure that's why that uh, Steveston Hospital or the Japanese Fishermen's Hospital was established in 1900. And, and I don't know when it closed down but it was still going, during the internment period I think. But they were also very much involved in the, Steveston, Buddhist Temple. In, in getting it uh, built and established. In fact, I think my mom was involved in the...executive, at least eight years and uh...she also, taught Japanese language. And was running the school there for a while. But um...yeah, they were very community minded. And very much involved in supporting the community, in terms of time and money, and, and their skills. Whether it was in singing or dancing, or. Or building things. Or leading uh...Japanese language classes, whatever. Um. So, it was interesting when I was growing up...this idea of uh, getting a good education and working hard was really, hammered into me, I remember my mom talking about uh...you know, you're not going to get accepted.
00:40:00.000
00:40:00.000
SM
Because you're Japanese Canadian, so you have to work. Twice as, not twice as hard, but ten times as hard. Of course I couldn't uh, couldn't believe anybody could do that, so. I thought if I could work JUST as hard, laugh. So. That was kind of an interesting idea. That she was kind of, pushing, but. She was um. She, she was...she was really pushy that way in terms of, you know. Saying that it was really important that you study and you work hard. And I think that's...one thing that's held me in good standing, because. I did learn from a very young age, to work hard, either, working, uh. To help out my father in, in the ship building business.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Moving lumber around and cleaning up after him and holding, uh, holding things and painting things, and you name it, any kind of menial job that he could give me. And then uh...since we had three acres, it was uh...it was kind of like a hobby for me, having a little chicken coop and chickens, and. So my job was to clean out the uh, chicken coop. And then, we had a couple of cows. And my job was to make sure that the salt and the water was provided for them. So I had to do that, and then we had quite a large orchard, and garden. So of course, I had to uh...work in the orchard and garden, and uh. And when I was growing up, I had to work on the farms in Richmond. Um...picking fruit and berries and. Um...haying, haying, I used to do haying and, uh. Working on potato farms, and. Uh, corn, farms, and. Bean farms. And, and it was kind of like I was thinking. I wasn't uh, working on the sugar beet farms in, in southern Alberta, but. They made sure that I got that experience laughing here in Steveston more laughter. Because, I remember, working on these uh, farms, and. And it was, very, um...very, very difficult work because it was TEDIOUS, and it was hot, and dusty, and uh, it was kind of hard on your back, and. And it was, it was difficult, kind of thinking like, oh I've got to make it down this row, and, you know, I've got to thin out this, and I've got to hoe this, and. And I've got to pull the weeds out here, and, you know it just. And picking, of course harvesting was a big job too. You know, picking all the...vegetables and fruit and stuff like that. So it's...it was, you know, and uh...my dad was into, um...firing up his um, steamer and also, his fireplace.
RS
Hm.
SM
So he'd be always collecting wood, and uh...splitting it, and drying it, and uh. So there was always, work, uh...in that area as well, to kind of, make sure that, the supply for the uh, steamer in the, shipyard, and uh, and the fireplace.
RS
Hmm.
SM
Had wood all the time, so we'd, we'd always be collecting wood.
RS
I think I have to pause it.
SM
Okay.
RS
Just because -
SM
Is the fact of the background – Tape stopped. Interview resumes.
RS
Okay, I'm back with uh, Don Mukai here, so we were, at the point where you were talking about, um, things that your father, was doing, and we were talking about, I think firewood.
SM
Mhm.
RS
There? Yeah.
SM
Mhm. Yeah, yeah. You know, how. That was kind of a big deal for him.
RS
Yeah.
SM
Yeah.
RS
Yeah.
SM
He, he really liked the dry heat.
RS
Mhm.
SM
And, even though we, we eventually, like when he was getting older, like into his nineties, uh, and he was still collecting wood, and uh, splitting it and storing it and, you know. For his fireplace. We eventually got him a, a gas fireplace insert and uh. He was really happy about that. Because he loved...loved just sitting in front of the fireplace and drying out.
RS
Hm.
SM
Putting his feet up, and. In fact he used to love, um...uh, even going into his car. And uh, you know maybe having just a crack, of the window open, but uh, just...parking the car in an area where the sun would be beating down on it and he would, laugh he would be resting in the car. Maybe trying to get away from his wife, I'm not sure. both laugh heartily But it was funny.
RS
Hm.
SM
We, we'd wonder where he was and then, we'd find him sleeping in the car.
RS
Hmm.
SM
laughs Catching rays. But anyway, um. Yeah, so. From a very young age I, I had to work. And um...oh, god, I started working and uh...you know, I remember, doing all this work at home, and it was like, oh I don't know, from the age of six or so...but um...I think I was responsible for the cows when I was ten. But uh...about fifteen and sixteen I started uh...like not only working on the farms and stuff, but. I started, uh, working in the uh, fishing industry. Like helping my dad fishing, and uh. Working on shore, as a shore worker. Unloading the boats, and then uh...working on the canning line, uh...uh, butchering uh, fresh fish, or uh...putting um...the cans into the reed tart . Or working in the warehouse, uh, moving, boxes of cans. Into uh...or um. Fish meal. Into boxcars, and uh. Yeah. So. That's...what I started doing, and I also started working at Safeway. Part time. As a...a bag boy and then, you know, grocery stocker on the shelves, and then, in the produce department. Uh, trimming vegetables and. Uh, that kind of thing, it was quite uh...quite a bit of work. And fortunately, when I went to university was uh...it was because there was all this work that I could do in the summer and part time and...and at that time the fees were so uh, reasonable, I think they were about $350 or something. It um. It wasn't, that difficult to uh, not only, pay for my uh, books and uh, fees, but also to buy a car. Uh, you know of course it wasn't a, a new fancy car but at least a used beat-up car both laugh heartily that worked. So that was good. And uh. Yeah, so I uh. Ended up, uh, like I said earlier I think I ended up at North Pacific Cannery one- a couple of summers. On the unloading crew, and I became uh...the winchman, or the ro- uh, person that controlled the uh. The winch that, brought the fish from the hold of the boat up to the shore, onto the you know. Onto the dock, of the fishing cannery. So that was a pretty good job. But um...yeah so I eventually went to university. At UBC. And um...went into education. And got qualified as a uh, high school teacher. In uh, physical education and uh...group guidance, at that time. But uh, then I went on and got my masters in counselling psychology. I started working in Port Alberni, my first year. Had an offer in Penticton and Port Alberni, but the Penticton offer didn't come through until after so I, wasn't sure, if I'd get another offer, but it's too bad I didn't go to Penticton instead of Port Alberni. laugh Them were the breaks, but I, only lasted there a year. Because I think I was just filling in for somebody that went uh, on a sabbatical. To upgrade his education. And anyway, so. Then I was unemployed, and then I was working in the Lower Mainland as a, teacher on call, substitute teacher, and then I got a job in Burnaby. As a school counsellor, so, I was only...I was only about twenty-three or twenty-four...can't remember anyways, quite young. And uh...that was kind of unheard of, because usually, school counsellors are, wiser and older, experienced teachers laugh or. People that were, uh, fully qualified, and at that time I wasn't. I didn't have my masters degree in counselling psychology so I wasn't fully qualified. And um. So that was a difficult, position to be in because, uh...I was so young, I only had one year of teaching experience. And I was supposed to be, the high school, counsellor, and uh.
00:45:04.000
00:45:04.000
SM
So I had to work really hard to prove that I was, able and capable...worthy of their respect. I don't think I got, some people's respect because I was just, too young to be...laughing acceptable to them. But anyway, yeah. It was difficult, I started off in Burnaby, uh...very young and then, I stayed there for about, uh. About twenty-seven years. Before I retired. I retired early. Uh, when I was fifty-five, because. It was such a grind, I think. Starting off was so difficult. And uh...hearing people's problems all the time wasn't uh, easy. It was kind of wearing my, you know. And then, people expecting miracles that, people would be, cured because they saw the counsellor kind of thing and, of course that wasn't happening most of the time. In fact, laugh maybe all the time, because it's, so difficult, a lot of these, problems are multi-generational, and, you know, so. So entrenched. In terms of uh...mental health and, addiction problems and all kinds of, really serious problems that weren't easy to solve. But anyway, um. Yeah, so I started off, teaching physical education, and English. Um, that was my minor. In, in Port Alberni, but um. I was in the high school as a, a school counsellor. And I was teaching English, and um. Uh, guidance or, human relation kind of courses. And then, I uh...worked in a uh...psych ed clinic. For uh, a special school for the emotionally disturbed kids in the province. It's call The Maples in Burnaby, or the BC Youth Development Centre. That's a euphemism for...kids who are so, mentally and emotionally damaged that nobody wanted them. So I worked there for a year, and then, uh...ended up, working in the elementary schools, as a area counsellor. Um...and uh, was responsible for a number of schools, and. Was the itinerant, counsellor that went around and, supposed to solve everybody's problems. But of course that didn't happen, so. That was a difficult, kind of position to be in, because you'd, be going to meetings and, trying to justify your job and, going to schools and trying to justify your job, and. It was very difficult, because, the job was impossible.
RS
Mm.
SM
Um...so you ended up kind of, band-aiding the, you know kind of...uh, writing reports to kind of, help people get connected to, services in the community and uh...in the health system...and in the school district as well, but. Yeah, it, it was difficult, so it was a bit of a grind. Because uh, you're dealing with problems all the time and uh. Your, view of the world is getting, skewed in the wrong way so I had to try to be, positive and optimistic but uh. When I went to work and was dealing with all these problems all the time, whether it's with staff, or. With the parents or students that did uh, it was quite wearing, so. I did decide to retire at fifty-five, and uh. So now I'm uh, into my...sixteenth year of retirement. I'm seventy-one now. And um...I was able to retire, earlier, because um, I had developed a side business, like. Since I had, all this time off in the summer. I was trying to, figure out how I could, work in the summer instead of, just spending all the time travelling or, you know, just relaxing. Because that was kind of my mentality all through my life was, one thing that I learned really well is that you work. And you work. You work hard. And you work harder than everybody else. And so, I um...I got involved, uh, early in my career, in, buying real estate. And renting it out.
00:50:07.000
00:50:07.000
SM
And so uh. That's what I, that's what I did. When I retired, I. This, idea of um. Kind of investment, in real estate and renting it out. Was the job that I kind of slid into because that was what I was doing part-time. When I was teaching. And so sometimes when I'd be working I'd be trying to do things in the evening and on the weekends, and. Of course the summer I'd be...repairing kind of...these old, run-down buildings that was absolutely able, laugh afford to buy. But um. They were a good investment, because of course real estate has. Has been uh, you know, one of the best investments. Over the, years that I started, like I started in...in '70....I guess I started in '71. Because I started teaching in '69. So after my second year of teaching I started getting involved in real estate. And uh, fortunately at that time, things were more affordable. And of course now, things are...ridiculous. But. That's, that what I did. And um...you know, it's, it's paid off. In that, I was able uh...instead of flipping properties so much it was, hanging on. And uh...and I've learned a lot of things and part, part of it was I, I learned a lot, kind of, working, with my dad, watching him and, and you know how he, uh, worked with uh, all the problems that he saw, like he'd like to, start from the planning stage to, the testing of, of his boats. So what he would do is he would uh...he'd draw out the uh...the architectural, um...drawings of the boat and then he would make a wooden model, and then, he would build the boat, and he would do, all the uh...mechanics and the and the, building of the boat, the metalwork and...um, the fibreglassing and, all that kind of stuff, but, but. The electrical and the um...he did all the mechanical kind of, setting up all the steering, mechanisms and everything else, but the um. The electrical and the motor...the engine part of the boat, that was something that he didn't do, but he did everything else. And um...and then he would test it out. In the summer where he'd go fishing, but he was...not so much a serious fisherman, as, trying to do a, a sea trial on his boat. And um...and even when he was doing the sea, the fishing, so, all the fishing he was doing. He would uh, be looking for, lumber. In the forest, or even in the water. Like, if he was beachcombing. To use in, in the next uh...boat that he was to be building. Like, he was a bit of a perfectionist and very difficult to work with. And, I don't think it was easy for him to teach people, how to do things because uh. He was so perfectionistic, but. It's interesting. It, it wasn't so much, what it looked like, it's, whether it worked well. And he was more interested in that, so like. He would, be looking for um...natural, yellow cedar boughs, and he'd be looking for. Um, yellow cedar, wood that could be used as a bulkhead, or uh...braces that could be used to...brace the corners, of his uh, joinery in the boats. Or, or the...the uh. Rolling chalks, and uh...all kinds of these, technical things that he had in his mind about, what would make a boat, function better?
RS
Hmm.
SM
He'd, he'd be looking for things. In the natural environment, to kind of uh...um, use, in the building of the boat so that, they would have all these natural kind of uh...wood braces and uh... you know, wood that was, you know like, was...the kind of wood that he would, uh, select for, for a, a boat that would be durable and, and sturdy.
00:55:07.000
00:55:07.000
RS
Hm.
SM
So he'd be looking for certain edge grains, and, you know like he'd, he'd be a student of what kind of wood. Uh, would work, from a tree. To um, the production of his boats. So his boats were kind of like a work of art. And uh, quite a few of his boats are still, plying the waters on the west coast here. Even though they're, wooden.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Um...you know, and people move to fibreglass and steel and aluminum.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Wood has kind of got a...a warmth and, insulating value that, those other materials don't have. And of course it's natural, it's sustainable, compared to. The other materials that are used in uh, shipbuilding nowadays. So uh, I think some people even though, it's an old kind of...um, out of date kind of trade to build wooden boats, some people like wooden boats because of that. And they, they kind of uh...you know, even though they might have an older boat, they just kind of. You know, baby it along so that, it could last forever almost. You can get, at least fifty years out of a, a well-built boat, out of wood. But some people of course, squeeze a lot more years out of it. Anyway, um. Yeah, so that, that's kind of what I'm doing now. I'm, I'm...I'm property managing and, general contracting and...working on uh...small projects, I mean if it's a big project, I contract out to uh...other professionals in the industry, but uh...like if it's a small project, like a...like I've done, from this...uh, roof to uh...the ceiling, to the floor, to the walls. To the cabinetry in the kitchen or the bathroom.
RS
Mhm.
SM
I've done these, uh, jobs, not uh, not big jobs but small jobs.
RS
Hmm.
SM
And repairing and, you know. Renovating and this kind of thing, so.
RS
Right. Could you maybe, uh, talk a little bit about...I guess this is a, side project but more of a, a personal rather than a, a work side project. But, um, perhaps when you, started becoming interested, in doing your own, research within the community? And now, sort of the, the future hopes and, and plans for some of that, research within, I guess the Steveston context.
SM
Yeah. Well, when I went to university. That, that was when I first started getting really curious about uh, the history, my history, because. You know, up to a certain point in my life it was like, you know I think, my mum and dad wanted me to learn English. And, get a good education, and. And succeed in the, wider community. But um. You know, whether it's, a question of being, out, you know, trying to out-white the whites or, being a banana, you know, yellow on the outside and white on the inside, um...yeah, this whole idea of assimilating and kind of fitting in and doing well. Was drummed into me, to the point where...when I look back I was thinking maybe...I should have been just spoken to in Japanese, and. They should have pushed the Japanese more so that I would be bilingual. Because my Japanese was terrible even though they, forced me to go to Japanese language school. And I was a terrible student. And uh, and in some ways I didn't want to have much to do with this whole Japanese, uh...history and culture and art, and. But as I got older I started thinking, you know...that must be a PART of me even though I've kind of, rejected it. And um. When I did go to university, I started digging around the stacks and I started finding out about all this...history that my parents kind of shielded me from. This, all this, uh, negative, ugly stuff about. You know, discrimination, and. Dispossession, and. And uh...you know. Human rights violations, basically. And um...and then I, I also, kind of noticed how, how much worse it was in Canada as opposed to the States. I guess they had a Bill of Rights and we didn't have our Charter of Rights then. And uh, maybe, they had smarter...people or politicians there that, you know. Didn't, think that um...they needed to mistreat us so badly. But anyway. I was shocked, I couldn't believe, that all this stuff happened.
01:00:04.000
01:00:04.000
SM
And, as I've gotten even older, now, now in my uh, seventies, I um. I, I think, you know, it's too bad, all these old people that died, and their stories that died with them, and their history that's died with them. And you know, these, all these questions that I have in my mind that I feel that...gee you if I would have, talked to my parents before they died about these things I'd have a better idea what they went through. Even though they didn't, want me to know about it. But anyway, so, yeah, so I've been very interested, I've been studying and reading and, you know, try to, uh...get involved in the community here. Um, and I'm part of the uh, Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre's uh, advisory committee. And um, I lead, with uh, my wife Shioko, I lead uh...uh, Japanese Canadian, historical, Steveston walking tours. And uh...you know I've met, all kinds of people from, across the world basically that have come and, been interested in, in finding out more about the Japanese Canadian history and I was thinking, yeah these people are more interested than, you know I would expect, you know. And I guess, I thought, maybe it's, they're interested because, it's a story that needs to be told. And an important story about, the struggles that uh, a marginalized or, a minority, had to deal with. And uh, and in some ways have, survived and overcome. And it's kind of an inspiring story to be told because um. In, in Canada where we're supposed to be multicultural, and uh. We uh, you know espouse the idea of diversity and, and strength in diversity. In terms of making Canada, uh, more productive and, a stronger nation in the world. Um. I, I, especially got upset with uh, what was happening in the States with Donald Trump I thought, you know this guy, this guy is really scary. You know when he talks about making America great again. It could easily be said that he's talking about making America white again. And, and you know those kind of ideas, I thought were...like in the past, but. God they're staring you right in the face now when you hear about uh...you know women, complaining about uh, you know, their rights being...trampled on or, or not uh...being respected, and, Aboriginal people's rights...and of course now, these Muslims, who are, profiled, and, and mistreated, and Mexicans being rapists and criminals, I mean. Those kind of, those kind of comments from the, leader of the strongest nation in the world, really disturb me and, and I've, I've really even been more...concerned about human rights and uh...and this whole issue of uh, you know climate change, and uh...you know, having sustainable environment that we can all, thrive in, I mean it's, it's scary.
RS
Hm.
SM
That the leader of the uh, world, basically, is saying that he doesn't believe in it. Climate change and, human rights. I mean, he doesn't say in so many words but. The last statement he made about um...that Charlottesville uh...uh, conflict between the uh, ultra right and ultra left, I mean...he's basically saying that uh...the Nazis and the uh, Klu Klux Klan are in the same boat as uh...these people that are uh, protesting against it, I thought...how, how could the world be led by somebody like that if, these ideas that I thought were in the past, are not in the past, they're actually staring me right in the face, and it's scary.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Because um...it's just emboldened some of this people that were on the fringes and, and marginalized. They're coming out and uh, you know. The, Twitter and...Facebook and you know, they're, they're out there. And they're promoting their ideas and they're travelling all around the world, kind of supporting groups that are uh, promoting their ideas, and they're. They're um... you know whether they're, kind of promoting them on uh, Fox, which is trying to get ratings, and. Um...was was it, Brett Bryant, or whatever with um, Stephen Bannon.
RS
Mhm.
01:05:00.000
01:05:00.000
SM
Or, Vice, or whatever. I mean it's just, like...the, the whole idea that uh, this stuff is in the past. Is, is not. Uh, true at all, it's. It's, it's uh. It's rearing its ugly head now and it could, uh...you know, it could happen again, some of these, human rights could be taken away, just by a stroke of a pen, or...some legislation that says it's a security risk or a war measures or whatever.
RS
Mhm. You're um...you're sort of bringing a...particulate, particular era, to mind for me? Which is, um, the time in which within, the context of the Japanese Canadian community, um, when...um, Mulroney delivered, the apology and, and Redress.
SM
Mhm.
RS
Um...one thing, that I was curious about or interested in, is. Um, what your...first of all, if you, sort of remember, um...that happening around you, or if you recall, um... DON, No, my dad was involved. In, in that. Redress movement.
RS
Okay.
SM
-too, that's the other thing.
RS
Could you tell me a bit about that, then?
SM
He, he used to go to the meetings.
RS
Okay.
SM
In town. Um, with you know, Roy Miki and all those you know, Kobayashi, and.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Uh, Omatsu and. You know, all those. People that were fighting for Redress. Um, Art Miki. He was, he was um. I can't remember the lady that used to pick him up, but. She used to pick him up and, he used to go to the meetings. To support them. Like his, his English, it's amazing that he was able to carry out business here because his English wasn't that great. He had up to grade eight, in Japan and I think my mum, had about grade eight in Japan too. Um, maybe my mum had a little bit more. But, um. You know and, and he tried to go to, night school and tried to take, learn English, but his English was terrible.
RS
Mhm.
SM
You know. My, my Japanese is terrible, but his English is equally terrible. And uh...and that was the other thing that I think was difficult about growing up in my family is that I couldn't really communicate to my parents. Like I, I'd like to. Not only because they kept things to themselves...but there was a language barrier, I mean you know, there was kind of a generational barrier and a cultural barrier, and so obviously because I wanted to be, more white than maybe, they wanted me to be, but uh. Yeah, it was difficult.
RS
Hm.
SM
And uh...and I think, my parents didn't agree on things, and much as. Uh, maybe they should have because they were quite different people.
RS
Hmm. Did they, agree, on...the, action of Redress?
SM
Oh, yeah, no no, a lot about that,
RS
-the outcome?
SM
Yeah, oh yeah, of COURSE, they did.
RS
Mhm.
SM
They did. I know some people didn't want to uh, kind of stir things up. But they were definitely, I mean you know they, they were definitely uh...like my mum wasn't going to the meetings, but. She was very supportive of my dad going to the meetings and, and being involved in the community, and she was very much involved in the, Steveston Buddhist Temple and and, trying to be there in terms of, you know. I think the support of the whole Redress movement. But uh, yeah, that, that was a big deal. Um...and I, I think um...in terms of, how, how the government tried to...you know whether you want to call it genocide or...kind of eliminate, people from Canada. And, and export them or to exile them to Japan. Um...they wanted to definitely, make sure that they weren't going to. Even though they were a small, uh, minority, uh, be a strong force in terms of uh...of having a uh...a strong base, especially in uh, Vancouver. In BC, uh, I guess, Vancouver, Steveston, I guess would be uh. Like I think in Powell Street there was about 8000...people, and...Steveston there was over 2000, 2600 or something but. Those were the two kind of...Japantowns I think, I mean there was. Other, you know like Kitsilano, and uh...
RS
Haney, and...
SM
Haney, and. There was other pockets, but. I think those were the two major centres of Japanese population in Canada. Period, I mean in. Of course Port Essington was a, a. A strong centre up north. But um. I don't know what the population there was, but uh. I get the sense that, Vancouver, Powell Street, Japantown, and Steveston were. Probably , the leaders in terms of concentration of Japanese Canadians but. You know one, one of the things that uh...the general population were saying is that you know they're, they're not fitting in and they're. You know they're, speaking their own language and they're, you know doing these martial arts and stuff, and you know, they can't be trusted, you know they were saying all kinds of terrible things about them, right, but part of the reason why they kind of stuck together is because they weren't accepted or wanted to...fit in with the rest of the, population so, you know, they. They kind of, for their own protection kind of, formed their own little ghettos.
01:10:42.000
01:10:42.000
RS
Mhm.
SM
But...the, internment, and the, and, forcing of people to go east of the Rockies or to Japan, was a way of course, of dispersing the, whole community. Across Canada, basically, and away from BC.
RS
Mhm.
SM
And, um...and so that definitely, uh...was a problem in terms of establishing uh, the community, again after the war. But I think Redress was definitely a, a. A way of trying to, you know, deal with that in some ways because. There was money, a community fund, and then there was a human rights uh...uh, foundation, grant, or whatever, I can't remember exactly what the title was but anyway, there was two funds that they set up. As well as the individual Redress. And, and those funds were, used to help set up the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Steveston and of course the Nikkei...um, museum and um...health, kind of, senior home complex, and. Community centre, whatever it's called, Nikkei Centre. Um. And then, and the independent living, kind of, Sakura house, and you know, and. Anyway, they. They had money, set aside for that kind of uh, thing. And so they were able to do something about...establishing uh...you know, uh. A centre, or a place where, some of this stuff could kind of come together again.
RS
Mhm. So, and it might have just been, you know, the age that you would have been at that time? But, uh...do you remember that being, a big deal, at home? Remembering, you know the meetings, being, driven to the meetings, for example, um, your father's -
SM
We talked about it, yeah.
RS
Yeah. So that was quite an open conversation at home?
SM
It, it was but, you know like I said there was a bit of a language barrier.
RS
Right.
SM
Uh, quite a bit of a language barrier. So it wasn't like, the kind of conversation that, you and I would be able to have.
RS
Mhm.
SM
But it was definitely something that was there, and uh, talked about.
RS
Okay.
SM
Yeah. Because I, you know I'd, I'd see my dad, leaving the house and going to these meetings, and. And then I'd be reading about it in the uh, I guess the, I don't know if it was The New Canadian, or the...the uh, JC Bulletin or, or...I, I, you know, there was some kind of uh, publication I was reading at that time I can't remember which one it was. You know, The New Canadian, I think was one of them. But um, yeah. It was being talked of there, too.
RS
Mhm. Right. Okay. Um, the other thing that I was, interested in is, you mentioned uh, sort of one story that your sister, shared with you, but. Uh, I was wondering if there were any other...because she had so many memories from the, from the earlier years, any other stories that, she shared with you that maybe...um, you didn't know about before, that maybe surprised you...um...and, if those were conversations that you had much, later in life, or if you remember talking about it, more as kids.
SM
Um, I don't think we talked about it as kids so much. It was like a buried part of our, history. But, we've talked about it more recently. And uh...you know, I've always wondered why, it was difficult for her to connect with people? And when she was telling me about her experience during the internment, it, it kind of struck home that...it's like...you know like I spent a lot of time counselling kids who, moved from school to school, and if I saw, um, a school record that said somebody went to thirteen different schools? And...you know I would almost be able to predict that they would have some serious problems. Not only connecting with people, but their education would be interrupted. And so they'd have a hard time maybe keeping up. And um...and I can understand why, it might have been so difficult for her. And even now it's still, kind of difficult for her.
RS
Mhm.
SM
And um...and now I can understand, more why my parents had a difficult time too. To kind of fit in and get along, and. And uh...you know. Deal with, with relationships in a more normal way, in terms of. Being more open, and, you know.
01:15:21.000
01:15:21.000
RS
Mhm.
SM
Uh...being closer to people.
RS
Mhm, mhm
SM
They, they always kind of have that...that barrier, kind of, between...them and others, I think, because of the way, that they were treated. It uh, it affected them. You know, it doesn't affect everybody the same way, but it, I think it affected, my family more than, others, I don't know, maybe, they're more...sensitive, or. More reserved, or. I, I'm not sure.
RS
Hmm.
SM
I'm not sure what the reason was. You know, maybe they had, other hangups that were interfering, I'm not sure.
RS
Hm.
SM
But yeah it's, it's interesting.
RS
Hmm.
SM
Um. But she tried hard, and, and she said that, um...one of the things that, worked for her was, even though she might not be, uh, as close as, as...she'd like to be, with people, um...she has made friends. Uh, in the music community, like she was. Uh, she sang for the, Vancouver Bach Choir for many years, and. And now she's singing with the seniors' uh, groups that includes people from Vancouver Bach Choir, um...it's called Encore. And um...and she's made, friends and connections in that community. Moreso than any other community I guess.
RS
Hmm.
SM
But in some ways that's sad because, her connections to the, Steveston community or the Vancouver Japanese Canadian community are, um...those people, I don't think is as strong. And, it certainly would have been stronger if that, that whole internment thing didn't happen.
RS
Mhm.
SM
I, I pretty much sense that. Uh, our connection to, to the community. Would have been stronger. I mean I'm trying to make connections now, but it's interesting. When I, when I meet people in Steveston, some people know me but I don't know them. And, and it's because...I think I disconnected myself from the community. Uh...when I left, to go to university. And now I'm, trying to come back, but. It's not quite the same because, a lot of those people, stayed connected. While I was away for so long.
RS
Hm.
SM
And to come back and, and fit in, it's not the same.
RS
Right. It says something about the importance of, of place, hey?
SM
It does!
RS
And geography, yeah.
SM
It does. That's why in some ways, one of the things that, is important to me is all this work that I'm trying to do, volunteering in Steveston, like I volunteer for the Steveston, Salmon Festival. Uh, I do the uh...emceeing for the uh...martial arts, uh, demonstrations? And Shioko does, uh, kind of like, the support and, and backup in the kitchen for the uh, volunteers that are involved in the, Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre uh, displays, you know, in terms of, some of the arts and crafts that are uh, that are being displayed and exhibited and, some of the seniors are trying to sell arts and crafts kind of things, she's kind of backing them up with, food and refreshments and stuff like that at the Salmon Festival. Salmon, Queen Festival, and uh. breath And our work, kind of doing these historical tours in Steveston, and I'm trying to do some, research for um...for the names, like I mentioned earlier, about the people that were in Steveston, before the internment.
RS
Mhm.
SM
And uh...and then trying to kind of build up a resource uh, for the history of Japanese Canadians not, not only in Steveston but...you know, Japanese Canadians in general.
RS
Mhm.
SM
But yeah, I'm, I'm very interested in, and I'm starting to uh, feel that it's even more important now than ever because of what's happening in the world, in terms of. This talk about keeping the uh, Muslims out because they're a security risk, I mean, those are the same kind of. Words that were used about the Japanese Canadians, I mean...I mean.
RS
Mhm.
SM
You've got more of a security risk with the people that are in, the States than.
RS
Mhm.
01:20:00.000
01:20:00.000
SM
People that are coming in from outside. pause And, and I could see why there's, kind of like, a backlash in terms of uh...all this immigration that's coming into the country because maybe we're not doing it right, maybe there's too many at once, or. We're not preparing them enough before they come, or, we're not supporting them enough when they're here, I'm not sure, but it's, there's definitely problems, but. It's not because they're immigrants that they're the problem.
RS
Mhm.
SM
There are other problems. You know, whether it's, uh, social services, or education, or. Or, or, you know, like, helping them, with, whatever. You know. I'm not, I'm not sure what the, solution is, it's just like. I've worked with, a lot of uh...First Nations kids in my counselling, because uh. Like I say, like, eighty percent of the people in prison are First Nations and uh. And then, you know, like, I don't know...what percentage don't, do too well in school but it's...it's a pretty high percentage, especially in the uh, math and sciences, I mean. That's, that's a problem with the general population, but. Um, with the First Nations, I mean. Math and science is not an area that they're strong in. And uh...yeah, it's kind of sad,
RS
Mhm.
SM
But uh, I don't know what we could do about that. You know? Even with this whole, uh...you know. Addiction, and uh...yeah.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Alcohol abuse problem.
RS
Mhm.
SM
In, in the community, in First Nations community.
RS
Mhm. Yeah.
SM
And and, even the health kind of, issues that they're dealing with, it's. It's not an easy thing to solve, I mean, it's a problem that's, ongoing and, multigenerational, and. And uh...I don't know. I don't know if there's easy, I mean it's not, not just a question of throwing money at it, it's. It's what to do.
RS
Mhm. Mhm. Yeah, it's very true, there's lots of, lots to think about. Um, and um. I think this uh...this, idea of, um, generations? Is quite interesting, especially within, even this project. Um...to think about, uh, what you sort of, learn, like for example, from your experience and your earliest memories, as opposed to your sister's, as opposed to, perhaps, um from your parents, there are many different perspectives that can, um, inform...the research that we're doing here. Um...and it was just, reminding me of one of the initial thoughts that I, that I had about, um when you started telling your, your own story, which was, um...the sort of, the few memories that you do have from, Dogtown? Um...from Alberta. Um, and you mention that, one of the sort of, I guess tiffs you used to get in with one of your cousins because she was a girl, and she was laugh bigger than you, um. And so, I get the sense that you had some family there. Um...but what other types of people were, were around that, that you can remember, or that, um...perhaps that have been, maybe you asked about later in life when you were, you were curious, but, you had some family, but. Was it just other people that, that were in the area, or, did you have a large, family, or - ?
SM
Yeah, there is.
RS
Okay.
SM
Like, my mom's, side of the family...and, my dad's side of the family, um...were quite different in that, I guess, we were closer to my mum's side of the family. The Kanagawas. And um...they were...a, prominent family in Queensborough. Before the war. And uh...I think, her father had a shipyard in Queensborough. And I think, there were some, uh, times when he was working with my father. In um, in the shipbuilding business in Steveston. Um...and he decided, after the war, that he was going to stay, and make a stand in southern Alberta. And like, they built, like a...a huge empire there, basically. You know, they own hotels, and restaurants, and. All kinds of tracts of land, and you know they've got. Prize uh, seminal bulls, and. You name it, you know, they, I think you know they've got all these prize cars, Bentleys and you name it. I don't know. Like the, the Kanagawas have done really well. In Southern Alberta. You know they, they rub shoulders with the Lougheeds and people like that that, you know, have been quite influential in politics. And uh...they, they've kind of established a centre in...Calgary, where they kind of run their, business, and. They've also got a, a...a farming uh...empire in Gwaksaw. Outside of Calgary.
01:25:16.000
01:25:16.000
RS
Hm.
SM
Yeah.
RS
So some of your, your family from your mom's side, stayed and then, um, your family in particular, came back to BC?
SM
Yeah.
RS
Oh, okay.
SM
Yeah, my dad's side.
RS
Right.
SM
They were into the fishing...fishing industry, so that's what they came back to.
RS
Mhm. Have you stayed quite close over the years? With your family?
SM
The families?
RS
In, Alberta?
SM
breath No.
RS
Hmm.
SM
No. No, and I don't think I'm that close to the Mukai side of the family either.
RS
Okay.
SM
And, and I think that's the other thing, you know, this whole idea of community? It was...for some people it affected them a lot more and I think my family...that whole idea of community wasn't...maybe as well, established or as strong, but I don't think the internment helped.
RS
Hmm.
SM
I, I'm sure, like if my dad stayed in Alberta, he would have been part of that uh...business empire, but, um. He didn't want to. And then even when he came back, like, he had work with other people, and he had people working under him, but in the end he just wanted to work by himself. And I think that's, quite telling in terms of, you know that whole experience that he had during the internment, it was. It probably affected him in a, in a negative way that. Was more serious than, you know. I can imagine. I, I don't know, but. Like, I get the feeling, our connection to the community, and to, uh, his side and, my mother's side, were not that, that good and strong?
RS
Hmm.
SM
And whether they were, really established or strong before, I don't think the internment helped.
RS
Hmm. So before, um, returning to the coast, um, with your father's, business...what sorts of people did he have, uh, working for him, and also, what kinds of people was he, you know providing services to, within this, this huge business that he did have?
SM
Well it was Japanese Canadian people. Basically, you know like I said earlier, it was kind of like a ghetto in Steveston. Like eighty percent of the population in Steveston. Was, Japanese Canadian. Uh, forty-seven percent, forty-seven...business, were owned and operated by Japanese Canadians. Um...the school, seventy-five percent of the population in the elementary school. Japanese Canadian. And so, when, the internment happened, it just...just kind of...gutted the, community of Steveston. And, I don't think it ever did recover. Because, at one time Steveston...was kind of the centre of Richmond. Now of course, Richmond Centre is the centre of Richmond, right.
RS
Mhm.
SM
And uh...that's...I don't know. That might have happened anyway, but, I think um...I don't think Steveston did recover from the war either.
RS
Mhm.
SM
In terms of what, what it could have been.
RS
Right. Um...I'm just realizing, of all the questions I've written down following up to um, stories about your father, but. Um..can we maybe hear a little bit more about your mother?
SM
Okay, my mother,
RS
Yeah.
SM
My mother, um...in some ways...I don't know if she was um, considered a saint, but...they honoured her, in the Steveston Buddhist, Temple, uh, with some kind of...I don't know, some kind of...I remember she, she was kind of proudly, um...you know, hanging it on the wall and talking about, you know what a, great honour it was, but. I think she was involved in um, in leading the, Steveston Buddhist Temple in, in. In a number of different ways, whether, you know, it was to the part of the women's auxiliary, or. The Japanese language school that they set up, or the um. The arts and cultural stuff that she used to do, there was dancing, there was singing, or. Arts and crafts, um. And then, you know, kind of administrative work. In the, in the temple, because I think she was on the executive for about eight, about eight years.
RS
Mhm.
01:30:00.000
01:30:00.000
SM
And uh...her, her side. She, when I went back to Japan to see where the uh, the family gravesite was, it's interesting. It was on this hill, overlooking this, kind of a valley...and um. It was pretty isolated, because I remember going there, and the road, going up to this, kind of, mountainous kind of, plateau and then, between some...mountains. Above everything else. Uh, it was a single lane road, and so we'd be coming down the road and meet somebody, we'd have to back up. Or the other person, would have to back up laugh and try to find, kind of like a driveway to get off the road so somebody could pass, I mean it was, it was really isolated. But I remember the guy's name was Suzuki, we had to kind of take a little gift to him and say that we wanted to go and see the gravesite. And it was quite a substantial, you know, headstone and everything, but apparently all the, ancestors', ashes were hidden in the, in the gravesite there. And, we had to climb up this hill, and overlooking this valley where this guy owned all this uh, rice paddies, and. And uh, and it was uh...I, don't know, she. I don't know if she said that they were, like one of the uh...um...not prominent samurai families but, you know one of the, kind of marginal ones, I'm not sure, but. And that, at one time, they were doing, fairly well off, because uh...the warrior class, you know. They, they had it, uh, over some of the other people, even though some of the business class were, doing quite well. Um...anyways, I think they must have owned that land at one time. And then, um...they must have hit hard times, and, um...they lost it all.
RS
Hmm.
SM
And then, they're probably starving or whatever in Japan, and so. They emigrated to Hawaii first, and then to Canada, and. And um...I think, my grandfather was quite a heavy drinker. So. He was a hard worker, and, smart. All that kind of stuff, but. I don't think he helped himself by, drinking as much as he did. So that was quite difficult, and the other thing that happened too is...um...there was, two boys and four girls I think, in the family. And, I think the...the boys were the...well, the boys, one of the boys that's very successful, has kind of built up the empire in southern Alberta is uh, the youngest. And I think...the other boy, uh...he wasn't the youngest, but maybe he was about the third youngest. And so there's all these females. In the family, and one of the females, I visited and met her in Japan, and. She was talking about why she was, um, given up. To this family, in Japan. And I guess...uh, my grandfather, decided that he had so many daughters...that he could give up one. To a relative that didn't have a child.
RS
Hmm.
SM
And so, this, this woman, this aunt of mine, she went on and on, every day that I saw her. And talked about, you know why me? Why, why was I sent off to Japan, and. And, and she was talking about how it was...it was okay for a while, because the family was, fairly well off. But then they, ran into hard times too, I don't know if they were into kimono making or something, I can't remember what it was, but. So that, kind of...and then the...apparently she was quite pretty and so. Apparently the uh...the adopted father, was very partial to her. And so his wife wasn't too, keen about that, and so there's this, kind of jealousy about her, taking attention away from her, and. And attracting all this attention from her, her...husband, and so. Eventually she was kicked out. And she was on her own and she didn't know what the heck to do, and she ended up, um, going to see an uncle that kind of took her in, and. And then, fortunately, she, ended up in a situation where she...got, married, to somebody that had some land. And was able to uh, provide for her, but she was in, desperate straits for a while and she said the only thing that saved her, was her uh...her religion. And so she got into a, not the main Buddhist sect, but one of the, minor Buddhist sects in Japan. And said that that kind of saved her, because she was going through all this, uh.
01:35:10.000
01:35:10.000
RS
Hm.
SM
This angst about...being uh...given up and, having all these problems, and. And basic surviving, after all of that hardship that she went through.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Um...so that was part of the uh, problem with that family, but. The other, part of the, problem with that family is, like a, in the old days, the son, especially the oldest son, inherited everything. And then his job was to look after the uh, parents. Well that didn't happen in, in their, in my mum's family, in that, the sons inherited everything. Uh...and the daughters got whatever was in the, savings account of, their mother, but. Basically the, the sons inherited the business and everything. The, land, and. And the, whatever factories, and. and whatever they had, but anyway, they. They, they got, basically the bulk of the inheritance. And uh. They, they didn't look after. Their mother, who was, uh...um...left behind when, I think the...their father died when he was only seventy-two because I think he, I don't know, maybe he drunk himself to death, but anyway he was, he was drinking more than he should have, I think.
RS
Hm.
SM
Um...uh, I'm not sure. You know, if that's the case because I don't know exactly how much he drank, or whether it was a really serious problem but I, you know I heard rumours that he, he had...he liked his liquor more than he should.
RS
Right.
SM
But anyway, um...so that was kind of sad. Because the daughters, there were four of them, but they. They didn't end up with too much.
RS
Hmm. And what about um...
SM
So I don't think that's, why my mum wasn't as close to, her side too.
RS
Oh, okay.
SM
That, that was a bit of a...thorn in the, side of her.
RS
I see.
SM
Yeah.
RS
Right. And then just um...we've had sort of, little, um...memories and...sort of images of what your father was like, just on a day to day basis, but. Um, in your earliest, memories, what do you remember of your, your mum in, in Alberta? Like, what kinds of stuff was she doing on, on a daily basis?
SM
Oh, she'd be cooking all the time, and. And I remember she used to complain that she was, cooking for an army.
RS
Hmm.
SM
And so. I guess the people that went off to work, she would cook for them. And of course...uh, all the people in our family are big eaters, and. And...like, you know. I remember my friend once saying, how come you eat so fast? laughs And, I guess I was thinking you know I guess I do eat, I kind of inhale my food, and, and part of it is, because...it was a bit of a competitive atmosphere, when you've got eight people...trying to go for the food at the same time, and then, you know, there was...limited amount, and. The quality of the food might...diminish as you were, further down the line in terms of getting to it.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Um...and then sometimes...food would be, stolen out of the pantry. Not so much stolen because the pantry wasn't locked, but. Food would go missing, in between meals, and. You know, was uh, supposed to be for everybody.
RS
Mhm.
SM
So it was, it was a bit of a...I think, in terms of, like I was talking to my wife about, her family, and my family, and. There was more of a...a competition, kind of thing, rather than a cooperation thing going on, and. And, I think there was more of a...like this whole idea of doing it on your own? Like my dad, doing it on his own, kind of thing, as opposed to...my wife's family where, everybody had to kind of uh...work together with the father, who was very productive in fishing but, he had a very serious drinking problem. And so...they were all kind of looking, out for him and trying to protect him, and. Save him from drowning, and. And all kinds of, terrible things. Because he, he. You know, he tried to control it but it was a very difficult thing for him to control.
RS
Hm.
01:39:47.000
01:39:47.000
SM
So they kind of worked together more like a team, and we kind of. So maybe that's another reason why this whole community thing is uh, is difficult and connecting with people is difficult, because my, mum and dad had a hard time connecting, because they were so different, my mum was more into, arts and craft, and music and dancing, and. Literature, and. My dad was more into kind of, doing things with his hands, and very practical, and. Getting things done, and you know.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Um. Very different from her. I mean even though she was involved in the um. In the shipbuilding business too, when she was younger, apparently she was very good at putting the uh, caulking in between the seams of the uh, cedar planking of the boats. She was very good at it and fast at it. And in fact...that's the other thing, she. She was very competitive, and she was saying she was a very good high jump- high jumper when she was younger. And that's where, my, older brother Tom who's, over six feet, got his height from, you know, the Kanagawa side, her family, her father was tall too, and, one of her brothers tall. You know, of course, it's the short side too. Like I'm, part of the short side. But, um. She um...what was I going to say. Um...yeah, she was good at high-jumping but, um...yeah, she, she was very different from my dad in, in terms of, uh...of kind of her way of looking at things. Like she'd be more interested in uh...in, in dancing but my dad wasn't that person, that kind of stuff, yeah.
RS
Hmm.
SM
Um...
RS
I imagine the, pace of life then, in Alberta, would have been. Quite challenging, for her, to be. Supporting everybody, in, in that...way. Um, knowing that she had all of these other, interests, and also skills.
SM
Yeah. Like she was uh, she liked to do drawing and painting and,
RS
Mhm.
SM
-calligraphy and stuff like that, you know like. breath My dad was artistic too. But uh. Maybe not so esoteric, he was more...kind of more practical artistic.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Like he'd be able to draw things, but uh...like, maybe, when he was building, uh, some kind of...piece of art that, he was making out of his hands, kind of thing, but, you know, she'd be more kind of...like more classical art. He was more kind of. I don't know.
RS
They were creative in different ways, it sounds like.
SM
Yeah, that's right. They were. They were,
RS
Yeah. Yeah.
SM
Very creative in different ways.
RS
Okay. Well I think we've, we've learned a lot about your, your family history, um. And also...a lot of what it's like to be... you know, someone of your, particular, uh, generation as well, and. And going through the motions and, um...learning more about it I suppose, later in life? Um. That, that tells us a lot about, about it too. Um...and I, as I mentioned to you, this, this project has a...has a, purpose to it, um...which largely connects to, uh, education. And so, uh, one thing I wanted to ask you is that, um, you know for somebody listening to this, interview later, um, or perhaps, learning from, the Landscapes of Injustice project, um...or just, curious about the history of Japanese Canadian community? Um, you know, what would you say to, to fellow Canadians, um, who come across this, this history? If you could, think of something.
SM
Well, it's, it's a story of despair. Discrimination, dispossession. And uh...and overcoming, all the hardship that could be thrown at you. Like even, even that, like. Like, you know people talk about rebuilding and resilience and you know, excelling and, you know, uh. Overcoming and all this kind of stuff, right. Which I think is important.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Perseverance, you know, hard work. I mean, you can go on and on about all these fine qualities, right.
RS
Mhm.
SM
In the community. But even, like, with my mum, like she, she was um, she was very, proficient in the cannery. So, when she was cleaning the fish, or, packing the fish into cans, or, sorting out cans in terms of whether they were right weight and, and quality of fish in the can or whatever, she was VERY, very fast and efficient. And she tried to learn the language. So she'd be watching TV in, in English. And trying to repeat the words and stuff like that, and, and the both of them were, were into kind of reading. Um...and uh. I think my mum was more, more serious about trying to, learn the language than my dad. Um...both of them were interested in, uh, history and stuff like that, but. My mum ended up being the, the forelady, or the, the boss of the, uh...of the women on the night shift?
01:45:13.000
01:45:13.000
SM
And...and she was, quite prominent as a leader in the uh, in the community, uh...Steveston community, but there was...a lot of, kind of um, jealousy, and uh...unfortunately people were, you know, weren't happy that she was in a position of power over them. And so there was that kind of problem, and then. I think there was a lot of like, there was a lot of, over...overzealous kind of, pride and competition that kind of resulted in them doing so well even though, you know people would wonder how they did it? But you know they worked so hard, and they tried to, um...almost killed themselves trying to compete. And yet...um...and some ways that kind of brought the ugliness out too in terms of how...people didn't like the fact that maybe some people were doing better than others, right. And uh...and so, I think the story, that uh...needs to be told is, yeah, I mean. You know, people excel, and do well, and all this kind of stuff, but. But...but if, if people, um. Hear the story of internment, for example. I mean it, it's a, pretty sad story in terms of. You know, what happens to people. And um. And hopefully, that, doesn't happen to other people. And, it doesn't matter, how well people do and, you know, excel, and I mean. Whether you become a Canadian champion like my older brother in judo, and. Uh, you know whether my dad was a, a sumo champion. In, in the Vancouver-Steveston area. Um...you know, he was only, 130, 140 pounds. But he would be beating people that were twice his size, right, because of his speed, and uh, skill, strength. And, and just like my older brother, he's only about 160 pounds, but he'd be beating people, that were heavier than him. And he became the Canadian champion in judo twice, in his uh, middleweight or lightweight division and uh. Uh, he was runner up three times. And um...I think my dad was a sumo, champion, and he came second and third, but. Like, you know, it, and you could go on and on about. You know, like I said my, my uh. My mother's side that have done well in southern Alberta even though they were, like slave labour, um...and then they were, able to uh, lease and become kind of like sharecroppers, and then, then own...and then own uh...businesses. And, and become very successful, and, and even uh, you know with my dad. Being able to buy three acres, and. He probably made more money on real estate than he did, building boats, even, you know, but. Um...in some, in some ways, it's not so much...the achievement or the, resilience or overcoming that's so important it's the. The fact, like I mean you might miss the whole point of, of the Japanese history which was, pretty sad. It's not a question of overcoming and success, it's a question of, deprivation and hardship, and. You know, maybe you say, well that's good, you've got to have that to kind of move, develop character and strength and all this kind of stuff, but I don't think so. I don't think that's the point, the point of the history is it's not a very - like they say it's a black mark in Canadian history but, it, it's, it's sad that, people do that to people, you know? And, and even now, you know, with the wars that are going on, and...all the uh, injustices going on, I mean, I don't think we LEARN from history. I mean, you know you could have, like, scientists or doctors or artists that are outstanding and, and that's great, and we can celebrate that kind of stuff. But you know, the sad part about it is...we haven't come very far. In terms of overcoming some of our, negative kind of...uh, behaviour or, feelings or whatever that we have against each other. You know, whether it's based on competition or jealousy or hate or...or whatever you want to call it, you know. Insecurity, I mean you can have all kinds of negative reasons why. You think and, feel and do terrible things, but. That's the, you know like...like a lot of religions talk about, you know like, uh. The Buddhists talk about life being a bumpy road, right. And then the Christians talk about original sin, and all that kind of stuff. And you know, um...it's all great to say like, what the world needs more is love, but. I don't think we've got it. I mean, there are kind of like...hopefully little, little snippets of it, coming out here and there, and, and. And people are overcoming some of this, ugly stuff but, there's still a lot of ugly stuff going on.
RS
Mhm.
SM
In fact, I, I wouldn't be surprised if down, down the road, future generations would say well, why we're extinct, or maybe we have to leave this planet, is because. We haven't done things too well.
RS
Hm. So, we have a long way to go.
SM
laugh We've got a long way to go.
RS
Yeah.
SM
And, and, the survival of the, so-called human species, I don't know, I. I, if things keep going the way they are, I don't know if it's, it's going to happen, you know.
RS
Hm. So it sounds like, you're saying -
SM
I mean I hate to be, kind of negative, but.
RS
No, no.
SM
I, I think, you know, like in terms of, what we've learned, and like I've been, I've been an interested student of history. International studies and stuff like that, try to keep up with current events and stuff. And, and then my kind of interest more and more in the Japanese Canadian history as I get older. The more I look into it I think holy mackerel, all this stuff has, has happened and, looks like it's still happening. Which is sad.
RS
Mhm.
SM
Anyway.
RS
Mhm. No, it's a -
SM
No, I don't want to rant anymore.
RS
Yeah.
SM
Is that enough, maybe I should cut it off, or.
RS
Oh. Sure!
SM
laughs loudly
RS
But I do, thank you I mean, first of all, you must be starving. both laugh loudly But no I, I thank you, very much because I think, um...not only do we get a sense of, of family memories and experience but also of, uh, your own perspective, and. I think there are some powerful messages to take forward when we're trying to think of ways in which, um...we're trying to convey particular messages, to those who are learning about the history. So I really do appreciate it, and I thank you for, over, almost two hours of your time actually.
SM
laughs loudly
RS
I appreciate it!
SM
laughing Okay.
RS
So we'll leave it there.
SM
laughing Okay.
RS
Perfect.
SM
Yeah.
01:52:18.000

Metadata

Title

Sadao Donald Mukai, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 21 August 2017

Abstract

Don tells the story of his family from his birth in Lethbridge, Alberta during the internment to their return to the coast in 1950 and eventually to Steveston, where he grew up. His father was a boat builder who lost his workshop and waterfront property in Steveston during the dispossession. Don speculates on the emotional and psychological impact of internment on his family, especially his parents and oldest sister. He also tells of his upbringing in Steveston and the work ethic it instilled in him, and of his work as a school counsellor and in real estate. Don is strongly concerned that current world events indicate that racism, human rights abuses, and intergenerational trauma are far from over.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Interviewee: Sadao Donald Mukai
Transcriber: Carolyn Nakagawa
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Richmond, BC
Keywords: Taber ; Steveston ; boatbuilding; Redress ; community; intergenerational trauma; assimilation; 1912-present; especially 1930s-1950s, 1980s and 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.