Keo Shibatani, interviewed by Josh Labove and Heather Read, 19 August 2015 (1 of 2)

Keo Shibatani, interviewed by Josh Labove and Heather Read, 19 August 2015 (1 of 2)

Abstract
Keo begins the interview by describing his earliest childhood memories in Vancouver and how his family started their humble beginnings there. He remembers growing up in poverty during the Depression, what that was like, and how it impacted his family. He explains his desire to assimilate into the ‘general community’ and how he struggled with this endeavour due to his dual identity as a Japanese-Canadian. Keo discusses how discriminatory Canadian policy restricted Japanese-Canadians from obtaining employment in professional fields such as medicine and law. He outlines how these laws impacted his own as well as the Japanese-Canadian community’s desire to remain in Canada. Keo says that he will never forget Mr. Whitehead’s speech, on the Monday after Pearl Harbor at the model school in Fairview, which made the Japanese-Canadian students feel “very, very comfortable.” He then provides a detailed account of why his father made the choice to leave Canada, how his family felt after they moved to Japan, and how they were treated there. Near the end of the interview Keo talks about his decision to move back to Canada, how it happened, and the emotions he felt during the entire process.
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Labove Joshua (LJ)
On. It is August 19th, 2015. Josh Labove here at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center in Toronto, Ontario Canada with Keo Shibatani.
Heather Read (HR)
And Heather Read is also present for part of recording but will probably disappear...
LJ
And Heather Read is present as well. So Keo, just to start maybe you can just tell me about your childhood as you remember growing up in Vancouver.
KS
Well, there's seven kids in our family. My parents came from Shiga Prefecture which is Southwestern Japan. I think he immigrated shortly after World War One. I was born in 1930 and I have an older brother who is born a year earlier, '29. My sister was born in '27 and I got another sister who passed away when she was only seven years old. She would have been born in either '25 or '26 and she would be the oldest, okay? So, in reality we had eight children in our family. The oldest sister passed away when she was only seven. That makes my dad here shortly after World War One. Like most immigrants, he came from a farming background and the other major group came from Wakayama Prefecture which is a fishing prefecture. Most of those people ended up in Steveston. Steveston had a very large Japanese community. In fact, it was similar to Powell Street, downtown Vancouver. If you were born and lived there you spoke better Japanese than English and even today you could tell if somebody was born in downtown Vancouver or Steveston. So, here's my dad. He emigrates in the early 1920s like most immigrants he followed his friends to wherever they happened to find work. Most of the farmers went into interior BC to work in the logging camps. The last time I was in BC, which was last week, I went to a place that my dad used to mention quite often. That's Salmon Arm, BC. You know where that is, huh? The other place that I wanted to go, but I just didn't have time, was Revelstoke, another area where a large Japanese immigrant community worked. In those days the men emigrating from Japan either were engaged to somebody back in their own prefecture or they got involved with picture bride situations where the men didn't know these women at all, they just looked at the pictures and they picked what they thought was a good bride to be. There were lots of interesting stories about how some of these pictures were doctored up and the same applied to the men. They would send photos back to Japan and their relatives would pass the photos around and some of these were doctored up again laughs. So, when the two got together laughs, you could imagine the confusion and the heartbreak and the disappointment and all that sort of thing. Well, my dad knew my mom before he left to come to Canada so it wasn't one of those situations.
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KS
The interesting part about my dad and my mom is, when these guys went into the bushes to work they would come out to Vancouver with the forest industry which shut down in the winter. Today, it goes year round but in those days they just shut down. So the men would come out to Vancouver to wait for a boat to take them back to Japan to get married or whatever. So, my dad worked and saved and he came out to Vancouver to go back to Japan to get married to my mom and bring her over to Canada. Well, waiting for a boat to arrive is not like waiting for the next flight to Tokyo on Air Canada. It would take, maybe, a couple of weeks before a boat would come in but in order to save money they would all live in rooming houses and whatever. Invariably, there would be card shacks. My dad got into a card game. He lost every cent he saved to go to Japan. In order to replenish his funds he had to go back into the workforce for another couple of years otherwise I would be two years older than I am now laughs. It took him two years to save up enough money to go back. I wish I had asked my mom what she felt like when she found out my dad wasn't coming back for another two years and how he explained why he was delayed for a couple of years. But that's how our family got started. After two years he went back to Japan, got married, brought my mom here and this was where the Shibatani family got its beginning. A lot of the unusual things about the Shibatani family is there's only one other family with that name. I have a son who has been working in California for the last twenty, twenty-five years and he searched and he searched all over the U.S. and he found one family but they're not related to us. Just one. This guy was a professor, a visiting professor, at the University of Chicago. His family background isn't anywhere close to where my parents are born so it's pretty clear that that person is not a relative of ours. When I went to Japan I didn't see anybody with the name Shibatani. Only if I went back to my dad's village then there are, again, maybe two or three families with the name Shibatani. That's out of 120 million people, okay? laughs. So, our name is quite unique. There's a lot of Shibatas. Lots of Shibatas all over the place but very very few Shibatanis. I've got two sons. Neither one have any children so the name will probably die with me. I have a daughter but, obviously, she has a different name. So, that's a brief history of how our family got started and how unique our last name is.
LJ
Tell me about life in Vancouver particularly before the war. I know you said it's home and you would go back there. What do you remember of Vancouver?
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KS
One thing I remember very very vividly is that we were very very poor. My dad is a common labourer. I'm growing up during the depression years. So, I know what it's like to be on welfare. I've heard of lots of people on welfare during the depression but when we talk about the postwar generation, people have a lot of negative thoughts about people on welfare. I could understand because I too was on welfare but in a much much different circumstance. The thing I remember more than anything else was the fact that we were very very poor. Even though most of the dads had even temporary jobs, my dad didn't. I think he had a personality where, maybe, he wasn't very well liked. So, if a temporary job came up he was the last man on the list sort of thing. That's what I gather. I don't know that to be a fact but most other families, their dads were working even during the depression. When I was little I saw what was happening to our family. I didn't like what I was experiencing and I swore that I would not be poor when I grew up. That's one thing I would not be and I think I was able to avoid being poor laughs. So I'm quite proud of that. I've got three kids. They had all the experience of a middle-class family. I took them on holidays all over the place and that's one thing that I did not want our children to be exposed. So, I put a lot of emphasis on material things. A lot of emphasis, because as a kid when you're going to school and you see how other kids are dressed, what kind of lunches they bring, all these things I noticed. What I disliked more than anything else was going to Japanese language school where they would have ceremonies and my peers were extremely mean. The white kids would never comment on whether my clothes were not up to snuff like theirs, never. We may have had lots of racial problems but that subject never came up whereas when I went to Japanese language school that was the main thing. Everybody's looking at each other and bragging about they have this or they have that. So I swore a couple of things. When I got married and I got kids our kids would never go to Japanese language school, never, and they didn't go. I discouraged them. Not that they wanted to go but there's no way that I would expose them to that and the fact that you have to learn another language when you're trying to assimilate with the general community, that's tough. It's like you have a split personality. If you go Japanese language school you come under the Japanese custom of how we relate to adults, our peers, and all that which is quite different from the general community. So you have this disadvantage of looking different and then you have this other disadvantage of, well, which community do you belong to? Very confusing time when I was growing up. Fortunately I was fairly intelligent. I started English school one year early and I skipped one year.
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KS
So I'm two years younger than my peers. Academically, I'm holding my own but from a maturity standpoint I'm way behind. You know how the gap is between a six year old and an eight year old, or an eight year old and a ten year old; huge gap. As I grew older, I couldn't keep up and I didn't do too well at school and then I lost interest afterwards. One of the main factors of me losing interest is when I look around and I see older Japanese-Canadians they're struggling to get through university, they're doing everything to get through university. Once they graduate, there's nothing they can look forward to, nothing. A law prohibited us from becoming doctors, lawyers, any profession. We were, by law, excluded. So these guys are struggling, they're holding down jobs, they're going to university, and yet when they graduate what are they doing? They're going to do the same kind of work my dad's doing. My dad only had, in those days in Japan, compulsory education which ended at grade six. So here, these guys and women who killed themselves to put themselves through university are doing the same type of work. Some of them managed to get work with Japanese companies that had branches in Vancouver. Now, they were very low paying jobs because the companies knew that they couldn't get a regular job, a white collar job, in the general community. So, they naturally came to put the pay scales way down. Others went to Japan and used their bilingual abilities in Japan. They probably did much better than those who stayed behind. The only big drawback there was the war started and they got stuck in Japan and they were drafted into the Japanese military. There's no avoiding that. No avoiding that. I'm sure many of them lost their lives. That is the kind of future that I was looking at when I was growing up. So, I couldn't wait to get out of school. If that's all I can look forward to I might as well get out now and get a head start, sort of thing. Unfortunately, I didn't even complete high school. The war came and interrupted our education process and the opportunities by staying in school were not all that attractive. So I dropped out. Now, those guys who stayed in school I give them full credit for hanging in. The war came, the war ended, and these discriminatory laws were no longer valid and they benefited from wherever their talents could take them. One of the things that I remember distinctly is how I hated to move.
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KS
We moved quite often simply because my dad couldn't afford to pay the rent. We would get evicted and then my dad would find another place which invariably meant going to a different school. Oh, how I hated to change schools. You know, you make friends and then before you know it you have to move and make new friends, new teachers, some schools were better than others. So that was the other thing, when I grew up and had my own family I would not move unless I could see that it was going to be beneficial to my children. Mount Pleasant, I went there. The oldest public school in Vancouver. There was an Anglo-Saxon principal. He hated the Japanese and he made no secret about it. He would openly call me a Jap, openly. The only time I was on his good side was when we were on the school's softball team or soccer team or basketball team and we were representing his school. Then I was okay but other than that no. He hated us. The school I went to when the war began was a model school. It's in Fairview right near city hall. There's a principal there called Mr. Whitehead. He was the total opposite of this guy at Mount Pleasant. On December seventh Sunday, Pearl Harbour, Monday he called everybody into the auditorium and he made a speech which made us feel very very comfortable. I'll never forget clears throat. So, all the teachers were nice because the principal set a pattern. We had quite a few Japanese-Canadians in the school. I was in grade seven when the war started. The smartest kid in grade seven, we had three classes of grade seven, the smartest kid was Japanese-Canadian. The best athlete in the school was Japanese-Canadian. Both of those guys are in my class. We were encouraged by the teachers almost daily. I'll never forget that. Brief Pause. There were incidents, obviously, even in model school but you almost become immune to that kind of stuff because you face it so often. It's like water off a ducks back. Those incidents were so few and far between. That's what made this school different. I'm trying to remember any other points of interest or incidents that I can recall. Oh, being in a poor family. I got into the habit of stealing things. There would be a five and dime on the way to school and we would dare each other, I'm talking not just about Japanese-Canadians but white Canadian kids that I used to hang out with, and we would dare each other as to what ... if we went through that five and dime today what sort of thing we would come out with through the other door.
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KS
I used to like stealing wallets because I could sell them right away to older kids at a fraction of the price they would pay if they bought it at the stores. By stealing, I was able to have change in my pocket and able to buy things that I otherwise would never have been able to buy. You know, like candy and gum and chips and stuff like that. I remember we'd go to Kitsilano Beach and we would go through a drug store, always go through a drug store when we were going to the beach. The only thing we had was a towel and we would come out of there with bags of marshmallows, chocolate bars, everything that we had no money to buy Heather and Keo laugh. The other thing is we would go to Kitsilano Beach and we wouldn't have any money and we would be hungry. We would see these white kids going to the refreshment stands and coming back with chips and god knows what else. So, we would chase one another and accidentally bump into these kids. The chips would go flying all over the place and they would go running crying to their parents. Meanwhile, guess what we're doing, we're picking up those chips, taking the sand off it, and eating them. Those were some of the things we did when we were young.
LJ
Did you ever get caught more seriously than that or was it just all fun and games?
KS
No, well, what could the parents do?
LJ
The drug stores or the ...
KS
No, I never got caught. I did get caught once. This was a store that made chocolates. We saw this whole box of chocolates way down in the basement level. You know how Vancouver, they had these back alleys which we don't have in Toronto. That's what I miss, really. All the garages are in the back. So the houses all look nice and they don't have garages. Well, the older houses. The new ones do. So, behind this store there's the alley and then there's a basement there and we're looking and we see, oh, lots of chocolates. We climb down and as soon as we get down the proprietor comes up and catches us. “What are you guys doing down there, huh?” “Oh, nothing.” He knew what we were doing. He threatened to call the cops and we're pleading with him not to do that because ... excuse me ... I'm not afraid of the cops because what can the cops do to us? What I'm afraid of is what my dad is going to do. He'd kill me. So, he just pretended to call the cops and then we begged him not to do this and we would never do this again and so on. He said, “Okay, come on up and you remember, don't you ever do that again.” “Yes sir. Yes sir.” That's the only time I got caught.
LJ
Lucky. So besides the potentially illegal ... what things do you remember doing for fun with your friends?
KS
I played a lot of baseball. Lots of it.
LJ
What was your position?
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KS
I either played first base or I was a pitcher because I'm left handed. That gave me an advantage. When it was in the fall we would play soccer and then winter we would play basketball. In the spring we would play softball and baseball. Whenever the Vancouver Public School playoffs began, you knew that the tops schools would have Japanese players on. Always, without fail. That's what we did. We played a lot of sports. We weren't rich enough to have a radio even. When the war began all the radios were taken away. Well, we didn't have a radio so that wasn't a problem, see. When the war started we were playing outside and somebody came back and he says “Hey, guess what. The war started.” He heard it on his family radio. Well, we didn't have one so we got news about the war from our friends. I was headed towards a life of crime, believe me Heather laughing and then ...
HR
You're so smiley about it now laughing.
KS
No, because it's funny it didn't turn out that way which is good, right?
HR
True.
KS
But, when you think about it the possibility was very very strong that I would have had the war not started. I haven't been hanging out with Japanese kids. I just couldn't get along with them. Even though we would get into fights I much preferred hanging out with white kids and this particular gang, when I was in grade seven, we had a Chinese kid as well. The leader of the gang he's in the same grade, seven, he's already sixteen years old. So here I am, what, eleven. '41 I'm eleven years old and this guy is five years older than I am and he's a gang leader. He's in my class laughs. So everybody follows the leader sort of thing and as soon as the shipyards began producing ships for the war he, sixteen, he could quit school any time. He quit school and he'd come back on certain days. He'd have all kinds of money in his pocket, showing off to us “hey, lookit” and all he was was a rivet catcher. I don't know what that is. They sit there with buckets, I guess, and catch rivets. I remember him. Oh god, sixteen years old and he's in the same class. So he couldn't wait to get out. As soon as he became sixteen he was gone. They were getting involved in illegal activities which I was a part of as well. So, had the war not started I would have continued on with that probably and probably ended up in juvenile detention and graduate to a jail then prison laughs. But, oh, we were so afraid of our dads. All Japanese-Canadians were. The thing that we were told over and over again was “don't bring shame to your family. No matter what you do” because family reputation is everything. That applies today, too. I've taught my kids the same thing. Certain aspects of Japanese culture I try to teach them and I think by and large they did quite well. All three went through university and a guy in the states he's got his master's degree in hydrology and he's doing quite well down there. I've got my daughter who married a white English-Canadian. He's a nuclear engineer. My two grandsons, and that's all I got is two.
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KS
The youngest went to Julliard. It costs forty grand a year. He doesn't owe one nickel of student loans. He worked and got his tuition that way because his family could help but not to that extent. Now this guy is a dancer choreographer. He goes all over the world. He's got a couple of schools here of his own and he's only twenty-four years old. So he performs ...
HR
What have you been doing Josh laughs.
Unclear as all participants speaking at once.
KS
And his older brother is an architect. He went to McGill and did his graduate studies at UofT. Not only is he an architect, he's also a professional photographer. He takes photos of buildings and he sells them to other architects. So he goes all over the world taking pictures. When he's on vacation that's what he's doing, taking pictures of what he feels to be an interesting architectural style of buildings. My daughter is very proud of those two and so are we. Unfortunately, I can't add any good things to my history when I was growing up. You know, I was very young. When the war started we spent four years in this place called Tashme which is just outside of Hope. It was the most isolated of the ten internment camps. I found peace there. You didn't have to move for four years. I experienced a very stable lifestyle for the first time. I went into the camp when I was twelve I came out when I was sixteen. I find those years some of the happiest years of my life and here we are incarcerated, right? laughs. I had been working on this Tashme project for three years and I'm on the last legs of getting it completed. Once that is done, which shouldn't be too much longer, then I need to find something else to do because when I initially started off doing archiving work and I just don't like that kind of work. So I have to find something else to do. One of the things I've been thinking of is getting the word out in so far as our experience, you know, just like I'm telling you right now sort of thing. That kind of thing would interest me a lot. I've been to York a couple of times and I kind of liked that sort of work.
LJ
Do your children or grandchildren ever ask or want to know about ...
KS
No, strangely enough and I find this to be the case with a lot of families. The adults or the parents don't want to speak about it and because they don't want to speak about it the kids don't show too much interest. When the kids show a lot of interest that's when the parents and the adults open up. Otherwise most of them prefer not to talk about it. It's like when soldiers go to war many of them don't want to say anything about the war unless they are encouraged by different reasons and purposes.
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HR
Can I jump in with a question? Did your parents ever talk to you about how they felt about having to go to Tashme?
KS
No. We had a very different type of family. Maybe it wasn't so different, I don't know, but because my dad was so busy trying to eke out a living he had very little time to have conversations like this. Like, “how are you doing in school? You got any problems?” we didn't discuss any of that so it was a very abnormal family or style, I guess. When I got my own family I tried to be as involved as possible with my children. I like playing sports so my two sons they play all kinds of sports. My favourite was baseball so I got my two boys into baseball and my team won two Scarborough championships. We were living in Agincourt at the time. At registration time every kid wants to join Mr. Shibatani's team because I ran a very strict baseball camp. What really bothered me was the lack of interest on some parents' part. I'd have these practices and I'm working at a job where I have flexible hours so we would play two nights a week and then we would practice something like three nights a week. I'd schedule my work so that I could have these practices. I got fifteen boys I'm responsible for. Invariably, a couple of kids need a ride to get to the park to practice or even to play a game. “Mr. Shibatani can I get a ride from you, sir?” So what do I do? I go pick the kid up and what do I see? Three cars in the driveway and they can't get a ride. That used to really tick me off. I'd have three practices and two games a week, that's five nights. Well, actually, Saturdays and Sundays were daytime. In any event, five ... well I committed myself to about three hours per practice or game and baseball we liked to play with real rules. Like, hockey you could put kids in and out as often as you would like. Baseball, you take a kid out you've got to keep him out for the rest of the game no matter how lopsided the score gets. He can't come back in. So, after the game I'd be relaxing and I'd get phone calls. Some mother is ticked off because Johnny didn't get to play more than one inning or something like that. They never come out to practices to see all the time that I devote to each kid to try to get him to be a better player than he is. They never see any of that but, boy, they come to the game they sit way back there, they don't offer to help keep the score or anything. Sometimes I ended up keeping the score, managing, and doing everything because I didn't have any help but they have the nerve to call me and say “hey, Johnny only got to play an inning.” Well, how many innings did we play? She doesn't know.
LJ
Hopefully nine. So did you play any baseball in Tashme? Was that something that would happen?
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KS
Yup. You saw the guy with the blue shirt, Harold?
LJ
I did, yeah.
KS
He's a good baseball pitcher. My older brother was only a year older than I, he was on the same team as Harold. Harold, when he left Tashme and he went to Thunderbay, he was playing fairly high level baseball at the time. Well, when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, I was a lot smaller than I am now. I was very short. When I was seventeen, eighteen I sprouted. I played in the junior league. Harold played in the senior league. I went to Japan. I played lots of baseball in Japan. Most of the people were either my size or smaller than me as compared to when I'm here I'm on the real small side. So, I had a lot of fun playing baseball in Japan. The one thing that I regret is we had a team made up of Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians and we'd play on Japanese teams, company teams, and what not. One day, this guy who made all the arrangements for baseball games arranged to have a game with an American Army team. So I was prime to pitch that day and just before the game was about to start there was a downpour and it kept raining. The field became unplayable. So I never got to play against an American Army team. That is my biggest regret when it comes to baseball, that I didn't get to pitch against American ball players. During the occupation of Japan there were a lot of GIs over there who played professional baseball and these guys would get on their regimental team or their division team or their battalion team or they would go one level up which would be the division. The same applied to most other sports like basketball and football. I saw a couple of football players that used to play for West Point in the NCAA class one. As a spectator sport I love watching football when I was a kid. I used to watch King Edward High School play football and then I used to go watch UBC play. Before the war there was a high school called Vancouver College, although it was a high school. It was a Catholic school. The only high school that played American football. All the other high schools played Canadian leagues but this one school was different. When they would play against Seattle, I think they had an all-day high school, there was a high school from Everett, there was a high school from Bellingham. As you may have saw, Vancouver College was the only high school in Vancouver that had full gear. You know, just like the American high schools. Those guys used to come up from Seattle and Takoma and whatever. They'd bring their cheerleaders, the band, and no high school in Vancouver had anything close to that. They were lucky if half the team had the same jersey. They had all different types of helmets.
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KS
When the American high schools used to come up I used to really envy them with all the equipment and so on that they had. Vancouver College had the same thing so they weren't, like, poor cousins. They played and dressed just like the American high schools. I don't recall them having a band but they had cheerleaders. So that's what I remember about prewar Vancouver. The whole country was so much poorer than the U.S. Now I transport myself to Japan and the same thing applies in Japan. Japanese-Americans are much better off than we are, much better off. The way they dress ... we made comparisons with their camp life and our camp life, there are major major differences. Americans, nobody had to cook. They all went to the mess hall to eat. The Canadians, everybody cooked for their own family. I see pictures of American high school basketball teams, football teams, baseball teams, they all have equipment. We didn't have any of that. We played basketball in an old barn. Every time you bounced the ball dust would come up off the floor and the ball would get so slippery with all that dust on the ball. It's hard to hold onto a ball that's covered with dust. I look at the Japanese-Americans in their camp. They've got a regular gym all built for them because there was nothing there. Just like Tashme, there was nothing there but we built everything. The facilities that the Japanese-Americans had was, well, I really envied them. I really did.
LJ
I'm wondering if you remember other activities or things that you did in Tashme. Maybe things that you would have occupied your time with. You know, basketball, you mentioned baseball ...
KS
Well, we did judo. There were, I believe at the time, twelve black belt teachers and that represented almost 100 percent of the black belt holders in Canada.
LJ
In one camp?
KS
Yeah. There's Mr. Susaki, he was the fifth grade black belter and somehow he managed to bring all his protégés along with him. So we did a lot of judo. There was also ... no, we didn't have kendo because, as I recall, you were only able to bring so many things to camp. Two suitcases and that was it, sort of thing. I'm amazed at the number of families who brought their Japanese kimonos with them because when we had these concerts and so on, all the girls would get decked out in beautiful kimonos but they didn't bring their kendo equipment with them I guess they left them in the, what they call the dojo, the gymnasiums where they held these practices and tournaments and whatnot. So we played baseball, we played basketball, and we tried to play hockey but there's no rink so we played on a lake. So there's no boards, no nothing. The puck would go sliding way across the lake to where the ice was not that thick and, unless you're careful, you'd fall in. So we always made a fire before we put our skates on so that if somebody fell in, you now, you'd have a fire going right there.
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KS
I remember falling in once. It was getting close to mid spring I guess and the ice is getting thinner and thinner and we're skating on this creek. You could see, as we skate, the ice is waving like this. So unless you kept moving quickly you're going to fall in because the ice isn't strong enough to hold your weight if you just stood there. You had to keep moving. So, obviously, we can't play hockey like that so we just wanted to skate at that time. The scouts, we learned how to do whatever scouts did in those days. The scout movement in Tashme, the troop itself was the largest troop in the whole country. We had the only Japanese-Canadian scout master. There was only one and he was recognized by the Boy Scouts of Canada. So, it wasn't as if he was not a real scout master. He was a real scout master. God, he must have put so many kids on the right track. He taught us what boy scouts ought to be. The boy scout motto is “be prepared.” Something like that. So we'll always remember that fine gentleman was one of the people who molded our personality, our character, and so on. Along the way we had some pretty good models. The first president of the centre came from our camp. Bob Kataguchi, he was a fine gentleman. Boy, a great organizer. So we were fortunate to have him in our camp. Tashme was unique in that it had a lot of future leaders. The judo master, he had a big influence on all us guys because what he taught was discipline. I was so undisciplined it wasn't even funny. I remember I kept horsing around during judo scrimmages and they insisted on no horsing around because it's so easy to get hurt. We had lots of people throwing other people and so on and so forth. So one of the young black belt teachers got a hold of me and he worked me over so much that by the time he was finished with me I couldn't even stand up. He kept throwing me every time I got up. If I didn't get up fast, he said “get up!” and then he'd throw me down faster than I could get up and this continued on until I was so exhausted. He says “had enough?” and I'd never say yes. I said “no” even though you want to say yes. So I learned a lesson and the lesson was discipline. This is a serious sport. Don't horse around. People can get hurt. Lessons of life I guess laughs. I'm a bad learner at different things.
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LJ
But you learned eventually.
KS
Yeah, eventually after most people have.
LJ
Remind me, when did you end up in Japan? Would it have been after Tashme?
KS
Yup. As the war was winding down the Canadian government gave all Japanese-Canadians a choice. You cannot stay on the coast even when the war is ended. You either go east of the Rockies or you go to Japan. Nothing in between. My dad elected to go to Japan. He, with his personal experience, he didn't see too much of a future in this country. All he could remember and all he experienced was hard times. He figured things have got to be better in Japan. What a big mistake. I remember after dinner every night my dad and my sister, older sister, would have these discussions. Finally, he won my sister over. Finally. Now it was my brother's turn so my dad focused on him with the help of my older sister. If there's one thing about the Shibatani family, they're all very stubborn laughs. So it took a hell of a long time for my dad and my sister to get my brother to agree. He finally agreed. At this stage, he's seventy. I'm sixteen. This is a year after the war. I guess '45 the war ended right? I'm fifteen at that time but we're talking about 1946 and I'm sixteen. One of the things that I could never understand is why didn't he ask me for my opinion? I'm only thirteen months younger than my brother but he never asked me once. The strange part of it is my brother didn't ask me for help when my dad and my sister were working on him. He didn't ask me for help. The reason for that is my brother and I were so distant even though we lived under the same roof, in the same room in Tashme for four years. For whatever reason my brother didn't like me, didn't want to talk to me, didn't want to have anything to do with me. So, dad and my sister finally won him over. He was miserable when we went to Japan because he didn't want to go and he found Japan to be exactly the way he thought it would be, a war devastated country, no food no nothing. The interesting part of our experience in Japan was, this is additional okay, that nobody, all our relatives, just couldn't understand why somebody living in America would want to come to Japan, a beaten country, a country destroyed. Coughing excuse me. And they treated us like lepers.
01:05:13.000
01:05:13.000
KS
I don't know who the Japanese hated more than anybody else but I guess we would be amongst those. Why are we coming to Japan? To steal what little food they had? All the destruction of another family having to break into the society that they already had? It was bad enough, the war had battered the country. Everything was short. There was a shortage of food, clothes, accommodations, you name it. Everything is in short supply and here we are coming from a country that has an overabundance of everything, or so they thought. Even though most things were rationed the rations were ample in terms of meeting your requirements. With that kind of reception my dad, I wonder how he felt. Did he make a mistake? I never got around to ask him that. We're not that kind of a family where you communicate back and forth, unfortunately. One of the things that I remember about my dad is that he never ever complimented me on anything. He was overly critical but never complimented me on ... “hey, you're doing pretty good in baseball” or whatever. So it was not an easy childhood that I had. Not by any stretch. I would see other families where the fathers and their sons and daughters were relating quite openly and you could see the results that the kids are happy, the parents are, apparently, happy too. Such was not the case with our family, unfortunately. So, going to Japan, living and working in Japan was quite an experience. It was quite an experience because we look like everybody else and yet we're so different. We're brought up differently even though our parents are born there. Their influence only goes so far. Once we leave the house we're into the Canadian environment and that played a bigger part than the part in the house. The inability to express our feelings with our parents in a common language was terribly frustrating and I'm sure it was with our parents, too. They would tell us things. Are we understanding what they're telling us? sort of thing. Obviously, you could tell good from bad and right from wrong but there are many many other things in life and who's to say what's right or what's wrong? In the Japanese community what's right may not be right in the Canadian community. So there's this confusion constantly. You know, you talk about generation gap. In addition to that you've got a cultural gap which is even tougher to understand and to overcome.
01:10:00.000
01:10:00.000
KS
I'm surprised half of us didn't turn out to be psychos laughs. I'm wondering what am I? Who am I? What is right? What's wrong? Should I adopt this custom or should I reject this custom? sort of thing. You're constantly asking those questions so what might be okay within our own house may not necessarily be okay once you leave the front door. When I started my own family I tried my very best to teach our children the Canadian way, the Canadian custom so there could be no confusion that I experienced. Now, how successful I was is anybody's guess. I'd have to ask the kids laughs.
LJ
I'm wondering ... I have a map here. It's a map of Powell Street. So, you're talking about the Canadian environment and ...
KS
Where did you get that?
LJ
We had this made up. I believe the map comes to us from ... it's an old fire insurance map of the city of Vancouver from 1930. But I'm just wondering if things pop out at you looking at the map. I know, certainly, we've got Oppenheimer Park there.
KS
That I'm familiar with but anything else I'm not because I did not enjoy going downtown to Japan-town for reasons I explained to you. I spent a lot of time here watching the Asahi baseball team.
LJ
Yeah, so the Asahi would have been playing at Oppenheimer Park?
KS
Yeah. But ...
LJ
What were those games like? I know the Asahi but who were they playing and what was the ...
KS
Well, they would be playing in what would be known as the senior league in Vancouver city. The Asahi were all Japanese-Canadians whereas all the other teams had white Canadian ball players. Some of them were semi-pros and whatnot. One of the reasons for Asahi's popularity was they never argued with the ump, never. That's the way I ran my baseball team. I won't have anybody argue, even question, an umpire. We played seven innings and if you can't win in seven innings you don't deserve to win sort of attitude because what the heck, the umpires are not professionals.
LJ
It must aggravate you to watch professional baseball then. Lots of ump arguing.
KS
Yeah, the kind of money they get paid and that sort of thing. So, I'd like to help you. What is it that you ...
LJ
I pulled this map out just to ... maybe if any of this sort of elicits memories of place names. Obviously, you've mentioned Oppenheimer Park and Hastings Street on the bottom. Do you have memories of what any of these places might have been like at the time as you remember them?
KS
No, as I've said I've stayed away from Japan-town but I took every opportunity to come here to watch the Asahi baseball. Plus, there would be a Sunday league. This would be one level down from the Asahis. Asahi was the all-star team for the Japanese-Canadians. They drew players from all over BC. They would have scouts go out and scout these players because every Japanese community from the Fraser Valley would have a baseball team. I remember there was an annual tournament with Seattle, every year. There was a team called Seattle Five Nippons. I think the Asahis were better. Maybe I'm prejudiced, I don't know but I remember them coming up every year to play.
01:15:16.000
01:15:16.000
LJ
What was going on at the time at what's now called Nat Bailey Stadium, what I guess would have been thirty-third and Main, because the Asahi played there at one point, didn't they?
KS
No. They played at a place called Con Jones Park which was out near the PNE but that park no longer exists. What I remembered about that park was it was all grass and you could play night baseball there because they had the lights on. Boy, when I first saw that I thought “wow.” You know, when the light shines on the green grass the grass looks even greener. The other park was Athletic Park which was off of Granville. It's no longer there either. That's where the Vancouver Capilanos used to play. JOSH Oh, the Capilanos. That's right.
KS
in the Western International League which is something like class-D, way down in the minor league levels. They were the farm club of the Chicago Cubs but that's going back a long time. So, that park is no longer there, Athletic Park where the Capilanos played in the Western International League, and Con Jones Park where the Asahis played once in a while is also no longer there; that was out by the PNE. Nat Bailey Stadium wasn't there until after the war and there was no Asahis after the war.
LJ
Did you ever go to games when you were in Japan?
KS
Yeah. What I missed more than anything was the national high school championships. Now they'd draw 40,000 fans for a national high school baseball championship. Where did you spend your time in Japan?
LJ
Mostly in Osaka ...
KS
Well, then you would know Koshien Stadium right? That's where they played the national high school baseball championship. Oh yeah, they'd fill it. They'd fill it right up.
LJ
I was there for the world baseball classic about ten years ago. So you can appreciate just how much baseball is really something that people come out for in Japan.
KS
Oh, yeah. But I'd been to what they call the So-keisen. So meaning Waseda University and Kei in Keio University.
LJ
Kyoto?
KS
Keio. These are the two most prestigious universities in Tokyo. They have the big six at Tokyo and they have the big six in the Kansai as well. It's like the army navy football game. Every year Waseda plays Keio and the city goes nuts especially after the game. They all go down to the gyoza and get stone drunk and they'd end up fighting each other. When they had lost the baseball game they're trying to get revenge by fighting the bars along Ginza laughs. So that would be a real annual event, the So-keisen. Well, if you were to show this to the people downstairs they could probably help you because some of them spent some time there like Harold spent some time in Japan-town.
LJ
And you've been back to Vancouver recently and probably seen all of this change so much.
01:20:02.000
01:20:02.000
KS
Oh, yeah. There, again, I didn't know what it was all about before so there is no such thing as Japan-town anymore unfortunately whereas the U.S. government were much more liberal in their treatment of Japanese-American properties and whatnot. They didn't take it over. So I'm sure that little Tokyo in LA resembles, somewhat, what little Tokyo used to be before the war. There's no such thing, no comparison here in Vancouver unfortunately. See, the whole idea was the war ended in '45 right? We were given voting rights in '48, '49, I think four years after the war we were allowed to return to Vancouver. That's ridiculous. The American government allowed Japanese-Americans to leave the camp while the war was still on to return because a lot of them did not sell. They left it in the care of their neighbours or whatever, right? That's not to say they were welcomed back because a lot of them they had people shooting at their homes at night and so on but the government policy was “hey, we made a mistake. These people should not be incarcerated. They have a place to go. Go.” We didn't have a place to go. Nobody did.
LJ
Did you want to go back to Vancouver?
KS
Oh, yeah.
LJ
But no one asked you? Your parents didn't get around to asking you, yeah. But you would have told them that you wanted to go back to Vancouver.
KS
Yeah. Yes, indeed.
LJ
What do you think you would have gotten up to had you moved back rather than headed to Japan?
KS
How would I have ended up?
LJ
Yeah, what do you imagine that you would have been doing?
KS
No, idea. See, when I was in high school because of the situation that we were living in I had no aspirations to be anything because there was no encouragement. There were restrictions all over the map but nothing to encourage me to be anything or anybody, I should say. And that's the most difficult part, is I didn't know what I was going to end up doing and because of the restrictions I had no aspirations. I was prevented from doing almost everything and anything. I can see where black Americans get into sports in such a big way because they were under somewhat similar conditions, right? But they sure excelled in sports even today, god.
LJ
Sports were a refuge for you?
KS
Yeah. The other thing is, if people bullied me and if I'd played sports then I would have people protecting me, you see.
LJ
Your team?
KS
Yeah. I know that was an avenue of escape, sports. It's amazing how all the Japanese-Canadian girls also knew so much about baseball even though they didn't play it. Sure, some played softball which is ... the rules are quite similar but I'm amazed at those who did not play and knew so much about baseball.
01:25:03.000
01:25:03.000
KS
None of us, well, I shouldn't say none but virtually nobody played hockey. We couldn't afford it. Skates are expensive and in Vancouver there's no ice in those days. Today, sure you've got rinks and so on but in those days nothing. The other sport that was quite popular was lacrosse. There are only two areas in Canada that play that sport at all and that's BC and Ontario, here. Nobody else plays that sport.
LJ
Did you have a mitt with you, a bat, and balls that you would have brought with you to Tashme? How was baseball played in Tashme?
KS
Well, we each had our own gloves. Bats were supplied by the Tashme youth organization. I guess they got funding from the government or wherever. So the bats and balls were supplied by the camp. The field was made by Japanese labour. We used bulldozers, leveled the field, and so on. We made stands there that make me laugh today to think that they were actually stands. They're just long benches, that's all and then they built a high fence, you know, fifteen feet high or whatever as a windbreak. We didn't have any professional umpires or anything. All the games had to be played during the daytime because, obviously, we didn't have any lights. We didn't have any lights in the houses so why would we have lights in a baseball field. Most of the camp turned out for the weekend baseball games and everybody would have their favourite team that they would follow and support. Towards the end of the war we had a Canadian baseball team that came up from Hope which was the community from which we went into Tashme. At the time, I think they had maybe 300 people in the village. They had a ragtag baseball team. It was a laugher. I think they got skunked like sixty to nothing or something. Just the idea that they came up to play and ... we had a pitcher who used to pitch for the Vancouver Asahis. It was as if all the batters were blindfolded because I don't think they got so much as a foul tip. They never saw anybody pitch like that because coming from a village of 300 people, you know, what kind of ball players can you get from a place like that, right? So, naturally, it was such a lopsided game. It was a good thing they only came one year because it was a real laugher. Some of the players, if they were in their prime today, would be at least triple-A baseball, the level, at their prime because being of small stature they knew how to hit and run. Everybody knew how to bunt. I mean, really bunt. They watched the major leaguers. Today, ninety percent of them don't know how to bunt and they're major leaguers for god's sake.
01:30:21.000
01:30:21.000
LJ
It's all about the homeruns right?
KS
Yeah, it's power baseball. Everything's power, power football, power basketball. They don't shoot the ball they stuff it into the basket laughs. I remember when I was in Japan I was watching the U.S. military teams play each other, that's when I first saw dunking “wow.”
LJ
It's pretty amazing the first time you see it.
KS
Yeah, and these guys weren't all that tall. They were like six-four, six-five and they could dunk the ball then, you know. You know, they had some pretty good basketball players in the military occupation force. God, some of the plays ... like I see the raptors play and the one play that I really love is when they pass the ball to the person right beside the basket, basket height, and they just tip it in. Wow, that requires so much timing when I saw that for the first time, like what, seventy years ago in Japan?
LJ
Yeah, I know the timing is just impeccable.
KS
Oh, yeah. Geez.
LJ
That's some pretty magical teamwork.
KS
Yeah, yeah. So, I was really entertained by watching the U.S. military teams play basketball, football, baseball, what have you. They had some pretty good Japanese-American baseball players in the military in Japan. I remember one guy, his name was George Goto, he's a big guy for Japanese. He's well over six feet tall and he's from California. I think he played professional baseball in California. In GHQ, general headquarters where Macarthur was, they had this ... what do they call that? ATIS, Allied Translation and Interpretation Services and most of them were Japanese-Americans. I knew one guy, he was in the air force, he was born in Japan but he's a full blooded Turk and he's of very light skin the Turkish guy. He's got blonde hair and blue eyes. His brother has dark brown hair, brown eyes. This guy could speak fluent Japanese and he was in the translation and interpretive services in the air force. Yeah so that's some interesting people. There was a foreign community in Kobe and there was a foreign community in Yokohama as well before the war, during the war, and after the war. There was a Canadian school in Kobe ran by Canadian teachers and so on. There's ASIJ which is American School in Japan, in Tokyo. My wife went to a mission school run by Canadian missionaries from grade one through twelve and on through college. My wife had exposure to Canada right from when she was a little girl. That school still exists today.
LJ
What's it called?
KS
Toyo Eiwa Gaku. Toyo Eiwa Gaku.
LJ
Did the Anglicans run it or ...
KS
Hm?
01:35:00.000
01:35:00.000
LJ
Did the Anglicans run that or ... what kind of missionaries were they?
KS
Oh, I don't know. United Presbyterian Baptist ... to me they're all the same. Some of our high school teachers came from that very school. They got transferred back to Canada during the war on an exchange-ship where Japanese diplomats were transferred back to Japan and in exchange missionaries and diplomats and all sorts of other people were exchanged. We had four teachers who taught in Japan teaching high school and then we had three other Canadians who taught ... one guy, Reverend Ernie Best he became principal of the University of Toronto. A very well-known guy. Nice man. He used to tell us “you know, I was the smallest man on the University of Toronto varsity football team.” He was a conscientious objector. Yeah, he became the top dog of U of T later in life. Unfortunately, he passed away like five years ago or something like that but what a wonderful man.
LJ
Well, I want to be respectful of your time taking nearly a whole chunk of it. I know you want to get out of here but I do want to leave a minute to see if there is anything that I didn't ask you that maybe you thought was worth noting or talking about.
KS
Well, I'm trying to recall some of the things that might be of some interest to other people. You see, there's a whole part of my life that starts in '56, '55 when I got married in Japan, and in '56 I came back but I came back with the idea that I would look and see for myself exactly how things have changed. There were 4000 or so people that went from Canada to Japan. I would say eighty percent have returned. Maybe not quite that high, I don't know but that's my rough estimate. Most of the people that I knew had come back a lot earlier than myself. I think the first one started to return in '48. So we went to Japan in '46, two years later they were starting to trickle back. That's ... '48 is when we got our franchise reinstated. That meant that you could go back. Most of the people I had knew had already gone back, some a lot earlier, and some more recently. We got married and our daughter was born in '56, we got married in '55 and our daughter was born in '56. I became more and more concerned about “am I going to bring my daughter up in Japan or bring them back here?” Most of my business in Japan, I was in the insurance business in Tokyo, virtually ... I'd say 100 percent of my clients were non-Japanese. Many of my clients were American military. I could see that there's a gradual reduction of American military personnel in Japan which meant my client base was getting smaller and smaller. Now, what am I going to do? I can't speak the language and I don't know the customs well enough to compete in the domestic market.
01:40:07.000
01:40:07.000
KS
Most of the news I'm getting back from my old friends who had returned to Canada is all positive. So this piques my interest. “Maybe I'll go and check it out for myself.” So I decide I'm going to come back here for a visit to see, an exploratory trip. I get off at Vancouver, the boat is full of people returning. Some had visited Japan as a tourist and who were returning to Canada but there are a number of them returning to Canada to stay, people who had went to Japan in the same manner that I did. As soon as the ship docked in Vancouver everybody scattered like rats leaving a sinking ship. I'm the only guy left. I don't have anywhere to go because I came back on my own. All these other people had what is referred to as sponsors. They had a place to go. So here I am. I didn't tell anybody that I'm coming. So I spent three weeks in Vancouver looking for a job. I can't find a job. So I phoned my wife and in 1956 it took a whole day to make a connection overseas telephone call. You had to tell the operator, it had to go through an operator okay? The cellphone, today, you can call anywhere in the world, right? They ask the number that you want to call, they also want to know where you're going to be at a certain time, and the phone number at the place that you're going to be. So different today. So I spent fifty bucks trying to convince my wife that “no, you don't want to come here. I'm going back to Japan.” I couldn't believe that. I wanted to go back to Japan. Why did I feel that way? I couldn't get a job. Also, working in Tokyo for four years and coming back to Vancouver is like going from New York City to Hoboken Wisconsin or somewhere. Everything is so slow paced and everything is on such a small scale. The country is huge but business and everything is so small and I can't get a job. November is when I came back. That's a bad time of the year, apparently. My wife insists that she's coming over here and I say “lookit, I've got to get a job first.” I still have my agency back in Tokyo so I had to fall back on that. She won out. I said “okay, I'll go see what Toronto's like.” Same thing happens in Toronto. I get discouraged responding to help wanted ads. The minute the phone makes a connection I already know that I'm not getting that job. I figured I'll put an ad in myself, position wanted rather than help wanted. That's how I got my first job in Toronto.
LJ
So what was the position that you wanted and you advertised for?
KS
In my field, insurance.
LJ
Yeah.
01:44:57.000
01:44:57.000
KS
I advertised that I had experience and I'm looking for a job in the insurance industry and that's how I got my first job. It paid a princely sum of 250 bucks a month, 3000 a year in 1956. Insurance in those days, typically with the British insurance company which is where I got my first job back here, are notoriously low pay. The banks and the insurance companies were the lowest paid industries in those days. So I immediately wrote to my wife that I now got a job, this is what you have to do, go to the Canadian embassy and start making preparations for coming over here which is what she did and it took six months. You know, you had to get a x-ray in those days, police report, and so on. But, finally, she made it. In retrospect, I think that was the right decision but I often wonder if I went back how would I have made out? I often wonder.
LJ
But you feel like you've made it out okay over here?
KS
Yeah. See, my wife comes from an entirely different background. Her cousin was the cofounder of Sony Corporation. So I had that reputation that I had to uphold so my wife doesn't feel inferior to all her relatives.
LJ
That's a big reputation.
KS
But I did well enough here that he would visit us every year. He would go and visit General ... Sony was under contract with a company headquartered in Winnipeg so he'd come to Winnipeg every year and then he'd also stop in Toronto and visit us. But, no, we weren't beholden to him in any shape or form at all. Everybody kowtows to him, obviously, because he's one of the most powerful guys in the Japanese business community in Japan. He knows guys like Reagan and Kissinger and all that. He treated me like a person. He even let us use his luxury condo in Honolulu. He would never allow anybody else, relatives or business associates, nobody, but he allowed us to use his condo. Man, what a place. What a place.
LJ
I do want to be respectful of your time and you did say that you had to get out of here so I'm going to ...
KS
Well, I'm not on that rigid a schedule it's just a general time that's all.
HR
Yeah, for sure. Can we grab a picture actually?
01:49:01.000

Metadata

Title

Keo Shibatani, interviewed by Josh Labove and Heather Read, 19 August 2015 (1 of 2)

Abstract

Keo begins the interview by describing his earliest childhood memories in Vancouver and how his family started their humble beginnings there. He remembers growing up in poverty during the Depression, what that was like, and how it impacted his family. He explains his desire to assimilate into the ‘general community’ and how he struggled with this endeavour due to his dual identity as a Japanese-Canadian. Keo discusses how discriminatory Canadian policy restricted Japanese-Canadians from obtaining employment in professional fields such as medicine and law. He outlines how these laws impacted his own as well as the Japanese-Canadian community’s desire to remain in Canada. Keo says that he will never forget Mr. Whitehead’s speech, on the Monday after Pearl Harbor at the model school in Fairview, which made the Japanese-Canadian students feel very, very comfortable. He then provides a detailed account of why his father made the choice to leave Canada, how his family felt after they moved to Japan, and how they were treated there. Near the end of the interview Keo talks about his decision to move back to Canada, how it happened, and the emotions he felt during the entire process.

Credits

Interviewer: Josh Labove
Interviewer: Heather Read
Interviewee: Keo Shibatani
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, Toronto, Ontario
Keywords: Steveston ; Salmon Arm ; Vancouver ; Revelstoke ; Mount Pleasant; Fairview; Model School; Kitsilano Beach; Tashme ; York University; Thunder Bay; American Army; NCAA; Baseball; UBC ; Japanese-American; Boy Scouts of Canada; Asahi Baseball Team ; Japantown ; Nat Bailey Stadium; PNE; Con Jones Park; Athletic Park; Vancouver Capilanos; 1940s – 1960s

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.