Ed Tanaka, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 15 June 2016

Ed Tanaka, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 15 June 2016

Abstract
Ed begins explaining why his father came to Canada and the reason he was sent to an internment camp. He recalls a conversation he had with his mother’s friend’s son about his experience in the internment camp and the negative emotions it evoked. Being interned himself, Ed also explains what he and the other children did at their camp. Ed reflects on how his family reacted when they visited their old apartment on Princess Avenue. He describes what his parents did for work before they left the country. He outlines his family’s departure for Japan during the war and how it affected them as they adjusted to a new cultural landscape. Near the interview’s end, Ed talks about a notebook his father kept with over 700 entries that included individuals’ names, age, address in Japan, and date of entry into the camp.
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Erin Yaremko (EY)
So, my name is Erin and I am in Regina Saskatchewan one June 15th, 2016, here with Ed Tanaka. And we are interviewing for Landscapes of Injustice. Where would you like to begin? Ed Laughs Would you like to tell me about your parents?
Ed Tanaka (ET)
Okay. My parents, actually, I might have to go further back. My father, he used to tell us that he came to Canada when he was eighteen. The reason why he was able to come here was because his father, which is my grandparents, my grandfather, was in Canada at that time. So he followed his father's footsteps. When he came to Canada they used to work in a sawmill and, at that time, most of the Japanese came to Canada to earn money. Dad told me that when he started earning the same amount of money per hour with his father, he decided to tell his father to go back to Japan and I would send the money to build the house, kind of thing. I don't know the exact date when my grandfather went back to Japan but, anyway, my dad used to work, at one point he was working for the Japanese newspaper company. That may be the reason why he was interned because all the Japanese who had an influential position were forced to go into the internment camp. So that happened in early 1942, I think. Of course, at that time we didn't know where he was sent to and later on we find out that he was sent to Petawawa and then later on to Angler, Ontario. The family were not allowed to know where they were or where this camp was located. Angler was used to be the prison war camp of World War One. The German prisoner of war camp. It's located out of, in the midst of, in the I guess, the forest. It's sort of like an island in a big ocean. Outside of that there's no way you can get back to the city or the town. Anyway, we didn't know but we were allowed to correspond with my dad. We used to write, even the three years old, we were writing to my parents. I guess when my dad decided to go back to Japan we were sent to Tashme where most of the people went back to Japan from there. Tashme itself is all abandoned. There's nothing left. This is after we went back there in 1994. We found that there was nothing left there other than these big barns there. So when they decided that they had to go back to Japan my dad came back about two weeks before we left for Japan and I remember I was so proud to have my dad so that I can go to proper bathing in that camp in Tashme. After we went back to Japan, it was a war torn country. Not much to eat at that time. Somehow, I guess my parents had a rough time raising four kids but somehow they must have managed laughs. As we grew up my sister went to university.
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ET
First she went to college and then after graduating then she went to night school to finish her degree in Kyoto, and then she wanted to come back to Canada to study further. She ended up at the UofT and then went to the University of Michigan to get her MA. She got her MA in psycholinguistics which was a new field at the time. My older brother, because ... When we entered the school system in 1946, because of the language problem my brother entered one grade higher than me and in Japan when you graduate from high school, when they want to go to university some people spend a year going to preparatory school. My dad said, at that time, that he couldn't afford to have my older brother going to preparatory school when I'm going to go into university. So my brother ended up working at the Kobe American Consulate and after I graduated in 1961 I wanted to come back to Canada to get my degree in Canada but that year, in 1961, my dad passed away. I ended up helping my younger brother going to university and then after my younger brother graduated, my older brother wanted to go back to school. At that time, my sister was the director of an English language institute in Hawaii so he ended up at my sister's place, living there, and went to the University of Hawaii. He also got his PhD in the University of Michigan in the same field, psycholinguistics. My older brother went to Hawaii in 1979, I think. He has worked until he retired. When I came to Canada in 1961 I didn't speak English but I was able to get a job at the Crown Life Insurance Company and I was getting paid as the same as a university graduate here. So I was lucky and I worked there for all thirty-eight years. I guess that would be just a one minute life story laughs. While we are in Toronto or Regina, any time there is an occasion to look back on how the Japanese Canadian were, you know, we tried to visit them but one instance where it, sort of, reminds me that the people who had suffered a lot, a lot, are the Japanese Canadians who are eighteen, nineteen years old at that time where they were going to university with his friends who are white and just because his name is Japanese or because his parents came from Japan, they couldn't continue studying and they had to go into internment camps. When my mom came in 1970, we visited my mom's friend in Montreal. At that time, we did not know where my dad was or what kind of life he had for four and a half years. It so happened that the son of the friend that we visited were one of those younger Japanese Canadians. I'm quite sure that he must have been about eighteen, nineteen.
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ET
He was there with his father but when we visited him it was about 1970, so we're talking about thirty years later. When we asked him what kind of life it was, all of a sudden he turned so bitter, very hostile to the extent that he says “All these years I've been trying to forget the nasty experience and now what you're asking me is ... rubbing the salt in the fresh wound” which really surprised us. The only reason why I could think why he was so bitter about was if after the war, if he had jobs, and because he was in university, and if he had completed the university degree he wouldn't have had to do the job that he was doing, and if this was one of the reasons why he was so bitter about it. So he might have been feeling like that for the past thirty years and then, here, we ask him what was my father and you doing in an internment camp. So it must have been really rough to take that, I think but it's amazing how long that bitter experience had affected him. So that was a big surprise. I guess for Japanese Canadians to be able to enjoy their life now, it's because of those people who endured the bitter experience. I guess we have to be thankful for their experience that they went through.
EY
Going back, do you remember your parents or your siblings telling you more about the home you used to live in before the internment?
ET
No. In 1994, when we went to Vancouver we visited the apartment building that we used to live. I still remember. It's at 215 Princess Avenue. The apartment was still there and when we looked at it, in talking about that, we took a picture and, as it turned out, there's some people on the front door of the apartment. They thought we were cops or something because we had taken the third floor picture. So when we told them we used to live here thirty years or fifty years ago, the guy mentioned “Are you interested? Do you want to look at it?” We said “Yes.” It turned out that this was the guy who lived on that room. He took us up there on the third floor and as we opened the door my sister burst out crying because what she thought as, say, seven, eight years old and what she saw there was so different. Apparently it was a one room bedroom and the bed, they could put it up on the wall so that they can have use of the room. My sister thought it was a huge room at that time. When she looked at the actual room, it was so small laughs. Other than that, I guess, we knew about the small shack that we used to share with my uncle's family in New Denver and so it was in Tashme, too. I remember having a bunk bed. In New Denver, because they built the shack with fresh lumber, in the wintertime those boards would curve and, of course, in the wintertime there's not enough insulation so we would have the icicle inside the house was dripping laughs. That's the kind of thing I remember but other than that I don't remember much.
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EY
Do you remember what your parents did before the war, before the internment?
ET
Like I mentioned before, my dad used to work for the Japanese newspaper company but I don't know what period he was working or how long he used to work. The other time I heard that he was working for some grocery stores because he used to say when the watermelon season came he would, sort of, hit the watermelon and crack it so that he can buy it at the cheaper price and then used to bring it home but that's when I was two, three years old laughs. Of course, my mom was teaching Japanese. She was teaching Japanese at the Japanese school and when we went there in '94, at the Japanese language school, they had the name of ex-teachers who used to teach there with how many years they taught. My mom's name was there, so was my aunt's name was there. I guess that Japanese school is still there and still going on. I might have a picture of it. I don't know where it is though laughs.
EY
So were your parents both born in Canada or were they born in Japan?
ET
No, my parents both mom and dad they were born in Japan.
EY
When did they immigrate to Canada?
ET
My dad, I guess, I don't know whether you can use the word immigrant because my dad came when he was eighteen. He was born in 1905 so it was 1923 he came until 1946, August. I don't know when my mom came. So it has to be before 1934 because my sister was born in 1934. Other than that ... What else do you want to know?
EY
Can you tell me a bit about your siblings?
ET
Okay. My older sister, she, like I mentioned earlier, when we went to Japan she was in grade five or grade six in public school and then finished her education in junior high, senior high and went to university. In 1957 she came to Canada and she used to, uh, because my uncle, my mom's brother, was in Toronto I guess we asked him to help us, you know, put us up I guess and then she went ... After she got her ... I don't know whether she went to UofT to finish or get a degree but she did go to University of Michigan to get her MA. My older brother ended up going to university in the University of Hawaii and then got his PhD in the University of Michigan.
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ET
My younger brother graduated Japanese university, Ritsukmeikan University, and got his MA at the university. He was studying classic Japanese language. So he stayed in Japan and, I guess, after that he was teaching at the university in Japan. So I still have ... My sister and my younger brother are in Japan. My older brother is in Hawaii.
EY
Can you tell me a little more about your journey to Japan and your family's journey during the internment period?
ET
Okay, when my dad decided to go back to Japan, after the war, I guess he was allowed to get out of the internment camp at Angler. So he came back two weeks before we left for Japan and I think it was in the, uh, there are, I think there were three boats or the ship that went back to Japan was full of Japanese. I think we were on the third boat leaving Vancouver sometime in August. What was the name. The name of the boat was Mur's or Murray, I can't remember the name but anyway. So at that time when we went back there in Japan, like I mentioned, it's a war torn country and everything was under ration, like the rice was rationed. The portions that you get is maybe, you know, it's good enough for, maybe, a week or so, which is supposed to last for a month. So because of that, of course we have to substitute a lot of food and because we didn't have enough food to eat we used to make, we used to grow the vegetables. So were eating a lot of pumpkins, radish, and to this date if the choice of having pumpkin I would refuse to eat. It sort of reminds me of the time we didn't have enough to eat or having a sweet potato which we used to mix with rice and you can't really eat sweet potato mixed with rice. So pumpkins and sweet potatoes are the two vegetables to this day I don't like to eat laughs. I guess it must have been a big shock for my grandparents as well because they were living, just two of them, and they had enough rice food to provide themselves food and all of a sudden you've got six family members, new family members, all of a sudden have shown up at the doorstep. It must have been really rough. I remember that my dad thought because he helped them build their house, that he thought he was welcome in the house but ended up not being able to live with the grandparents. So we used to live in a small shack with six in a family with one room. I guess maybe it was a blessing that we were able to do whatever we wanted at that time, whereas in a country you sort of have to follow the custom, kind of thing, so.
EY
When you were in Japan, and your siblings, were you able to continue your education?
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ET
In Japan, I guess all the kids were forced to go. Well, it was mandatory that they had to go to school until they finished grade twelve. So we were able to do that. I don't think it cost us anything, like we didn't even have to pay for the tuition or anything. Senior high and university had to pay their tuition. Yeah, that's the one. This is part of New Denver.
EY
Mhm.
ET
This is the kind of shack that we used to live in.
EY
So that's the home you lived in in New Denver, what they made?
ET
Yup. I think they used the old, they had some of the old houses that they moved to that location to show people, you know, what it was like. I mean, it's still there. In New Denver, it used to be a big orchard there and that's where they built houses. So it's a, somewhat, resort.
EY
Mhm.
ET
I think it was in that area that Trudeau's youngest son, Justin's youngest brother died.
EY
Do you remember the families that lived near you in New Denver?
ET
Yes, I think my sister still communicates, well, has contact with those families but I don't.
EY
What specifics do you remember of the camp? What kinds of buildings were there outside of houses?
ET
In New Denver there was a sanitarium and, of course, other than that it just was a shack kind of thing was built to accommodate those Japanese Canadians moving there. I think right now ... I can't remember. Some of those shacks are still maintained but not all of them are there.
EY
As a child, what do you remember doing in the camp? Would the children play or did you go to school before you left?
ET
In New Denver I was in senior kindergarten. So they must have gone to school, my older brother or sister must have gone to school but I don't know how they were taught, whether they had a classroom, I don't know. All I know is my own kindergarten life, that's about it. I think I was no different than any other child going to kindergarten.
EY
Are there any specific stories you remember from family members or friends? I know you've talked about a couple.
ET
Other than those families in Montreal, like, you know, they are no different than any other families. I do remember, while I was in Toronto, that there are Japanese Canadians with English names. There is no way that the Japanese looking man would be called Wagner. I couldn't figure it out. As it turned out, that because they didn't want to be considered as Japanese they tried to, sort of, shy away. So some people had gone through the experience of changing their names.
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ET
As a matter of fact, there's one man that, in Edmonton, my dad used to be in the same internment camp. He had changed his name to Sanders. So I guess for ... If you haven't gone through all that I guess, you know, it's sort of stupid to change the name, kind of thing. I guess around that time I guess it was a serious thing. Even Roy Ohashi, he had three siblings who passed away when they were small kids. When you go to the gravestones, if you look at the gravestones it's marked as Ohashi. It looks like an Irish name but they'd go through that to the extent they changed what they engraved on the gravestone. When the Japanese Canadians were left, I guess, when they were told to go to Toronto initially they weren't allowed to go into the city of Toronto and they were outside of the outskirts of Toronto. When my aunt and uncle, they were looking for a place to live in the city of Toronto, just because they looked oriental, just because they are Japanese, as soon as they opened the door they were spat at. At that time, the only people who are kind to Japanese Canadians was the people with Jewish backgrounds because they had gone through the same kind of treatment around the world. So they were very helpful. As a matter of fact my uncle had a job as a cabinet from one of the Jewish owners, I guess. It sorts of hard to imagine, right now, you know, what it was like way back then because the political climate is different, people live in different worlds but it is a fact that there were times that it was like that.
EY
You had told me a story about your father and when he was interned in the restricted area. Did you want to tell me a little more about the notebook he made?
ET
Oh, okay. Could we just hold a minute, I just want to show you something. ███████
00:35:00.000
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ET
There's a picture of the internment camp. They were provided with this uniform where there's a red ... My dad used to say, “Your father's carrying the Japanese flag on their back” but, actually, what it was was it was a target for when you'd escape so you can aim at the red mark.
EY
So did you want to describe the book to me a little more?
ET
Okay. The book that my dad kept was people who are interned with a date of when they came in and their age, at that time, their address in Japan, and a full name. To keep that one he must have had over 700 names who are in that camp. That book was, like here there's a list of ... A list like that and I have a feeling that he thought he would not be able to get out of the camp alive and that was to keep his record as to who are in the camp. After I came to Regina, during the summertime what we do is we go and visit the gravesites in Regina and one of the graves that we looked at, we were told that he was interned and his name was in this list. It turned out that he was from the same village as my dad came from. The story I heard was when, I guess one day he got picked up at night at the downtown Regina but he couldn't speak English and also he had a missing teeth at the front so whatever he said they couldn't understand him. They thought he was mentally ill. What they did was they put him in a mental institute in Weyburn, they used to have the mental hospital there and he was admitted there. He stayed for some time because I heard a man who was a minister, he was in Lethbridge at that time, he was going around in the Saskatchewan, Manitoba area. He went to see him and found out he wasn't mentally ill at all, but he was Japanese and didn't understand English. I don't know what happened to him afterwards but what I was told was, at that time, you know, they were telling the head of the mental hospital to release him. Actually, what happened was, as the tenants moved or when they get moved somewhere else that information wasn't passed on so he ended up staying there for a long time. That's what I heard. Anyway, the gravestone that they have here, when they got compensation from the government I heard that they used that money to build the gravestones. Basically, there's not much of a story to tell in this area anyway.
00:40:03.000
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ET
One thing I remember was one family, they didn't know where they were going. The husband was in an internment camp and when they disbanded Angler, what they did was the people who didn't make up their mind at that time, they were sent to Moose Jaw and the husband, the father was sent over to Moose Jaw. Apparently their family were also sent to Moose Jaw and that's where they were able to get reunited. That's the only connection that the Japanese Canadians had with Moose Jaw, I think.
EY
Speaking of when you first came to Saskatchewan, do you remember any stories of connections between Japanese Canadians and Japanese people, between Aboriginal people?
ET
No, we didn't hear any of that story. No.
EY
Were there any distinct groups in Regina or in Saskatchewan that assisted different Japanese groups or did you feel there was racism when you first came?
ET
By the time I came in '93, I guess it was all established the fact that ... I guess because of the previous Japanese Canadians who worked in this area, sort of, you know, build up their reputation as they are very serious, hardworking, and, so, in general I think they are accepted, like in '93, when I came, we were accepted as we are. I remember when we moved here, my son was in grade eleven, just finishing grade eleven and came here. So we went to Campbell Collegiate and, at that time, they showed us the graduate, the album. My son was amazed to see, just opening up the pages of the students, there may be one or two Orientals and the rest are all white. My son said, “Dad, look at this, they're all white.” I said, “What do you expect? You're in Canada.” The reason why he said that was because where we came from in Scarborough, Toronto visual minorities were most of them and there's maybe only one or two whites in the class out of, you know, one page. So he was used to looking at those as his Canadian community and, coming over here, when he saw all the whites he was really shocked to see that. It was, in a way, funny that depending on what you're used to you ... laughs.
EY
So you had mentioned your brother lives in Hawaii.
ET
Mhm.
EY
What is the story behind him moving to Hawaii?
ET
When he graduated from University of Michigan, getting his PhD, he applied for a job in Hawaii. As it turned out that was a condition, assuming that he already has it or he will get his PhD, he was hired. I remember him telling me that after he went to Hawaii he had to do his defense on his thesis. At that time, to fly over to Michigan was quite expensive. So what he did was he used the conference call and the professor in Michigan and him in Hawaii.
00:45:02.000
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ET
He was able to defend his thesis and he got his PhD. He was so happy that he gave a “Hooray! I finally got my PhD” but he couldn't do that because his friends in Hawaii thought he already had a PhD laughs. That was part of a comical ... But that was the only reason why he was in Hawaii.
EY
Why did he choose to go to the University of Michigan?
00:45:27.000
00:45:27.000
ET
At that time psycholinguistics is a new field and as my sister had her MA in psycholinguistics and, in her days, they didn't have the specialist. Either you study under psychologist or linguist but the University of Michigan has a language institute. They're allowed to mingle with different background people. So I guess getting the psycholinguistics in that field, they were quite advanced, I think. It was at that time. So that's why he ended up in the University of Michigan.
EY
So prior to your brother and sister doing their schooling in North America, how long have you been in Toronto as a family?
ET
We've never been in Toronto as a family because we left Canada in 1946. My sister came back in 1957, I came back in 1961, so we have never been together as a family other than the short period of time that my sister and myself, I guess, until such time I was able to find a direction in Toronto.
EY
Do you want to tell me about your children?
ET
Okay. I have a son who was born in 1976, the only son. When he was growing up in Toronto we used to take him to Japanese school in Toronto from five years old. We went there every Saturday morning. He finished, I guess, the equivalent of grade four in Japanese public school. After he came here ... They also had a credit course in high school but after he came here and went to the University of Regina he had what they call an identity crisis. From his Caucasian friend he was Japanese but he was involved with students who were in Japan learning English, so, for those Japanese kids my son was looked at as a Canadian. I used to joke with him saying that you're a banana in that you're yellow outside but you are white inside which is the way of thinking is exactly same like North American kids. When he was still going to university he wanted to go to Japan. I said, “If you're going to Japan, well, you're on your own because I'm not going to ... and I don't think it's the right thing to do.” He couldn't understand why I was saying that but after he graduated, what he did was he found employment and he sent a videotape that he was speaking Japanese as well as English. Then one day he said, “Dad I'm going to Japan.” I said, “What are you going to do in Japan?” He says, “I have a job.” I said, “What job?” So he told me what he did.
00:50:00.000
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ET
As it turned out one of his friends from university were in Japan and he was there for a year and all of a sudden he got homesick and he wanted to get back so he was asking somebody who will replace him. That's how he found the job and, of course, they have to prove that he's Canadian. That's why he had to send a videotape. So when he went to Japan, of course, there were short periods of time that he was, you know, moving around with his Canadian friend. That's when you notice what I meant. They look at a Caucasian and a Japanese sitting there saying both of them are from Canada. They look at the Caucasian friend, “Oh, yeah, he's from Canada” but looking at my son “Well, you don't look really different than any other Japanese.” So they would ask his Caucasian friend for a sign, like a baseball player and my son doesn't get that request at all laughs. Japanese are, I guess in general, they are like that. You know, if you are no different than any other Japanese they're not going to show any interest whereas if you look different or if you have blonde hair, it stands out kind of thing. I said, “In Japan, if you want to prove that you are from North America, unless you have a degree, and say ‘Here, I have a degree from UofR.’ They wouldn't accept you as is. You are no different than a funny Japanese who can't speak Japanese.” That's what I was trying to tell him but, you know, he wouldn't understand that unless you go through that experience yourself. He was in Japan for almost three years, two years and eight months, or ten months. That's when he realized he needed more than just a BA so he came back and got his MA. I guess that stay in Japan really helped him, you know, get his fluency in Japanese. As a matter of fact, after he got back he was speaking at the University of Regina to the first year students learning Japanese. So it was a good experience for him to do that.
EY
Do you have any stories, last stories you would like to tell or anything that comes to mind?
ET
I spoke too much already laughs, but having language, both, like, because you don't see too many Japanese Canadians who can speak both English and Japanese. Especially if you didn't get your education in Japan then it's hard to speak Japanese. There are a lot of Japanese Canadians, they do understand Japanese because their parents spoke nothing but Japanese, but their response is always in English. So they pretend to say “I don't understand Japanese” because my mom used to teach Japanese in Vancouver. They'll say Odkapo. They claimed that they would not understand Japanese and, yet, they can speak better Japanese than some Japanese. I would talk to them in English and they would talk to my wife in Japanese because they do make the distinction. The reason why they say “I don't want to speak Japanese” is because they did not have the formal Japanese training. That's why I don't want to speak to somebody from Japan who had a formal education. You sort of feel inferior, in a way. You don't have that confidence but, yeah, I guess in learning another language you have to go through that, like, my wife, when she came, I didn't want her to go through the same experience I went through because I had a hell of a time learning English. So I thought, “Oh, maybe I ...” Any time when she came, the people asked her questions in English. I tend to answer it because, you know, she wouldn't understand it but, as it turned out, I was doing the wrong thing because I should have had her struggle through whereas all her friends, immigrant friends, the husband and wife, both of them didn't understand English. So both of them tried to supplement each other to help themselves, each other, whereas I wasn't doing that I was saying Well, I didn't want anybody else to go through that, you know, battle ... So I thought I should be helping her but ... ███████
ET
So that was a mistake laughs.
EY
Well, this was wonderful. Thank you again.
ET
You're quite welcome.
00:56:14.000

Metadata

Title

Ed Tanaka, interviewed by Erin Yaremko, 15 June 2016

Abstract

Ed begins explaining why his father came to Canada and the reason he was sent to an internment camp. He recalls a conversation he had with his mother’s friend’s son about his experience in the internment camp and the negative emotions it evoked. Being interned himself, Ed also explains what he and the other children did at their camp. Ed reflects on how his family reacted when they visited their old apartment on Princess Avenue. He describes what his parents did for work before they left the country. He outlines his family’s departure for Japan during the war and how it affected them as they adjusted to a new cultural landscape. Near the interview’s end, Ed talks about a notebook his father kept with over 700 entries that included individuals’ names, age, address in Japan, and date of entry into the camp.

Credits

Interviewer: Erin Yaremko
Interviewee: Ed Tanaka
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Regina, Saskatchewan
Keywords: Petawawa ; Ontario ; Angler ; Japanese Newspaper Company; Sawmill; Tashme ; University of Toronto ; University of Michigan; University of Hawaii; University of Regina; Montreal ; Princess Avenue ; Japanese Language School; Ritsukmeikan University; New Denver ; Surname Change; Discrimination; Jewish People; Toronto ; Language; 1920s – 1990s

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.