Mel Tsuji, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 03 September 2015

Mel Tsuji, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 03 September 2015

Abstract
Mel speaks about how his father applied to go east instead of to a road camp in the interior and established himself as a mechanic in Toronto. He was able to get permission for the rest of the family to join him in Toronto where most of Mel's childhood memories are of. He also speaks about inter-generational dynamics within the Japanese Canadian community and differing views on activism. Mel discusses his involvement in many sports within the Japanese Canadian community, as well as how his grandfather was Roy Yamamura, shortstop of the Asahi baseball team. He also talks about his observations on Toronto as a city and how different the anti-Japanese sentiment evolved between the war years to post war.
00:00:00.000
Alexander Pekic (AP)
Okay we're speaking with Mr. Mel Tsuji
AP
Tsuji.
MT
Yeah.
AP
Today on September 2nd--
MT
3rd I think.
AP
September 3rd, 2015 at his home. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
MT
You're very welcome.
AP
So I'm just going to start by asking you to tell me a bit about the story of your life.
MT
Story of my life. That's a big topic. Well when you, or was it the lady that phoned me from your organization, that originally set this up.
AP
Heather?
MT
Yeah Heather I guess it was. It got me interested because I was lightly involved in the question and the issue. Because at that time, at one time during the summer outing at my cousin's –at my cousin's we had a barbeque going. I had a chance to talk to my dad and I took down notes. It was very interesting, what he went through. Kind of backing into my story. But this kind of brought everything to the forefront because I never knew the details of what had happened. But I know that the time in 1942, I guess, when he moved out, he was never in an internment camp and that was different because when he said that I wondered why. Because he didn't want to go to an internment camp. He was of a personality and character type that didn't like authority telling him what to do. That was part of his personality. So he applied to come to -- to leave Vancouver instead of going to the camp and he got as far as Southwestern Ontario and work for a time in the farm labor, farm service camps. He didn't like that either. He was about 22, 23 at the time. He wanted to get a job in the garage because he had owned his own garage in Vancouver, which was confiscated. Because he didn't like farm work he applied to go to London which was nearest his farm job, to work as a mechanic. He got it, but he had to leave because his fellow workers didn't want him there. He was a Jap, they didn't want him to do it. So be it, he applied them to come to Toronto. He got a job at another big garage. He got the job but not before a little friction because the manager wanted him and because it was a low – mechanics as a job, mechanics were overseas so they needed quality mechanics. He said okay but then some of his workers in the same garage resented the idea of a Jap coming to the garage and he got into an argument with one of the leaders of the group which resulted in a fight. My dad knocked him down. That was it, he was accepted. Laughs That was the start of that. Meanwhile, because my dad had reached Toronto, he applied to get my mother, my grandparents and myself permission to come to Toronto. They got it and we came to Toronto in -- I guess it was -- he came in '42 and I think we came in late '42 or early '43. Because he was there, he was able to get the rest of his family, meaning his cousins and so on and so forth, permission to travel to Ontario and hopefully get them jobs. I know one family in particular, which is part of my mother's family, got them to Belleville, I think it was, and got them jobs working in the kitchen of a hotel.
00:05:06.000
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MT
So that started the emigration, so to speak from Vancouver. So that was the start of our status in Ontario. Myself I was born in Vancouver but I really don't know Vancouver because I was a baby and I was brought east in the train to Toronto and all I can speak to is Toronto because that's all I've known. And it was about, just leap forward a little bit, I gradually found out over the intervening years that my grandfather who is from Japan, his wife, my grandmother, was born in Vancouver in 1902 and her father came to Canada first to see what it was like. That was in the late 1890s. He liked Canada, went back with his wife and settled in Vancouver. Now I never knew what he did, never found out. But I know that my grandfather eventually worked in a lumber mill. And my dad by the time 1940-41 came around he had graduated from high school and he had opened his own service station. Both are confiscated. I always wondered why that happened. but I, being a sansei and being here, you have a different view point on that kind of situation. But I also recognize that being there at the outbreak of the Second World War, I can understand the community was still led by Japanese speaking citizens of Japan. The second generation nissei we're still -- weren't old enough and mature enough to take leadership roles. A little later after they did. So I can understand that side. But by the same token, I can understand going through all the commission's and all the studies and all the protests that the community have to go through and all that. I mean, it was untold millions, maybe billions in property and possessions that were confiscated and I think it turned out that they got ten cents on the dollar. I think that was the result of first the Bird Commission, 1950-51, that they came up with that calculation. And the latest calculation was when the compensation drive materialized in the '80s resulting in the final conclusion. But I still think that wasn't enough. To this day I think, looking back on the history, especially if you read the history, I can't think of a worse example of the government and the country trying to rid a community of people. The only one that's worse probably, is with our Native Indians. At the time, you know you have to go way back to the turn of the century, 1890s, early 1900s, through the '20s and '30s, there was an unbelievable torrent of hatred, outrage, prejudice, racism directed at the Japanese Canadian community. Because of all that -- I don't know why the community stood for it all. The only people that came forth trying to help the community was the CCF, the forerunner of the NDP. They helped out trying to help the Japanese Canadians as much as possible. The Liberal Party didn't do anything back then and they didn't do anything in the 1980s.
00:10:13.000
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MT
What happened? Brian Mulroney and the conservatives came up and agreed to a formula for compensation. I find it very ironic that the Tories did that. But be that as it may, they did it, and I think they now stand proudly on the mantle that they're the ones that came -- to historically stand behind the Japanese Canadians and compensation. They're the only party that can do that beside the CCF. Liberals can't, and it makes you wonder why. Now I know why, I know why. They didn't want a precedent set. They didn't want Japanese Canadians to later come back and say “You didn't back us. Look what happened.” There are many Japanese Canadians of my parents age for example that are so pissed off at this that there was one man at the time, my father's best friend, who had kept documents, piled that high Mel motions with his hands indicating a high pile, even higher, of his future suit against the government. He never got to do it because he died. There is that latent feeling and attitude that most Japanese Canadians won't vent, you know? And I know during the time of the compensation drive, the first generation wanted to accept the apology only. And that really enraged the younger generation because that is not customary in a western society. How you voice an apology -- apology means more than just words and -- where was I going with that? So anyway, the situation still stands now. Now, it's -- there are still people active in the community who, who are active trying to stand up to civil rights and human rights abuses in this country. They're getting old, they're probably in their fifties and sixties now. Now is the generation before that going to do anything about this kind of situation? I doubt it. My kids are of that generation. So, you know, life is too good for them, you know. So it's left to the present generation and even me, the old die-hards who are trying to carry on the fight occasionally. But to get back to the question, my life in general, well, I think that points out some of the highlights in my family's history. Ss for my own, I think I'm your typical sansei, yonsei. I'm about a third and a half generation because my grandmother was born in Vancouver and she brought us -- we spoke English to her. Of that age range, that was particularly unusual. So I grew up typical Canadian but I was kind of the older sansei so to speak to the point where during the immediate post-war era when my friends and I used to play war games and they always wanted me to be the Japanese soldier, and I resented it, because I wasn't Japanese, I thought. So that continued. I mean I know the subject is often, not often discussed, sometimes discussed among say some of my younger nissei friends or sanseis about discrimination. I never really had discrimination. The only instances I can remember is on my street and I know I got into a little bit of hot water at times because my friends used to come up to the street and we used to play ball hockey or play ball, just play catch.
00:15:11.000
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MT
And that used to get my neighbors enraged. And I know the daughter of one of my neighbors, not my neighbors my parents' neighbors, as she was going away one time I guess she was angry over something that I did, like throwing the ball on the street which we weren't -- in fact we were hauled down to the police station by the police for throwing ball illegally on the street. And we couldn't help it, we were that age. We liked playing sports and that's all we did. Anyways, Leona was driving away one time with her parents and she yelled at me saying “You Jap”. That was the only time that I could remember. I think part of -- but I know friends of mine had gone through worse. Now, I know the area that I grew up was ethnically diverse which is quite remarkable in the 1940s and 50s Toronto which was very Anglo-Saxon, very Irish. But our street was that but included Russians, French Canadians, yeah, stuff like that. So it's a working-class neighborhood. That was Cabbagetown. And I guess I contributed to a rather gentle upbringing. But I also think what happened was that as I grew into -- grew from a young kid to a teenager, I got involved in sports. I was quite proficient in sports. I know for example at high school my sister's friends used to say I was a BMOC, Big Man on Campus, because I was the hockey captain, I was football player, I was mostly everything. And I did comparatively well at school so I kind of was able to --criticisms were kind of deflected because I was fairly well known, because of that. And later on after in my older teens I continued on in hockey and baseball. I was quite successful. I guess that keeps you immune from a lot of invective. So pause, so I kind of in that way led a sheltered life compared to say some of my friends. Now the friends I talk about are about three or four years older. That would have made a difference, you know. And probably they went through it more than I did. If you look through the history of the dispersal after the internment, you'll find that they years 1944, '45, '46 is filled with stories about other provinces not willing to take Japanese Canadians. But if you look -- the most hostile I think was Toronto. But that started to soften pause into '46, '47, '48. Can you turn that off for a minute?
AP
Sure. Mel's phone rings and he asks Alex to turn off recorder. Mel speaks briefly on the phone before the interview resumes. It's recording again.
MT
OK. Well you know, when my father came, I don't know. When my father was met by pause grudging acceptance. Background, automated message is recited for a short while. It gradually softened to more acceptance in '46, '47.
00:20:07.000
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MT
Whereby prior to that in '44, '45 when Japanese Canadians were applying to come to Toronto, Japanese Canadian woman couldn't even get jobs as housekeepers or anything along that line. There were the kind of jobs that were available. But it really softened into '46, '47, '48 to the point that we gradually find that the older nissei who would be about 80, 85 now if they're still alive, had to come here and opportunities, incredible opportunities opened up. I find it incredulous that that kind of thing happened. For example, one older nissei started working at Noxzema. He rose to become executive VP of Noxzema. There's another guy who went with company, which was associated with RCA in the States. This guy actually worked on color television in the late '40s. But they didn't do it here. I think it was shipped down to RCA in the States. You'll find many examples of that. As they started -- as I continued volunteering at the Center, you found out these people, what they did and what position they reached. You gradually realize that yeah, the attitudes and the atmosphere changed in Toronto, to the point that I can visibly -- I can really remember in the '60s, 1960, '61, the Toronto Star publishing this community profile of Japanese Canadians being the most successful post-war community in Toronto. That's what they wrote about. So the community had come along and there were good times. It was at that time that the JCCA first formed and was becoming an important force along with the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center which formed around '61 I think. So it was good times for the community now. Is it good? Generally yes. But I still maintain that there are still problems of pause -- how should I put this? I often think about this. Is it racism? Or is it prejudice? Prejudice, I think. How can you say prejudice when most Japanese Canadians have worked at and retired after a good career. What about younger Japanese Canadians coming into the workplace? Have they succeeded? To a degree. But I still think there's a kind of, let's call it a glass ceiling, because I don't think the industry's are quite as open as they profess to be. So I know that -- but that's not a priority in the Japanese Canadian community. The NAJC might be getting there. But I think that's the, the immediate or the near future issue for the Japanese Canadian community. I won't even go into the Chinese Canadian community at tall. It's a different situation. But, where else you want me to go?
AP
I was wondering what you know of your family's life in BC prior to them coming this way?
00:24:53.000
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MT
I know very little of it. All I do know is that pause -- for example my dad and his brothers pause. It was a very community centered community at that time. Everything revolved around sections of Vancouver that acted as a kind of magnet two other communities just outside the city center. That was a Little Tokyo. Though my family wasn't brought up in Little Tokyo, they used, they went downtown to Little Tokyo to socialize and to be consumers and so on and so forth. I mean at this time it was very difficult. I'll give you an example. My dad went to Britannia High where a lot of Japanese Canadians went. And he was -- here are two examples to give you contrasting experiences. He was on the swim team and he went -- his school was invited to another school for a meet. But the school decided they didn't want to swim against Britannia High because my father was on the team. A Japanese Canadian. This was at a time when all of that anti-Oriental, anti-Japanese sentiment was very high. And the Britannia High coach said, “Ok, fine. We'll walk out.” But then my dad was also on the Britannia High rugger team. You know the term rugger, eh? That's English football. And I guess he was good enough that he was recruited by other teams in Vancouver. These are so-called white teens. So he was able to play for them. So, you know, it -- they existed, side by side. For example my grandfather who was Roy Yamamura, the shortstop of the Asahi baseball club. Do you know that?
AP
Uh huh.
MT
Yeah. He was so good that he was invited by white teams to play for them. So it's a kind of contrasting example that they sit side-by-side, you know? There's opportunity but it was mostly a lack of opportunity. But that was the community at the time. But it was a large enough community -- large enough I mean, at the time there was around 23000 Japanese Canadians. I don't know in Vancouver how many there would be. Let's say 10 000, 15 000. That's a large enough Community to set up businesses in Vancouver you know. They could exist at the time. They're willing to exist. The community was still not old enough. By the late 1930s, most of the community was still relatively young, except for the original issei, the immigrants. But the younger ones, the nissei, the English speaking Japanese Canadians we're still too young. So you can understand how the issei used Little Tokyo as their center for socializing and for commerce. So pause -- but my dad, for example, and his brothers pause were brought up, largely as Canadians. And I'll explain that a little later. But I know my dad and his brothers would often say during the initial period Just before the internment, they would try to -- they would get out of the house and sculk downtown to do whatever they wanted to do and to escape surveillance by the RCMP or the city police. Because there was a time, what do you call it? pause
00:30:09.000
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AP
Curfew?
MT
Curfew, curfew. there was a curfew at the time so they couldn't go out. But they did I guess because they were so pissed off, you know. What was referring to when I said I tell you later?
AP
Them feeling Canadian.
MT
Oh yeah. It's interesting if you talk to Japanese Canadians at the time. You know who were brought up in Little Tokyo and who are not. Because usually Japanese Canadians that were brought up in Little Tokyo were -- had an accent. Spoke accented English. It was very clear, very articulate English, but it had a little accent and you knew that. People brought up outside Little Tokyo talk like you and I, like my dad and his brothers. pause It was just the socialization of the community that happen that way because of the existence of Little Tokyo. I don't think it hindered any Japanese Canadians because I know a lot of Japanese Canadians that were brought up in Little Tokyo and had the accent later came East to Toronto and they got great jobs, you know. Secretaries, I'm talking women now, secretaries and men who got good jobs in all Industries here, Really. So you didn't really hear about -- but as you grow up in the community you can sense, and you can gradually realize but there are some people that speak like that and some who don't. So what else do you want to know?
AP
You mention that your father had a service station and your grandfather had a -- was it a mill?
MT
A lumber mill, yeah.
AP
Lumber mill. And both were confiscated?
MT
Yeah.
AP
do you know much about what happened with that? Or--
MT
Nothing. I know nothing. I don't know why -- my grandfather I couldn't talk too much because he was an issei. and I have two sisters also. We never spoke Japanese in the house. It was only through my grandmother that we could speak to my grandfather because she spoke English. So when, when the little we talked about the lumber mill I got very few answers. My grandmother looked like she didn't want to pursue it. So I didn't get much. My father, I don't know. He would have discussed it I think if I had pursued it, but at the time I don't think I was that interested. I was interested but not to explore to the degree, you know. I don't know what happened. Yeah.
AP
So both your grandfather and father just didn't talk about their experience much.
MT
No, no. By the time they came here, my father and his brother set up a garage in 1946. And it was a thriving business they had. My grandfather had set up a landscaping business and he went in partners with two or three guys and they were very active in the business. So I guess they succeeded, you know. And as kids we never even thought about it. So I know my grandparents lived with us the whole time we were here and I know them very well. Yeah it was just one big family living in Cabbagetown and succeeding.
AP
Do you know if anything was brought from BC to Ontario? Any possessions that made their way east?
00:35:00.000
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MT
Pause. Up to about 10, 15 years ago we did have a few things of my grandparents. But by the time I had got back -- because by the time I had left Toronto in December of '69 and I started living on my own. The first year, 1970 was Japan in Osaka where I was a reporter at Expo '70 and I went to grad school after that. Then I came back and decided to go back to Japan and not come back here to work again. So during that time, I don't know what happened to everything. But during that time my grandmother sold the house. By that time she was the owner of the house. sS most of everything was gone, including my stuff.
AP
Right.
MT
So I know we managed to salvage for example, couple of chairs, what else? I don't think we even have chairs. No this is all newish.
AP
The chairs you're referring to came from BC?
MT
From BC.
AP
OK.
MT
Yeah. Oh I think, not BC, she had, because she was here from the '40s. So, I don't think anything from Japan. Japan? I can't think of anything. I know we have pictures, not from Japan though. From early 1920s.
AP
And you still have those pictures?
MT
Yeah, someplace, yeah.
AP
Yeah.
MT
I'm trying to get them organized. Not too successfully of course.
AP
Right. I was going to ask you -- your father, he grew up in Vancouver or outside of it?
MT
In Vancouver. Yeah. pause It was a couple of blocks from the city center. My mother lived on 2nd Avenue. That's all I know. Because all of the Japanese Canadians that lived around there always remembered my mother and father and my grandparents because it was a fairly large community at that time. I don't even know, no, 2nd Avenue wasn't part of Little Tokyo. But as I said all Japanese Canadians went to Little Tokyo. That's where all the stores were, that's where the Asahi baseball team played its games and so on and so forth. That's where they also went to Japanese language school. That's where Japanese Canadian women could take sewing lessons. Stuff like that, because that's what my mother and father did. laughs
AP
We were speaking earlier about different generations and the memory of the internment, and you mention that you have kids. Do you mind reflecting on that sort of change and how it's remembered and the memory of the internment through the generations?
MT
Pause Well, I know -- my participation in the community was really piecemeal. Because I remember when I was 17, 18, getting involved, initially getting involved with the community because there were some dances being held and it was a good way to meet girls. And initially that was the only reason why I did. But by the time I got old enough and I went to school and worked, I had gotten away from the community. By the time -- I hadn't gotten away fully because I had stayed involved with sports for example.
00:40:02.000
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MT
The Japanese Canadian Hockey League which started in 1961. For a period I was the president of the league. We just celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2011 I think it was. So I was involved there. I was also involved in the Japanese Canadian Sunday Baseball League, because I always played ball. So it was . I went to Japanese Canadian picnics at the time when picnics were very popular. And that, if you want to call it involved, that's the extent of my involvement. Until, for example, I had retired and a friend of mine who was then the chair of the Heritage Committee at the Center asked me to join, become involved. So that's the first time I was involved, really, in 2006. And now it's kind of peripherally because -- well the main reason is my friend had left and the present committee is not quite as active. Its structure has changed. Also I've been going through some health problems too, so I've had to miss quite a bit. As for the involvement or lack of involvement, when I became publisher of the Nikkei Voice, do you know the Nikkei Voice?
AP
U huh.
MT
I was publisher for 3 years. That's when I started to tackle the question of involvement or lack of. And it was the same everywhere you went. The same question, the same problem at the Center, at the newspaper because we weren't getting enough sales in the community from younger people. They're old people, and things like that. I used to -- even when I was president of the hockey league back in the 60s, I used to try to get some of the players involved in the community. Because it started even then, with not much success. It started with a dance or two of the center and it was okay. Most young Japanese Canadians are involved, aren't interested in things like that. The people that are involved, and I talked expressly of the period 2006 to now, they are largely the same people who get involved in all of the events. They are a very active and a very articulate and a very educated group of people. And I think that's probably what every ethnic group, not even ethnic group, anywhere you go in Canada it's like that. But I know many of those same people they also decry the prospect that you know, beyond us, who's going to take over? And there's never been an answer. Never been an answer. Because I used to publish those stories you know whether they were round tables or something or stories about involvement or lack of involvement. Never solved and I think the Cultural Center is hoping that the younger new immigrants would take over. I don't think so. Yeah, so. So of all the Japanese Canadian sanseis now who recognized the problem and complain about it, do little about it.
00:45:02.000
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AP
How would you like future generations. Or sorry, let me rephrase that. How do you think the internment should be remembered in future generations?
MT
Well I think pause for Japanese Canadians, not just Japanese Canadians, for all Canadians, you can't take anything for granted. For example when the Arab Canadians were getting criticized, even now, and there a lot of people that are against the Arabs and about all the -- all the trouble they've been causing overseas about how many might be sympathizers with them. I know they've been coming under a lot of criticism. I know at the time I said watch it, it happened once, it happened to us and it's time to support them. And I think that's the most important way that should be kept alive in schools and I think in textbooks too because it's so easy to flip it on its side and that can happen very easily. So I think that's the one thing Japanese Canadians should think about and should try to help. Though I do know that I've given a couple of talks at schools, but it's only a couple. And there aren't many questions. If you're going to deliver a talk you've got to bring it up, whether they understand is another question. Now if you take it at the public school level or even for example at the high school level, the level of Interest probably remains the same. It's a kind of curiosity. But if it doesn't hit them personally, I don't think they get that involved or they are interested in that. So I think it has to -- it has to be led by the educational system I think. To get them to make it, to make it active in the curriculum. Because I think we're at a crossroads right now with regards to that. I mean the Arabs are, Arabs are really getting it from all sides now. Whether it's the hijab or the, what do you call that?
AP
Burqa?
MT
Burqa, burqa thing. Boy, it's crucial now.
AP
How would you say the internet and its legacy impacted you personally?
MT
Pause well I didn't know at the time, but when I was brought east from Vancouver I knew nothing about it and until this day I don't know what impact it had on me. But, getting on in age, when you read about it and work on it and get involved and things like that, you know what the impact is. And I know whenever I get to reread some of my books on that, it enrages me, how that happened and what happened. That's why I try to get my kids involved. Pause. In fact 'till this day it still affects me to the point that I have, I got a book in rough right now and I'm thinking of revising the direction. But it will still -- issues like the internment and social issues that are still impacting on our community to this day, that will include those things, that's how it impacted me.
00:50:09.000
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MT
I think it -- I know my kids -- I have 4 kid. My first two kids, from Brazil, they are not that aware of it. They were brought up in Brazil. My kids here, they are not involved as I am, they are aware of things. And I guess that's the legacy that I pass on to them, you know. I know my daughter, who also works at CBC now, she comes across these stories. She's always sending me stories about that. So I can tell that she -- it's on her mind, not constantly, but it's there all the time. She became president of the Toronto NAJC for a year. But that was at a time when she was just starting at the CBC. Boy I know working at that job it's really difficult to make time and energy available to that other volunteer position. So she opted out. But I know she is interested.
AP
Any last thoughts about all this before we wrap up?
MT
Pause Not so much last thoughts, but thoughts, I know thinking after talking to you and Heather that I'm glad you guys are doing this. Because I think it probably takes a non-Japanese Canadian to do it. Even if it is an academic study, but I think it's a great academic exercise. It's not just an exercise, it's a great project because I think it's needed. I think it's going to take a long time. Now I don't know if you are going to have to transcribe all or part of this, that's time consuming in itself. But then how are you going to back it up with any figures and stats, stuff like that? I hope you can, you know, because I know when I was brought up by you guys -- I remember stories that appeared initially in the New Canadian. Do you know the New Canadian?
AP
Yes.
MT
Yeah, well we used to read stories about new Canadians and how certain families wanted to sue, or sued certain levels of government for land that was confiscated. And there was also a story about downtown Vancouver in which the question was raised which businesses or buildings stand on land that was confiscated from Japanese Canadians. We wondered about that. I don't know where it has been taken, you know. I would think your group is going to do that. I know I remember thinking at the time, wouldn't it be ironic if a business like, is it Woodward's? It's the big department store in Vancouver.
AP
I'm not very familiar with Vancouver.
MT
Yeah, I'm not that, I've been there a couple of times, but I am not that familiar. But I do know that Woodward's was, like Eaton's was up until the 1950, '60s. Eaton's was huge. And Woodward's was huge. And I wonder if there's any link to land that was seized from Japanese Canadians. And boy, that would be at landmark study, you know. So I mean one of the things that I would have liked to have shattered is the thing that -- there's a phrase in the Japanese Canadian, Japanese as well as Japanese Canadian community, that it is famous for. It's called shikata ga nai. You ever heard of that?
AP
U huh.
00:55:11.000
00:55:11.000
MT
Yeah, ok. I think most people think the Japanese Canadians have adopted that philosophy and remain to it. I think beneath the surface there are a lot of Japanese Canadians who would like to be disproven of that. Because as I told you my dad's best friend at the time, I mean here's a guy who was denied the opportunity of completing his education at UBC and shipped out to Winnipeg. He completed his degree there and then he completed another degree. And he was so pissed off. Get him drunk and he'll talk stories, he'll talk to you red about his feelings about that. Now I don't know if -- he was a very successful man. Now his situation probably lend itself to that but I don't know how many Japanese Canadians have similar feelings but I would bet if you were ever able to get beneath the surface that I think you would find some bitter feelings coming out. But our generation is free to talk about it because we are not inhibited by cultural or community values as they are. And I know that when the Cultural Center sponsored a couple of conferences, and this was about your feelings about the internment and all that, they were surprised by the number of people that came out. And they were surprised by how they were able to talk in public. Not completely public because they could say it in the privacy of the committee conference room. But they didn't allow the press in. That was my frustration. There were a lot of people like that and I think that gives you some kind of indication of how the feeling is, you know. And I think, I really think that's a very critical mistake the Center made, to not let it out, be public, because I think, I think it would have been very good for Toronto to hear that. I'll give you an example. Once at work I began researching a story on the first Japanese Canadians who came to Toronto. They came to Mississauga. It wasn't Mississauga then. What was it? Etobicoke, or what was it? Clarkson? Clarkson I think? They started working for places like Sheridan Nurseries, a lot of nurseries over there. I thought it was a great story about -- this is the first influx of Japanese Canadians who started working there but also in nurseries and landscaping and stuff. I was able to get the general history. I got some names, but those names wouldn't talk. So I couldn't do the story. I couldn't do it generally. I needed stories and people. That's the kind of thing that I think historians and journalists are hindered at doing that kind of thing. I know I did a story for example on the influence of the Jewish community in Toronto and giving opportunity to Japanese Canadians when they arrived here about '43-'45, before the war ended. And it's a lovely story to tell. The problem is, a lot -- I couldn't contact many Jewish people, but I tried to contact some who are still alive from that time. There weren't many alive, and they worked in the, what do you call it pause--
01:00:24.000
01:00:24.000
AP
Garment industry?
MT
Garment industry, garment industry, yeah. And they are very willing to talk about it but I wanted firsthand people that were there. And I didn't know that many Japanese worked in it. I found one who was, and he took up with most of my story. It was a great story about his being very successful in the garment industry because of his association with the Jews. And I met a friend who told me all about her and her sisters experiences with the garment industry. But when I said I wanted to do the story, do part of the story on them, she didn't want to -- wouldn't do it. It's too bad because, such a cute, great story they had. Too bad you know. Pause. So I don't know, any last thoughts. Pause. Oh, do you want to pursue any more? Do you need more? From other people.
AP
Sorry?
MT
Do you need anything more from other people? Mel tells Alex that he will look into other possible people to interview. This is also interesting because, remember I told you about hockey and baseball, one of the guys I knew, was part of the first BC hockey, first BC high school hockey championship team in 1948. This is not long after the internment ended, and here was this Japanese Canadian kid who was on the championship team. And I don't know if he -- I just don't know what his parents did. He later came east to Toronto. He went from Vancouver to Thunder Bay I think and then to Toronto. He ended up joining the hockey team which won the East York, one of the biggest senior hockey championships in Toronto in 1956. And also he was friends with other guys, now I don't know how many of those guys are still alive. They also won the All-City championship in baseball in '56. And that's in my high school, high school hockey championship in Toronto. So '56 was interesting, interesting year. And I think the same guys who won the baseball championship in '56 also won a Senior Championship in 1956? '56? '54 I think. So here it was, '52 or '54, let's say '52. This would be seven years after the internment and here they were assimilated into the community playing baseball, playing hockey and accepted by society so to speak.
01:05:02.000
01:05:02.000
MT
And the baseball story is interesting because here were guys that won the baseball championship, was kind of heir apparent to the Asahi. It's a question though that I often ask myself. What happened after that? Why wasn't there another Japanese Canadian team. Well by then I think the Japanese Canadian community said -- they, and the time they started arriving in Toronto, there was the unspoken policy of not living in one area like they did in Little Tokyo. So when they first came, many Japanese Canadians settled in the Spadina, Dundas, Queen area because that's where the Garment factories were. But after that, after about 10 years or so, they started Living in other areas of Toronto. That's how sports, Japanese Canadian sports suffered because there wasn't the concentration of community that there was before. So why isn't there a Japanese Canadian baseball team? Those kids now play for Mississauga, Whitby ,Oshawa. That's what happened to Japanese Canadian baseball. Hockey? They come together once a year, one week after Christmas and in some respects it's more successful than the '56 team. So that's very exciting to see, the young Japanese Canadian kids playing hockey, because it's so fast, so good. So, but you know, it doesn't sustain itself. Doesn't go beyond that. They have little things like they have the Japanese Canadian hockey league still, but I think the league is either half or more non-Japanese. And the baseball league is also the same, maybe more than 50% non Japanese. But that doesn't mean it's a failure, it's just that the institutions still continue and they get, not for any loyal or cultural reason, just for the fact that it was probably originally set up that way, but doesn't matter who's playing the ball now in the ball league. In fact the ball league is I think, it's league has suffered because Japanese Canadians don't live downtown any more. The games are played downtown at Greenwood Park, but you know they come from all over. My son used to play but it's so far from here, you know. So that's an example of why it's become less Japanese. So what's going to become of things like that? I don't know. pause I don't know. Anything you want to add?
AP
Uhhm, entirely up to you. I think I have exhausted the questions I had in mind. So I'll leave last remarks to you.
MT
I think that when I talk about the institutions still there, take Nikkei Voice, the newspaper, it started off as an English language replacement for the New Canadian that folded. It was supposed to be English only, but since the new editor took over it's become nearly half Japanese.
01:00:00.000
01:00:00.000
MT
So I think, I think there are many reasons of that could be happening. One, they're being influenced, they are being influenced by their office location at the Center. I also think it could be a manifestation of the story direction, editorial direction that the editor wants to see go. I don't know. Because I know a lot of the workers or volunteers at the paper are new immigrants. That just makes more work for him because he's got to translate all the articles or edit all of the articles. Now I don't know. But I know the other Japanese paper, Japanese language paper has ceased to publish but remains online. He can do that. And I know the Japanese Canadian television show, which used to be fronted by my aunt, now ceases to exist. So, where's all this heading? I think it's headed towards a natural transformation into pause what Toronto has transformed itself into. A very multicultural, diverse, community. Because even my own family has gone that way. The question could be asked is that good or bad? I think it's good because I raise that question again. I mean you know people asking me -- people say of me that I'm Japanese, but that's only because I look it. I'm not really because I don't speak the language, I don't read it, I'm not of that country. And it's like that first book I read when I started living and working in Japan. It was a book called 'American in Disguise' and it was written by an American, Japanese American grad student about his initial years of schooling in Japan. He was an American there, and he wasn't American in the States. But, I think that's one of the initial growing pains that Japanese Canadians like me probably have to go through. The rest of our family members who are probably the same, products of the mixed marriages. That's part of our growing society in Canada. It happened, it happened a long time ago and it will continue to happen. My own family is the same. So will it get to a point where where it has to be, the question has to be, does there have to be Japanese Canadian institutions? Japanese Canadian groups? A lot of my friends, Japanese Canadian friends, don't need it. So, but you know, as for myself I mean I get involved at the Center and things like that. I do it out of self-interest. It might be part and parcel of me, my working life as being a journalist. I don't know. Just that I'm interested. It gets to a point where I know I have an overflow of books and I have to be very choosy about what I buy when I see it book of interest. It's gotten really crucial that I have to buy books of a particular subject or else. I just don't have room anymore. So, anyway, that's about it. A lot of meanderings like that. Mel asks Alex about his studies
AP
Shall we end the recorder then if, unless you--
MT
Sure.
AP
Ok, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MT
You're very welcome.
01:15:28.000

Metadata

Title

Mel Tsuji, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 03 September 2015

Abstract

Mel speaks about how his father applied to go east instead of to a road camp in the interior and established himself as a mechanic in Toronto. He was able to get permission for the rest of the family to join him in Toronto where most of Mel's childhood memories are of. He also speaks about inter-generational dynamics within the Japanese Canadian community and differing views on activism. Mel discusses his involvement in many sports within the Japanese Canadian community, as well as how his grandfather was Roy Yamamura, shortstop of the Asahi baseball team. He also talks about his observations on Toronto as a city and how different the anti-Japanese sentiment evolved between the war years to post war.

Credits

Interviewer: Alexander Pekic
Interviewee: Mel Tsuji
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Mel Tsuji's home, Woodbridge, ON
Keywords: Vancouver ; Toronto ; Roy Yamamura ; Asahi baseball team ; Little Tokyo; hockey; baseball; generation; 1890s-present

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.