Roy Uyeda, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 15 July 2015 (1 of 2)

Roy Uyeda, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 15 July 2015 (1 of 2)

Abstract
Born in Canada yet well-traveled in his formative years, Roy Uyeda speaks about his childhood in militant Japan and Vancouver (Kerrisdale). Roy’s school experience in Kerrisdale were challenging and uncomfortable at times, especially following Pearl Harbour. He details life in Slocan (internment), which was a haven for him. Roy speaks about his young adult life; he describes working for the US Military and Air Force, the difficulty experienced finding work upon return to Canada, and his resiliency in regards to going back to university in Montréal. Roy discusses careers held and volunteer work in the Japanese Canadian community. Roy also speaks about the differences between Japanese and Canadian culture, the culture shocks he experienced moving between the two countries, and about his dual Japanese and Canadian identity. In relation to his own experiences, Roy observes that racism often occurs in the home, from parent to child, and warns against such a practice in the present and future.
00:00:00.000
Rebeca Salas (RS)
This is Rebeca Salas with Landscapes of Injustice on July 15, 2016. I'm with Roy Uyeda at the Nikkei Centre in Burnaby. Okay...well why don't we start with your life, your story.
Roy Uyeda (RU)
So. My name is Roy Uyeda and I have a Japanese name, too. But in Canada the Japanese name is not always easy to get...
RS
I'd love to hear it.
RU
Hm?
RS
I'd love to hear it!
RU
Oh, it's Umeo. Sounds sort of Italian. Umeo, you know?
RS
Yeah!
RU
U-m-e-o writes the name down. U-m-e-o. And my father named me like that because of a very famous scholar-statesman. I think almost every Japanese student would know his name. His name is Sugawara Michizane. Sugawara is a family name in Japan, you say the family name first. And all throughout history he has been respected and loved. Yeah, so he's a man of honour and all that. And it so happened that at the village where my father was born there was a big beach, you know? This man was banished from the Emperor's Court, and about, I don't know how many... maybe six hundred miles away or something like that, eleven hundred years ago. And his boat landed at the beach of our village. So, this scholar loved the Ume - Ume is the Japanese plum, which they make the picked plum, and they're highly prized. Yeah, this pickled plum in Japanese society is highly prized and it has natural medicinal value and a lot of other good things about it, and they salt it and they make pickled plums in certain – anyways laughs, my story is long. But, so because our village has connection with this scholar-statesman, my father named me Umeo.
RS
I see. Where was that village?
RU
Pardon?
RS
What was the village called? ROY Name of the village?
RS
Mhm.
RU
It's a place called Takatsuka. T-a-k-a-t-s-u-k-a, Takatsuka.
RS
Oh.
RU
Ponders direction and location And it's at the eastern – western end. At the southern end, there's an inland sea in Japan and at the northern most part is where the city of Osaka is - the second largest city - and the inland sea goes right down for about, I don't know, seven, eight hundred miles from there, and our beach is right at the southern end of this inland sea.
RS
Okay.
RU
And that's where this scholar's boat landed. Where this man landed. So, our village has a big connection. I mean, our village is not known, he just passed through, you see. He went to another place, where he took office and he ended his life there. But anyway, that's how my father named me. So, Umeo...“o”, a lot Japanese boys' name had this affix, “o”, you know? At the end, so. So, that's how I got my name.
RS
Which year were you born?
RU
Hm?
RS
When were you born?
RU
Oh, I was born in 1933.
RS
Okay.
RU
Tenth of November. One day before Armistice Day, which is eleventh of November. Yup, tenth of November, 1933.
RS
Okay. And in Japan, how long did you live there with your family before you came to Canada?
RU
Well, so I was born in Celtic Cannery in Vancouver.
RS
Oh, okay.
RU
And in 1939 when I was five years and seven months old, my father and mother took me and another sister, who was a couple of years older than me to Japan.
RS
I see!
RU
Yeah, and in those days a lot of Japanese families sent their young children to Japan for education and for rearing by their grandparents. Yeah, a lot of Japan families did that, and so my family was no exception, you see? And my mother fell down the stairs and she fractured her shoulder blade and all that, so the family thought maybe she should go to one of the hot springs, like in Italy. They had a lot of hot springs, nice hot springs. So, the family thought she should take advantage of that for her health. And our schooling. So, two purposes we went to Japan in 1939.
00:05:29.000
00:05:29.000
RS
Do you remember much?
RU
I remember enough, yeah. I remember enough. I went there when I was five years and about eight, nine months old. Couple more years I would've been six years old. Anyways, March 1940 I was enrolled in a local – my father's home town – local school. An elementary school. And, yeah, it was highly regimented. It was a military country, you see? I mean, the military was a thing. And so in grade seven an older they had to go through drills, through military drills. An army officer would come and put them through drills, you know? Carry guns and rifles and all that. So, it was quite sick, the way they controlled us. And one day - every morning we had a whole school assembly – and the principal said that, “Every male student is a soldier of the Imperial Nation of Japan, so they will stop bowing from that day.” So they must behave, conduct themselves like soldiers. So, all male students from that point, that time, will salute like soldiers. So, we were saluting everywhere! Just shrimps, you know laughs?
RS
Laughs
RU
Laughs Saluting. Instead of bowing, you just salute. And act and behave, we were told, to behave like soldiers.
RS
I see.
RU
Laughs So, it's comical, you know? Imagine a Vancouver-born little kid going around and saluting...but it was a thing. And that started while I was still in grade one. But in grade two, after about three months my eldest brother and the second brother were in Japan at the same time, and they followed after a year or two, they followed us. My father came back in six months' time to Vancouver. But anyway, my oldest brother brought me and my sister back to Vancouver. So, we came back here May 1941, just half a year before the war broke out.
RS
I see.
RU
So it was a big culture shock for me, you know? I was in a very, well, totally different, how the school is conducted here, too, yeah? The military ruled in Japan. And so, you know, they...like all these...countries...what do you call them...totalitarian countries like Germany's Hitler and Stalin's Soviet Union...they all trained them when they're so young. So, by the time they're draft age, their mind is totally indoctrinated, you know? So, same thing in Japan. So, yeah. That's how the military conducted politics, so that the country would be thoroughly indoctrinated in militarism. So, in that midst I was brought back to Vancouver. So, you can imagine the culture shock that I had to go through, you know? When I had to go to the elementary school here in Kerrisdale and felt totally...I felt very out of place. But, somehow I had to get used to it and school life was not too bad. Although, my English was almost nil, you know? There's no such thing as ESL class in 19...I was just thrown into class and I...not even half of the things half of the things the teacher was teaching I could understand. But, I had to make the best of it and school life was not too bad considering the language difficulty. But when the war broke out, things just changed drastically.
00:09:56.000
00:09:56.000
RU
And I'm repeating myself what I will be talking to the Japanese students in one week's time, but Pearl Harbour got attacked by Japan on a Sunday, and the Monday when I went to school, there were a few boys huddled together gossiping and all that. When I passed one of them said, “Here's a Jap!”, you know? And the word “Jap” is, to this day, it stings me, you know? I know the Italians have something, that they get called names, we get called “Jap”. That word is, really, it stings me. But anyway, he referred to me by “Jap”, and then every day after school there would be some kids waiting behind bushes, beside the bushes. They would shower me with rocks. So, yeah every day I would have to think of how I would elude them. So it was quite un-cozy for me. I felt very uncomfortable there. But March 1942 this - where I was born in Celtic - other Japanese kids were there, but they all moved out to Alberta area to the sugar beets farm. And my sister and I were the only kids left in this Kerrisdale school. And all the kids would be watching us, you know, watching me and every lunch time all the boys gathered in a big room, special room, and all the girls gathered in a room. They ate lunch. No kids would want to sit me with me and so I had to sit all alone and eat my sandwich, and then meanwhile everyone is watching me laughs, you know? Watching my every move. And that was most uncomfortable. Yeah. And in Celtic – the Celtic Cannery – my family was the only one left there. All the other families moved out. And I don't know how, but my family was the only one. And one day a government official came and told my father that we can't stay here and we have to move out. So, we had to go to this place called Hastings Park. I remember going there at exhibition time where there's these animal stalls and the farming people would bring their stock. Livestock. Horses and cows and sheep and pigs and everything. And they have these competitions...who raised the best stock. So these animal stalls were hurriedly converted to sleeping quarters and one area would be for women and one other area for men. And they would use these blankets for privacy, you know? The bunks would be so many, about three levels high, with blankets all around and that was the wall of privacy. And luckily my family didn't stay there too long. I don't know how many weeks. Some people would stay there for many months! Three, four months. Maybe more. But, luckily we didn't. I don't know how it came out, but we didn't stay there too long. And one day, we were placed on a special train. A long train. A lot of families were shipped into the Interior. And our destination was Slocan Valley, and yeah...and on the map you could just draw a simple line through the mountain laughs. The rails were, you know, snaking and high above the valleys, in a very precarious kind of place. Sometimes they have two locomotives – steam locomotives – in front and one in the back. Three! To move the train in steep grades. And we finally got to Slocan and...but Slocan, to me, it was a haven. For the adults, I don't know what they were thinking or feeling. But to me as a child it was a haven. Unlike in Vancouver there's this ugly feeling, you know? Heavy atmosphere. There, we're among our own people. Just our own people. Mountains all over and there's a nice clean lake and a nice clean river flowing out of it. And a creek where we could swim, fish...you know, in the summer time. In the winter time we could ski and sleigh on the slopes and also make a fast rink in the backyard, sprinkling water on the...you know. So, to me, Slocan was a haven. And...yeah. But we arrived there in late June or early July in '42 and then exactly four years later towards the end of June, I guess...yeah, in the meantime, when it was clear that Japan was losing the war, the government imposed on us this ultimatum that you either...if you want to stay in Canada you have to go east of the Rockies.
00:15:26.000
00:15:26.000
RU
If you don't like that, you should go to Japan and forfeit your settlementship. So my father was hoping Canada, but he chose to go to Japan. And like I said a while ago, there's one bright hope. That was reuniting with his favourite son, and for us, too a loving brother. But that dream was shattered because he was killed in action in 1944. And so anyway...a crushing blow to us. And we were placed in a repatriation – “repats” – process centre in Japan and from there we were placed on a special train. Every stop, every station stopping the train. Slow, you know laughs? And every time the train came to a station... it was summer time, so we had the windows wide open and the hordes of people rush the windows, you know? Throwing their luggage. Mostly city folk going to the countryside, get through, you know? They would throw it in the window and they would literally crawl across our knee. I was sitting in the seat and they would crawl across my knees to get in. People would fist fight for seats in line and oh...the chaos. I couldn't believe it. Yeah. And when I left in 1941 there was much social order and courtesy and manners. These were taken for granted. But, now it was everybody for himself and this really shocked me. Even as a child and then when we got down to southern Japan these four large islands - and my father's place is the southernmost island - and when we got to his village we found that my brother had been killed. That was a big blow. But, life must go on. So, my father and two single sisters and myself - four of us - so my sisters went to the nearest major city, where the US Army was stationed and a lot of Canadians went and worked for the US Forces. There were some British Forces, too, but mostly American forces. The British Forces moved out quite early and there was a lot of American Army and American Navy Bases, so a lot of Chinese Canadians went to work there because they didn't speak English, you know? It was the most practical, fast way to get employment. And they paid well, the US. I was enrolled in the elementary school, but five years I had a blank of no studying in Japanese, so my Japanese was extremely weak. So, I had to start two years behind my contemporaries. So, I entered grade five, whereas my contemporaries were in grade seven. But even grade five was a big challenge because they're teaching Japanese classics and they used sophisticated, archaic language and most of the time I didn't know what they were talking about! But...and the topic was about real, historical...these warrior people. They teach you good with storytellers so he would relay it to us interestingly, all the episodes and whatever that's connected to these heroes. I'm always interested in old things, so that saved me. The subject was very...extremely difficult. But, I got through it. So, I went from elementary school to junior high school and then senior high school. And in 1954, spring, I graduated from senior high school and there was a US Air Force base about three, four miles away from my town. So, I went there and sought employment and I got a job working for the Base of Education and Training Office.
00:20:03.000
00:20:03.000
RU
That soon took on charge of training of Japanese Air Self Defense Force. Actually laughs, that's a joke. They call themselves “defenseful”, but it's a regular army, regular armed forces, regular navy, but the constitution doesn't allow that, so they called themselves “Self Defense Force”, you know? Anyways. So, my bosses were charged with training non-pilot personnel. Beit air craft mechanic, auto mechanic, ship or aircraft fire fighters and weather meteorologists, air traffic controllers, whatever. Anything that had nothing to do with pilot training are what my employer based squadron did. For pilot training, another unit came in to do that. So, I worked a very interesting, very challenging, worthwhile job, man-sized job. Difficult job. And it paid well, so that was enough. I had saved up enough to get passes back to Canada and I had extra. So, the job ended about three years later, but the US Air Force offered me another good job. Another Air Base job. I thankfully declined because I was waiting to come back to Canada. I told my father I wanted to come back to Canada, and you know, “What do you want to do that for?! I lived there for fifty-three years and worked hard all my life and I have nothing to show for it!” But my roots were strong enough that I had apprehension of racial discrimination in the Vancouver area, but my roots were strong enough that I had decided to come back. And I did that in May 1952.
RS
About how old were you?
RU
I was twenty-four. And when I landed here, discrimination was still very much alive, yeah. And I heard the word “Jap” mentioned here and there, you know, and all that. I had to put up with it and it took me, what, nine weeks? I got in a suit and knit tie and pounded the streets. Not every day, but most days, I would take a break in between to gather up my courage and my stamina, to build up again, you know? And go out again. I'd get battered and then take a break. And then I repeated that a few times. And after a while, almost miraculously, I found a job with a major manufacturing company as a shipper. But, after working there for many weeks I got disenchanted with my immediate boss - the way he did things - so I suddenly started resisting him and that was the most unwise thing I did. Just as the winter set on, I got...he had me fired. It was almost as if he fired me because he was my immediate boss and he had a lot of say, so, you know. And so, I was out of work and if things were a little bit worse I could have been homeless and ended up in the Salvation Army basement. But luckily I was working - like many Japanese Canadians - I was working for a young lawyer and his family and in exchange for room and board. I used to do chores, you know? Wash dishes. Clean the room. And especially on Saturday, I'd clean their yard and do little things like that and in exchange, I got free room and board. So, I didn't end up homeless. Anyways, when I lost my job I set up to find work, but it was totally useless. In spring after 1959, I gave a last all-out effort trying to find work, but it was totally in vain. Nothing...nothing at all. Not even a dish washer's job.
00:25:00.000
00:25:00.000
RU
So, now...in the meanwhile, I had two brothers out in Montréal. They lived there in early 1944. To expand their horizons, you know? So, I thought, I should go out and see the world. So, I decided to try Montréal in the spring of 1959. And after three days of the train trek – this train called Continental CPR, CP Rail – I went there to Montréal. It was totally different. It was so refreshing. No discrimination. I didn't notice discrimination and in a couple of weeks' time I had about four job leads. And I had the luxury of choosing one from that, you know? Mind you, the wage rate is a bit lower there, but still it's better to have a steady job. And I went to work for a fridge company from France and they make gas called L'Air Liquide. I worked there one year and seven months and I had another offer with another company called Northern Telecom. An electrical firm, you know? I still... I think it's still the biggest electrical firm in Canada...oh...but they went...no, they went bankrupt. Yeah. Well, at one point they were the biggest electrical company.
RS
Mhm.
RU
And I worked there about...for almost sixteen years. And while I was working there I started at Sir George Williams University. I wanted to teach high school. And that was very hard. To begin with I had to fight fatigue and sleeplessness, because I'm working during the day time. And the courses, some of them were very hard and there were some courses that students called “killer courses”. About, I don't know, seven courses. And the failure rate is great, you see? There was this introductory course to university composition. The failure rate, I was told, the failure rate was forty-five to fifty...yup, forty-five to fifty per cent.
RS
Wow.
RU
But I thought, “How could that be?”. I thought that was a great exaggeration. That's what I thought before I took the course...Rebeca laughs
RU
Then I started taking the course, and “Oh...” laughs. I became a statistic. I worked so hard, I studied so hard. Never studied so hard in my life. And I would...all these home assignments and I used to get, best I could get was “D minus”. But I was at least passing, though! A “D minus” is a lowest that the university allows. I was so proud. “D minus”, “D minus”. I failed the midterm exam. Failed it. But at least I had the right to take a supplementary course. But a supplementary course is another problem, you know? When all the other courses are finished and had...you don't know what kind of material you should...how you should study... and the test took about...it came about three months after the course was finished. I had nobody to turn to, nobody to ask for help. Your profs and all the other lecturers are gone. So, that was a real hard time for me. Fortunately, I passed the supplementary course. I passed. I passed the supplementary test and I got a credit for it. I had only twenty more credits to take. And that course, fortunately, I passed, but there were about four other courses, which even the supplementary courses I didn't pass. So I had to repeat them, you know? It was a disheartening time. Yeah. But anyway, it took me nine years to graduate laughs.
RS
Laughs Which school was this, sorry?
RU
Hm?
RS
Where did you take the courses, sorry? Which school?
RU
Now you call it Concordia University.
RS
Oh, yes!
RU
You've heard of it?
RS
Yes.
RU
Yes. At that time, we used to call it Sir George Williams University.
RS
Oh, okay.
RU
Yeah, when I first went there it was Sir George Williams College, then it got accredited as a full time university in the fall of 1959, 1960. And then later, it was Loyola College. Catholic College. And now it's much bigger and they called it...yeah, Concordia University.
00:30:07.000
00:30:07.000
RU
But anyway, it took me nine years to graduate. But laughs, by the mercy of God I graduated with a good feeling because my marks were so low, but two professors offered me their recommendations, if I wanted to go to post-graduate school. I couldn't believe it! I thought, “That's nice of you sir, but only for, you know, honour students, not barely passing students like me”. That was a good feeling. But by that time I was more than ready to move back to Vancouver. Yeah, the first several years of my life in Quebec was fine. Winters were very harsh. But, good life there. I had a good time, good French-Canadian friends. But, the separatists began gaining momentum and in 1976 they won majority in the government. And the the possibility of separation from Canada became a real possibility. And then I started thinking twice about independent separate Canada was going to be lots of upheaval disruption there. And in 1942 I was only a child, but I experienced a lot of upheaval and a lot of hardship. So, I didn't want to go through another one like that. So, I started thinking twice about it...about living in, continuing to live in Quebec. And the winters are harsh there. I don't know if you know.
RS
Mhm.
RU
Yeah, the winters are very harsh there out in Montréal, Québec. It was a problem. I have some spinal injuries and in the winter time I used to suffer from the extreme cold. So, I really thought it over and with much prayers and thinking I finally came to the decision that I will quit Montréal. In late June 1977, I got married in Montréal, so my wife and I drive back across Canada and when we came back to Vancouver we found the discrimination problem had vastly improved. But the joblessness was bad as ever, you know? Job were hard to find, if not impossible. And I guess I could find part time work and all that. In the fall of 19 – one year, a little over a year after that fall - 1978, there's a non-profit organization called the Japanese Community Volunteer Association. You've heard of it?
RS
Mhm.
RU
In Japanese we used to call it Tonari Gumi. It means neighbour – literally translated means – neighbour repeats word while thinking...
RS
Club?
RU
Hm? Tonari Gumi, you know?
RS
Mhm. Hm.
RU
In this system they rolled out right before...I think right before the Second World War. The Japanese government came up with a scheme to get the country organized, so that each neighbourhood had a leader and they would have some circular going around the whole...every household that's in the...they would group sections of towns, cities, or villages, and then the leader would get all the updated information about everything. Anything that, you know, that connects and has to do with the lives of the ordinary people. And to help each other, you see? Someone named this organization Tonari Gumi, copying that from Japan.
RS
Hm.
RU
And so that was a mutually helpful. Mutual help. And they advertised for people who might be interested or could have the ability to help senior citizens. And while in Montréal, my wife used to help senior citizens and I used go with her to help them, so I had a little bit of experience. So, I applied and they hired me as a community worker for the Japanese Community Volunteer Association. And mainly we help...this organization started...its mission is to help Japanese senior citizens who were...they used to come out to learn from all over Canada because the warm weather.
00:35:05.000
00:35:05.000
RU
I mean the agreeable climate here, you know? The English was very poor if not nil and so they left a lot of difficulties. So couple of men wanted to do something for them, so they organized this group and then the group became a little bit bigger over time and got help, financial help, and other help from other people. And now it's a well-organized entity. And so I went there to work as a community worker and while working there I took an evening interpreting course. And we get trained by real lawyers and other court workers on how to conduct ourselves in trial. And after several months' course...so I got trained there and even while working at this “Tonari Gumi” I would go to courts often, to actual trails, you know? And my job ended in 1980, exactly ten years after I started working there. So, from the spring in 1989, I became a freelance interpreter translator, finding jobs on my own. I did that until 2008 and '9. I was of retirement age, but I could still do it so I kept on doing it. After a while I thought, time I had enough. So, I had to ease off on that.
RS
Mhm.
RU
So, when my job at Tonari Gumi finished in autumn of later 1988, from the next spring when I became a freelance interpreter translator, at the same time became a regular volunteer at this Japanese Community Volunteer Association. And I went there regularly and I retired from that in 2013 when I turned eighty, I thought, it's about time I turn things over to younger people, you know? I didn't want to laughs, I didn't want to be an old log. But still, I do some volunteering like I'm doing at this place, here.
RS
Mhm.
RU
So, and that's about laughs what I've done so far. From about age...from what I can recall from about age five.
RS
That's great! If you don't mind, I'll just go back. I took some notes from the beginning of your story, onwards. This first thing I was wondering was if you could tell me a little bit about your parents.
RU
Hm?
RS
A little bit about your parents?
RU
Yes. My father, I guess, well he was born in 1877 and when he was seventeen he came. And he was the oldest of our family, but I don't know how...usually the oldest has to stay home and look after, take after the father's business or whatever. My father, the oldest, laughs he came out here. I don't know. His younger brother took after the family affairs. So, yeah, I guess my father came here to seek a new life and new fortune and in the early 1910s he got married with a picture bride system or whatever you call it. You send photos and send info. about your particulars, they exchange info., you know?
RS
Mhm, mhm.
RU
And I laughs understand a lot of Japanese men exaggerated their life here...how successful they were laughs. And when they got here, their wife was in for a big shock. But what can she do, you know? She can't go back. So, yeah, there's quite a few women who got stuck with that. I don't know what my father did.
RS
What was his name?
RU
Hm?
RS
What his name?
RU
My father's name?
RS
Yes.
RU
Yeah, it's kind of...yeah...
RS
Would you like to write it down?
00:40:02.000
00:40:02.000
RU
Yeah. It's very traditional. Where do you want me to write it?
RS
Anywhere. Yeah. If you could say it, it will record. Can you say it?
RU
Yeah, okay. His name is Tokinosuke writes and sounds name out Tokinosuke Uyeda.
RS
I see.
RU
And sometimes, I get asked by Japanese, “Why this...why do you have to use the 'y' in between the 'u' and the 'e'?” But, this is when English first entered Japan in the late 1860's. The Japanese capital was - before it was renamed Tokyo – it used to be called “Edo”, but they spelled it with a 'y'. “Yedo”, kind of...“Yedo”, kind of thing writes word. Then, Japanese money, which is called “Yen” writes word and symbol, perhaps it's the same old style “Romaji” writes word is the alphabetical spelling of Japanese words, you know? So maybe this is the old style of this. This “y” is from this old style.
RS
Right.
RU
Romaji. So, as far as pronunciation goes, you don't need that “y”. You know, so, Uyeda.
RS
Uyeda repeats pronunciation.
RU
Yeah.
RS
And what was your mother's name?
RU
Oh, mother's name...writes name...Shige. And her maiden name was Kadota. K-a-d-o-t-a writes name...maiden name. As I said, she came as a picture bride and I don't have it, but, my brother or somebody had a picture of her when she first came here in Japanese Kimono.
RS
Mhm. So, your father was naturalized?
RU
Yup, he was natural. He had a paper, you know? Government paper that, you know, that he's entitled to everything, a British subject, blah blah blah, of the King. Yeah, he was naturalized.
RS
Okay. Before you were telling me a little bit about what he said when the war time broke out - about his citizenship - is that he lost faith in Canada. Is that what he said?
RU
Oh, yeah. Yes. He did. He felt betrayed. I mean, you know...you have an important document stating that you're a citizen of Canada and now you're treated like garbage. An enemy alien. That was a big to him, yeah.
RS
Mhm. Hm. Before the...before the war time, you told me a little bit about what school was like. Do you remember what it was like at home? Like the home that you were in or the neighbourhood that you lived in?
RU
Excuse me, I told you about the school? Did you say school? No...
RS
I remember you told me a little bit about school and how it was tough...a little bit, when you were quite young in Kerrisdale.
RU
When I came back to Vancouver from Japan?
RS
Yes.
RU
Yeah, because my language. English language and ability. Yes, I had no language. It was almost nil. Yeah, so, and I got thrown into school. English ESL courses and all that, there was nothing like that.
RS
So, were there many other Japanese children or was it very few?
RU
I never heard of anybody else besides me. My sister managed a bit better I guess. She was two years and a half years older than me, and so she managed a little bit better. But, me, I never noticed anyone else like me. And other families...I hadn't heard of anybody else. There certainly could be. But I, personally, knew of nobody else like me.
00:45:00.000
00:45:00.000
RS
Hm. So, the neighbourhood where you lived, was it mostly, like, Canadian-European families, or what kinds of people?
RU
No. This - you might remember that this Celtic Cannery - there was about twenty-five Japanese families and two or three Caucasian single fishermen. And that was it. So, most of the adults were, if not all, most of the adults were from Japan. So, the main language spoken in Celtic Cannery was Japanese and the culture, too, was Japan-oriented. Or...yeah, things were Japanese-y. Yeah.
RS
Mhm, yeah.
RU
Your old country would be there same as any ethnic...especially if you're grouped together with other families who have a lot of old country, you know, things...culture there.
RS
So, it sounds like home...being at home was very different from being at school.
RU
Um, I guess you can say that, yeah. Yes. It was quite different. The food we ate were, because most adults were from Japan, the food would be...I guess I could say Japanese...but we ate lots of Canadian dishes, too. Like in the morning we had porridge and toast and bread, jam, peanut butter. And for lunch we would take sandwiches. But the evening meal would be more Japanese. And you might know that to the Japanese, January first is a big time of festivities. And especially in Celtic they used to make all kinds of - not fancy, but plenty of food - Japanese style food. And anybody was welcome in any home. You could just barge in and, you know, exchange ingredients. You could sit down and do a little feast in all Japanese style food. But, yeah, we used to eat...especially wine...you used to...yeah. Toast and porridge and children would make cocoa and the adults would have coffee. But, lunch? Lunch was maybe half and half, but evening supper was mainly Japanese.
RS
Right. So did your parents have many friends, then, in the neighbourhood?
RU
Yeah, we were quite a tight knit family...I mean, quite a tight knit community. Yeah. And we had Japanese movies and concerts and things like that, you know? Saw a lot of Japanese films. At this Powell street, it was a Japantown. Like you have Chinatown, you have Japantown. And yeah, there were all kinds of Japanese merchants there. They had records shops and you pass in front you could hear the latest Japanese popular songs. Blaring out, you know? In those days we had records players that you grind laughs. You grind and use needles and then these '70s, '80s record players with Japanese popular songs blaring out. Yeah laughs. Yeah, so as I mentioned before, our fishing hamlet, mostly the adults were from Japan so culturally, we were Japan-oriented.
RS
Mhm. So, were many people, for work, there were people fishing and at the cannery? Did people have their own boats? Or...
RU
Yeah, I think most of the people had their own boats. Yeah, but there were no more canneries, as I mentioned before. It was closed down about seventeen years before I was born. So, all the fish caught - the good quality ones, any fish that were marked, you know, any fish that would be torn, the company wouldn't accept it - a collector boat that would come around each day and what you caught, you would turn over and they would weigh it.
00:50:24.000
00:50:24.000
RU
And then they would issue you a ticket that says something like, “Joe caught so many pounds of Sockeye Salmon,” and they would have a record and you would have a record. You'd be paid, I don't know how often, but you would be paid. And that's all. But a lot of other fish – there's five species of salmon caught here – and the most valuable one is Sockeye Salmon, because that was plentiful and yet, the quality was good. Canned in Canada and sold it to Britain and a lot of other places. So, that made the most money. And the next, equally valuable one, the one that wasn't plentiful, we used to call them “Spring Salmon”. And another name can be called Chinook or King Salmon. The big one. But, that was not too plentiful. Brought good prices if the fish were white. You cut here gestures location on fish, you can tell if the fish were white or red. And white was...the value was very low. But, the red one was good. Then the pink salmon was a lot less valuable than the Sockeye. But I'm not familiar with the pink salmon. But the next, another big one called Chum Salmon – we used to call it “Dog Salmon” – we used to salt them and then in the winter time we used to have boxes and boxes, big boxes full of these salted Chum salmon. And at the year's end in spring, they used to sell them to these Japanese local merchants, who exported them to Japan. They were good eaten as salted salmon. But other than that, to eat the salmon steak, I don't think it was that valued. Sockeye salmon was the most valued. Yeah, but we didn't get to eat the Sockeye salmon that much, if not damaged, they were all turned over to the companies.
RS
Right, right. So, if most people were fishing, am I right to assume that when the war hit most people lost their boats?
RU
Oh, yes. Yeah, we lost it. We lost the boat. My brother, he was a daredevil. And even among the Japanese, he was a daredevil. Even when the ocean was stormy and the waves were high and choppy, he would go out. Even in those kind of conditions. So, his catch was high but there was a lot of risk. He could get himself killed. But, he used to go out there and his catch was high. And in 1941, he had the highest catch in Celtic Cannery and there was quite a...yeah. Some fellow told me “Your brother, he made lots of money!” He was quite a sensation and he made lots of money. So, he bought himself a new engine and the engine alone cost eight hundred dollars in those days. And he refurbished his boat getting ready for the next season. And the war came and he had a brand new engine. So, the Canadian Navy took hold of those boats, especially those with good engines. So, they used his boat to patrol or whatever, with the brand new engine. Yeah, but he...when we were in Slocan, he was offered very little money, but he was offered some and he wanted to get a hold of even a little bit of money. So, he took that money, I think. Whereas my father, he said, “This is a real insult,” and he resisted to accept the money offered.
00:55:05.000
00:55:05.000
RU
It was a very low price, but he refused to accept it. He didn't get a red cent. But my brother, he got some money years ago, which is, in those days, if I'm not mistaken, it was appraised at six thousand dollars, in those days' money. And it was sold for a couple of hundred bucks, two, three hundred and fifty bucks or something. I can't remember. But in those days, a big loaf of bread cost about five cents. A candy bar, chocolate bar, cost a nickel or something like that. Yeah, so even a hundred dollars in a lot of money. Yeah. So, I don't know what kind of...how other people were treated. But, my brother, before he moved up to Montréal, he wanted to get a hold of every single penny that he could get. They didn't answer, so he accepted what was sold, and so he got some money. But my father got nothing. So, the government just...what's that word...bid? You bid...
RS
Like an auction?
RU
Auction, yeah. So, they were sold off for next to nothing. So, I understand in 1988 when some Japanese got together and wrote to the government, Canadian government, and the Canadian government finally consented to redress. The Japanese Mennonite Church in the Abbotsford area, they realized the big bad mistake they had done to get a hold of Japanese farms for next to nothing. So, they wanted to make up for that. So, I understand they offered a scholarship to any Japanese promising students. And I think that's still exists today.
RS
Okay.
RU
Yeah, and lots of people got...yeah, they bought lots of big property for next to nothing. And I understand these properties in the Fraser Valley, a lot of Japanese, they cleared out the bushes and all that and they would have these big stumps, you know? So, they would dig under and they would lay dynamite. In those days, these dynamite with, like a candlestick, and you lit a match and run away. You'd wait, but nothing happens, so somebody goes and examines it and the thing blows up. And couple of persons get killed. That's how they...with all this hard work they cleared the forests and made these farmlands. And when the war broke out, they were all sold for next to nothing. But, some Japanese, I understand, now...my observation, or I heard this as a child, so I could be wrong, you know? But, what I was listening to was some people, some Japanese, before they lost their property they sold it on one-to-one basis, private basis and these kinds were rare, but they got enough. They had reasonable price for them. But most of them, they...we were just told to move out, so we moved out. Had to leave early. Yeah, Celtic...my family, I don't know for what reason, but we were the last ones to move out. And by March 1942, I think all the other families left, they left and most of them went to the sugar beet farms in the prairie provinces and the houses were just left as is. Yeah. We used to peek in the window, everything was just as is. Sofa, the kitchen...everything, just as is. So, the government said, they had an auction and “How much can I bid for this?” kind of thing. And so they were sold left and right for next to nothing.
01:00:03.000
01:00:03.000
RS
Right.
RU
So, these people in Abbotsford area, you know, Mennonite people, they realized they did a very bad thing taking advantage of other people's plight and got a hold of valuable lands for next to nothing. So, they wanted to make up for it, so they created this scholarship, you know?
RS
So, with your family - because you were the last to leave – were you able to keep most of your valuables? Your parents, were they able to keep many of them?
RU
Well laughs, you couldn't take anything more than you could carry in a suitcase laughs. How much could you carry, you know? And I'm a kid, small kid, so I couldn't carry anything. So my dad, he went off and bought big suitcases. But, you could stuff a lot of things in there, but very minimal when you consider the whole household of things, you know? So, we had to leave everything. And the federal government created an office called “Office of the...Office of the Custodian...”
RS
Of enemy property.
RU
Enemy property. Yeah. So, they were supposed to look after the things. Laughs They looked after everything...they sold everything off! And then after, I don't know how long it took them, the offices dispersed. So, what happened to the property, they got sold off left and right and the Custodian Office just dismantled, so they were left with nothing. Yeah, so our family was left...we had to leave everything. Other than what you can carry in a suitcase. In two suitcases. That's very limited.
RS
Which you would have taken with you to first Hastings Park, right?
RU
Yeah, Hastings Park, yeah. But, when things go bad, you find who your real friends are. And we did find some, a couple of Canadian people, and I think by them befriending us, I think they were put on a pretty uncomfortable position themselves. But they break that, and they stuck it out with us. They were friends and they proved themselves. True friends, those people.
RS
Who were they? Were they neighbours? Or...
RU
One man, he had a small cartage company called “Columbia Cartage”. He had a small truck and he kept associating with us until the last minute. I remember him shaking hands with my father before we shipped off to Slocan or before we went to Hastings. I don't remember. He was a true friend until the last minute. There was another veteran from the First World War and he kept corresponding with us in Slocan. When we were being shipped to Japan, he came to see us off at the CPR yard. Yeah. That was very hard.
RS
Do you remember their names?
RU
This one person who ran the cartage company. It was called Columbia Cartage. That's all I remember. But, the other person, he was Mr. Pearks. P-e-a-r-k-s. He was a veteran of the First World War and he was a watchman in Celtic Cannery. After the cannery shut down, they had a boatyard, which they built boats.
01:05:14.000
01:05:14.000
RU
Bigger than fishing boats, maybe tug boats or something. It was a shipyard, building boats. He was a watchman, so he had these clocks where, you know, he had to make the rounds of the factory. There were some stations where he would plug in the thing and shows that you made the rounds of the factory. He was a watchman. I think his name was Pearks or Sparks...that part I don't remember. Sparks or Pearks. It was Pearks? But, he was a friend until the last...
RS
You mentioned that Slocan Valley was a haven. Do you remember much about making friends there? Or...
RU
We were among our own people, so there was not that much chance of making friends with non-Japanese. But, I made some friends among my own people. But at the same time, I used to get into a lot of fights laughs.
RS
Why?
RU
Blood was too thick, you know? I used to get into a lot of fights. Into fights among all people. But, school life was...the education was good and the teachers were all high school graduates. In some instances, there were some who hadn't even graduated from high school. But, most of them had graduated from high school and I was a good student, high mark student, honour student, so. And a little education was good compared to the opportunity on the outside. Yeah, it was strictly run and if you didn't get enough good marks, they failed you. Yeah.
RS
You mentioned you could make a rink?
RU
Hm?
RS
You mentioned you could make a rink? Was it a skating rink?
RU
Make a what?
RS
Make a rink...you said you were sprinkling water...the kids could sprinkle water and make a rink.
RU
Oh, yeah.
RS
Do you have any other special memories about things that kids used to do in Slocan Valley?
RU
We used to do a lot of skating on the highway, you know? The highway was...the highway, they didn't clear away the snow for the trucks...it was not paved. It was gravel road. The road was packed with snow. The temperature just dropped, so the snow gets hard, and on top of that more snow, and the roads were always about that thick gestures thickness with fingers. So, we always used to skate on the highway and because of the gravel road, often times, there would be rocks mixed in and that was bad. But, we used to skate on the highway all of the time. But, in the wintertime we would clear away the snow and sprinkle water in evening on it. The driveway, it would freeze. The winters are quite harsh there with the snow. Just like Montréal. Dipping temperatures. But the houses were hastily built. They weren't built for permanency or too many years of duration. The boards used were thin. They used to put tar paper in between, so it kept the wind out, but it didn't keep in the heat! Very thin. So, in the middle of winter, in the bedroom...you know how the freezer gets all of these frost? It would get all over the walls, you know? We used to...I remember I used to hug myself like this gestures tight position and shivering to withstand the cold. There was a warming wood burning stove to provide heat in the house. It was right in the middle of the house and the bedroom was to the side.
01:10:02.000
01:10:02.000
RU
And the heat doesn't reach the, you know, bedrooms...warm enough. So, I used to lay like that to withstand the cold in the middle of winter. Frost on the boards, you know? Yeah, but...other than that...and as kids we missed toys...but, other than that, I like nature. I like mountains, bushes, and birds. So, I had a grand time, always romping in the hills, you know? Watching these wild deer and all that. Bear and deer all over. Wild hares, rabbits, and watching these things. I had not bad of a time because I had...in Vancouver the atmosphere was so thick and ugly, and you know, that was a real haven for me. I don't think the adults were thinking the same thing. They lost all of their property.
RS
So, you think it was different...it was different for children.
RU
I imagine so, you know? I never really talked to parents about that, to adults about that. But, in hindsight it's common sense. Knowing that we lost so much and had nothing to fall back on. I understand in the US, the United States, as soon as the war ended the Japanese were no more enemies. They lost the war and they had to part to be enemies, so they let them go back to their old...whatever...wherever they came from. Allowed them to resume life as it was before the war. But in Canada, they didn't. So, we weren't even allowed to come back to Vancouver until the end of April in 1949. And some Japanese protested and made some noises, so Canadian government consented to allow them to come back to Vancouver. And at the end of April 1949 they allowed them to come back. Otherwise, anyone caught coming back to Vancouver without proper permission, they'd be send to jail. That was a criminal offense. Yeah, so, you know, later on when I became more mature and got to thinking...how could a democratic country like Canada have treated us like that? It's almost like, you know, a country like Hitler's Germany or even Japan's militarism or even Stalin's Soviet Union. They're not democratic, they're totalitarian, they're, you know, they're harsher regimes. So, you might expect that kind of thing to happen, but in a country where they open up the country with one hand on the bible and one hand on the shovel...that kind of country would do that? I couldn't...I didn't...I couldn't make sense of it. But, at least in 1988, the Mulroney government finally recognized it. So, that was...I came to believe that Canada's still a good country.
RS
Mhm. What was it like to watch redress?
RU
Hm?
RS
What was it like to watch the redress happen?
RU
Well, in the first few years it was hard going and the Minister to whom the Japanese redress party went to talk to was the Minister of Multiculturalism and...whatever surprised me...Jelinek. Otto Jelinek, he was from an Eastern European country and I thought he might be more understanding and more...but he was not. So, I thought that was surprising. I thought he would be more... yeah.
01:15:39.000
01:15:39.000
RS
Do you need a break or how are you feeling?
RU
That's alright.
RS
Maybe we can talk a little bit more about life in more recent years? And so you mentioned that you were in Montréal, it took you nine years to finish school. And then before you came back to BC, were you teaching for a while?
RU
Before I came back here?
RS
Yeah, were you teaching for a short while? Or...
RU
No, I left out that portion because my story's getting long!
RS
Laughs Oh!
RU
I didn't want to bore you.
RS
Laughs Oh! No, no, no!
RU
Yeah, when I graduated, by the time I could start teaching, it was the lowest that anyone could expect. I had a few teacher friends and I discussed it with them. And I, myself, knew of some experienced teachers who went back to evening university to get degrees. They had good experience, they had quite a few creds, but they didn't have their degree, so they attend the evening university. Some of them quit teaching and went full blast to evening university. I knew one lone woman, she had twelve years' experience and she got a credit, finally got a degree, finally. She wanted to go back to work, but even after five years...nothing. So, me, I had industrial experience and the school system recognized it, this industrial experience. Even if you're a teacher, you're equipped for some teaching, they give you credit for it. I had enough...a lot of...not enough, but a lot of industrial experience, but I had no experience in teaching, so I had to look at things. What chance would I have? I had a degree from university, but I had to quit working and go to one year to teacher's college and I had to live on my savings because I wasn't entitled to unemployment insurance because I'm going to school. So, I'm not qualified to collect unemployment insurance, you see? I had to live on my savings and after one year of teacher training, what chance would I stand to go against the person who has twelve years' experience? Waiting five years and, you know, I thought...my friends, too, thought about it very carefully and they advised me that it was very...I'm taking a big chance to quite work and go to teacher's college for one year. So, I thought about it carefully, and I thought, “No, I will not pursue that.” And I just continued to work and I thought, “No.” At least I had the training, the discipline that I received that I will take with me until the day I die, so...yeah. So, I didn't pursue that. In in due time, I came back to Vancouver. And then I guess I didn't mention, when I went to work for the Japanese Community Volunteer Association I had to do lots of writing to government offices and a lot of, I had to do a lot of official writing on behalf people who didn't have a lot of English. At that time, I really felt that my training was not in vain.
01:20:05.000
01:20:05.000
RU
The harsh training that I underwent in university. Yeah, I had to do a lot of writing. Maybe I couldn't write masterpiece works, but at least I could write, you know? I was so used to writing, at least enough to do the job, you know? Not master works, but enough to do the job. To get the meaning across. So, yeah. Even when I was interpreting and translating I gave my...because I was so used to writing...I used to be able to write to get the job done, you know? Never masterpieces, I couldn't write masterpieces, but at least I could write. I was not afraid anymore to write, because I had to do it all the time. In school I had to do a lot of writing. Sorry I interrupted you...
RS
No! No, it's okay. I was just going to say it seems that, maybe, if you weren't teaching then, you are teaching now. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about the education talks at the Nikkei Centre. What sorts of things do you talk about?
RU
Oh! That's, I'm told, like I'm here for a talk next Saturday. Saturday, one week from tomorrow. And that's part of the education program that the Japanese students...I don't know what kind of program it is. But, that, I'm just...I'll be going through what I went through with you. Just relating to the students what I went through, what I experienced, you know? Whether it's good or bad or that's beside the point. Just telling them how things, how I saw things, and how I felt about it. Just as one person. I'm reminded that my experience is just one out of a few thousand. It's just my personal observation, personal how I felt about things. I don't want them to misconstrue that I'm the authority of no one. I'm just speaking as one individual. But, your question about...when it comes to...I was never told how I should put my presentation forward, I just put forward my presentation the best I could do. It's not so much, what's the word...as far as educating people goes, I don't know if I were more trained in teaching people, maybe I would do things in a different way and maybe more effective way. But, I don't have that kind of training, so I just – I'm repeating myself – I just put forth my presentation the best I can do and just fall back on my memory.
RS
You teach through your experiences.
RU
Hm, that's right. As far as educating people, I don't know. I'd like to know what ever I say and how I say it, education-wise, I don't know how useful that is for the person listening to me.
RS
Well if I may speak frankly, I think it's an interesting way to learn about history and about life. And you learn a lot through someone's own experiences because I think we related to it, right? Through the eyes of somebody else. With their memories and detailed stories, it's easy to relate to, so.
01:25:10.000
01:25:10.000
RU
One thing, maybe I'm mistaken, you spoke about how - as far as being educated – my experiences in university, I struggled through it. So I relate to the students how I struggled through it and how these professors offered to write recommendations, I thought maybe if they listen I thought maybe they would get a little bit of encouragement for them struggling in school. That part, a small portion, a segment of my life experience, I thought telling them, that might be a little bit of encouragement. But, that when these two professors offered me, I couldn't believe my ears. I thought the honour students get that kind of offering. So that was really flattering and really make me feel good. Yeah, after many failures and gradually, after nine years laughs.
RS
It was important.
RU
Hm?
RS
It was important for your motivation, I think.
RU
Yeah, I thought many things went wrong and then the school authorities gave me recognition for my efforts. So, if you look at my report, there's a lot of “F's”. A lot of “F's”. But, I repeated the same thing and I succeeded in going through it, so my record is not bad laughs. Even if I had only gotten “F's”...I regained... the school teachers...that made me feel good.
RS
That's great. Hopefully you're doing that for some people now, as well as giving people a bit of encouragement, too laughs. It sounds like you are laughs. Okay, well I think maybe my last question would be if you could say one thing to other Canadians learning about the history of Japanese Canadians, or, if you could say anything to them about the importance of it, what would you say?
RU
General comments? Yes. From my experience of being an object or subject of discrimination, I know that when I was in grade one and when the war broke out, I think the parents at home are always talking about “Japs” and, you know, how bad they were and blah blah, they attacked Pearl Harbour and all that. Yeah, that was a bad thing. But, with adults talking at home like that, it would brush off on the children, you see? Immediately they were affected, influenced, and they become discriminatory. And I know that the families had been talking about us. That's how the innocent children get influenced. So, a mature, law abiding, good citizen, adult should never do that. I noticed a lot of Islamic people have become...these terrorists attacks and stuff, what happened...they got branded right away. People of Arabic origin or Islamic origin. They got branded. So, this is a very narrow-minded, very wrong attitude to take towards anybody. Sure, the Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour without giving notice. That was a very dirty thing to do. But, you know, that's not me. I'm not doing it. How am I to be blamed, racially, for those forces that be there? I might be the same blood type, same blood, but I certainly...I'm not the one who did it, so I shouldn't be blamed and kicked around just for what other Japanese did. So, me?
01:30:18.000
01:30:18.000
RU
If I were in a position to teach children, I would always tell them that adults should never talk bad about other races or other people different from themselves. Yeah, this world is getting even smaller racially. We interact, whether we like it or not, we interact more and more with others. So, we have act peacefully with one another. Helping each other. To talk discriminatorily about other ethnic groups or races at home...adults should never do that. But, that's my two-bits worth of comment. I'm sure a lot of other families were talking about us, “These Japs, you can never trust them, blah blah blah.” So...
RS
Okay, well that's great. If you have any other special memories or any stories that you want to share, I leave that open to you. But, if not and if you feel like that's what you have to say, then we can end it there as well.
RU
Hm! Laughs. Rebeca, yes?
RS
Yes laughs.
RU
When you ask me like that off hand...
RS
You could always let me know, because I can always come here and meet you and we can do a follow-up.
RU
I spoke of these two individuals who were family friends and they were loyal to us, even through the war time. My second brother had a friend in Celtic, a white person, and I don't remember whether it was his last or first name...we used to call him, in Japanese, “Shush” or something. He was my brother's good friend. This friend was so friendly that he even joined my brother's Japanese class to study. And so, you know, he would participate in the Japanese Christmas concert. It was very comical. In the war time, he even came to visit my brother in Slocan. He was in the army.
RS
Really?
RU
Yeah, these kind of people...so broad-minded, so friendly, and so warm. In those days ...these people are great, great people. I don't know what happened after that, but he came to visit my brother in Slocan. Wearing a uniform of the Canadian Army and...
RS
How old would your brother and his friend have been at that time?
RU
Well, he's ten years older than me, so at that time in say, 1943, about ten years...so he would be twenty. He passed away in 2006 in Montréal. He visited the house many times here. He got married in Montréal. The first marriage was ended in the war, but the second marriage he had a French-Canadian wife. They visited us a couple of times. French-Canadian people are very friendly laughs, but even if you're a good friend for many years, you dare not discuss politics and their culture. They get very touchy on those.
01:35:11.000
01:35:11.000
RU
So, you could lose a lifetime friend discussing those things. Taboo to talk about language, culture, you know. I had some pretty few friends, many good friends, French-Canadians. I always tried to learn the language and in Montréal, the eastern part is all French, the western part is all English. English speaking. They could be all like us, we were Japanese but all English speaking, non-French speaking. But, I used to go into their corner and associate with them, go fishing. So when I left Montréal, I had a lot of sentimentality.
RS
For Montréal?
RU
Yeah, leaving there was not easy. But, like I said a while ago, I left Quebec when the independent separated. That would be, at least on average, when a country goes independent, at least for ten years it will be upside down. To settle down, you have to get a new system for everything, you know? Would take about ten years until you get settled down and I didn't want to go through that. And because of my injury, the climate was too severe. But, I had a lot sentimentality. When I first when there, I went determined to live there permanently, you know? Montréal is a very interesting place.
RS
That's where you met your wife?
RU
Hm?
RS
That's where you met your wife?
RU
Yeah, she's Japanese. But, there's not many Japanese there. So, both of my brothers were married to...one was Irish-Canadian, this brother, the second. The third brother, who was married to a French-Canadian. This first wife, she was a mixture. She had some Indian blood, she's English-Canadian. So, the Japanese population was very tiny. So, naturally you get married to other ethnic...so, I had the great tendency so become like that. But, somehow, speaking as a Christian it was God's direction I married to her and she was from Japan. Now, if I had not lived in Japan, it would be hard. Things could be hard. But, I am totally bi-cultural and bi-lingual, so I could talk with her at any level. But, if I were complete Canadian-Japanese, things would not be that...she's from Japan, so her English is not...well, I'm speaking to her in Japanese all the time. So, she doesn't progress too much, you know? But, it's like that. When I was in Montréal, if I didn't have to, I could get by without knowing a word of French. So, from my own experience, if I spoke French to ten French-Canadians, eight or nine out of ten would answer me, respond to me - even if I spoke to them in French - eight or nine would respond to me in English. And they would approach me in English. Plus, because, naturally, you tend not to speak in a language, which another party is not sure of. Especially, in work, you dare not speak in a language that the other person is not sure of. You could make a mistake, you know? So, I spent a whole lot of time...I worked with a lot of French-Canadians. Especially in work, you don't speak in a language which one party is not sure of, you know? So, we worked in English. So, same with my wife. I can't be bothered speaking to her in English if she is not comprehensive, you know? So, without realizing, I speak to her in Japanese and she answers in Japanese.
01:40:09.000
01:40:09.000
RU
So, we seldom speak in English to each other. So, her English does not progress laughs. That's one drawback. But, culturally, because I'm bi-cultural, I could talk at the same level, I could understand. So, I'm a complete mixture of two distinct different languages. Cultures. Like in Japan...here in Canada, if you were introduced to somebody you would stand up and that's the mannerful way to greet somebody. But, in Japan if you were standing up you would get down on the floor and bow. That's how different things are, you know? The opposite. I don't know what kind of impression you got talking to me, but although I'm biculturally a complete mixture, strictly speaking, I'm more Japanese-y type. Has nothing to do with which is better or which is worse. I'm just saying, speaking objectively. My wife would say that, too and other people would. Like, on the boat coming back to Vancouver in 1958, I had a nephew with me. He was four years younger than me and doesn't have Japanese citizenship, whereas I was a dual citizen. In pre-war days, all the Japanese families, not all, but most of the Japanese would register their children with Japanese consulate office, so they would have Canadian citizenship as well as Japanese citizenship. Dual citizenship. Now the Japanese government doesn't allow dual citizenship. But anyway, my nephew didn't have Japanese citizenship where that was due and he has four years less Canadian culture. He went back the same year that I went to Japan. And on the boat he could hardly speak English. But, his mind is all Canadian, whereas I'm bilingual, so if I'm with Japanese from Japan I speak like them. And if I'm speaking with Canadians, I speak like them. So, the Japanese thought I was a pure Japanese-born, Japanese-bred individual. So, when they saw me talking English with some other white passenger, they said “How come? How come you're speaking English?” They thought it just didn't fit me. I said, “I'm Canadian born”. I was raised partly at home. But, whereas my nephew he had four years less Canadian. He was eight years old when we went to Japan after the war and I was twelve years old. And he could hardly speak English, but because he always had this thinking he's Canadian, he's Canadian. One reason because he had no Japanese citizenship, his mind was always that he did not fit into Japanese society. So, the way he spoke of anything, his manners, were all more Canadian-bent. So, the other Japanese passengers thought he was a true Canadian-born, Canadian-bred individual. He's not! So, people thought he was a real Canadian. People thought I was a real Japanese. And my wife tells me that I'm a real Japanese type individual.
RS
Do you feel more Canadian or more Japanese, or do you just feel like both the same?
RU
Sometimes, both. But, I've lived in Canada much longer than Japan. So, I think I'm more Canadian. Yeah. So, like I said, I don't know what impression you got from me, but...
RS
Hm. I'm not sure which...I think, maybe, because I knew a little bit about you, maybe...
RU
Yeah. So, some people don't know how to judge me. “Is he Canadian or is he Japanese?” People don't know. But, like you and I, when you get to know the person you say, “I know, no wonder...” My wife tells me I'm Japanese-y type. Some of the individuals have totally two. But, my nephew, now he's married to a girl from Germany and he has hardly any contact with Japanese. So, now he can't speak Japanese too well these days, too, so laughs. So, he's, yeah laughs...
01:44:56.000
01:44:56.000
RS
Life is funny. Well, I think that might be a good place to stop. Do you have any other stories? Or...Not to ask you this again laugh! To put you on the spot again. But, if we feel like that's a good place to stop, then we can stop here.
RU
Hm. Well, although I've come through some unpleasant and difficult times. Right now, I'm glad that I came through some hard times and I could appreciate things more. I could appreciate. Now, changing from Canada to Japan and Japan to Canada. It's disruptive, you know? Like I said, the culture's so different and it's disruptive. Especially as a child, it's kind of hard. But, I'm glad I went through that because I can appreciate things Canadian more, I can appreciate things Japanese more. All the more. I could understand. So, if I come across a child that's going through...not many times, but a couple of times, children who were in kind of similar positions that I was. I'm not much of an advisor, but it's a worthwhile process to go through. It enriches my life a lot more, you know? It's, sometimes, been awkward. But, food or language, the language...I'm always, whether translating or something, I think of both languages and I get better appreciation. I'm Christian, so I use the Bible and I use both of them and I get a better view, a better appreciation of things, you know? In that respect, I'm glad. In a way, I'm glad I went through a lot of uncomfortable times in the past. In Japanese, there's a saying that roughly translates, literally translates, that says “One should go and initiatively grab situations and undergo hardship.” And you would come out a better person and instinctively people would shy away from hardship. But this adage or this saying says go and grab that situation and experience that situation and hardship and make a better person. So, I'm not that brave to go forward and grab such situations, but circumstances, maybe laughs, made me go through those things.
RS
Made you who you are.
RU
Hm?
RS
It made you who you are.
RU
Excuse me?
RS
I said it made you who you are.
RU
Laughs.
RS
I think you have more to teach than you think. Both laugh
RU
But, to know two languages, it's very enriching. Japanese and English are so different, you know? Enunciation is different, grammar is so different, the sentence structure is different. Simply speaking, English and our language is reverse. In English you say, “I go to school.” In Japanese you say, “I to school go.” That's how the Japanese sentence structure is made. So, when you translate or interpret, the Japanese version at the very end, you have to listen to the very last verb to see if “he goes” or if “he didn't go”. So, when I used to go to the courts to tri-courts to interpret, you wait until the last word to see if “he went there or did not go”. In our culture, maybe things are quite different these days, but traditionally Japanese culture is that we don't come out straight. We go in a roundabout way to say something. To soften the blow, or I don't know. So, to a Japanese a court the officer would ask, “Did you go that morning?”
01:50:07.000
01:50:07.000
RU
And this person would answer, “Well, that day was very cloudy and sunny, and I didn't feel too great and I was wondering if I should take an umbrella or something,” and all blah, blah, blah. So, the interpreter has to interpret just as is. And the person questioning is, “I don't care how you thought...did you go or did you not go?!” laughs. The person wants to know if he or she went or did not go. But, the Japanese has to go all over all kinds of things and go in a roundabout way laughs. That's our culture. So, an interpreter must be a cultural interpreter, too. We were taught that. To be a cultural interpreter. Not just language, be a cultural interpreter. Wow, I've been a lot of talking...
RS
Laughs. Yeah, it's great! You've shared a lot today. It's really great. Yeah, I learned a lot.
RU
My wife says when I don't talk, I don't talk. But when I start going I gestures takeoff. Chatterbox.
RS
Laughs. That's good, that's what we're here for, right laughs? Okay. Well...one more time laughs...if you have anything else you'd like to share, we can keep going, but I've learned a lot today. If there are any other stories that you said you might go home and say, “Ah, I should have said this!” we can always follow up and add to it. Shall we stop it there for today? Or how are you feeling?
RU
Again, you know, I told you about when I was brought from Japan in 1941. Six months before the war, I met a lot of culture shock. One thing I just detested - made me feel very uncomfortable - every afternoon the teacher, grade one teacher, would make each boy partner with a girl and she would make us sing, “How do you do my partner? How are you today?” sings lyrics. And the boy sings that. And “Will you dance in a circle, I will show you the way...” sings lyrics. And you'd take the girl's hand and turn her at the ballroom. Before, you would bow...we were little Englishmen, right? And the girl would take hold of her skirt and she would curtsy like this gestures curtsy. I would feel so uncomfortable, coming from...I was in the military, an Imperial Solider of Japan, you know? Imagine going through that. That...it really made me feel uncomfortable. I hated that. Every afternoon she would make us do that. That was one of the culture shocks.
RS
Was there anything else that really surprised you?
RU
I remember another thing laughs. When the war broke out in Japan, the Red Cross started collecting lots of items. Second hand items. Anything...recycling, you know? For the war effort. So, all the rubber boots and all that would be reprocessed because industry has to be geared to produce military goods to fight the good battle. So, the Red Cross - now the drivers of the trucks were all women - they wore uniforms, but, they were not high heels, they would wear these womenwear and caps and they would go around the schools of Vancouver and collect. The children would be urged to bring anything that's recyclable - whether rubber or metallic things - to school. And then they would bring it and put it in a storage place and the trucks would come. War effort, you see? But, because of my weak English comprehension, I didn't know there was such a program. And somebody, some kid, brought a...you know these wagons with a handle? You could kneel on it and you could play...you know these wagons?
01:55:04.000
01:55:04.000
RU
Somebody donated that and it was in the yard and all the kids would grab it and take it out to the school yard and run on it and after they roughed it up, the thing fell apart. The part with the handle departed from the body. And I'm a good salvager laughs. I like to tinker with something to reuse it. Recycling. I guess I have that recycling mind. I took it home in hoping to make something of it. But, I committed a major crime! Imagine a Japanese kid taking home something that was donated for the war effort for Canada. I took it home. And the next day or two when I was in class, my teacher in charge of this hunted me down like a criminal. And during class I got called out and he took me to a small room and he grilled me like a criminal, you know? I understood just enough that he was talking about this stuff that I took. Somebody reported to him that I guess the “Jap” kid took it home or something. So, he hunted me down and he grilled me. But, I understood just enough that he was talking about this part that I took home. And I took home completely from ignorance. I didn't know it was a war effort program to collect anything. So, I thought somebody left it. Some kids roughed it up and it was abandoned out in the school grounds. So, I took it home in hoping I could make something. So, I was grilled, but I understood enough that he was talking about it. So, I said, “I'll bring it tomorrow.” So, one of my sisters came along and explained to the teacher that I meant no harm. It was completely from ignorance of the English language that I did it. But, I felt like a criminal that time. I could imagine the teacher's feeling, too. So, a Japanese kid committed a major crime laughs.
RS
How old were you? You must have been so young...
RU
I was not quite...that was just after December...yeah, I was eight years and one month old.
RS
So young. Hm.
RU
I felt quite...yeah, I got called to a small room and he grilled me like a detective. He grilled me like a criminal. That was a harrowing experience.
RS
You still remember it. Very clearly.
RU
Yes. In my mind. Now I laugh about it.
RS
Yes. Right.
RU
Yeah, I guess I can't think of...but in Japan, that principal told us to salute laughs...that's...I'm sure if somebody had taken a news reel or something, it would be mighty comical, you know?
RS
Mhm.
RU
But, we were serious about it. So, anyway, we were instructed in the efforts. For instance, if you were going from school and you meet the mayor of the city and you were in your group of maybe four or five kids. The first people who spot the mayor must call, “Attention!” and then you call out, “Salute!” And you salute until the official is passed and then would call out that you could...I don't how to say it in English but in Japanese you would say, “Naore!” that means you could put down your arms.
RS
I see.
RU
Laughs. So we used to do that in the streets. If you see a solider you would do that, if you would see a police officer...
RS
Did it happen often?
RU
Hm?
RS
Did that happen often?
RU
It didn't happen too often, but every now and then it would happen. And in that midst, I was brought back to Vancouver. Vancouver is carefree, you know? In Japan, they would wear uniforms, you know? In these days it's quite different, but maybe in the elementary school it's a lot different, but in senior and junior year of high school, and even college, you wear uniforms. So, already you're something like a military...if you're told to salute and all that, it just fits in right away.
RS
You have many clear memories as a child. It's quite amazing.
RU
Yeah it's just stuck in my mind, you know? I'm not trying to remember or anything, but...
RS
Well, thank you very much for sharing so many memories with me!
RU
You're welcome laughs.
RS
I really appreciate it.
RU
I hope...
RS
Yes, it's very...it is valuable. Like I said, to learn through somebody else's experiences and memories, I think it's easier to relate to and hold on to. So, I appreciate that you can remember so much in such detail. And for sharing with us today.
RU
I remember a lot of things, useless things...somehow I remember all of it.
RS
Alright laughs, well I'm going to leave it there is that okay?
RU
Yes laughs.
RS
Okay, thank you so much.
RU
You're welcome.
02:01:48.000

Metadata

Title

Roy Uyeda, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 15 July 2015 (1 of 2)

Abstract

Born in Canada yet well-traveled in his formative years, Roy Uyeda speaks about his childhood in militant Japan and Vancouver (Kerrisdale). Roy’s school experience in Kerrisdale were challenging and uncomfortable at times, especially following Pearl Harbour. He details life in Slocan (internment), which was a haven for him. Roy speaks about his young adult life; he describes working for the US Military and Air Force, the difficulty experienced finding work upon return to Canada, and his resiliency in regards to going back to university in Montréal. Roy discusses careers held and volunteer work in the Japanese Canadian community. Roy also speaks about the differences between Japanese and Canadian culture, the culture shocks he experienced moving between the two countries, and about his dual Japanese and Canadian identity. In relation to his own experiences, Roy observes that racism often occurs in the home, from parent to child, and warns against such a practice in the present and future.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Interviewee: Roy Uyeda
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, Burnaby, British Columbia
Keywords: Japan ; Imperial Japan ; Kerrisdale ; Celtic Cannery; Slocan Valley ; Montréal ; School; School children; Tonari Gumi; Bi-cultural; Culture shock; 1933-2016

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.