Roy Uyeda, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 23 July 2016 (2 of 2)

Roy Uyeda, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 23 July 2016 (2 of 2)

Abstract
This interview is a follow-up interview, in which Roy Uyeda adds on various observations, experiences, and opinions a week after his first interview. Remembering his boat ride from Japan to Canada in 1941, Roy recalls witnessing Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. He also details his opinions and observations during the redress and apology era, including his evolving perceptions of the Canadian government. Lastly, Roy describes his personal growth over time, including his tendency to share his life story with others in more recent years.
00:00:00.000
Rebeca Salas (RS)
This is Rebeca Salas with Roy Uyeda at the Nikkei Centre on June
Speaker says June, but month is actually July.
July 23, 2016 for Landscapes of Injustice. Okay, so why don't we go ahead and you can start your story again.
Roy Uyeda (RU)
Last time when I related to you my experiences, then later on you asked me if I wanted to add something on, but at that time I couldn't think of it. And when I got home I remembered something and, to me, it was a big thing that I witnessed, you know? So, on the “NYK” boat – the Nippon Yuusen Kaisha desu.
日本郵船会社です。Roy switches to Japanese here, the desu is him ending the sentence in Japanese. The original transcription had Nippon Yusen Kabushiki: this correctly refers to the company's name, but it is not what Roy said.
One of the major ship companies - before the war they supplied between here and Japan all the time. All of the Japanese who came over or wanted to go back for a visit, they always used this boat. So, on this boat that I was coming back to Canada with my sister and my oldest brother, Something falls over and a loud noise can be heard. Sorry. It brought us back because our mother passed away in Japan. Had she not passed away, we may have stayed there right through the war. But anyway, on the boat there was a large number of people and they were Caucasian, to me. But, they didn't speak English and the way they dressed and the way they conducted themselves, it was quite different from what I've seen around here. And they never, they didn't mix too much with the other passengers and they ate meals by themselves, prepared by themselves. And again, to me, that was very strange. All the other passengers, they ate meals prepared by the crew, you know? The kitchen crew. But these people, they prepared their own meals. That's because they had the “Judaistic” laws, like what's strict about the food. Don't eat park or any shrimp. So, they have all this kosher, you know? And later on when I was older, I come to understand a lot of things and I realized ... that they were Jewish people literally fleeing for their lives. And this Japanese diplomat Chinue Sugihara writes down name, I understand ... C-h-i-n-u-e ...
RU
Last time when I related to you my experiences, then later on you asked me if I wanted to add something on, but at that time I couldn't think of it. And when I got home I remembered something and, to me, it was a big thing that I witnessed, you know? So, on the “NYK” boat – the Nippon Yusen Company.
Translation is Nippon Yusen Company as Nippon Yusen is the name and kaisha or 'k' means company.
One of the major ship companies - before the war they supplied between here and Japan all the time. All of the Japanese who came over or wanted to go back for a visit, they always used this boat. So, on this boat that I was coming back to Canada with my sister and my oldest brother, Something falls over and a load noise can be heard. Sorry. It brought us back because our mother passed away in Japan. Had she not passed away, we may have stayed there right through the war. But anyway, on the boat there was a large number of people and they were Caucasian, to me. But, they didn't speak English and the way they dressed and the way they conducted themselves, it was quite different from what I've seen around here. And they never, they didn't mix too much with the other passengers and they ate meals by themselves, prepared by themselves. And again, to me, that was very strange. All the other passengers, they ate meals prepared by the crew, you know? The kitchen crew. But these people, they prepared their own meals. That's because they had the “Judaistic” laws, like what's strict about the food. Don't eat park or any shrimp. So, they have all this kosher, you know? And later on when I was older, I come to understand a lot of things and I realized ... that they were Jewish people literally fleeing for their lives. And this Japanese diplomat Chinue Sugihara writes down name, I understand ... C-h-i-n-u-e ...
RS
Right, got it.
RU
Sugihara. I understand, in Israel, he's quite a ... they have a monument or something for him. And they invited his children or somebody, wife, somebody to come over for you know ... and so, this man although he had strict orders from the head office in Tokyo, foreign office, he ignored that and he was defiant. He refused to listen to them and on his own, he issued seven or six thousand plus visas. Now they call it “Visas for life” because one person who has this visa, he or she could easily walk on without worry and get free passage and then they came to Japan and they boarded a Japanese boat. They stayed in Japan for a little while and they came to a country like Canada, US. Where they were welcome. And I was at the Jewish Centre a few years ago and was talking to somebody and they said some of these people, the people who came over on that boat, they're living somewhere around here. So, I wouldn't mind to go visit them and see if I could meet them.
RS
In Vancouver?
RU
Yeah.
RS
Oh, wow!
RU
Yeah, maybe those people, their kids, they would be about my age, you know? Yeah, so. Yeah, that was a big thing that I witnessed.
00:05:00.000
00:05:00.000
RS
How old were you?
RU
Hm?
RS
How old would you have been?
RU
That's in 1941, so I was seven and a half.
RS
Oh my goodness.
RU
So, yup. Was November, so December, January, February, March, April, May. Yeah ... six ... five ... I was seven and a half. But later on, you know when the third generation of Japanese - when they heard about their parents and their grandparents having gone through all kinds of things and they were subjected a lot of unfair, unlawful treatment - these third generation Japanese thought the Canadian government must recognize the mistake that they made and they must apologize and make some kind of ... well, not just say “I'm sorry,” but something substantial to show their ... yeah. So, in 1988 the Mulroney government finally recognized them. They issued a proper statement that the Canadian government treated their own subjects unfairly, unlawfully, and they apologized and they gave us twenty-one thousand per head. But, that's symbolic. The money that was lost by the properties confiscated so long ago was many times more than that. It was symbolic. But, the Canadian government recognized it. When I got to thinking I thought, “This is odd, the Canadian welcomed these Jewish people,” and that was a nice thing from a humanistic point of view, you know? Very nice. But now they chased out their own people. This is crazy. Doesn't make sense! Yeah, so was it a double standard? You know, this is crazy. Here, on one hand they welcome people from foreign lands, from last eastern Europe and now they want to kick us out. To me, that didn't make sense! But that's what they did.
RS
Hm.
RU
On the boat going to Japan in 1946, June, there were a lot of people, a lot of Japanese people, but they weren't English-speaking. They were Peruvian-Japanese. Kicked them out of Peru and so they sent them to the States. And they stayed in the States for a while and then sent them to Japan. So, these people, they experienced a lot of hardships, I understand. The Peruvian government was very strict with them, these people. I don't know if other trips ... there was about four trips including ours. In total, about four thousand of us were sent to Japan and my boat was the second trip. Yeah, there were about four trips and I don't know if other trips had these Japanese-Peruvians, but on my boat there were some, not many, but there were some Peruvian-Japanese.
RS
Did you learn about what the Peruvian government was doing at that time? Was it just excluding Peruvian-Japanese or was there some sort of policy? Or ...
RU
To be honest with you, I don't know that much about it. I understand that these Peruvian-Japanese suffered a lot, too. If not more than us, just as much. They got displaced. They were first shipped to the United States and they were put in a camp and then they were shipped off to go to Japan. Anyways, that's about all I could add on to what I related to you. Was it Friday one week ago?
RS
Mhm. Yes. Would you like some water?
00:10:05.000
00:10:05.000
RU
Hm?
RS
Would you like some water?
RU
I have some, thank you.
RS
About what age did you start reflecting about the apology and redress? Was it when it was happening or beforehand ... when you started making comparisons between Japanese Canadians and Jewish refugees?
RU
Mhm.
RS
Yeah, how old were you when you started thinking about that comparison and the irony that you ...
RU
Yeah, it was quite an irony, yeah. Oh ... much later. Well, I think when the redress movement started. Yeah.
RS
It made you think about it?
RU
Until then, it had never occurred to me that the Canadian government had a double standard. I don't know if you can call it a double standard. I'm repeating myself, but on the one hand they welcome – on humanitarianism – they welcome people from abroad, far eastern Europe, but now you want to kick us out. Your own people. Sixty per cent of them were Canadian-born and they didn't even speak Japanese. They'd never been to Japan and a lot of them didn't speak Japanese. I was a bit different because I was there for almost two years, so I knew a few things about Japan and I could speak Japanese. But, most of the Canadian-born sent there after the war, they didn't speak Japanese. Japan was a foreign country.
RS
Right.
RU
But, the Canadian government had the instigation of the BC-Elected, hardcore racist politicians. They succumbed to them. They treated us as enemy aliens, you see? Your citizenship or anything ... it didn't mean anything.
RS
Hm. So, what ... I think I can get a little bit of a feel for your general opinion about the apology and the redress movement, but what is your general opinion? That it was a good symbolic gesture?
RU
Yes. I think it took quite a bit of work by the third generation Japanese, you know? And I think that the Minister for Multiculturalism was the person who looked after these things. And there were about three of them that weren't understanding. I thought one of them might be understanding – Otto Jelineck. He's from eastern Europe, Hungary or something, where the Soviet Union was still, you know, mighty. He was from one of those countries, so I thought his people have gone through quite a bit of hardship under the Soviet regime, so I thought he might be understanding. But no, he was not sympathetic at all. I shouldn't say at all ... but not enough, anyway. And the last Minister ... what was his name? He was Jewish. So, he was understanding because his own people went through so much. So much! Beyond all our imagination. They say about six million got murdered. He was sympathetic. I think he being Jewish, I think that had a great bearing on the outcome. And Brian Mulroney- the then Prime Minister - finally signed the paper that Japanese would be compensated for their unfair treatment, unlawful, unfair treatment. So, when I learned that the Canadian government officially recognized their grave mistake and compensated. I thought, “Canada's a good country after all.” During the wartime it was ... it's a scary thing when your own country goes against you.
00:15:04.000
00:15:04.000
RU
So, a lot of the Jewish people, wherever they put down their roots, that country was their country. But the Nazi regime ... I could sympathize with them. But that's that. You know. Ours' is a different story. You've got the treat each story individually. But, I'm repeating myself, but yeah when the redress came through, “Hm,” I thought, “Canada's not that bad of a country after all.”
RS
Mhm, and that's when you remembered ... is that when you started putting the pieces together about the people on the boat? The Jewish people?
RU
Yes. Yeah. When the struggle was being down here to get the Canadian government to recognize the mistake it made. And the person ... the Japanese person, Canadian Japanese, he's third generation, so up here he's Canadian, totally Canadian. I'm different because I grew up in Japan and all that, so I'm a complete mixture. Mix up kid. This person, he's all Canadian. Do you know him? Roy Miki.
RS
Mhm, yes.
RU
Yeah, he announced that down in the States the President Ronald Reagan signed the paper to pass the bill that all American Japanese would be compensation for the grave mistake and the hardship that the US government imposed on them. So, they allowed twenty-five thousand per head or something like that. Until then, the two or three Ministers of Multiculturalism in Canada were not sympathetic and they offered pittance for what the redress movement was asking. They were asking for an official apology by the government and twenty-five thousand per head compensation. But, the Ministers, they offered real pittance. Laughs You'll my language ... peanuts.
RS
Yeah. Mhm.
RU
And then it just came to a head and it wasn't going anywhere. And when President Ronald Reagan signed this bill, Roy Miki said, “Now everything changes! Now we have hope.” And sure enough, Canada copies the US. In a lot of ways they copy them, Canada. But, it's not that simple. Things are not that simple. But sure enough, after Ronald Reagan signed the bill to allow the US government to compensate American Japanese citizens for their wrong doing that they suffered. Then the redress movement here started to pick up and things did fall into place. Bang! Before you know it, September 1988 offers the official apology, so. Yup, that's a good thing.
RS
Mhm. I think so, too, because in Canada it was a different situation, so I imagine the pressure was much greater after the United States acted with the redress. With Canada, with the situation being ... with the properties a little bit different ... most likely the pressure was higher to act.
RU
Yeah, in the US after the war was over, the Japanese were not enemies anymore. I mean, they lost the war. When you say “enemy”, they have to be powerful. They have to be able to cause you harm or trouble. But, the Japanese lost the war. They're not enemies anymore. So, everybody was allowed to go back to what they were doing before the war, so they came home to their old homes and they picked up where they left off four years ago, five ... but, the Canadian government didn't do that. And, maybe you already know this, but until the end of March 1949 no Japanese were allowed to come back to Vancouver. If you did and you were caught, you were committing a crime! Laughs A democratic country like that, doing that, I mean that's crazy. It's almost a tyranny and this office of the Custodian for Enemy Property ... of Enemy Prop ...
00:20:15.000
00:20:15.000
RS
Property.
RU
Yeah, something like that. They're not a “Custodian”, they're ... they sold off the property left and right and for, again, peanuts. So, they're supposed to look after the property, but they didn't look after it. Yeah, so my father got not a red penny from whatever he lost.
RS
Hm.
RU
Yeah, so I thought, “Canada's not bad a country after all.”
RS
Hm ... so, am I correct to assume that your opinion changed a little bit over time? So, you have memories of poor times where citizens, you know, were not treated right...in a right way. But, it sounds like now, after some developments in government over time, your opinion has changed a little bit with time?
RU
Yes. Of course. I tell some Japanese coming in recent years, I say, “You wouldn't believe it, but Vancouver was a hotbed for anti-Japanese treatment.” I mean, what were all “coloured” people, all non-Caucasians, “coloured”. Whether Japanese, Chinese, black people. We were all mistreated as second class or third kind. It seems that we Japanese were more picked on than other races. Strictly speaking. Of course, that's partly our fault, too. It's human instinct when you're not mentally secure, you tend to group together with your own kind of people. To better protect yourself. Self-preservation. And now that alienates you from the general populace and the more and more they relate to you, they misunderstand everything that comes into play and these discrimination puts up its head, you know? So, yeah, from self-preservation instinct you stick with your own people and that's how it's partly our fault, too. But, anyways, yeah we had something like ghettos, you know? Not quite ghettos, but something like ghettos. Now we're dispersed all over Canada laughs.
RS
I think many groups do that, though.
RU
Hm?
RS
Many groups do that, though.
RU
Stick together?
RS
Yeah, stick together.
RU
Yeah, it's in human instinct. I mean, to be practical, you're more secure that way. If you're among your own people, you know? And if you don't mean the language too much, too well, there's always someone to help you. And yeah, it's in human instinct.
RS
Mhm. Hm. I was curious if you had a large family and if many of them were involved in the Japanese Canadian community and telling stories and passing on education like you do? It was something I thought about after our first interview. Or, if it's something that you just tend to do on your own?
RU
You're saying ... do I go forth to relate my experiences to other people ... is that ...
RS
I'm asking that if there are any of your family members that do the same. Or if it's something that's just a part of you? I was curious ...
00:25:00.000
00:25:00.000
RU
Now, I've got it. I have a sister that went to Japan with me together. And came back ... you saw the picture in my home. She passed away several years ago and she went through the same thing that I did. But, she's a girl so experiences are a bit different. She - at this Kerrisdale school that we went to in Vancouver - she kept one good friend. Her name was Norma Hill. And she kept on corresponding with them all the years that we were in Slocan and then even after going to Japan, she corresponded with her. And she came back in 1957 and she struck up association with her and, I understand, she was corresponding with the teacher. But, my sister was a few years older than me, so she would be more mature in a lot of things. Boys are more mean, you know? I don't think she suffered the same kind of treatment that I ... I told you after school those kids used to be waiting for me and when I passed they would throw rocks and all that. I don't think she experienced anything like that. But, her personality makeup is different from me, so we are different individuals. She didn't relate to other people what she had gone through. She's not shown that type. She won't bother to sit down and tell what she did. But me, I wasn't like that myself for a long time. I said, “Who wants to listen to a nobody's story? I'm a nobody, I'm not a big household name or anything like that.” If I were like David Suzuki or something, I've got a name, I'd like to hear his story, you know? He's got a name, so I'd like to hear his story. But, who am I? I'm a nobody. An average, ordinary Joe. So, I was always like that for a long time. But, some people told me that's not the right attitude. When I'm called upon to give my story, I should do that. And so, gradually I was pursuing it. So, these days if I get called, whoever will listen to a nobody's story ... I get called from Karah, so if I have time I do it. It's the least I can do, you know? I realize there's a lot of people younger than myself passing away. I look at the Japanese monthly publication called the “JCC Bulletin” and a lot of people younger than me, they're passing away. So, I'm a living thing, there. So, when I get called I give my two bits worth.
RS
Hm. Who was it that convinced you to start telling your stories and sharing your memories?
RU
Oh! A fellow ... I was working for this non-profit organization, Tonari Gumi, this one fellow there, he used to tell me that I should not keep it to myself and I should ... he even told me I should write a book about my life laughs. That's a farfetched. I wouldn't do that. But, yeah ...
RS
Do you remember his name?
RU
His name was Roger. He passed away several years ago. He was a Japanese national and he had an aunt here, so he immigrated to Canada in 19 - the same year that I came back to Canada -1958. And he was a constant volunteer at Tonari Gumi. And there are a couple of other people who proceeded that I should, you know, relate my experiences. But, to be honest, I get bored with myself doing the same thing laughs. Of the same old story. Mind you, the people who are listening aren't the same, but I get bored with myself.
RS
Ah. Well, I'm glad you spoke to us before you got too bored laughs! Many useful and valuable stories to learn from.
RU
I mean, my experiences are not a real dramatic thing, but what I went through, what I witnessed, whatever. If people want to listen, I'll give them my story.
RS
Hm. Mhm. Well, thank you. Again.
RU
Are you a Geography major?
RS
I am!
RU
Oh! I was, too!
RS
Oh, really!
RU
Yeah. To Human Geography. I wanted to teach, but finding a job as a Geographer, I could have gone to Montréal city hall as a Geographer, but Geographers are not ... other than teaching, jobs are hard. But anyways, yeah I majored in Geography and I took a lot of history courses, too. It was almost a double major for me. I liked history. But yeah, I majored in Geography. In human Geography we used to go on these field trips across the border of the US to visit these old colonial towns and all that. And they used to take us to old buildings from the colonial days and blah blah blah. Yeah, so.
RS
Well, maybe that's something that we have in common and maybe that's why we're meeting now laughs! Similar ... very similar interests, yeah. And it's just as hard to find work laughs. I'm telling you. I'm just going to turn this off...
00:32:27.000

Metadata

Title

Roy Uyeda, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 23 July 2016 (2 of 2)

Abstract

This interview is a follow-up interview, in which Roy Uyeda adds on various observations, experiences, and opinions a week after his first interview. Remembering his boat ride from Japan to Canada in 1941, Roy recalls witnessing Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. He also details his opinions and observations during the redress and apology era, including his evolving perceptions of the Canadian government. Lastly, Roy describes his personal growth over time, including his tendency to share his life story with others in more recent years.

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: Redress ; Apology; Jewish Refugees; Story-telling; 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.