Shig Uyeyama, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 08 July 2016

Shig Uyeyama, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 08 July 2016

Abstract
Shig is a Kita Sansei, born in Japan. However, most of his formative years were spent in Nanaimo, BC. Shig shares his own positive experiences growing up in Nanaimo, including the lifelong friends he met there. He shares the history of his parents and grandparents. Shig describes his grandfather as a tougher individual, whereas his grandmother was widely known as kind and gentle. He describes her strong bonds with the community, including her work as a midwife to all of Nanaimo’s ethnic groups. He describes his father as a general silent type, yet, he also had positive relations with all groups in the area, including aboriginal fishermen. He explains he has come to realize his father also spent time in Angler during the war, and possibly Moosejaw, though he did not speak about it to his children. Through some family research via the Nikkei National Museum, Shig has been able to identify three of his father’s boats that were lost during WWII: “Sea Patrol 1”, “Sea Patrol 2”, and “Sea Patrol 4”. He describes his positive sense of Japanese-Canadian identity, as he was never deprived of either side of his heritage. This sense of identity remains with Shig throughout his life, including in important social roles such as the Nisei Varsity Club at UBC. Shig describes his family’s varying attachment to Japanese heritage and non-Japanese culture. The importance of relationships and friendship are the continuous theme of this interview.
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Rebeca Salas (RS)
This is Rebeca Salas with Landscapes of Injustice. I'm here with Shig Uyeyama at the Nikkei National Centre in Burnaby on July 8, 2016. So, why don't we start with a little bit about your life?
Shig Uyeyama (SU)
I'm what they consider a Kita Sansei. That means that I was born in Japan - but, actually I was registered at the Canadian embassy as a Canadian-born abroad, so I'm technically a Sansei because my dad was born in Canada. When my mom married my dad, he promised her that he would never go to Canada. But, at the time he was working for the American Occupational Forces as a translator, but as the war wound down and he realized that his Japanese wouldn't be good enough in the Japanese working market. He came to Canada and my mom took English lessons. I still remember her going, “Jing'ru berus!” laughs. But that's about all. And then my dad came to Canada, I guess, about 1954 and then we came over in '56 on the Hikawa Maru, which is now a museum in Japan. The only thing I remember about the passage is that I fell off the top bunk.
RS
Oh my goodness.
SU
But, it was a nice ship ride. My mom took pills against sea sickness and she was sick all the way across laughs. Then we got to Van...we came with my Uncle Tom, so he was one of the last ones left in Japan and we got to Vancouver, we got to Toronto by train. I mean my dad and my uncles came to uncles came to greet us and I had to ask my mom, “Which one is daddy?” laughs. And then I still remember, well since I only spoke Japanese, they took me to kindergarten and I ran away for I think the first three days because I didn't speak any English. And luckily, there was a Japanese Canadian teacher at that school, so I knew that she talked to me so that I knew that there was somebody I could go to for help.
RS
Which school was this?
SU
Dusen Street Public School in Toronto.
RS
Do you remember the teacher's name?
SU
No, no. Because she was only there that one year. But I liked the teachers there and we lived in a house that housed a number of Japanese, including two of my uncles and one of my uncles married and had a kid, a daughter. And there was the “Ito” family and the people who owned the house, Mr. and Mrs. “Mineoka”. So, to me...well, we had to speak Japanese at home, so it was sometimes difficult at school because they said, you know, “Speak English!” laughs. But, because my aunt was also a Japanese school teacher, I had to go to Japanese school. Luckily, there I forgot more Japanese and learned more English because none of the kids could speak Japanese laughs!
RS
Really?
SU
At the Japanese school? No laughs. And then, when I was in grade six...well, the company that my dad worked for, “Sea Breeze”, it was owned by Japanese Canadians. But, I think they went bankrupt or whatever, so he moved out west to Nanaimo to his hometown and he picked up salmon fishing like he did when he was a kid. In his youth. And he did that for about two years, where he would leave Toronto in April and come back in about October. And then, finally, he saved up some money so that we could go to Nanaimo and be with him. So, we moved to British Columbia, where in Nanaimo I had two uncles as well. But, Nanaimo was the type of place where they had good relations before the war, so my dad had kept those friends and in fact, he went fishing with the guys he went fishing with before the war.
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SU
They consider themselves the “Nanaimo Trolling Fleet” laughs. And then other friends of the family, who lived nearby where my grandparents lived, they were also very, very close. That's why I called them “aunt” and “uncle” even though “Uncle Ted”, his family spoke French, they were from Salt Spring Island, so they were from part of that colony there. And then he was married to Margaret Norrie, who corresponded with my dad all through the war. Because I could still see some of the letters that passed through the censor. She would send him pictures of Nanaimo and send him copies of the Nanaimo Free Press. So, she was Aunt Margaret and then her two sisters were Aunt Betty and Aunt Charlotte even though their last name was Listden – very Scottish – and their father spoke with a very thick Scottish accent. But, it was nice moving to Nanaimo and having all these instant friends. And then there was one other Japanese family as well - the Yashitas - who lived nearby and they ran the Grotto Restaurant. And they were somehow related to my aunt's side of the family. That's what I found with a lot of the Japanese. A lot of them are, sort of, connected one way or another. But, growing up I used to babysit for this lady. Her brother came back. He had gone to the US during the First World War, was an actor in the original “Mutiny on the Bounty” and he became our Uncle Bob laughs. So, Bobby Steveson. So, another, sort of, non-Japanese relative.
RS
I'm sorry, what were your parent's names?
SU
My dad's name was Noboru Norman Uyeyama. Or they used to call him “Noobi” or “Gump”.
RS
Ah laughs.
SU
So, when I first heard “Noobi”, I didn't know who they were referring to. My mom's name is Kimei and her maiden name is Suzuki. But, yeah. Depending on who I was talking with, they'd either refer to my dad as “Gump” or “Noobi” or very few people called him Norman. But growing up in Nanaimo, it was interesting because there was another family that moved back to Nanaimo – the Shiwozawas – and Mr. Shiwozawa used to say... well, he was always good to our family and he said it's because, “It's because your grandmother was so good to us.” Because everyone remembered...well, now let me go back to the beginnings of our family. According to the records, I guess my grandfather was born in 1878. Now, according to family, sort of, legend, he came over before the turn of the century. So, he must have been about eighteen to twenty. He was apparently one of the younger sons, so he came out to make his fortune. He was from Wakayama, which was one of the four places that most of the Japanese Canadians at the time came from. Because it was a relatively poor prefecture. Now, he had a family in Japan. My Uncle George who's living in Toronto, he met with some of those people before they passed away. But, he has a record of that. Now my grandfather came with a cousin, I guess, who went to the States and my Uncle George, sort of, kept in touch with some of the relatives and the children from that family as well. One of them apparently lives in Seattle. But, my grandmother came over in 1913. I guess their marriage was somehow arranged. I don't know if she was a picture bride, but I think they were somehow related. So, my grandfather's name is Etsu Saburo and my grandmother, let's see...I have it here somewhere looking through family documents. Mitsue...I think it's... Kosawa. But, she was sort of a midwife, so when she moved to Nanaimo she ended up eventually working for a Doctor Drysdale.
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SU
But, there was sort of discrimination against Orientals, so she couldn't be a regular nurse. But, she was a midwife to the Japanese Canadian community, the Chinese community in Nanaimo, and the Native Indian population in Nanaimo. So, I'd hear these stories about these, sort of, war canoes coming up to my grandparent's place and my uncles hiding for cover because they'd seen too many western movies. And they thought, “Oh! They're coming to scalp us.” But, the Native people would bring foodstuffs to say thanks to my mom. But I think most of the Japanese Canadian kids who were born in Nanaimo, were... my grandmother helped bring them out. And somebody was telling me that there's one reference to a Japanese nurse or midwife in Nanaimo in the concubines' book, but it doesn't say who it is, but it must have been my grandmother.
RS
That's neat!
SU
Or at least it was in maybe an original draft.
RS
Yeah, that's great!
SU
So, interesting family history. And then my grandparents had ten children. So, one of them died at childbirth. He's buried in Nanaimo. My eldest Uncle Takeshi, or in some places he's known as Takeshi, he was born in 1914. My dad was born in 1916 and I have a feeling they would have a child every two years thereafter. The families seemed to be very involved in fishing. So, before the war they owned three fishing boats: “Sea Patrol 1”, “Sea Patrol 2”, and “Sea Patrol 4”. So luckily, the museum here, they were able to trace what happened to those boats. But just after the war broke out, I guess most of the family were sent to Bay Farm in Slocan. But, my dad was a bit late getting home from a western movie. He liked westerns. So, they put him on a train right away for Angler, Ontario, as sort of a dissident or hardcore... this is anecdotal, but apparently one of his school friends saw my dad so he went and told my grandmother that my dad had been, sort of, whisked off to the east. And for that, for giving secrets about the enemy, he had to serve “KP” or something for several months. For quite a while laughs.
RS
Wow.
SU
But, you know, that's the type of friends my dad had. Still friends after the war. During the war, my dad never talked about Angler. Never. He did mention once that somehow I guess he got to Moosejaw at a, sort of, an internment body. But I never heard of it. Where he'd learn... he helped in the butcher shop. And because my grandfather was sort of a hardcore Japanese fascist - in fact, he was one of those people who thought the Japanese were going to win the war - I guess that's when he decided, told all his sons to pack up all their bags and go to Japan. So, him, my grandparents, and all the sons who were remaining, they all went to Japan in 1946. My aunt, who was married to my Uncle Shizue, my Aunt Sawai an Uncle Shiz, who were originally from Cumberland, they moved out east. And my aunt told me when she first moved to Toronto, you know, some people were complaining about Japanese. And she said, well, “I'm Japanese,” and they said, “Oh! We thought you were Italian!” laughs.
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RS
Really? Laughs.
SU
Laughs. But as it was, after my grandfather passed away...well, I should say, in postwar Japan, because they had a Canadian mentality, I don't think they really fit into Japanese society. That's why my dad ended up working for the US Occupational Forces. Two of my uncles worked as firemen for the Commonwealth Forces that was stationed in Japan for Korea. And then after my grandfather died, two of my uncles signed up for the Canadian Army, so they were part of the thirty Japanese Canadians who were sent from Japan to Korea right away laughs. So, one of them was my Uncle Mack, was in the Engineering Core and my Uncle Wally, he joined the Medical Core. He's the one who got wounded, of course laughs. But, my Uncle Wally got married in Japan and my Uncle Tom got married to my Uncle Wally's wife's aunt. So, funny connection.
RS
Yeah.
SU
Well, my dad obviously got married to my mom through a go-between because my mom was over twenty and unmarried...so laughs. It was a lot of pressure. But, my mom came from a good home where they were pretty well-off. She was telling me, when she was a child they had, sort of, a house boy. But, she also came from a family of ten. And the only one who died was, I guess, was a Pharmacist. But anyway...take a break? Short water break and discussion between narrator and interviewer
SU
So, after my grandfather passed away, all the kids seemed to find a way to come back to Canada. My dad ended up signing on with a mushroom farm company that would pay the passage. And then he'd have to pay them off and he saved up the money for my mom and me to come back to Canada. My Aunt Sawai, who had moved out here with her husband, they were working on a mushroom farm as well. And then I had the two uncles who joined the Canadian Army. Two other uncles, they came...well, first of all, my Uncle Cash, the eldest, he came back to BC and he ended up becoming a fisherman. And then when my grandmother passed away, his wife and two sons, plus my second youngest uncle, they came over. I think my Uncle George, the eldest one, came over with my dad. So, almost all the sons ended up back in Canada one way or another.
RS
Where were the mushroom farms?
SU
Just outside of Toronto. So, like any immigrant, like many immigrants, dad sent home pictures beside a car...it wasn't his, but at least he had his license laughs!
RS
Yeah laughs! That's funny.
SU
So, it was a bit of a shock moving to Toronto, especially in...we got there just as winter was coming on. I hadn't seen that much snow. But that's nothing compared to what I lived through in Ottawa laughs! But, it was different, but because everybody spoke Japanese part of the transition wasn't that hard. And then, they were very involved in like...there was the Buddhist Church. There was also the United Church, who had services in Japanese.
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SU
Oh...that reminds me...my mom, before she prepared me to come to Canada, she took me to different churches. So, I went to a catholic service. I went to a protestant service. The only thing I remember about the protestant service was the Preacher was so tall that he kept hitting his head on the rafters laughs. And of course the, sort of, Buddhist and Shinto shrines. And then she basically told me, you know, “Take your choice. When we get to Canada it's your choice.” So, that's how I, sort of, ended up...in Toronto it was easy to go to the Buddhist church. In Nanaimo there is no Buddhist Church, so I went to the United Church. That's when I found out that, I guess, my grandparents were married in the United Church in Victoria in 1913. Or that's what they say. So, as a result all of my dad's side of the family, they're all United Church. But, I think some of them left because of all the position of the United Church on the Japanese Canadians during the war. My aunt, who somehow was a catholic, my Aunt Shiz, she married my Uncle Mack, I guess their family went to Greenwood because I read the Catholic nuns tried to get as many of their former flock from Vancouver into Greenwood as they could. But when they said she couldn't marry my Uncle, that's when she stopped being catholic laughs. And she started going I guess to the United Church.
RS
How old were you when you came to Toronto, or went to Toronto?
SU
I turned five on the boat.
RS
Okay.
SU
So, I have just a few images in my head of life in Japan. But, I remember sort of growing up in Toronto. My neighbourhood...well, Dusen Street public in those days was about sixty per cent Italian Canadian. It would have been probably ninety per cent if it hadn't been for the catholic school, which is two blocks away. And then there are a lot of other kids who were Ukranian, Polish, few Lithuanians. The guy with the strangest name was Lawrence Clark... Laughter
SU
From England. I went to school with people whose name were like, Guido, Antonia, Vincenzina, Mario laughs. A lot of fun.
RS
Yeah. And how old would you have been, then, when you were in Nanaimo?
SU
I moved to Nanaimo when I was eleven. The first guy that I saw playing basketball by himself, he ended up becoming my best friend. In fact, I just saw him last week laughs.
RS
That's great laughs!
SU
So, we've been friends ever since. And his grandmother liked the Japanese Canadians because she always asked about a family that she knew. So, they sort of adopted me as well and everyone...I can still remember having roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at their place on Sundays laughs. But, I made some really, really good friends so that's why they've lasted. Just a while ago I organized a lunch with some friends in Nanaimo. I had about fifteen of them there. At least three of them were from elementary school. So, it goes back a long, long way. And then one of them told his sister, who lives in Toronto, so I got an email message from her laughs saying, “I heard you were in Nanaimo.” Because we were on the same “Reach for the Top” team. Same thing with one of the people who I invited. So, that was kind of nice. When I was living in Africa I got this letter saying, “I'm going to be studying in Kathu in Northern Nigeria, just wanted to inform you to let you know.” And then I said, “Are you the Sonja Rabeneck from Nanaimo?” and she said, “Yes! That's me!” Laughs. So, small world. And then later on in Senegal she visited us. She was working in Kenya at the time.
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RS
Hm. Sounds like a strong community. Lots of close connections.
SU
Yeah! Yeah and then I spoke with Sonja before she moved to Toronto from Ottawa and she was saying, “Oh yeah and my sister Linda, who's much older than me, we were just talking about...” her sister Linda is the head of the Colon Cancer Program for all of Ontario. So, it's interesting to see where different have gone.
RS
Mhm, mhm. Did your parents have the same type of strong connections in Nanaimo that you do?
SU
Well, my dad did because, I mean, my dad kept most of his friends from his youth. So, in fact, one of the grandchildren is still a friend on Facebook laughs.
RS
Oh, that's great.
SU
So, even though I may not see a lot of people, I've got quite a few people on my Facebook pages. So, I know that they're there. They're out there. And the girl that lived next door to us, she wrote from Calgary saying, “Oh, I hear you're going to Nanaimo. Say hi to your mom for me.” So, it's...Nanaimo is that kind of place. Where you got to know people and they're really nice. But, I notice that race relations, community relations, were very poor in other places. I went to Port Alberni once and I visited somebody and they were, sort of, very hostile to Japanese Canadians because they're MP at the time – A.W. Neil – was one of the ones who lobbied hard to get the Japanese out of BC. Of course, there's a high school named after him laughs. And then later on I was reading that depending where in the Okanagan, there were some towns that were very good relations. Other towns, very, very bad. They weren't like the ones in Nanaimo...I mean, I can remember going on rides to nowhere with my Aunt Charlotte driving or...they're the ones that got me involved in going to summer bible school. Except, they were all different denominations. One was the United Church, one was Presbyterian, another was Baptist, so I think I went to all three bible schools at one year or another. And then, Aunt Margaret used to take me every summer to the PNE when I was younger. When I got older, I was able to go with my friends, but I knew the route so well that I could tell my friends how to get there laughs.
RS
Mhm. Could you tell...you started talking about the Sea Patrol boats...could you tell me a little bit more about what you've learned through the Nikkei Centre?  
SU
Yeah. Well, I learned that we had three boats. Two of them were cod fishing boats. One was a gillnetter. I'd always thought that all my uncles and my dad and my grandfather were trollers because later on when they moved back to BC, my Uncle Cash, my Uncle Jim, and my dad, they were all trollers. And they were, sort of, proud members of the Pacific Trollers Association. And they didn't like gillnetters laughs. Well, there seemed to be a rivalry between the two. And then my cousin, Hideo Richard - he was the oldest son of my Uncle Cash – he also had a fishing boat. So, the four of them are listed, plus my grandfather, in that book on BC fishermen. And my cousin Henry or Hank, he was called “Put-Put”, so he hung around with younger crowd but they had small, very small, fishing boats. Like they were only about, oh, maybe ten feet or twelve feet long laughs. And they had a very, very small engine. I still remember one guy...he went to check his engine with a match. His motor caught on fire, so they had to push his boat out laughs.
RS
So, am I correct to assume that that's how your family income was...through fishing?
SU
Yeah, yeah. So, like when my dad passed away, we used the money left from the sale of the boat because we didn't sell the boat right away. We couldn't sell the boat right away. It lost its fishing license, so the value of the boat really went down. But still. Trading the insurance money and some money that came in from the sale of the boat, we were able to buy a house for my mom in Nanaimo. We'd been renting it until then.
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RS
Okay.
SU
When I went to university, some of the fishermen said, “Why's he going to university?”. You know, “Why doesn't he become a fisherman?” But, my mom believed in, sort of, education and I'm glad that I did. And then I wrote the Civil Service exam...well, after I graduated I became a banker. I convinced Montréal that they needed somebody with a history degree, specialty in Asian studies, to be a banker. And then months after I got this phone call from Ottawa saying, “Well, we need you to start in Ottawa in two weeks' time. Can you come?” So, I thought about it, I asked my parents what they thought, and then I went back and submitted my resignation to the Bank of Montreal. Little did I know there was another guy at another branch who also submitted his resignation laughs. The two of us were in that same intake laughs. And then, well...I should say, at UBC I became a member of the Nisei Varsity Club. Then, eventually I became president of the club. But that's when I noticed there were, sort of, rivalries between the different Japanese communities. That they didn't seem to mix that much. So, like, even in our crowd from Vancouver, if they lived in Steveston that was, sort of, one centre. If they lived in Vancouver that was another centre, especially centered around, I guess, the Vancouver Buddhist Church. And then, you had the kids from the Interior, sort of, Greenwood, Midway, they all seemed to hang out together. Then again, coming from Nanaimo, I didn't fit into any of those groups laughs, which was probably to my advantage and that's when I also discovered there's a lot of family connections. So, in fact, Linda Kawamoto Reid is related to one of my good friends from Nisei Varsity. And then she's also the cousin of Eugene Mioshi who's in Penticton, who's another member of Nisei Varsity Club. And then, his wife, Arlene, she was Nisei...she was like a den mother in the Nisei Varsity Club. And then, my friend Ron is related to the Okadas. And then, another friend, Ted Makasu, who's somehow indirectly related to my aunt. He's now related to Ron as well through his wife laughs. It just seems to go around. Except for me. I married a French Canadian whose ancestry goes back to Louis Hébert and Abraham Martin. In fact, her last name was Martin laughs. And then, my three kids, they all went to school in French. So, at home we speak French. My grandkids, I mean, they only speak French, but my son wanted them to have Japanese names. So, one of them is Nomoru, that's my dad's name. The other one is Minoru, and then, my daughter-in-law wanted another name that ended in “o-r-u”, so there are only two in the list, so I think we're going to call him Santoru when he's born in September. Now, they haven't decided on a, sort of, English-French name yet, but that will come.
RS
Hm, but the spirit of it, it seems like is living on.
SU
Oh, yeah. Well, it's like, because I wanted my kids to be bilingual, I didn't really try and force Japanese down their throat. And also my Japanese is so poor. My mom used to say, “If you meet a Japanese person, talk to them in English.” Laughs. So, my French is a lot better. I think I speak French better than English laughs. My daughter did take some Japanese lessons.
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SU
So, she can at least converse with my mom, who, even though she's been in Canada for over almost over fifty years, her English is...well, she speaks with such a heavy accent that most people don't understand her. My kids are patient, they'll try and understand. But, my daughter, now that she speaks a little bit of Japanese, she tries. And then, she's really gotten into the Anime Manga culture. She has a personal collection of about seven thousand Manga. So, when they have Anime conventions in Toronto or Montréal, they invite her and she takes her entire, or most of, her collection. She has to rent a truck to take down her collection and she and her friends have developed a library. A lending library. So, which she just does for free at these conventions. She's surrounded herself with some good friends that way. Anyway, my three kids...well, I had twins, Eric and Emily. So, Eric is a banker. He's with a credit union. Emily is with the government working in the Library of Public Works. And my son Louis-Martin, he's working as a Clerk in the Privy Council Office. So...but all my kids said, “You and mom work too hard. We don't ever want to become Civil Servants.” Laughs.
RS
They're learning laughs.
SU
Laughs. Ah! Well, I'm glad they did. Because it's very, very rewarding. But, when I first joined Foreign Affairs, or The Department of External Affairs at the time, there were very few Japanese Canadians. There was one guy who was, sort of, a techy. Kichiro was a secretary. And then, I heard about one officer who was with immigration, which wasn't our department, but somebody was saying I was the first Japanese Canadian Political Officer at External Affairs. Now there's a lot more, including some directors. So, that's nice to see. But...in Ottawa, I joined the Ottawa Japanese Canadian Association and a friend of mine from Vancouver – Tony Nabata – when he was out there he got involved in redress, so he got me involved in some of the meetings. Except, I'd seen the reaction in Vancouver to one Japanese, sort of, talk about the interment and it was so negative. At the time I thought, “Oh, let's get the apology, forget about the monetary.” But, you know, there were other people who pushed for the monetary. So, I think it was good for the people who got it because my dad had passed away before them. He didn't get anything anyways. That could have maybe coloured my thinking, but that's when I learned my cousin was also very involved with the redress in Toronto. And then, later on I heard about...well, no, earlier on when I was still going to UBC, there was a group of Torontonians that published the Powell Street Review - Helen Ota and Ray Michiba - And they organized a conference and a happening. So, luckily we got funding from Secretary of State and I got invited to do some poetry reading there laughs. And they had pictures in this house all along the wall. And I met a Chinese girl from grade two! And she was saying how she moved out to the suburbs and got beat up almost every day because she was Chinese. But, you know, that's when I figured out I was lucky in Nanaimo. I was surrounded by people who got along well together. Clears throat.
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RS
Mhm. Are you alright?
SU
Yeah.
RS
So, the redress - so that experience for you - would it be fair to say you had less negative feeling? Or, maybe your involvement was just sort of observing? Or...
SU
Well, it was more than just...I believed in redress, but it was more a question of the monetary aspect. I was willing forego that but other people weren't. So, that's fine. That's fine. When I went to parliament hill to help with the demonstration that where I met some other people that I knew from Toronto. She was the mother of a school friend in grade two, sort of thing. I used to go to their house to play as a kid. So, you know it was nice to have that sense of community. And then I went to the dinner where Ed Brabec was speaking and he talked about his first wife, who was Japanese Canadian and I was at a table, I think, with Joy Kogawa. And then later on I found out that there was a picture of Bay Farm with my uncles and there's Joy Kogawa and there's David Suzuki. So, small world.
RS
Mhm. Very small. I'm curious...from one of the – speaking of your family history and its involvement in redress and just the wartime period - one boat you were able to sell to purchase a home? But there...
SU
No, no...
RS
Have I misunderstood?
SU
Yeah, of the three boats, they were all sold off for a fraction of the actual price in 1942.
RS
Right, of course.
SU
So, when my dad and I guess his brothers all went to Japan, they just had one suitcase. But when my dad passed away in 1975, like he was a fisherman...he had a fishing boat.
RS
I see.
SU
So, that's the boat that...
RS
That you're referring to.
SU
Yeah.
RS
I see. Okay.
SU
He was still paying BC Packers actually. BC Packers bought one of the boats that was taken away from the Japanese Canadians. Somebody was telling me that they bought a lot of boats. So...one thing, when I was at university at UBC, there was another group on campus that was influenced by the yellow power movement down in the States. But, I went to those meetings because I was president of the Nisei Varsity Club. I wanted to insulate our club from any side effects. But, I knew the culture of things that they wanted to do were good, but I didn't believe in some of the other things. Canada isn't the States. And the impression I got was that there were some kids that were into that other group because their parents had denied their Japanese culture. So, they wanted to re-find their “Japanese-ness”. Whereas in my case, I was always surrounded by Japanese culture. I was always proud of it. And even the movies that I saw...I liked watching the movie “Go for Broke”, which was about the 442 battalion. The Japanese American battalion. I liked watching “Flower Drum Song”. Even though it was supposed to be set in Chinatown, most of the actors were Japanese American because you had James Shigeta, Jack Soo - whose real name was Jack Suzuki – Miyoshi Umeki laughs from Japan. They were all playing Chinese people laughs.
RS
So, it sounds like you were able to feel both Canadian and Japanese.
SU
Oh, yeah!
RS
You were never deprived of either.
SU
I really felt Japanese Canadian when I went to Europe in 1969 and we went to Vimy Ridge. Right at eye level I saw all these Japanese names on the great big monument at Vimy Ridge. But those are the same names that are on that column in Stanley Park. So, you know. But, Vancouver Eiffel's. “Oh, wow!” You know, it made me proud to be Japanese Canadian, having known that my uncles in the Canadian Army.
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SU
I still remember my uncle wearing his Busby and his Kilt. Made him look like he was seven feet tall. He was shorter than me, but both laugh. With his boots and everything laughs. He was a giant laughs. But, you know, I think not consciously having models can detract from a person's knowledge of who they are. But, to me, I look on Quincy M.E. and Robert Ito. He's from Canada. And then the song that I liked, of course, “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto laughs. So, there were always little triggers in my mind to keep me aware of my Japanese-ness. And being proud and seeing it well integrated. With my kids, I think even though they have less influence of Japanese they know that their grandmother speaks Japanese, so they're proud of being Japanese. So, everyone once in a while we'll go to the Japanese restaurant. It's not much but, you know laughs. At least they try. And then, sometimes like...when the movie “Zatoichi” came out they loved it laughs. And like my daughter really getting involved in the “Manga” Anime, where most of it is from Japan.
RS
Hm. Different ways to maintain the connection.
SU
Yeah, yeah. Even the TV shows that they watched when they were kids, in French, “Belle et Sebastien”, “Dernier...Demetan”. They were all Japanese cartoons, even the songs were in Japanese. But they were in French.
RS
Interesting, with the languages. If you don't mind me asking, were there any special stories that your parents told you about their life in Canada, maybe prewar? Do you have any stories that were told to you, or that you can remember?
SU
Well, because mom and I came over in '56, it would really be my dad's. But...my dad was one of the quiet types. He liked playing cards. He didn't really talk about his youth too much, or definitely not about the war. I got more of that from my other aunts and uncles. Like is said, my aunt Sawai was the storyteller, except when my uncle was there. Then all the sudden she'd be very quiet laughs. It's funny seeing the contrast, sort of a bubbly personality all the sudden...
RS
Reserved. So, you learned a lot from her then?
SU
Yeah and because she was just two years younger than my dad, they were very close. And when my mom was sick, he sent me off to my aunt's place. So, she sort of took me under her wing like one of her four sons. That's why I'm lucky in that I knew all of our family. Like the family out in BC, the family in Toronto, and my cousins who lived up in the country, Cumberland, I think, is now a part of Greater Toronto, but laughs at the time it was really, really far laughs. But because I actually lived there with my aunt and my cousins, I got to know them so I'm probably the closest in our family to all the families.
00:50:05.000
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SU
And then in Toronto, my dad was the eldest of the family who was there. So, even though he didn't say it, he wanted to make sure that everybody in the family was okay. That's why he made a point of going around to all the families. Even though we didn't have a car. We took the street car. So, I think we probably visited all my uncles and all my cousins the most of any of the families there. Which was kind of nice because one of my cousins - later on in life - he may have had fetal alcohol...so, he used to call me every week from Toronto. So, I've tried to call him to try and save him some money. So, you know, it was kind of nice. But, we remained close even though I was brought up in BC. And then in the foreign service, I served in Africa. Seven years. Washington, DC, three years. I invited him up to Ottawa and I'm still close with some of my cousins.
RS
So learning about your father, I guess, right before the war and during the war, was that something you just decided to do on your own? And that's how you learned about the forced sales of the boats and this sort of thing?
SU
Yeah, well it helps me to understand who I am, where I came from. Like where the family lived, “1010 Stewart Ave”, is sort of a Marina now. But from what I understand, that entire area, there were a lot of Japanese living there. I'd love to try and talk to some of the people. Find out where people lived. You know, like I think my cousin would, with the map in Cumberland, except it's not the one that they seem to have here. But, they do have it at the Cumberland Museum. There seems to be quite a few families in Nanaimo, but, you know, there's no real record and you can't tell what happened to what family. So, this is where it was interesting reading the review that the museum puts out – Nikkei Images – and reading about different people and what happened to the families.
RS
Mhm, mhm. Were you able to find out, when you father was in Nanaimo – before you and your mother were here – if it was the majority of the area was a Japanese community?
SU
No, but where we were in the Brechin area, there were quite a few Japanese. In fact, the principal I had in junior high school, I think he came from Australia and taught my Uncle Wally. For him, he was used to Japanese names, which is why he's one of the first ones to call me Shig. Because I used to go by the full “Shigeru”. But that's when you sort of know that people have got who may have been with Japanese Canadians. They know to shorten the names laughs.
RS
Right, okay. So mostly what you've learned about – for prewar and war – was about the fishing boats and were there quite a lot of families fishing?
SU
Or, my dad's, yeah. I think there was a cannery or something in Nanaimo. But, there seemed to be some people who others knew seemed to have a store. But, you know that's why I'd like to try and map out who lived where and what they did. But I know that my grandfather had a reputation as a hard drinker, whereas my grandmother, everyone seemed to love my grandmother. Even when she was in Japan. Because my dad was working for the US Occupational Forces, he'd get coffee rations and tin goods and my mom would save them all up to take to my grandmother. Except, my grandmother had such a great heart that, she said, “As soon as I gave her the stuff,” she'd say, “Oh! Here's the postman, give him something. Oh! Here's somebody else, let's give them something!” There was almost nothing left laughs!
00:55:16.000
00:55:16.000
RS
Generous.
SU
Oh, yeah! But that's all the stories I've heard about my grandmother. Are like that. So, I like to try and keep the family tradition. And then my dad had good friends. After he had a stroke, his friends came up with a cock-and-bull story about how a logging truck fell over or tipped. And there was all this wood that they brought to our house. You know, “this was just abandoned” or they don't have room in there freezer for half a deer. Yup, “This is for you” laughs. But, you know, he had really good friends. This is where my mom always used to always say to me, that “you can't buy friends”. You know, “but if you have friends then you're rich”. And that's why I always feel like I'm one of the richest people in the world laughs. Because I've got such good friends. Like coming out here a friend of mine picked me up at the airport, dropped me out here. Another friend, he's phoned me every day and we do something every day. And then if my mom needs something, he goes out of his way to help my mom when I'm out here. And then I mentioned that I'm going back to the airport on such and such a day. My mother friend said, “Oh, I'll come and get you.” But, one friend doesn't do bridges laughs. And then even when I go to Nanaimo to visit the cemetery where my dad's...one of his youngest brothers is buried, another cemetery where my uncle was buried, another cemetery where my other uncle was buried. A friend of mine said, “When you come to Nanaimo, I'm your driver for the weekend.” So, that's really nice. And then just before leaving Nanaimo another friend said, “You know, if you come here and you need a car, I'm your driver.” So, it's nice when you don't even ask for it. But, friends just automatically volunteer.
RS
It seems like most of your stories – even your stories about your parents and grandparents – revolve around friendship.
SU
Oh, yeah! Yeah. And then even in the foreign service I feel privileged that I worked with people and that we've maintained friendships. Like for my first posting in Lagos, Nigeria, I still have a friend who now lives in New Brunswick. Another one whose got his trailer near the Saint Lawrence Seaway. But, we communicate sometimes by email or whatever. And then from my posting in Senegal, in fact, we just had breakfast with some friends about four weeks ago. We knew in Senegal, got an email from another friend who I knew in Senegal. And then from our Washington days, I know one of my friends just lives up the street, so we usually try to get together once a year. And then last year, I had lunch with a friend that I worked with forty-five years ago. When I put on Facebook that I was coming out here saying – from Calgary, again – saying, “Oh! I'm going to be out in Vancouver for four days. Let's try and get together!” So, we worked together forty-five years ago laughs. But, you know, it's a nice feeling.
RS
Right, yeah.
SU
And then we went to a book launch in Quebec City about four weeks ago and another friend from Abuja was there. Well, it was his book on his thoughts on his experiences in Africa. And we saw another friend there from our time in Abuja. And then Sunday, hopefully, I'll see the mother of one of my son's best friends from Africa. Because last time I saw her and her daughter, we all went to jazz and for a Philippine meal.
01:00:08.000
01:00:08.000
SU
And then we know of another friend, she came last time, so hopefully I'll see her again this time. And then maybe her daughter who works from time to time in Ottawa. So, I've seen their daughter and she, in fact, just got back from Japan where she plays professional softball laughs. With a good Japanese name like, “Ii” laughs.
RS
Yeah, definitely a lot of strong relationships and...I wonder what it was like for you to look into these records on your own for the first time and to see that kind of stuff...to have that connection like you're talking about with all of these people. 
SU
Well, the one thing my dad didn't tell me were the names of the boats. So, I think that really facilitated the search. But, it just helps to bring it alive. And knowing that my grandmother probably came over in about 1913, we were able to trace the records of what boat she came on. It helps solidify the foundation of my knowledge.
RS
Right, of your family.
SU
Yes and I mean, I figure ours...it's an interesting history. And the fact that I also got this book about Japanese Canadians who joined the Canadian Army from Japan...I know my uncles are in there. They made up one fifteenth of that entire group laughs.
01:02:00.000
01:02:00.000
RS
So, is there anything else that you have learned through your searching that you wanted to share today? Or anything you wanted to share about your family history?
SU
Well, no. Just that the museum provides an excellent source and they know where to look. Or, they can tell you where to look. So, that's very, very helpful. But, you know, it's nice to have a place like the museum and then for my mom it's great to have a centre like the Nikkei Place, where she can speak Japanese. When she came to visit us once, I got her Japanese television and ever since then she's been hooked. Now if you asked her the temperature in Vancouver she won't know, but the temperature in Tokyo she does both laugh.
RS
That's great. She feels comfortable and she feels happy.
SU
Oh, yeah! The reason why I think she's ninety-four and still going strong – she still beats me going to the elevator with her walker laughs – she goes for exercise class every day. She enjoys it here, you know? Staff are really wonderful, so it's nice to have centres like this that have programs.
RS
Right. How long has she been here?
SU
This is, I think, her third year here.
RS
And then, before then?
SU
She was across the street in the independent living in Sakura-So. But she's been here for about eight years now. In Burnaby. But, you know, luckily she's the one who decided she wanted to move to Burnaby. To Sakura-So. And then eventually to the Nikkei Place. So, it takes it out of our hands and the fact that she wanted to do it, it's good. Because I know some of my friends are all torn up or there's big family fights about placing their parents.
RS
Where would you say your mother's strongest connection is in terms of feelings of home? Shig coughs, quite loud.
01:04:38.000
01:04:38.000
SU
Well, when we talk she still talks about her youth and about Japan. I mean, it's always going to be there. Toronto, not as much. Nanaimo, yes, because we were there for so long. And again, we had a lot of good friends outside the family. But she also enjoys it here. My sister lives in New Westminster, so it's not that far but she doesn't drive so it makes it difficult for her and she works long hours. But for her, this is home. And then I think she likes it when I come out here. And my friends are more like relatives. Even in Ottawa, one of my best friends from university lives just up the hill from us. So, if I have a doctor's appointment or something he'll give me a life. And his daughters are also my Facebook friends, but he doesn't believe in Facebook laughs. But there is where Facebook is such an interesting thing. So, is MSN Messenger. Yes...I accidentally pushed a button on MSN Messenger and I got this message back from Australia saying, “Is everything okay?” It was the mother in law of my son's best friend, who I'd met at the wedding laughs.
RS
Oops laughs.
SU
Oops! And then she was saying how it's the start of winter down there, so they're gearing up laughs.
RS
Right, that's right. Okay!
SU
Anyway, I hope I didn't ramble too much.
RS
Oh no, that's great! There are no right or wrong answers. I'm just wondering if there is anything else that you wanted to share about your father's history or anything else having to do with anything that you found during your searches. I've already asked you think, but just to ask for a second time if there's anything else you had in your mind...
SU
No, because I really focused on my dad. I really need to try and get the records of his stay in Angler. So, that's the one big hole. But my dad, like I said, he was very, very quiet. Didn't say much. Even at the best of times. That's why I sometimes even have a problem just remembering the sound of his voice, because he didn't say that much laughs. But, he liked playing cards and he was just an all-around nice guy. And then, I guess - with the influence of my grandmother with the First Nations people, I heard stories that when my dad went fishing up north – he would also hang out with the native fisherman. So, that's good.
RS
Oh, wow. They had a good relationship.
SU
Yeah, yeah. And then apparently the natives gave my grandmother...made her an honorary Indian. But I can't verify that.
RS
But that's a story. SHIG. Yeah. But, you know, the thing is they gave her an Indian name. They said it's “Osiwash”, but I don't believe that. I think they're thinking of Siwash Rock laughs. But, you know, I couldn't believe the fact that she was close to the First Nations people. As it was when I was in high school, I remember being on the volleyball team with another guy who was from the First Nations and he would confide in me because I sort of looked like him. But he was saying, “Oh, well, you know, when we cross the bridge we get beat up.” I crossed that bridge almost every day. But, you know, somebody must have gotten beaten up. And it's sort of that story just kept on going and going and going.
RS
Mhm, hm. So, when your father was up north there, they would fish together? Or they were just friends? Or...
SU
Yeah, well they'd say that my dad didn't like trouble so he always fished at...they almost called it “Norman's Cove”. Because he'd go to the same place every day just to keep out of everybody's hair laughs. And even though there may be no fish, didn't matter to him. He just went there. Stayed out of trouble laughs. That's the type of guy he was.
RS
Right, right. So, he formed the relationship through boundaries and respect, it sounds like.
01:09:56.000
01:09:56.000
SU
Oh, yeah, yeah. Whereas, I think some people thought my cousin or my uncle may have cut across their lines, so. Yeah, they didn't have the same feeling towards them that they did towards my dad. I still remember as a kid seeing about ten fishing boats going up north, that way. That was the extent of the Nanaimo troller fleet laughs. They'd all go up towards Bella Bella and sometimes we'd catch up to them at Fanny bay and we'd see them there. And on their way back, somebody would have a radio telephone, so they knew exactly where they were. And it was fun, but then when I started going to university then they usually arrived while I was at university. So, I usually didn't see my dad except when I came home on the weekends. Just when I got back for good, that's when he was gone again up north.
RS
I see, I see.
SU
But, I still think of my dad all the time. I know that he's...sort of looking down. It's like, when he passed away, I was in Africa. I had to get a ticket to get back to Nanaimo. It was around Christmas time, so the travel agency gave me six tickets or six stickers so that if I missed one flight...they were all overbooked. So, I finally got on the sixth flight, but it would have made the connection two hours late in London. But as it was, as we got to London that flight was delayed by two hours. We were still on standby, but just as I got to the front of the line, two people cancelled. So, my wife and I were able to get on board that plane and make it in time for the funeral. Just before my dad passed away, too, there was a missionary who was coming back to Canada who was going to Nanaimo. So I had him take some shirts to my dad, not knowing he was in hospital. But, you know, everything seemed to work out.
RS
Right, right.
SU
But this where I guess I sort of believe in fate. It's like when I got sent to a leadership camp in New Brunswick, my home teacher from Nanaimo happened to be teaching there that summer. When I was walking in London and I looked across the street, there was another guy from my high school walking across the street laughs. It's like I went to a meeting in Hong Kong and, “Oh! There's Professor Larry from the U of T who I know!” laughs So, no matter where you go you run into people. It's fun. Life is fun laughs.
RS
Yeah, sounds like it! Relationships are, again, very important and central, I think, to your life story and your parent's life story as well. And, yeah I mean if you have any other...anything else you'd like to cover we can keep going or if you feel like you've...
SU
Well, sort of my mom's side, even though they're not Japanese Canadian she's also from a family of ten. I think she was the favourite daughter of my grandfather. So, just about a year we left he passed away. We maintained contact for the longest time and since she's moved over here, we've lost contact with her side of the family. But there's only one brother left now. But, as they say in Japanese, “Shigata Ganai” laughs. But anyway, I hope this might be useful for somebody. But one thing that I do miss is the way the Japanese Canadians spoke. Now, there's a group, I think, that put on a play about Tashme. And they speak with that inflection. They conjure up images of some of the people that I knew. Because you don't hear that Japanese Canadian accent or pronunciation of words anymore. Or very little of it. But it used to be very distinct, I thought.
RS
Right, well hopefully you'll run into somebody laughs...
SU
Yeah, oh sure laughs.
RS
Somebody that will help you with that. You're in the right place!
SU
Oh, yeah! But I find that as...like with my kids, my son is married to Franco-Ontarian, one of my cousins, she married a Ukrainian guy, some of my cousins, well...my cousin Arthur, his wife is from Guatemala, and I've got a number of children of cousins married to Chinese. So, it makes it sort of an international...
RS
Yeah, I can see that your stories relate very much to who you are.
SU
Laughs. You have to understand who you are.
RS
Part seems like your family history is a big part of that as well.
SU
Anyway, thank you very much for being so patient with me laughs.
RS
No! No, it's great to listen to you and I thank you for sharing your story, but also your family's story as well. It was very nice to hear and we appreciate all the details you were able to share and remember and pass on as well.
01:13:49.000

Metadata

Title

Shig Uyeyama, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 08 July 2016

Abstract

Shig is a Kita Sansei, born in Japan. However, most of his formative years were spent in Nanaimo, BC. Shig shares his own positive experiences growing up in Nanaimo, including the lifelong friends he met there. He shares the history of his parents and grandparents. Shig describes his grandfather as a tougher individual, whereas his grandmother was widely known as kind and gentle. He describes her strong bonds with the community, including her work as a midwife to all of Nanaimo’s ethnic groups. He describes his father as a general silent type, yet, he also had positive relations with all groups in the area, including aboriginal fishermen. He explains he has come to realize his father also spent time in Angler during the war, and possibly Moosejaw, though he did not speak about it to his children. Through some family research via the Nikkei National Museum, Shig has been able to identify three of his father’s boats that were lost during WWII: “Sea Patrol 1”, “Sea Patrol 2”, and “Sea Patrol 4”. He describes his positive sense of Japanese-Canadian identity, as he was never deprived of either side of his heritage. This sense of identity remains with Shig throughout his life, including in important social roles such as the Nisei Varsity Club at UBC. Shig describes his family’s varying attachment to Japanese heritage and non-Japanese culture. The importance of relationships and friendship are the continuous theme of this interview.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, Burnaby, British Columbia
Keywords: Nanaimo ; Japan ; Toronto ; Ottawa ; Montreal ; Friendship; First Nations; Grandmother; Father; Manga; Pacific Trollers Association; US Occupational Forces; Canadian Army; Canadian Commonwealth Forces; Korea; Redress ; apology; 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.