Moe Yesaki, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 19 November 2016

Moe Yesaki, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 19 November 2016

Abstract
Moe Yesaki was born in Steveston, BC in 1936 and grew up in a family of fishermen. His family was forcibly uprooted to Picture Butte, Alberta and worked on a sugar beet farm. In 1950, Moe and his family returned to Steveston. Eventually Moe studied at UBC’s Institute of Fisheries and was later offered a permanent position as a fisheries biologist in Juno, Alaska. In this interview, Moe shares with Kyla his family history and their fishing legacy, his global trabels as a fisheries biologist, and his knowledge and history of the fishing industry pre and post-war in Steveston. Moe also shares his memories in Picture Butte, Alberta as a young child, returning to Steveston after the war, his family’s endeavours to rebuild their life and his fond memories of fishing. Kyla and Moe also discuss his own research and writing on Steveston and BC history. Finally, Moe reflects on the current state of fishing in BC today and his travels to Japan to visit family.
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Kyla Fitzgerald (KF)
Okay today is November 19th, 2016 and I am sitting here with Mr. Moe Yesaki at his apartment in Vancouver and we are going to be doing an interview for the Landscapes of Injustice Project. So thank you, Mr. Yesaki.
KF
I guess we can start with perhaps your childhood and what you remember from beginning.
MY
I was born in Steveston at the Japanese hospital, July 27th 1936. I can't remember too much about life in Steveston. We lived on a house on Dyke Road, past the... what was the canneries, in the house that dad had built in 1940. I can't remember too much I guess I went to kindergarten but I can't remember too much of that. I sort of have vague memories of having walking down that board walk to Steveston, but having fears of meeting the Hindus in their turbans. For some reason I had fears of that. But other than that I can't remember too much of Steveston. I do remember well we moved to Picture Butte to the sugar beet farms and we were at the Chudley Farm I think it was north of three, three and half mile north of Picture Butte. I remember working out on the fields. But I hated going to school because I was short and being Japanese at that time. I just didn't like going to school so I would rather work in the fields than go to school so I failed the first grade because of that. But then after I failed the first year, I in the second year I had a fabulous teacher. Her name was Ms. Darglish. And I think she had a...what do you call it, Order of Alberta because of her contribution to her teaching for so many years. And after I started going to her classes I started liking school, had no problems after that. I can't remember too much discrimination, but there must have been because I hated going to school, but so the rest of- I was there until grade six, I guess. Half way through grade six and came back in 1950 and I started grade six in Lord Byng School. Lord Byng, that's when I started going to school with Harold Steves. So we went through, we were there until- we were supposed to go to Cambie High School, but we were delaying one year in part, the Lord Byng School because they were building a new no - there were so many students because of the new influx of Japanese, I guess, and you know, Richmond's growing. So there were so many students that Cambie High School couldn't take us so we were delayed one year in Lord Byng. And after grade seven we went to Cambie. And then we were there for about two years and then they built the new Richmond High School and we moved there. Graduated there 1955 and then I went to university – graduated in 1960, I guess, 1961? And then I went for another two years in graduate into Fisheries at the UBC Institute of Fisheries. I was there for two years, but I never finished my Masters and I got a job through a professor, a job in Alaska. So I went to Juno in the spring of 1963 for six months of summer employment. I was with the Exploratory Fishing in Research Base in Juno and it was the base director and myself, we were the only two in the base. But anyway, he liked my work and asked me to come back so I came back. But before, you know, it was kind of cold up in Alaska so I figured I'd go to Mexico. So I jumped in my dad's Simca and drove down to Mexico. I was there for two weeks, I guess, and drove back and went to the US Consulate here to get a work visa. And they wouldn't give it to me.
KF
Oh really?
MY
There was an Oriental quota. And so I wrote back to the people in Alaska and they said they'll figure it out. And so they got me on an annual contract. So I went back to Alaska in 1964 and that was on an annual contract for four years. And the work there was going mostly on boats and doing survey work for resources where we looked mostly for shrimp, remained trolls from Prince Sound all the way into Unimak Island and into the Bearing Sea. I didn't go into the Bearing Sea because I figured I'd been on the boat too long so. Kyla laughs But anyway, and then we did pot work in South East Alaska, exploratory pot fishing for prawns, white – Spot Prawns. Yeah we did that in South East Alaska. An then we did troll surveys along the South East Alaska, too. And anyway four years, I was there for four years - and my boss in, I guess, in 1964, he got a job with the FAO, the Food and Agricultural Organization, but he was assigned these poles as chief scientist for this regional project in the Caribbean. And he went down and fellow Ben Jones came up from Seattle. He took over as a chief.
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MY
But then in about, I think, it must have been the fall of 1967 or so, no it was 1966. I got drunk laughs and I sat down and wrote a letter to my previous boss, Rastion. I told him it's too damn cold up here, get me a job down there. Kyla: laughs And he wrote, he sent a letter saying, ah they got all the poles filled, so there's no job down there. And then about a week later I got a telegram from him saying “ Yeah, there's a position open, fill in a FAO form”. So I filled in a form and sent it off and I got hired so. I left Juno in December of '66 and I flew down to Barbados, which was the headquarters of the Caribbean regional project and I was down there in January. So it was quite a shock from Alaska to Barbados. I was there for two and half years worth the regional Caribbean project. But I didn't liked Barbados that much so I asked for a transfer and I got transferred to the Central American Regional project. And my work was on survey boats, trying to find new fishery resources. So we were long lining, we were pole and line fishing or trolling off of the Guyana, Serena, what else was there....? I guess, Guiana and Serena, I guess were three, two countries. And then long lining, what else?.....But anyway, we more or less, I was able to visit most of the countries in the Caribbean, which was kind of nice. But I didn't like that so much, so I went to Central America and that was the regional project also, so Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, and Costa Rica. And I was there for about a year, I guess. But I wasn't feeling that good so when I left Barbados I paid my way back home, went to see a doctor 'cause I wasn't feeling that great. And he, the doctor I saw, he said I had diabetes and he started to giving me pills. I didn't get the second opinion and flew down to Costa Rica, still wasn't feeling that great. And I think the problem was that I was drinking too much in Barbados, I think. laughs But anyway, never did drink that much, I wasn't steady, I'd just go on these binges. That wasn't very good. But anyway...so when I was there, I wasn't feeling that good so I said- why I went to my chief scientist and I told him “I am not feeling that good, so maybe I should go, quit, go back home.” So I resigned and then I got a letter from FAO saying “Boy you should go see another doctor. I don't think you have diabetes.” Because every time I go to, or I have to send a medical to Rome, headquarters. So they said, “You go see another doctor,” see another doctor, he said, “Oh, nothing wrong with you”. So I stopped taking the pills. By that time, I had resigned and the replacement had come. So the chief scientist said “You can stay, if you want. There is all kind of work”. But I said, “Oh no better go”. But then by that time, Ben Jones from Alaska had applied for FAO and he got a posting in Brazil. And I had always wanted to go to Brazil, so I wrote to him and he said, “Oh yeah, come on down.” So I came back here and I just waited for a year before the posting from Brazil came. And but during that time I didn't look for any job or anything, but I did go and I took with my camera, I took all the pictures of the buildings on Steveston Highway. At that time, most of the buildings were more or less like it was in the 1930's. All the buildings were still standing, lot of them weren't being used, but all the buildings were still there, so those photos are in the National Museum, that collection. Anyways, I was here for a year and I did that. Then I went to Brazil and I was there for five years. It was my best assignment.
KF
Really?
MY
Yeah, I was in Copa Cabana for two years and then they shipped me down to Rio Grande, which is way near Uruguayan boarder, which is kind of..... I didn't like that too much but.....anyway. So after that, I went to ...after that project was finished, I went to the Middle East, and that was the regional project also – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Baleen, and Catar, Iran, and United Arab Emerate's, all that in two and half years, doing survey work, too. Trolling, mostly trolling there...but I didn't like that too much. Then from there when that project terminated, I went to Thailand and I was based in Phuket, which was kind of nice 'cause it was still undeveloped, relatively undeveloped at that time. This was '69? '69 – '71, I guess. I was there for two and half years. And there we were doing a survey work, too. This was pole line fishing, where you throw out baits and catch the tuna, but this was the Long Tail Tuna, which was a coastal species. Odd looking tuna, quite long. But that was terminated after two and half years so I went to Philippines and there it was more a desk job. It was a regional – no it was just a Philippines project, but it was just mainly statistics, gathering statistics. And from there, I was there for what... year and a half, I guess. And I got transferred to Sri Lanka, which was the Indo Pacific Tuna Project, which is a regional project, but they were just gathering statistics on tuna. So I got to visit most of the countries in there. But I was there only for about a year, I guess.
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MY
I was terminated so I came back and didn't have any work so I bought a boat and went fishing for cod fish, for rock cod, you know the Chinese market? You bring them in live and doing that. But then in '86, I got a contract, short term contract, consultancy with FAO with the Indo Pacific Tuna Commission to do just gather information or they were trying to promote, extend the project so they were getting the information...interview people prolong this project. And I went on for that I guess for I guess it was only about a month, that consultancy. And then there they asked me if I would like to come back and work with the Indo- the tuna project again. So in '86 I went back and I was there until '92. And then there was no more work and it was a fail in knowledge. These positions were getting just too expensive. And there were mainly visiting all these countries in the project to collect information on tuna landings. That was kind of interesting. And we set up a sampling program in Sri Lanka, and in Thailand and in- well Maldives they had a very good statistical system, but we started a tagging program there and that was out on the boats, you know, tagging fishing and that. But that ended in 1992, so that's when I came back home permanently- well there was no more work. So I went fishing again. I fished until – the first year I didn't have a rock fish license then in '93, '94, I guess, I bought a licence. And I was getting about two hundred pounds. I'd go out on Monday, come back Friday or Saturday and sell at the dock, live fish, eh? And I was making enough to about a thousand bucks so I was paying expenses so I was happy as a clam, but then there was no more fish. So after that I guess I quit fishing I guess in '95, I guess '96, something like that. So since then I am unemployed but ....So that's it.
KF
You've been all over the place, wow.
MY
Well yeah, that's why I don't travel.
KF
Because it's out of your system
MY
Oh no, well you know I don't talk to people. And you know if you go to places and you don't talk to people, you don't...what's the use? So and you know, I figure I've seen it anyway, so...
KF
Yeah, you're job has taken you all over the place.
MY
Oh yeah, no, no, it was really quite interesting, I liked that. But I won't travel for pleasure, except I go to Japan to visit my sister, but that's it. I sort of look back and all the work we did, I don't think we contributed that much because we're looking for these resources, but the fishermen now all the oceans are overly exploited, you know? So what did we do? Accelerated it a little bit more, I guess. The exploit – Oh Jesus! Moe gets up and gets the tea pot and pours Kyla a cup of tea
KF
Oh, thank you.
MY
Oh have one of these just osakana...
KF
Oh thank you, thank you. So what was your favourite country to visit?
MY
Oh Brazil for sure.
KF
Brazil for sure.
MY
Yeah, oh yeah. It was, it was a fantastic – at that time in 1971, the people were really for the country.
KF
Really?
MY
It was still a military regime, but they could see that they were progressing and there were really, really for the country. They really had pride in their country.
KF
Wow...
MY
And at that time there was very little crime. Kyla: Really? We were based in Rio de Janeiro, but I made a trip up to Sao Paulo to, I don't know what it was for, but anyway I went for a meeting up there. Oh it was to Santos, which is the port city of Sao Paulo. There was a research station there so we went to talk to these people. And we went out, we went for dinner and then we went out bar, drinking and the next morning, tried to find my wallet and I couldn't find my wallet!
KF
Oh no...
MY
But anyway, I got able to get back to Rio de Janeiro and started to make arrangements to get all these things sorted out and about two weeks later, I get my wallet back! Kyla: laughs – nice! And with all the money in it!
KF
Really?
MY
I figured with all the –
KF
Two weeks?!
MY
Yeah!
KF
That's pretty good!
MY
Well, it might've been a week or so, but anyway what it was was the tai driver. He found it in the cab and he had dropped it off at the station because he knew we were biologists, I guess. And they just forwarded it to me. But anyway, it was a nice country, it was a really nice country. Have one of these. Moe points to the Japanese cakes
KF
Oh thank you.
MY
See how it is, I guess it's fresh anyway or...
KF
Oh yeah, these are really good.
MY
Yeah...
KF
So can we go back a bit to your family. What did your father do in terms of work when he came over to Steveston?
MY
He was always a fisherman.
KF
Always.
MY
Yeah. He was – my grandfather immigrated in 1896. And he started fishing in Steveston probably. And in 18 – fall of 1888 after the fishing season, he went back and got married and he came back in 1889, I think. My father was born in 1889. And he and grandmother remained in Japan because you know the grandparents are there. And then he graduated – he went to school for six years, I think. And they wanted him to continue school and I think there was money to support him to go to school, technical school. He just flatly refused, he wanted to go fishing. And so grandfather, he sent money over to call on my grandmother and my father to come in 1915, they came over. And he's been fishing ever since.
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MY
He fished here, I think, he probably worked as a deckhand with grandfather for a year, that 1915. And then because fishing was so bad on the Fraser River because of the Hell's Gate. The runs were decimated so I think he went for two years up in Skeena because there the fishing was really good.
KF
Really nice, yeah.
MY
And he fished with my uncle. In 1918 he went back to Japan to fill his conscription, he was conscripted into the Japanese armed forces. He went back and he got into the navy. And I think he was there for – they have a three year contract, I think, but I guess they release them after two years because the financial position of my grandparents. That's what I've heard. And I don't know if he tried working in Japan, but there's not much work there so he came over and started fishing here. But he – yeah I think he went back and married in 1923. And there he tried fishing again. Apparently he had a boat made and installed an engine and I talked to some people there and he figured he'd probably was one of the first to install an engine, but he would have been familiar because they were fishing with motorized boats from about 1911. So he would have really had a lot of experience with that. And I think he tried trolling, which is, you know trolling?
KF
Yeah.
MY
Off this coast. But he couldn't make a go of it and so he came back. And he was able to fish because he got his license from his father. In 1922 to 1924 the Canadian government started to take away the license from the Japanese, right? They finally had to go to the Privy Council where they won that case. So yeah, he was just a fishermen, he just loved fishing so in the middle of the winter he would go on his boat and go over to the Gulf Islands and troll for winter salmon.
KF
Really? Oh interesting.
MY
Yeah, he just liked fishing.
KF
Yeah, that's nice. And did your mother do any work over here in Steveston?
MY
Well that's why she had >unclear /> leave behind. At that time, in the 1920's the fishing was still pretty poor. It didn't build up until the 1930's so the women, they all worked in the canneries, but this was cash in hand, right? So that's why dad wrote to say to leave her behind because you can't take the kiku into the canneries to work. So she would work in the canneries and then in the Spring and Fall she would work in the farms in Richmond. By that time the Japanese farms, berry farms and that so they would work in the fields.
KF
Nice. And I guess that must of been strawberry farms then?
MY
There was strawberries, blueberries, loganberries. There were all kind of berries at that time.
KF
Oh cool. And –
MY
No blueberries though.
KF
No blueberries?
MY
No blueberries, or cranberries. These are recent things, right?
KF
And you mentioned you had a sister. How many siblings do you have in Steveston?
MY
There's nine of us.
KF
Nine of you!?
MY
No, there's one in Japan.
KF
Right.
MY
There's three girls and six boys.
KF
And where do you sit within that family?
MY
Right in the middle so I had no responsibilities.
KF
Laughs You just eased right through.
MY
Yeah, you know the youngest and the oldest have more responsibilities, right? Kyla laughs
KF
And what was that family dynamic like? Did you guys all get along?
MY
Yeah! We still –
KF
Still...
MY
We don't get together very much, but no, but it's fine. Yeah...
KF
So the youngest, what's the age difference between the youngest sibling and your eldest sister, right? Who is in Japan?
MY
My eldest sister is now 93.
KF
Wow...
MY
My youngest sister, I think she was born in about 19...46 or so? So that would make her about sixty?
KF
Wow, quite a big age difference.
MY
No, no, that would be seventy. Seventy? Forty six. Yeah almost seventy.
KF
Yeah that's a big age difference.
MY
Yeah, twenty three years. Yeah.
KF
And in terms of home life, what was the language spoken at home?
MY
Hm?
KF
What was the language spoken at home?
MY
Japanese.
KF
Japanese?
MY
Oh yeah. My parents never learned English that I know of. They could get by...yeah...but I remember in Alberta, the first winter there was the coldest winter in a long time in 1942. And we had this, well this house wasn't insulated, and we would wake up in the morning and there would be snow under the doors, in the windows. I had two goldfish and they would freeze solid.
KF
No! laughs
MY
Well, I mean the water would freeze solid, but the water would melt and they would still...I guess they were the little...one time one of them died. But anyway, in Alberta we didn't have any newspapers, except for the Star Weekly, I don't think you'd remember that. It used to be a, I guess it was published by the Toronto Star. It was a weekly magazine and we would get that. But after we finished the beets, which is in mid-November, say, there was nothing. We had no radio. So I remember everybody sitting around the – they had this pot stove, coal stove. Everybody would sit around that and mom and dad would tell, well mom would generally tell folk stories, you know, Japanese old folk stories. And dad would talk about the life in Japan, and the first pioneer immigrants that would come over. And yeah, and fishing experiences. But that's how we spent the evenings. But the next year, they got a big radio, with these big dry cell batteries and so we listened to the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet. laughs
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MY
Lux Theatre, movie theatre, I guess it was. I still remember those nights when they would talk. You'd spend the night just talking about the folk stories and family stories.
KF
Yeah, what's the folk story that sticks out in your mind the most?
MY
I guess, Momotaro, I guess.
KF
Oh Momotaro is really good.
MY
Yeah, but I remember these stories of dad telling us about this saigoro that came over and started first year. He built a couple of big boats in Japan and yeah...
KF
And when you lived in Steveston before the war, where did you live? And did you live in a house or an apartment?
MY
Well we lived in a cannery house. In Great West Cannery house and yeah, apparently I fell off the dock one time, but it was luckily low tide. And apparently the home owner store, there used to be a Chinese store, the guy that worked there, he apparently saw me fall and apparently he went down and picked me up. I still got the scar. Moe and Kyla: laughs But I don't remember, right?
KF
Wow!
MY
But then in 1940, dad bought a piece of property on Dyke Road, I don't know if you know Dyke Road along there Kyla: mhm. It's all houses there now.
KF
Yes.
MY
But at that time there was so many, the Kuramoto house was way at the extreme eastern end and then our house and then a few Japanese houses along Number 1 Road. I guess the River Fish Company, they had bought ten acres and sold it to Japanese fishermen that were co-op, members of the co-operative. And dad bought this property in 1940. Built the house. Apparently spent two thousand dollars.
KF
Two thousand okay.
MY
To build that house. I think he got something like a thousand dollars back or something like that.
KF
And I know you said that you were quite young before the war.
MY
Well I was not quite six.
KF
Not quite six. Do you have any memories of what Steveston was like before the war?
MY
No, no, no.
KF
No.
MY
I can't remember. Like I say, I had this fear of walking down this plank road, but other than that, I can't remember going to school or I must've attended kindergarten , but I can't remember. And I can't remember any friends from here.
KF
Did your father ever take you out fishing when you were younger?
MY
I can't remember.
KF
No.
MY
But I did go out with him when we returned. I always wanted to go fishing so...in fact I started fishing as soon as I – as soon as we returned in 1950, I went to the wharf and picked up an old piece of net, had my mother cut it in half, you know the depth, but it would be half the depth and I would get the length. And then I found some old corks and lead line some place and I hung it up and – oh it was Isao Kuramoto and Hap Hirata as oars. Kyla laughs so I had two sets of oars on the board, Hap because he was bigger, he would roll and I would take one on the other set of oars. I would take one or and Isao would take the other, we would go out and ...
KF
Little fleet.
MY
Yeah we may – I don't know we might've bit one or two sets. I remember one set we got two fish, there was a lot of fish in those days. Two sockeyes.
KF
Oh that's good.
MY
Tom Rothery, the fisheries officer would come down on his boat and he tolled us back to the wharf and he said, “I don't care if you kid fish,” but he says, “if something happens to you,” it would come down on him. So he tolled us back, that was 1950. '51 we did the same thing, we got caught again. Kyla laughs But in '52, you know my mother, when she came back, dad had bought that one acre of land. So in 1950 the Nishi and our family planted strawberries in the back.
KF
And this is after the war?
MY
Yeah.
KF
Okay.
MY
So in 1951-'52 we started picking strawberries for sale to mostly to the jam factories. They had jam factories in those days. And I didn't get paid, but in 1952, she bought me engine. A three horsepower engine. So I got – the Kishis, they built me a boat, row boat and I went fishing. I started fishing then. That's how I worked through university.
KF
Was fishing?
MY
Yeah, there was a lot of fish there.
KF
Now going back a little bit. Do you have any memories of the war and leaving Steveston?
MY
No.
KF
No?
MY
All I remember is Alberta working in the fields because I always liked working. So working in the fields I remember that and thinning, weeding, hoeing, popping, yeah. But I don't...after the first year, I was behind school so I attended school, but I didn't feel much discrimination there. Yeah, pretty well.
KF
And what part of Alberta were you-
MY
Picture Butte.
KF
Picture Butte, yeah. And you worked on a sugar beet farm.
MY
Yeah, yeah, Chudley farm.
KF
Okay.
MY
Yeah, my uncle says we were lucky because we were there for eight years at that one place.
KF
Oh you didn't get moved around?
MY
Oh well, you know, the people moved because they didn't like the boss or the conditions were not good so they must've given us everything. Yeah. So we were there for eight years. And my uncle, they moved three times, but he always said, oh we were lucky with that family.
KF
So in terms of when your family went to Alberta, later on did you find out what your family had lost during the war?
MY
Yeah, my dad went to – he had a court hearing in Alberta.
KF
About his property?
MY
Yeah, yeah. I got the papers from that.
KF
Oh really?
MY
Yeah.
KF
So what did your family lose?
MY
Well they all lost the value of the property and all the stuff that he stored there. Because as soon as they left, it was vandalised. And then linen nets, they only last – if you don't take care of them then they just deteriorate. You have to –
KF
Care for them.
MY
Yeah, yeah.
00:50:00.000
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MY
They lost a lot and oh yeah, he only got probably half of what he should of got for his property. The boat, he sold it before he left, I think. But there's all kinds of boats on the market so there was no price for it right.
KF
Oh I see.
MY
But I think the smaller boats, well people could buy it because it was probably less than a thousand dollars. The value might have been a little bit more, but they didn't do so badly, it's the big boats – who is going to buy a forty foot seine boat? So the companies bought those and they were, they were really taken on those. But I think the gillnetters, they didn't do that badly unless those ones that were damaged. You know took 'em up river and nobody looked after them so a lot of boats were damaged.
KF
And you were saying how your family would sit around the stove and share stories in the first year. Did your parents ever talk about the war and what had happened?
MY
Mmm, no I can't remember.
KF
It was mostly the –
MY
But after the war, I can't remember when, but I used to get leave every two years and I'd come back for two months. And I'd sit with my dad, he used to make his own sake.
KF
Oh cool.
MY
And – well mother made it, I guess. He would make six months supply so he had one going and he would be drinking it. And every evening he would make some sashimi or raw vegetables with sumiso and all this. And he would sit down half an hour before everyone else and he would...and I would sit with him and drink because I like to drink too. And I asked him and I said, “What do you think of the war?” He says, “Oh,” he says, “in the end it was probably good.” He says, “Look, you can go anywhere you want, you can do anything you want.” So if he said that, I had no complains about the war. He said that! He lost everything. He had to build two houses, he had to build a new boat. You know his old boat was still fishing when he returned.
KF
God...
MY
It's so awful. So if he said that, what can I say?
KF
I see. And do you have memories of the family that you worked for on the sugar beet farm?
MY
Yeah apparently they came and visited. Well there were two brothers around the farm and the oldest one, apparently he retuned to visit. But I wasn't here, I was overseas so I didn't meet them. Yeah, they treated us well, I guess.
KF
Had an amicable relationship.
MY
Yeah, yeah. I think my mother learned a lot about western cooking from the wife of the second brother.
KF
Oh okay.
MY
Yeah, I think that's where she learned how to cook lemon pies and apple pies. And how to can because in Alberta you canned everything, even beef.
KF
Even beef?
MY
Oh yeah.
KF
Really?
MY
Oh it's good.
KF
You can can beef!?
MY
Oh yeah, it's just really good, oh really tasty.
KF
So how does that work? Do you shave it and then can it? Or do you cut it up into pieces?
MY
Well she would cut it, I remember it was in chunks I guess, cut the piece of meat to fit the jar, but it was really good.
KF
Was it really?
MY
Oh yeah.
KF
Oh interesting, I'd like to try that.
MY
Yeah things were different then.
KF
So beforehand then your mother cooked mostly Japanese food when you were younger?
MY
Yeah. Yeah, I don't remember, but I think – well even now I eat mostly Japanese food.
KF
Do you?
MY
I only – well I have porridge in the morning and sandwich in the afternoon, but at evening it's generally rice. I just can't do without rice.
KF
I know that feeling. laughs
MY
Laughs But both my brothers are allergic to rice.
KF
No! Oh my god!
MY
Laughs Yeah.
KF
What a punishment!
MY
Oh if I had to give up rice...
KF
My mother and I always joke that our version of hell when we pass away was not ever being able to eat rice ever again and being forced to eat KD mac and cheese and stuff. Moe: laughs
MY
Laughs No, no, no.
KF
And my mom's like, “That would be just terrible!” laughs
MY
No, no, I can't. No it's mostly rice and fish if I can get it, but now fish is getting pretty hard to get. I went down to the docks today and there was no shrimp, there was no crabs...
KF
And it's getting expensive too.
MY
Yeah well, I figure there's not too many pleasures left so...laughs
KF
Yeah that's one to indulge in Moe and Kyla laugh. So what made your family decide to come back to Steveston after the war?
MY
Oh that...well dad and my uncle. I think they considered going and buying a farm in Alberta because we went up and looked at this place, but he was just a fishermen, he just liked it. He didn't come back in '49, but as soon as he heard – well what happened was forty nine fishermen came back and started fishing in summer of '49 and they did really well. And so what happened was that the canneries started looking for Japanese, they started recruiting.
KF
I've heard that a couple times.
MY
I heard they went as far as Montreal to recruit people. And when we came, there was no – they wouldn't let anybody in the cannery houses. All these cannery houses were empty, nobody was living in them. But once they started recruiting, they opened up these houses. So the canneries sponsored the boats, and they gave the housing. So you didn't have to have much to start. So that's why I figure about 50% of the fishermen came back. The ones that had the licenses. So and we were lucky, there was a lot of fish at that time. And the fish – and you know the Japanese fisherman are very diligent. And actually the canneries, I think they were really sorry to see the Japanese fishermen go –
KF
I was going to ask...
MY
Because they were so honest. They wouldn't do any hanky-panky things. Selfish took the cash part, well at that time there weren't many cash fires. But yeah...so they started recruiting so I remember I think Mastuo, I think he visited dad when we were in Alberta and so that winter of '49, they drove out to BC. Arranged for boats and came back and then they drove out again and the rest of the family came by train.
KF
So I was going to ask, do you think the canneries, when the war started, when most of the Japanese Canadian population was taken away, do you feel like they really felt an impact on their business?
01:00:08.000
01:00:08.000
MY
Oh they must've. And well, as soon as the Japanese came back and they saw how well they were doing, they started recruiting them.
KF
So tell me about what it was like to come back to Steveston.
MY
Oh I thought it was paradise. Isao was the only one that wanted to really come back.
KF
Really?
MY
Yeah, and I thought it was paradise. You walk along the boardwalk and there's these salmon berries, salmon berries! There was cherry trees, apple trees, going to these places around eating. A lot of these places, you know, they didn't care, but you'd go out and pick 'em off the trees...yeah. No I really looked forward to coming back actually, yes.
KF
Did you miss Steveston while you were in Alberta?
MY
Well I didn't know, I can't remember anything, right, but I remember I just wanted –
KF
That sense...
MY
Yeah, well I wanted to go fishing too. So as soon – when I was even rowing I went out, but...yeah...
KF
So then going back to school, what was that like? Because you said you were in grade six by the time you came back?
MY
Yeah, yeah, I went into grade six, halfway through grade six or just a few months of grade six. But you know, there were Japanese around. No, there was a little discrimination, I guess, but I can't remember that much. Anyway, everybody just seemed to fit in.
KF
And what was it like to meet Harold Steves as a young boy?
MY
Let's see...didn't have much to do with him, but we started to go to university together. He drove, he had a car so we used to ride with him.
KF
I see.
MY
So we went through all six – five years of university with him. Yeah...Long pause Anymore questions?
KF
Yeah, well I was going to ask, so when you came back what would you do in your free time when you weren't in school or you weren't fishing?
MY
Oh well, first year we were at the wharf, all the Japanese kids would get together and play on the wharf. I can't remember the games we played, but it was mostly – it was all Japanese, get together and play games. I can't remember the name of the games though. But anyway that's what we used to do. And on the weekends, well this was later when we were going to university, we would get the teams, baseball teams and we'd play baseball. There was three groups of people my age and then two other groups and we would play baseball. That's what I remember. And then as we got older, we all started to go to the pub on the weekends and then go down Chinatown or WhiteSpot on Granville Island. On the weekend we used to do that. Sitting up until it closes and then go down Chinatown.
KF
What was Chinatown like then?
MY
Oh they had some fabulous restaurants!
KF
Yeah?
MY
And ten of us would go. And we would each order a dish and it would come out to ten bucks. One dollar each!
KF
That's amazing.
MY
And the food was much better too, I think. Now the Chinese food, all they do is if you order a fish dish, it's all fish. Or if you order a meat dishes, it's generally all meat, they don't mix it like they used to before.
KF
So in terms of your friends then, was it primarily Japanese people or did you ever interact with other kids or people from different backgrounds?
MY
Not much, except when we started to go to university. High school was mostly within Japanese....yeah...So I worked all my life overseas so I knew very few people here. You meet people through school, or through work and I never worked here so I have very few friends outside of the school, the people that I went to school with.
KF
And so you continued fishing through university.
MY
Oh well, I think in 1958 I stopped.
KF
Oh you stopped in 1958?
MY
Yeah so I figured I'd better start working with the – you know working to get experience so I worked two years with the department of fisheries in Nanaimo and that was at the docks in Campbell Ave. They don't have them there anymore, but they're just measuring fish and that.
KF
What influenced you to go study at the – is it the Fisheries Institute at UBC?
MY
Institute of Fisheries. Well I always wanted to go into fisheries, yeah. I knew I couldn't fish for...because I don't have the strength. I figured I can't make a living at fishing so I figured I'd better go into fisheries. That's what I went through...
KF
Now in terms of cannery housing, you had mentioned how your family initially lived in cannery housing when you first came back. How long did you stay in the cannery housing for?
MY
That was just one year.
KF
One year.
MY
Yeah.
KF
And then where did you go afterwards?
MY
Well in the Spring of 1950 we put up a shell of the Nishi house. That's my uncle. We built the shell of that house and they moved in. Two families lived in one cannery house for, must've been about two, three months. And then we finished that, their house. And then in the Fall of '50 and the Spring of '51, we worked on our house. We had a contractor from Vernon, I think it was, he was from the interior anyway and he knew how to build houses so and we just helped him build the house. So in the Spring of '50, we moved into our property, house.
KF
And what was that house like in terms of the layout and location?
MY
Oh it's on Steveston Highway.
KF
Is it still there?
MY
Yeah.
KF
Oh is it?
MY
Yeah between Gilbert Road and Number 2 Road.
KF
Oh, okay, yeah.
MY
As you're going west, you'll come to greenhouses, what the heck was the name of the greenhouses...?
01:10:00.000
01:10:00.000
MY
But anyway, greenhouse and then you'll see a house with a green roof or a green house, painted green and then right next to it, they're identical, is a house with a painted red and that's our house. It's still in the agricultural lands so you can't sell it more or less.
KF
Oh wow and so what was the house like when it was built in terms of the layout? How many bedrooms?
MY
Well there was just two bedrooms on the main floor. There was a basement, main floor was the kitchen, the living room and the two bedrooms and then in the attic, they had put two rooms. For awhile I lived up there too. In between the stairway and the two rooms, I had my room up there too. So it wasn't a very big house, it's still not a very big house, but still... yeah.
KF
And then you had mentioned in the beginning how much your father had paid for that land initially.
MY
Yeah I think it was eight hundred and thirty dollars or something like that.
KF
For that acre?
MY
Yeah, yeah.
KF
And what about your other siblings, before, during, and after the war? You had mentioned your eldest sister has lived in Japan since 1927 so not everybody went over to Alberta then.
MY
No, she's the only one that never went. Everybody else went. Well there was six of us at that time and then two were born in Alberta. Yeah.
KF
Did your sister, your eldest sister, ever talk about what the war times were like in Japan while she was over there?
MY
I guess it was pretty tough, but after the war, the family sent care card – uh care thing...
KF
Care packages...
MY
Care packages.
KF
I see.
MY
Yeah so there was my father and his two sisters so those families sent over care packages so I think that helped quite a bit. Yeah...My eldest sister here is a nurse – was a nurse. Then my eldest brother was a fishermen and a carpenter, he worked in the boat house. My other brother, he owned the parts company. My younger brother next to me, he's a fishermen. And then my other brother was a fisheries biologist like me. And the my youngest brother was an architect. And then my youngest sister was a nurse. She's now married and living in Australia. So I have my oldest and the youngest overseas. All the rest are here.
KF
In Vancouver?
MY
Yeah...Help yourself Points to the cakes on the coffee table
KF
If I could maybe fast forward a little bit and talk about, maybe, your involvement with the Nikkei Images and your publishing work because even though you did so much survey work, you've got this whole other little career publishing books about Steveston and publishing articles with the Nikkei Images. How did you get involved with that kind of stuff?
MY
Well in '98, I guess I wrote that Steveston with Harold Steves. I just got interested in the – well I had all those photographs and I got interested in the history so I figured...yeah I had nothing to do. I just sit up here and so I just got into...And I wrote that and then there was the – yeah! For awhile, it just came out, I just wanted to write a book so I just sat down and wrote and now I try to write a book and it won't come out so. I can't push it. Yeah it was just from 1998 to 2001 or something. 2001 was it? Yeah, it just came out so it was easy, but now it just won't come out laughs.
KF
And what is it about the Steveston history that you find so fascinating for you?
MY
Well, yeah, I just wanted to find out why things turned out. I didn't know that the Government was trying to cut the Japanese out from...but I've written reports all my life. So...and I guess I went to the UBC Collection and found all these log books. And so I went through the log books of the Great West Cannery because I knew my father fished there. And I went to the BC Packers and so I got a daily catches of all these fishermen so I summarized all that. Yeah it was real interesting. Long pause But now they won't come out so.
KF
Are you working on any current research?
MY
I was working on one but it just won't come out like I say, so, you know, what can you do?
KF
Yeah.
MY
Oh, have you read this?
KF
What's that book there? No, Forgiveness.
MY
It's pretty interesting.
KF
Oh is it non fiction or fiction?
MY
No, this fellow writes about his family. I guess his grandfather was a prisoner of war in Japan.
KF
Oh, I see.
MY
And his mother was evacuated. Or his grandmother.
KF
Oh, interesting.
MY
So I guess he talked to his grandfather and grandmother and got the stories so it's kind of interesting. Some of it is – you know he hasn't had – like working in the beet fields, he doesn't know.
KF
He doesn't have that experience.
MY
Yeah. But it's kind of interesting.
KF
When you were doing your own research in the beginning in the '90's and whatnot, were you interviewing other families and people who were interned?
MY
Yeah, yeah, well I interviewed all of the old people to see what their experiences were like, but like I said I didn't use those points to the recorder so...
KF
Laughs Not the high technology we have now?
MY
Yeah, yeah, just writing and I don't know how to interview people...I just asked what interested me so I probably missed a lot of things.
KF
And so what kind of information did you get from the people? What was the common theme or sentiment that you picked up from your interviews?
01:20:05.000
01:20:05.000
MY
Oh...Long pause I guess I just – I should've interviewed a lot more people to get a wider view, but I just interviewed people I knew or somehow made contact with. That was it. That was more or less it. But if I had a specific thing that one, I would go to a specific person to ask...But they never told me about these restrictions, on the license restrictions and all that. But the Japanese before the war, they were in a very good position. Well I only know the fishermen, but, you know, the prices were increasing for the fish and there were taking everything they could catch. Whereas before they were not taking dog salmon, say. They weren't canning them, but because of this build-up to the war, they were canning everything and the prices were rising. And the runs were increasing. After the Hell's Gate, the runs were slowly building. So about 1934, they had a fairly good catch, '36 they had a good catch, '38 they had a good catch and 1942 was a bonanza, but they missed out on that.
KF
Right.
MY
And the fishermen – I figured that people on the west coast, they were making about ten thousand dollars a year. Well ten thousand dollars at that time was...that was quite a bit of money. I think dad in 1942, '40, bought that property for about six hundred dollars, one acre. So everybody was building new boats or they were putting in– you know, building new boats. So they were really doing well. And the Japanese in Japan like my father, he built that boat in '40, probably a lot of other people were probably thinking about getting their own places too. If it wasn't for the war, the Japanese would have been in – well look at all the farms they had in Richmond, only Richmond. Well one reason was because of the Government's restrictions on licenses. They had no place to do – to go so they invested what money they had. And I think Fishermen's Union helped these people to buy that land too. Yeah they controlled the berry industry and I think the garden market at that time, I think, in 1942...
KF
So when you look back on your research then, what do you think was the driving force and sentiment of the people in Steveston or the Canadian government that wanted the Japanese Canadians to leave? Why do you think there were some tension before the war?
MY
What was this?
KF
Well I know I've talked to some people in the past and they have some theories as to why they wanted the Japanese Canadians to be gone during the war, whether it be threat of jobs, from controlling the berry farms, is that your same understanding, sort of, the tensions between non-Japanese Canadians and Japanese Canadians.
MY
Well with the Japanese it was the war. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor so they wanted to get these people out of the coast, that was the primary thing. I think before that, without the war, I don't think there was any ...They were segregated in Japanese Town, but they were all these other people outside. They just got along. But I think it was the war that pushed them out or to get them out. Same thing that's happening with the Muslims in the States. Just this fear, I think. Yeah.
KF
Were you ever a part of the Redress movement?
MY
No I was overseas at that time.
KF
You were still overseas, yeah.
MY
Yeah and at that time I figured, like my dad had said, “Ah it's probably a good thing,” so I didn't pay much attention. Of course I accepted it, but laughs...
KF
And what have your siblings said about what had happened during that time? Do you guys ever talk about it?
MY
No we don't.
KF
No...
MY
Yeah.
KF
Yeah.
MY
But...yeah like I say, my dad figured it wasn't a bad thing because look at us. If he feels that way, who am I to judge. I'm more or less the same way, but they did lose a lot. They really lost...yeah my dad's done quite a bit in his lifetime. Started all over when he was fifty years old, which is...yeah...
KF
Yeah to start over at fifty...
MY
Yeah, you know, I quit work or there was no more work at 57 so I came home at 57. So I've been sitting around most of my life now. I would have much preferred to be working...
KF
So what did you do after fifty seven? You said you were remained employed and you've been living in Vancouver, but what kind of things did you do to keep yourself occupied?
MY
Well I went fishing, but then the fish were gone. The fish disappeared and so I just go out to the old property and farm, I do that. It keeps me busy during the summertime. Furnish six people in the apartment with veggies laughs one of them that came, that's why she brought these.
KF
I see. So the farm is still fruitful and producing lots then?
MY
Yeah, I just go out and start in the Spring and yeah. During the Summertime I more or less don't have to buy any veggies or fruit.
KF
That's nice.
MY
Yeah, that's. Yeah, that's really nice. And keeps me busy too.
KF
They say farming and gardening is some of the best exercise you can do anyway.
MY
Well I just like, I just like the fresh stuff.
KF
Yeah.
MY
And this year was a fabulous year for fruit. Oh!
KF
Was it?
MY
Oh from cherries to plums to apples, oh! Just had a bumper crop.
01:30:04.000
01:30:04.000
KF
Really?
MY
Mhm.
KF
Now can we go back to some of your travels. What was it like to be Japanese Canadian and travel to these different countries and encounter different cultures?
MY
Oh...I don't know. It was just like I was working up in Alaska, you know?
KF
Yeah.
MY
Yeah it was...Yeah it was...I guess I didn't think much about it. The only place that was a little different – well the Middle East. That was quite different.
KF
Yeah what was it like at that time when you were working?
MY
Didn't have much contact with the local people because all the people that I worked with were from other countries. Countries outside the Middle East. There wasn't any local people working with us except in Oman where I had a counterpart. And I started a small sampling program where I would go down to the beach, I think it was everyday and counting the number of boats that come in and their catch and try to other catch. And try to get an estimate of the total number of boats that come in that day. And after awhile a local fellow, he started doing that for me. So that was kind of nice. But other than that there was no counterparts because they were so rich that they didn't have to work. They had people from India and Iran, Pakistan doing all the work. So we had no counterparts. That was kind of strange. But every place else, I had a counterpart that I worked with, got to know them a little bit better. I didn't have one in Barbados either...yeah we didn't have any counterparts in Barbados....Yeah it's a...it felt like any place else I guess because it was an international organization so we had people from all different countries.
KF
Different backgrounds...
MY
Yeah, experts, so called experts and every other country is working together, that was kind of interesting. Met a few interesting people.
KF
Do you still go to Steveston during the wintertime at all? I know you said you go in the summertime, but do you periodically make trips in the winter?
MY
I've been going more or less every weekend to get some shrimp or crab or something, but there wasn't any today so I don't know if they're going to have any during the winter time. Yeah. Yeah the number of fish are just decreasing, something's happening to the sea, just not producing.
KF
And when you look at Steveston from when you were young, say when you were in grade six to now, how has Steveston changed for you overtime?
MY
Well you know when we first came, the fishing on the river was going from, let's say, from April to November. Five days a week. Now this year I think the fishermen had one or two days and that was only to fish dog salmon. There was no opening for sockeye so that's how much it's changed.
KF
Yeah the industry has changed significantly.
MY
Oh there is no canneries!
KF
Yeah there's only two –
MY
No. There's no – well there's small –
KF
Well I guess two buildings, yeah.
MY
There's only – I don't think there's any canneries in Prince Rupert even.
KF
Nope they're all gone.
MY
Yeah. So whereas when we came, there was the Great West, Phoenix, the Imperial and I think Canadian Fish was still operating, four. That was in 1950.
KF
Right.
MY
In 19, what? 5, there might have been twelve, fifteen? So that's how much it's changed.
KF
And then in terms of the family houses in Steveston, how have those changed? You were talking about how people have slowly been slowly selling off parcels of land and the old houses that you took photographs of, are really no longer there.
MY
Oh they were just demolished because they were getting fairly old, they were staring to fall apart. And so I don't know when the Japanese family was in a cannery house, 1970's maybe? After that they started tearing them down and selling of the lands. So the Japanese, most of them were able to buy land and build their own houses and that so. And then when they came to sell the licenses and boats, the Vietnamese had come in so most of the old fishermen were able to get rid of the licenses and their boats. The first really good prices. Now my brother can't even sell his boat, can't even sell his license because who is going to buy for a fishing season where there is no season for sockeye. It's really, really terrible. And our Government's now seems to be promoting sport fishing.
KF
Oh interesting.
MY
For, you know, you have these big lodges up in the north.
KF
Yeah.
MY
And they're promoting those whereas they're not opening it up for the commercial fishermen. No it's sad state of affairs, but it's not only the overfishing, it's something that's happening in the sea. It's just no production anymore. And I didn't know if anybody's looking into it. I guess there are some people who are looking into it.
KF
So when look back on your life, what are some of the major highlights?
MY
I don't know. I don't see much good of all the work that we did with the UN, but no I think the most striking thing is the ...the weather's changing...when we went up to Alaska, we made five drags with a forty two foot shrimp troll, half hour.
KF
Wow.
01:40:00.000
01:40:00.000
MY
We had five tonnes. As soon as we got the shrimp on board, it would be just about all shrimp, a ton each. And we could do was shove it overboard. Now there's no shrimp fishery up in that area. And so it's really changing...No it's...Yeah something is really happening to the sea and I don't know if anybody- like I say, nobody seems to be interested.
KF
So it sounds like fishing and the fishermen way of life has been a big part of your life since the very beginning.
MY
And there's no more fish.
KF
Yeah...
MY
Yeah....yeah. I guess that's it. And we used to have frost in September. I think we had one day of frost in October. The other day we had eighteen degrees.
KF
Well it was sunny this morning here.
MY
I mean, eighteen degrees! It was a little chillier today, but things are really changing. And if we don't do something fairly quickly, I don't know what's going to happen. I guess, I won't see it, I'd sure hate to see what it's going to be like for the next generation. When I was going to university I went to university going fishing, I made enough to – tuition was three hundred dollars. Now what's it cost?
KF
It's way more than that laughs. Let me tell you. Laughs Thousands.
MY
Yeah. The people are going into debt several hundred thousands I've heard in the States.
KF
The States it's really bad.
MY
It's just ridiculous, something ...I don't know if Trump will do anything, but I kind of have my worries. Yeah...
KF
Yeah do you keep track of what's going on currently?
MY
Yeah.
KF
Yeah?
MY
I try to, yeah I get The Economist so...
KF
Yeah few of the magazines. You had mentioned that you had seen some similarities from the past with what's going on today with the Islamaphobia and the Muslims...mhm.
MY
Yeah I try to keep up with what's going on and read books, that's all I do now is read books mostly. Not fiction, but other general...
KF
So for you when you were writing these books, was it important for you to share this information with people? You've done so much extensive research and history and you've published books about Steveston history, did you have a reason to help preserve that history?
MY
No it was just that I was interested so I just – and like I say it would come out so I just wrote it. No it wasn't...sell them, well I guess I wanted to sell books, but we haven't made any profit so...laughs I guess the only one that we've been selling fairly well is the first book so...
KF
And when you look back on the war and you had had conversations with your father about how he had felt and also doing your research, when you look back now, what are your thoughts about the war in general and what had happened to the Japanese Canadian community?
MY
Well they really had to put up with quite a bit. Trying to kick them out of the fisheries and then – but they developed most of the fisheries, they developed the herring fisheries. They more or less developed the west coast trolling industry. The US had a trollers on the west coast, but in their waters, but no one was fishing off Vancouver Island. They developed the cod fishery, well there's no more cod fishery now. These fishermen used to go out and catch herring, keep them live and then use them as bait to catch these big lingcod. There's no more fishery now. There's a few lingcod apparently, but there's no fishing in the gulf anymore, that's where the main fishing was. Yeah...No I guess the most thing that strikes me is how fast that all that fisheries have deteriorated. Only a few prawn fishermen, but that's because the prices are so good. And there's a few geoduck fishing, but that's because – well I don't know why. The abalone fishing, there's no more. There's a black cod fishery and a halibut fishery. They're fairly well regulated, but...they still seem to be going, but that's about all. Our salmon fishery even in Skeena River, I don't think they had an opening this year, I'm not quite sure.
KF
So I guess in your lifetime then you've seen...you were in a time where you saw the fishing industry really flourish and come down.
MY
Yeah, yeah. Yeah I don't know if the – yeah it was – there was a lot of fish. And there was probably...yeah, yeah...I saw it at it's best, I think. And the Japanese came in when it was still good. And they really done well and they got out. They were able to get out because of the Vietnam fishermen and there was a demand for boats and licenses. Now there's no demand for any except for the halibut and the lingcod and the prawn fishery, it's all gone.
KF
Oh I just thought, did you ever talk to your mother about the war at all? Did she ever –
MY
No, no.
KF
No?
MY
No, but it must've been really hard for her because we had this house, we had the electricity, indoor bathroom and all the conveniences. We go off to Alberta, no electricity, coal stove and she had to work out in the field. Yeah it must've been hard for her.
KF
Do you know what she took with her when you went to Alberta?
MY
I know she took the – they had bought these aluminum pans, I think, all the families in Steveston bought these aluminum. I know she took a set of those.
01:50:00.000
01:50:00.000
MY
What else did she...They had a sewing machine that they left, but they were able to get back. They request that they send it and they sent it. And my dad had two shotguns that the RCMP confiscated and he got those back in Alberta.
KF
Really?
MY
Yeah. And the RCMP officer in Alberta, he wanted to buy it because it was a top of the thing uh...Winchester...yeah –
KF
Oh...it was a nice.
MY
Yeah Winchester pump gun. Then they stopped making those during the war, right?
KF
So it was almost like a collector's item?
MY
Well no it was a very new- it was a new shotgun that they stopped producing it during the war so he wanted to buy it. Yeah...
KF
Do you have memories of interacting with the RCMP officers on the farm?
MY
No...no, I can't remember.
KF
But your father had that interaction about the RCMP officer wanting to buy the guy.
MY
Well the RCMP had confiscated it so as soon as they were allowed dad requested them back and I guess the RCMP officer delivered it, I guess. Yeah. Yeah the only people involved with was the fisheries officer Tom Roth – Rothery. Yeah we were great friends, but he caught me three times I think. Yeah. One time I got fined.
KF
Oh no.
MY
Yeah we had to go to court in New Westminster, we were illegally fishing so they caught about five of us and we all ended up in court in New Westminster. Long pause Yeah.
KF
When did you start going to Japan to visit your sister?
MY
I went first in – well I ...let me see...I graduated...and then in ...I graduated and then I went into graduate school at the Institute of Fisheries. And my roommate was a fellow from Alaska, he was studying for his Masters. So he asked me if I'd like to go up and work the summer there. You know, summer employment so I said, “Yeah.” So I went up to Cottage Lake in Kodiak Island, that's where they have the Kodiak Bear. I was there for...I worked in there in summertime. It had bears there, I think I saw twelve one day. But that's when I decided I'd go, better I go to see because I couldn't run fast enough from the bears laughs. If the bear chased after me so...
KF
So what was it like going to Japan for the first time?
MY
I went to study Japanese, but I spent too much time drinking so...And then I never felt – well it was very warm there. I don't mind the warmth, but it gets cold there, damp cold and there's no heating and I just couldn't stand that so after ten months I came back home. Actually it was with the Japanese professor that really treated me well. I could've stayed but I just...I'm just not very good in languages, I just don't have the facility for it, I guess. And especially in reading and writing. It's tough that reading and writing....Then I went in '70...let me see, it was '60, '61 I was there for ten months I think. And then I've been back oh, gee wiz, I must've went back about once...yeah I went, I went – when I was in the Philippines I went there. I think there I went there twice, I think. And then in 1968, I think I went back and then I went maybe two years after that. Phone rings in the back I don't know who it is...selling something. Kyla: laughs Then about six years ago I started going back every year because my sister, she's getting Alzheimer's, she's really getting bad but she's very active so she can still – she's still living by herself and I have a cousin's wife that lives close by so she's able to look after her so...
KF
So does your sister still live on her own?
MY
Yeah, yeah.
KF
Oh wow.
MY
Yeah...So I've been going back every...I guess it's been five, six years now and then go back every year. But I like Japan, it's a really nice country. Yeah and especially her part, Wakayama. Have you ever been to Wakayama?
KF
Yeah, it's nice.
MY
But have you been on the east coast of the keep ?
KF
No.
MY
Ah it's completely different from the other side, on the west side.
KF
Oh is it? Really?
MY
Oh it's much more rugged –
KF
Yeah.
MY
And it's all full of trees.
KF
Oh that's nice.
MY
Yeah, they have these, I guess they're planted trees, but there's no demand for them, they're getting all these trees from BC and more recently from Siberia, I think. So there's no demand for this trees, but they're big. And you can see – they're planted in rows.
KF
Yeah.
MY
Yeah it's a village right next to Taiji.
KF
Oh okay, yeah. And then when you visit her, how long do you stay there usually?
MY
I generally stay a month.
KF
Nice.
MY
One year I stayed two months, but yeah it's a ...food especially.
KF
No kidding...
MY
No any place you go they have good food. But I see ramen is the thing around here now. There are ramen places all over the place.
KF
It's getting really popular.
MY
Yeah it's very popular over there too.
KF
Yeah.
MY
So...a lot of people go there just to sample the ramen there. Kyla laughs.
KF
Well yeah every region has their own recipes and –
MY
Apparently yeah, I see there's Shizuoka and ...
KF
Yeah. Well to finish, I have one last question, I told you that we would be taking these interviews once we're finished with the research and putting them up in a digital archive for people to listen later on in the future.
02:00:00.000
02:00:00.000
KF
So for those people who may listen to it a few years down the road, several years down the road, do you have anything you'd like to say or impart a message of any kind?
MY
No.
KF
No? Laughs
MY
No. But you want me to sign something?
KF
Sure. Yeah...
MY
The release, I guess we have the same thing.
KF
Yeah, for sure. Well thank you so much for sitting down and sharing your stories.
MY
Well I don't know if it was very interesting, but... laughs
KF
No it was great, thank you.
02:00:36.000

Metadata

Title

Moe Yesaki, interviewed by Kyla Fitzgerald, 19 November 2016

Abstract

Moe Yesaki was born in Steveston, BC in 1936 and grew up in a family of fishermen. His family was forcibly uprooted to Picture Butte, Alberta and worked on a sugar beet farm. In 1950, Moe and his family returned to Steveston. Eventually Moe studied at UBC’s Institute of Fisheries and was later offered a permanent position as a fisheries biologist in Juno, Alaska. In this interview, Moe shares with Kyla his family history and their fishing legacy, his global trabels as a fisheries biologist, and his knowledge and history of the fishing industry pre and post-war in Steveston. Moe also shares his memories in Picture Butte, Alberta as a young child, returning to Steveston after the war, his family’s endeavours to rebuild their life and his fond memories of fishing. Kyla and Moe also discuss his own research and writing on Steveston and BC history. Finally, Moe reflects on the current state of fishing in BC today and his travels to Japan to visit family.

Credits

Interviewee: Moe Yesaki
Interviewer: Kyla Fitzgerald
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Vancouver, British Columbia
Keywords: Steveston ; Japanese Hospital; Lord Byng; Richmond ; Richmond High School; UBC ; University of british Columbia ; fishing; boats; Japanese; Japan ; Alaska ; Fraser River ; Skeena River; Vancouver Island ; cannery; berry farms; British Columbia ; Picture Butte ; Alberta ; Great West Cannery; Steveston Highway; sugar beet; housing; Chinatown; biologist; publishing; research; war; fisheries; family; travel; Wakayama ; 1880s – 2010s

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.