Stan and Aileen Yokota, interviewed by Heather Read, 30 October 2015

Stan and Aileen Yokota, interviewed by Heather Read, 30 October 2015

Abstract
In this interview Stan and Aileen Yokota share their childhood memories. Aileen speaks about growing up in Ocean Falls, British Columbia and how just before war was waged against Japan her father had sensed something was wrong and moved the family to Toronto in 1942. She then speaks about the Takata Japanese Garden that her family helped build in Victoria, BC. After the war against Japan had started, the Garden along with a silver tea set was lost. Aileen also recalls memories of her aunts and uncles who lost property during this time period. For example, her Auntie Francis lost a chicken farm in the Delta, BC area.
Stan discusses his childhood growing up in the Okanagan when Canada was at war with Japan. Since his immediate family was relatively poor there was no loss of property. However, Stan briefly speaks about his extended family’s experiences of internment and dispossession. He recalls the fear and trauma that swept over the Japanese community as they were targeted for their possible connection to Japan. Stan and his family were kicked out of the farm they lived on because they were Japanese. Eventually they moved to an orchard farm in Kelowna, BC. Here, the family still faced discrimination as Stan remembers the locals telling them they were not wanted in the area. Stan then talks about his journey to become a Christian minister and to establish his own church in Toronto, Ontario.
Both Stan and Aileen express the important role Christianity played in their lives during and after the war. They explain that their church has a Japanese focus because they want to maintain the language and community. The couple also marveled at the resilience of the Japanese Canadian community and how they were able to remain vigilant despite the circumstances.
00:00:00.000
Heather Read (HR)
Well I first have to say, this is Heather Read on October 30th. I’m here with Stan and Aileen Yokata⁠—
HR
Yokota, sorry.
AY
Y-O-K-O-T-A, Yoko and then ta
HR
Of course, my apologies. Laughs.
AY
That’s ok. Laughs.
HR
And Peter Hur is also joining me here and we’re here to talk about the Landscapes of Injustice Project. So Aileen, as I mentioned before we turned on the recording, it would be lovely to hear what you remember of your childhood.
AY
I’ll go back to 1941, when I was born and it was before the war broke out, in a little town called Ocean Falls BC, which it no longer exists, but at that time it was on the further northwest coast of BC; mainly a fishing, pulp, and paper community. There were a lot of Japanese living there finding employment, and my father was one of them. My mother, before she was married, she was a Japanese language school teacher in Vancouver on a street called Alexander. I believe it’s still there. When I was only a baby, I believe it was February of 1942, before everyone was evacuated my dad sensed something was wrong. My dad is part of a family that had the Takata Garden in Victoria and he never lived there but he would often visit because of the Garden, the Takata Japanese Garden in the gorge near Esquimalt. So my dad thought he’d better sell what little he had. He was a photographer and he liked doing his own dark room so he sold what he had, bought two train tickets for my mother and father, and we came east to Toronto and I believe it was the end of February, and got settled in early March, I guess through friends that were here already, not too many, but there was a Mrs. Hirabayashi who’s long since deceased, helped us find a place to live and we actually lived on Huron Street in a brick apartment building with other Japanese who were able, through the Jewish community, to find a place to live. We’re very grateful to the Jewish community. They also helped us get employment when no other people would employ us because there was a, a frenzy over, you know, Pearl Harbor in December of ’41 so, we were able to live on Huron Street for a few years and then my father worked hard at a French La Chaumiere restaurant on Church Street at the time and was able to save enough money to buy a small little house on Belmont street, which is between Yonge and Bay, but at that time there were two of us children and my next brother was expected to arrive, he arrived in 1947, and then my mother nine or ten months later died of stomach cancer. So my father had three young children. I was just six and a half, almost seven, and my brother was two years younger than myself and of course the baby was only 9 months old so, those were dearly beginnings where we struggled, and we appreciate the help of the other. . . my maiden name is Takata so my aunt and uncles, both on my mother’s side and my father’s side, did a lot to help us through those early years. So that’s why I want to remember, on my father’s side the Takata Japanese Garden, which was, I have it here, the background is, “it was named for the Takata family who built and operated a Japanese garden in the Gorge Park from 1907 to 1942, when the war came. Mr. Toyo Takata, who was born and raised in the park, had been an enthusiastic supporter of the efforts to build this establishment garden and also plans to rebuild the original Gorge site later on.”
00:05:24.000
00:05:24.000
AY
It was started through two Japanese businessmen in Victoria, that’s my other uncle, uncle Harry and his friend Joe Kishida, they created a small Japanese garden, and by the way Joe Kishida’s father was the one that designed the Japanese section of Butchart garden. It was a tea house favorite destination for the Victorian people in Victoria, and then it began to decline in the depression of the 1930s and then of course the Japanese community lost everything in ’42. So, they did reestablish it back in 1986 to the 1990s. Both Stan and I went to see the one established at the horticultural center of the pacific, which is now a different name, I believe it’s, I can’t even remember whether I wrote down the new name but, and then in their anniversary they had another little garden established right in the original Gorge of Esquimalt. There were a lot of people in that Victoria area that lost property. I found out that there was a dry cleaning. . . they didn’t own the land but they owned business, and some of them were, I found out, Stan’s family as well. Also on my own side of the family, before I get into Stan’s, is that my mother who was an Ohori Aileen spells the name out, her uncle Genichi owned his own rooming house. I think I wrote down the name, I think it was on. . . was it Hastings? Asking Stan. It. . . After the war he was able to go back and start again in a rooming house but he’s now, quite elderly. Um, so those are the two on my mother’s and father’s side that lost some property and I remember very clearly regarding the Takata garden, there was also a ja- not a Japanese, but a tea set, a silver tea set with a tray and a tea pot and a cream and sugar, and they had lost it but on the bottom of it, it had my uncle Harry’s H. Takata written on the bottom. Before my other uncle, died he was getting ready for a trip to Japan in 1979, and just two weeks before he left for the trip, this Mr. Kensuke Takata Aileen spells the name out. he was able to somehow get back that tea set. Someone had sent it because it had the monogram “HT” on the bottom, as I said. . .
HR
Wow.
AY
So that was so exciting. We came and sat around this table and took pictures of the tea set with my uncle and my dad, his brother and everybody. That was exciting because later in Japan he died, in October of ’79 so. . .
HR
That’s really rare to get a treasure like that.
00:09:44.000
00:09:44.000
AY
To get it back, yes. Yeah, so someone must have been kind enough to do some research and find him because Harry had since moved to Japan and had died. We call him Harry but his real name was Hayato Aileen spells the name out. and he was the one with Joe Kishida, started this garden, the original, in Esquimalt in Victoria. Now, when I was talking to Stan’s aunts and uncles I found out that there were several who had cleaning businesses in Victoria. One was on fourth street Victoria and another one, I believe was. . . I can’t remember the name of the other one. . . but your Uncle Bill and Auntie Francis had bought and sold the dry cleaning is what she told me. She’s in her 90s. You might want to contact Auntie Francis. She has a very good memory but she has also referred me to other people. She was a Goto on her side of the family, and they lost a chicken farm in the Delta BC area. That’s Surrey area now today. So they moved to be with the other Goto’s, and, that was there loss and then his other uncle is married to Auntie Terri. Terri was a Yamashita and her father owned a Yama taxi company before the war at, I believe he. . . they said 205 Gore Avenue and he had five cars and his own Packard car and he lost all that and he just started up a you-drive, it was called a you-drive because it was a rent-a-car business and the war came and he lost it. Terri’s dad’s name was Shintaro Yamashita and he was originally from Japan, and they had just also started up an electrical appliance store so he was a very ambitious entrepreneur, her dad. Then the war came and they had to sell the appliances in the store. They didn’t own the building but they owned the actual business and they did get a little money back from that. I think your other uncle, who was a Tasaka, he still lives at Momiji and he knew a lot about BC but he is also in his 90s. His real name was Tasaka but he was adopted. In those days, I think there were twenty one in his family.
AY
Seventeen? Oh okay, seventeen. There were too many children so he was adopted by a couple, last name was Ise. Old sister was married to an Ise, and they didn’t have children so they wanted to carry on the Ise name because the Tasaka name was very popular. In BC you will probably find a lot of Tasakas. So he was also from the Victoria area.
HR
Am I right in sensing from what you’re saying that the family was, kind of, both your families were based, kind of in Victoria and then also in Japan town part of Vancouver?
AY
Yeah, my mother’s side. And my mother before the war, before she was married was a Japanese language school teacher. I did call up my mother’s cousin Joe Ohori. He also must be up there in his 80s. But he was not in Canada he was in Hiroshima. . .
HR
Oh, wow.
00:14:49.000
00:14:49.000
AY
He suffered part of the. . . he’s been on T.V. regarding his experiences as a teenage boy and the atomic bomb. Um, is there anything else I wanted to share about that garden? Well the garden now, in what was called the horticultural center of the pacific at 505 Quayle Road in West Saannich, it’s changed its name but it has a plaque out front of the Takata part of the garden and it has a nice dedication to my cousin honoring his memory. And this cousin, by the way, is the one that wrote this book, “The Nikkei Legacy.” I’m not sure if. . . I know I wrote a piece for the Japanese paper years ago about Toyo’s visiting that garden and about the plaque, it’s a lovely plaque. He was an historian and a journalist as well.
HR
You were very young when you left BC, was the garden something your family talked about?
AY
Oh yes, yes. My dad took pictures of that garden and it ended up in that“ Nikkei Legacy” book. That’s why when it was reestablished Stan and I went back to see it first, as I say, in West Saan-ich in this horticultural center of the pacific. It’s just a small part of the big garden but I have a map of the garden which is huge. This is, sort of Laughs.. . . and then we’re a small part of it. But it has a lovely little entrance.
HR
Oh it doesn’t look small, it looks like that’s about a third of it. Laughs.
AY
Well, I don’t know but there’s sort of the entrance and there is a plaque honoring Toyo.
HR
During the war your family lost ownership of it?
AY
Well everything was taken, yeah.
HR
Do you know if it became property of the government or. . . ?
AY
No I don’t think they owned the land, but they owned the business. You know what I’m saying? Yeah.
HR
Oh I see.
AY
I’m not sure exactly how it all worked out. But this Ann-Lee and Gordon Switzer did a lot of research. That’s my aunt and uncle and that’s Toyo in the picture and the book is called, “Victoria Gateway to Promise.” And as I said there, our people. . . Oh there it is, it’s 505 Quail when we went to visit it. But as I say, it’s changed its name, it formally. . . Oh yes it changed its name to Glendale Center. And before that I heard that the original garden in Esquimalt was a former Kiwanis Park. They reestablished it though, just recently in the 2000s, and my cousins that were still alive went to witness the ribbon cutting and everything, so that was quite. . .
HR
What was it like when you went back to see it after it was reestablished, that must have felt. . . Stan, Aileen, and Heather speak at once.
AY
Well I didn’t see the one in Esquimalt but we saw the zoo it was beautiful, really beautiful. I took a picture of it, they have a bench, a wooden bench placed in the garden with the Mon, the Japanese symbol of the family and, I took a picture of it.
SY
See that’s a Mon but that’s the Ohori Mon.
AY
Oh this is a Mon but this is on my mother’s side. Her Japanese symbol for the family. Yeah.
HR
Oh and so there’s a specific symbol for Takata then?
AY
Yes.
HR
Oh that’s lovely.
AY
Before I forget regarding your parents, Directed towards Stan your mother was raised in Salt Spring Island and we went back with Stan’s mom and dad, they’ve been gone since 2004 and 2006, his dad lived to be nearly 101, his mother lived to be ninety two, they were 11 years apart. We bought this book and when we looked at it there are pictures of some of the Japanese community. Page 100, I believe, was one of them. Let’s see if I can find it here.
00:20:26.000
00:20:26.000
HR
And so your mom, Stan, grew up on Salt Spring Island?
SY
No, she was born in a part of Surrey, now called Strawberry Hill. She was born in New Westminster in the hospital there. She went to Japan with her sister and brother when they were just very small and when they came back they went to Salt Spring Island. So she worked there at the hotel until she got married and came into the Okanagan. So I could start telling you my story because I’m not from the coast.
00:24:46.000
00:24:46.00000:30:22.000
00:30:22.00000:34:56.000
00:34:56.00000:40:08.000
00:40:08.00000:45:07.000
00:45:07.00000:50:14.000
00:50:14.00000:55:05.000
00:55:05.00000:59:38.000
00:59:38.00001:04:53.000
01:04:53.00001:10:07.000
01:10:07.00001:15:23.000
01:15:23.00001:20:25.000
01:20:25.00001:25:00.000
01:25:00.00001:30:00.000
01:30:00.00001:35:07.000
01:35:07.00001:40:08.000
01:40:08.00001:44:58.000
01:44:58.00001:50:32.000
01:50:32.00001:54:58.000
01:54:58.00002:00:45.000

Metadata

Title

Stan and Aileen Yokota, interviewed by Heather Read, 30 October 2015

Abstract

In this interview Stan and Aileen Yokota share their childhood memories. Aileen speaks about growing up in Ocean Falls, British Columbia and how just before war was waged against Japan her father had sensed something was wrong and moved the family to Toronto in 1942. She then speaks about the Takata Japanese Garden that her family helped build in Victoria, BC. After the war against Japan had started, the Garden along with a silver tea set was lost. Aileen also recalls memories of her aunts and uncles who lost property during this time period. For example, her Auntie Francis lost a chicken farm in the Delta, BC area.
Stan discusses his childhood growing up in the Okanagan when Canada was at war with Japan. Since his immediate family was relatively poor there was no loss of property. However, Stan briefly speaks about his extended family’s experiences of internment and dispossession. He recalls the fear and trauma that swept over the Japanese community as they were targeted for their possible connection to Japan. Stan and his family were kicked out of the farm they lived on because they were Japanese. Eventually they moved to an orchard farm in Kelowna, BC. Here, the family still faced discrimination as Stan remembers the locals telling them they were not wanted in the area. Stan then talks about his journey to become a Christian minister and to establish his own church in Toronto, Ontario.
Both Stan and Aileen express the important role Christianity played in their lives during and after the war. They explain that their church has a Japanese focus because they want to maintain the language and community. The couple also marveled at the resilience of the Japanese Canadian community and how they were able to remain vigilant despite the circumstances.

Credits

Interviewer: Heather Read
Interviewee: Stan Yokota
Interviewee: Aileen Yokota
Audio Checker: Natsuki Abe
Encoder: Natsuki Abe
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Guildwood Village – Scarborough, Ontario
Keywords: Silver tea set; Takata Japanese Garden ; 505 Quayle Road in West Saannich; Vancouver ; Victoria ; Okanagan ; Black Mountain; Christianity; Shikata Ga Nai ; Community.; Jewish community; 1940s – 1950s

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.