Japanese internment letters convey betrayal at loss of homes, heirlooms

Good research and reminder of this historic injustice:

Judy Hanazawa says the federal government sold her family’s fishing boats and homes while her parents were in internment camps during the Second World War, but what hits hardest is seeing a 70-year-old letter from her father disputing a government cheque for $14.68.

Hanazawa had never seen the letter until recently, but the Vancouver resident said reading it conveys the sense of betrayal her father must have felt losing family possessions and having to start over with almost nothing after he was held in a camp in British Columbia’s Interior.

“My dad, in writing this letter, was really intent on being dignified in how he approached the government,” Hanazawa said. “He pointed out to them the value of these belongings was much more than he received. For him it was a lot to write this, to point out that this was not really right.”

The Feb. 10, 1947, letter to the federal Office of the Custodian in Vancouver includes a list of Hanazawa family items — a Singer sewing machine, record player, dresser and other household items — with an estimated value of $224.95. The letter also lists a Japanese doll, worth $10, and includes a reward for its return.

Geniche Hanazawa’s letter is one of 300 letters discovered in a federal archive written by Japanese Canadians protesting the sale of their homes, businesses and heirlooms while held in internment camps during the Second World War.

Historian Jordan Stanger-Ross of the University of Victoria came across the letters while researching federal archives as part of a project examining the dispossession of Japanese Canadians. The Landscapes of Injustice is one of Canada’s largest humanities research projects.

He said many Japanese Canadians were prepared to accept being sent to internment camps during the war, but losing everything was not expected. The federal government promised to keep the homes and businesses for internees, but the policy changed during the war and the properties were sold.

The letters reflect the sense of loss and betrayal Japanese Canadians felt towards the government for selling off their possessions and life’s work without consent, he said.

“They wrote these really remarkable letters, some of them are long and lay out life stories of migration to Canada, building a home, building a business, raising children,” said Stanger-Ross. “Some of them are very short and just say, ‘I received your cheque, which I tore up.’ ”

Authors of the letters include the Victoria owners of a successful dry cleaning business, an internee whose cousins died in France serving Canada during the First World War, and a man who put two of his Canadian-born children through medical school.

“We have many letters from people just shocked at the price for which both their land and personal belongings and businesses had been sold,” Stanger-Ross said.

About 22,000 Japanese Canadians were sent to internment camps in Canada from 1942 until 1949.

“Readers of these letters tend to pause and contemplate what it would mean for me to lose my home, my business, lose the opportunity to educate my children in my community and really lose the dream of multiple generations that have built lives here in B.C.,” Stanger-Ross said.

The letters are also set to become part of an online historical exhibition called Writing Wrongs at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby, B.C. The exhibit is scheduled to open in 2019.

Museum curator Sherri Kajiwara said Japanese Canadians were prepared to do their time in internment, but losing everything was not part of the deal.

“The thing I find with the letters is the unbelievable politeness and eloquence,” she said. “The language is so painfully polite; basically saying, ‘kindly, please, stop it. You are not allowed to sell my belongings.’ “

via Japanese internment letters convey betrayal at loss of homes, heirlooms | Vancouver Sun

Why Ontario should steer clear of East Asia’s identity politics

Diaspora politics in action.

While I would disagree that Japan has come to terms with its wartime atrocities (sharp contrast to Germany), Welch’s concern regarding the divisiveness of this proposal is valid (just as the Canadian Vietnamese community was split over Bill S-219 – Backward Bill Passed, but Vietnamese-Canadians Move Forward – New Canadian Media):

In recent years, China has fanned the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment, partly for instrumental reasons (an external enemy enhances national cohesion and regime legitimacy), and partly because many Chinese honestly believe that Japan is nostalgic for its imperial, militarist past, and continues to pose a latent threat to the mainland. It is hardly surprising that they do. Their government keeps telling them so. Chinese citizens are fed a steady diet of anti-Japanese propaganda in the press and in the form of late-night television dramas depicting the heroic struggle of Chinese soldiers against barbaric wartime Japanese invaders. The Nanjing Massacre figures heavily in these anti-Japanese narratives.

In fact, the government of Japan has long ago—and many times—acknowledged and repented of the country’s imperial sins. Only a handful of arch-nationalist cranks refuse to do so, and they speak only for themselves. Today, Japan is among the least militarist countries in the world. Most Japanese today see their own government as the primary source of their wartime suffering. Since 1945, Japan has been a responsible and constructive member of the international community.

One finds ample evidence of lack of empathy in Japan as well, where China’s anti-Japanese propaganda is seen as part of a larger geopolitical project to impose Beijing’s hegemony. With few exceptions, Japanese fail to appreciate the extent to which anti-Japanese sentiment in China can be attributed to a combination of ignorance and regime insecurity. But the Japanese government does not respond by demonizing China. Instead, it calls for greater cooperation and communication on issues of mutual interest, while hedging its bets through more-or-less-standard balance-of-power politics.

These two efforts to single out the Nanjing Massacre for commemoration effectively endorse and encourage Chinese misperceptions of Japan. They ask the people of Ontario and the people of Toronto to inflame and take sides in a dangerous clash of national egos. They work against, not for, stability in East Asia. This is not the Canadian way. Canadians are peacemakers and bridge-builders, not pawns in others’ domestic and geopolitical games.

At the same time, and at least as importantly, these two efforts threaten to undermine harmony here at home. More than 100,000 Ontarians have roots in Japan, and more than 700,000 have roots in China. Nothing good can come from fanning the flames ethnic hatred—except, perhaps, for cynical politicians who care only about the relative number of their constituents in their districts with Chinese or Japanese ancestry.

Finally, these measures are dangerous precedents. By taking sides in one case, Queen’s Park and Toronto City Council would effectively invite others to do the same. Ontario, in general, and Toronto, in particular, have more diverse populations than anywhere else in the world. There are not enough days in the calendar to commemorate every historical atrocity that drives an ethno-nationalist grievance.

Let us hope that our politicians see the wisdom of avoiding this particular minefield before the damage is done. No one could possibly object to commemorating the innocent victims of war; but if we are to do so, let us make the commemoration inclusive, in true Canadian fashion, rather than divisive.

Source: Why Ontario should steer clear of East Asia’s identity politics – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Rare views of Japanese-Canadian internment: 19 images remembering one of Canada’s darkest hours 

1941_boats-u1369Good and harrowing series of photos (have chosen just two):

Last week was the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Amid commemorations of the Americans killed in the attack, as well as the brutal war that followed, also came a solemn remembrance of how the United States interned coastal Japanese-American populations that it wrongly believed were a dangerous fifth column.

A similar tragedy, of course, played out in wartime Canada. In a country with an established tradition of respecting civil liberties, wartime hysteria led to 21,000 people of Japanese descent being forcibly removed from a 100-mile “defence zone” along the British Columbia coast.

But that’s only part of the story. The National Post has combed through archives across the country to unearth these rare photos of one of the darkest hours in modern Canadian history.


Beginning in March 1941 — eight months before the attack on Pearl Harbor — Japanese-Canadians were required to obtain these identity cards, which have been recently featured as part of the museum exhibition Registered. Something to note on these cards is that issuers felt the need to stamp them with the words “Canadian born.” It would have been understandable for the owners of these cards, both of them Canadian citizens, to see that stamp as a kind of insurance policy in case of war with Japan. But ultimately, 75 per cent of those interned were Canadian citizens, including many who could not speak Japanese or had fought for Canada in the First World War. With no similar mass internments taken against Italian- or German-Canadians, it was clear to them that this was motivated by a belief that Japanese were racially incapable of loyalty. As U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson summed it up, “their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanese.”

Douglas Todd: Joy Kogawa’s many shades of Japanese-Canadian shame

Interesting and disturbing:

Joy Kogawa has noticed reviewers of her new bookof memoirs have not touched arguably the most controversial section of her intimate exploration of betrayal and hope.

Reviewers have focused instead on the way the Vancouver-raised author of Obasan and The Rain Descends dealt with her Japanese-Canadian family being sent to an internment camp, the bombing of Nagasaki and how her father was a pedophile.

However, Kogawa, 81, has been publicly forthright for decades about those shame-filled realities.

The most cutting-edge section of her book, titled Gently to Nagasaki, digs into horrors most Canadians and ethnic Japanese want to deny — Japan’s war atrocities.

The peace activist’s memoirs describe her painful relatively recent discovery of the extent of the slaughters and mass rapes committed by the Imperial Japanese army.

It was while Japanese troops were killing millions of Asians and others that Canadian governments in 1942 sent many Japanese-Canadians, most of them from B.C., to internment camps.

Following her family’s ordeal in camps in the Kootenays and Alberta, Kogawa gained wide attention for helping lead the campaign that culminated in Ottawa’s 1988 apology and compensation to 20,000 Japanese-Canadians.

The many honours eventually bestowed upon Kogawa included the 2006 establishment of Vancouver’s Kogawa House, where the family had lived until 1942. It’s now a residence for writers.

But Kogawa has not allowed adoration to stop her pursuit of the authentic. Her mission seems to be to move beyond denial on all fronts: regarding internment camps, racism, global warming, her priest-father’s sexual crimes and her relatively recent discovery of Japanese war monstrosities.

“Love and truth are indivisible,” Kogawa says.

Her wise aphorism has had unpleasant consequences, though. Since most Canadians who don’t want to offend ignore Japan’s grisly war history, Kogawa acknowledged in an interview from her residence in Toronto that she’s had to “face the rage” of many.

“It’s cost me some really good friendships.”

Whether in Toronto, Vancouver or Japan, Kogawa said, many people, including ethnic Japanese, “just don’t believe” the atrocities occurred. They’d “rather die” than have the reality exposed.

“Or they feel I’m betraying them by talking about it. But it takes the truth to get to reconciliation.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Joy Kogawa’s many shades of Japanese-Canadian shame | Vancouver Sun

Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Paul Kariya

28 years after, Kariya, one of the negotiators for the apology, reflects:

What heinous crime was committed that necessitated such harsh treatment with no recourse to justice?  The War Measures Act was employed to infringe human rights and property title and brand these people enemy aliens.  Although the cloak of national security was used to justify the government actions, no evidence has ever been found of sabotage or espionage on the part of any Japanese-Canadian.

 Canada was at war with Japan, Italy and Germany. But the same actions were not taken against all residents of Italian and German descent.  Why Japanese-Canadians?  The instigation and motivation was racism and economic opportunism led by a small number of politicians and other interest groups who used the Second World War as a cover to whip up hysteria and manipulate government to destroy a vibrant, peaceful and contributing community.

Only a few institutions of society opposed the mass uprooting, suggesting it was wrong and unjust.  Municipal governments, political parties, labour unions, service clubs and mainstream churches either led the charge or passively stood by.  Only the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation Party and some evangelical churches said it was wrong.

Could this happen again?  I don’t think so. The Japanese-Canadian community helped draft the emergency Measures Act (successor to the War Measures Act) and today we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  But as we see in the current U.S. election campaign, the ugliness of racism can emerge in seemingly legitimate circumstances.

The only other group of people treated racially in this manner in B.C. with far more devastating impacts and horrors were First Nations peoples.  And despite progress in health, education and economic development, are we really dealing with the very difficult fundamental subject that a past mentor, the late James Gosnell, Nisga’a leader, named 40 years ago, as “the Land Question.”

My father and mother never got their house, fishing boat or possessions back.  The Custodian of Enemy Alien Property was supposed to keep all confiscated private properties in trust for later return, but instead these were almost all immediately sold off.  It was heart breaking to have my father point out to a twelve year old me, “that boat named Marine K used to be ours.”

In 1988 symbolic individual compensation of $21,000 was awarded to surviving internees. But of course, title, property, possessions, lives and communities could not be returned.

I expect reconciliation with First Nations in B.C. will not see all former lands and resources returned. But we can pick up the pace to resolve the injustices through negotiation.

Let me say, I have never felt prouder to be a Canadian than when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney turned to us in the House of Commons Gallery that September day in 1988 and introduced us Japanese-Canadians and then proceeded to read the government’s apology.

Source: Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Vancouver Sun

Lessons from the Japanese Canadian internments: Policies built on fear won’t make us safer

Jordan Stanger-Ross, Eric Adams and Laura Madokoro on some of the lessons from WW II Japanese Canadian interment (for those who have not read it, Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan captures the reality):

The wartime fates of people of Japanese descent in North America have recently returned to headline news. The National Association of Japanese Canadians, which in the 1980s led the Redress movement, called last year for the repeal of Bill C-51 (the complex omnibus legislation dealing with surveillance, information sharing among government agencies and various new terrorist-related crimes) by reminding the government of what then-prime minister Brian Mulroney called its “solemn commitment” that the mistreatment of Canadians in the name of security would “never again in this country be countenanced or repeated.”

In the fall, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair explicitly compared Bill C-51 to the Orders-in-Council of the 1940s, which curtailed the rights of Japanese Canadians. In the United States, Donald Trump indicated that the mass internment of Japanese Americans during the war may have been the correct policy, shortly before calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Jan. 19, 1943, is therefore a date worth remembering. The forced sale of Japanese-Canadian property marked a moment in Canada’s past when racism, misunderstanding and fear wrapped themselves in misguided notions of security and in the formal language of the law. Other and nefarious agendas could be pursued in a political atmosphere clouded by fear. We live with the legacy of those decisions today – the lost property, livelihoods and connections of a generation of Canadians, the eradication of a downtown neighbourhood in Vancouver, the painful memories of lives dispossessed.

Source: Lessons from the Japanese Canadian internments: Policies built on fear won’t make us safer – The Globe and Mail

WWI racism: black, Asian and aboriginal volunteers faced discrimination

Another angle to the coverage of WWI and Canada’s role, and a reminder how Canada has changed:

Many of those remembered by the monument [honouring Japanese-Canadian soldiers] were denied the right to enlist in British Columbia at the start of the war and had to travel to Alberta, where they joined up with regiments like the Calgary Highlanders.

Dozens died while fighting in Europe, and shortly after the war ended, the limestone cenotaph was erected, etched with the names of the men who fought.

Professor Tim Cook, a historian at the Canadian War Museum and an adjunct research professor at Carleton University, said Canadians of African and Asian ancestry, as well as First Nations, all faced discrimination.

“Canada was not the multicultural country that it is today,” he said. “It was very much a prejudiced society.”

After Britain declared war on Aug. 4, 1914, most of the first recruits were Anglo-Saxon and English speaking, and those who weren’t were simply turned away, said Cook.

First Nations were treated a bit differently, he added, because they had a reputation for being snipers and scouts. Still, the government didn’t know what to do with aboriginal volunteers because it feared the Germans wouldn’t extend any mercy on the battlefield to those they captured. By the end of the war, about 4,000 First Nations served, said Cook.

About 60 per cent of Canada’s first contingent of soldiers were British-born, 30 per cent were Canadian and about 10 per cent were others, Cook said, adding that most of the recruits were former British soldiers who served in the Boer War or were members of the Canadian militia or professional army.

WWI racism: black, Asian and aboriginal volunteers faced discrimination | Toronto Star.

From the Vancouver Sun, a good profile of the Louie brothers, Chinese Canadians, who fought in WW1:

In 1917, when there were conscription riots in Canada by those not willing to fight, the brothers’ dogged insistence on joining the Canadian Army and fighting for a country that refused them full citizenship and whose racial policies deemed them inferior was nothing short of astonishing.

The brothers were among the 300 or so Chinese-Canadians believed to have volunteered to fight in the First World War but about whom very little is known.

The pair’s exploits, therefore, must stand in for all those unknown warriors who, like the Louies, didn’t seek safety behind what they might have considered a convenient aspect of racism — their exemption from conscription.

Col. Howe Lee, one of the founders of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum at 555 Columbia St., in Vancouver’s Chinatown, says the Canadian government exempted Chinese Canadians from conscription in the First World War as a means to continue denying them citizenship.

“It’s generally accepted if a foreigner fights for a country during a war, they are entitled to citizenship. The Louie brothers weren’t foreigners, they were born here, but that didn’t matter. When conscription came in, they were exempt because the government didn’t want to give citizenship to Chinese,” said Lee.

Photographs of both soldiers and some of the letters they wrote home from the Western Front on army-issue paper are now on display in a small room at the museum, as is Wee Tan’s steel helmet that he brought home from France.

Battling enemies overseas, fighting racism on home front

How a family was built on the basis of forgiveness – The Globe and Mail

Powerful family story of forgiveness and reconciliation, in the shadows of Japanese-Canadian wartime internment:

While Mark Sakamoto and his younger brother, Daniel, were still children, their mother became an alcoholic. She left their father. She moved in with a violent man. She drank herself to death in the basement of a skid-row hotel in Medicine Hat while Mr. Sakamoto was in university.

The “gift” from his grandparents was that he brought himself to forgive his mother, to cleanse his heart of the resentment, hurt and sadness he felt toward her.

“I felt that with my daughter when she was born,” Mr. Sakamoto says, “when I was holding Miya, and I was angry because my mum wasn’t there.

“That’s where I started with the link, that my heart was that little daughter’s home, her emotional home, just like my grandparents understood that their heart was their children’s emotional home, and if it was clouded with anger at the Canadian government, at the Japanese forces that captured my grandfather and starved him and beat him, and if they dwelt on those injurious years and passed them on, that would be the real transgression.”

“I didn’t want my daughter to feel what I was feeling,” Mr. Sakamoto says. “And forgiveness is the only escape hatch we have in that regard.”

How a family was built on the basis of forgiveness – The Globe and Mail.