Keirokai 2021: Honouring Our Elders
The cancellation of the 2021 JCCA Keirokai, normally held at the beginning of the year, means we are unable to honour our seniors in person this year. With that in mind, we are creating a virtual Keirokai as a way of paying tribute to the elders in our community and in our lives. If you would like to add a short tribute to an elder (or elders) in their life, someone who left a profound mark on you, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org, preferably with a high resolution photograph. It can be a mother, father, grandparent, aunt or uncle, family friend, or mentor. Talk about the special relationship you had, and how that relationship helped shape who you are.
We will publish submissions in upcoming issues of The Bulletin and online. Please note that by submitting you are giving permission to be published.
The Issei and Nisei of pre-war Canada had much to overcome, including racism and the denial of basic rights such as voting and access to certain professions. But my father, Charles Kadota, dared to dream big. . . expelled from the University of BC in 1942 and incarcerated along with 22,000 other Japanese Canadians, he returned to Vancouver in 1951, getting his accounting degree at night school while supporting a family and building his own business while teaching himself to speak the Japanese necessary to do his work. In his 60’s he joined the fight for redress, speaking publicly at meetings, in schools and to the media. He taught me to dream big, too. . . that even though you may be treated as a second class citizen, you should be able to achieve whatever you desire, with education and hard work. And speaking out for social justice was also important, even if you might be “the nail that sticks out”. I am forever grateful for his example, and his love and commitment to family and community.
– Connie Kadota
Looking back on my childhood, I owe much to my father for the person I am today. In 1932, during the depression years, my Nisei father Charles Kadota moved from Telegraph Cove to New Westminster. Dad really blossomed during his high school years. He enjoyed being on the debating team, loved literature and poetry, and was elected Duke of Connaught high school vice president. These formative years gave him confidence to speak up, the value of knowledge and a job well done. His parents had a great influence on strengthening his character as well. Both these would be so valuable throughout his life in his fight for many injustices including Redress for Japanese Canadians. Sharing his stories as a Japanese Canadian in a fundamentally racist society helped buffer me from prejudice or racism I would encounter in life.
In 1958, Dad took us on a two-month camping journey across the US to Toronto and Montreal and back covering at least 20 states. For an impressionable nine-year-old’s imagination I was hooked on road trips, fascinated by the geography and history of places for the rest of my life. I was 12 when my Dad started his own business and he put my sister and me to work on weekends in charge of quality control of the CP Airline Chinaware from Noritake and CSA approval of the Panasonic rice cooker. We examined each piece for any imperfections and diligently place the electrical probes in certain crevices on the rice cooker to check they were perfect. I’m am grateful for my Dad’s confidence in us and teaching us that high standards matter in what we do.
Dad loved a challenge, went to Ottawa and fought hard for Redress during the 80s. “Stick your neck out, speak up but don’t worry about what others think of you. Sometimes the best rewards in life come from the greatest challenges, be prepared for failure and hard work.” I went on to teach high school Science and Chemistry as my career. Dad had a great influence on that decision.
– Jennifer Madoc-Jones
Picking one person to honour is difficult since so many Nisei were central to my life. A shortlist would include Dr. Midge Ayukawa, Dr. Wesley Fujiwara, Yuri and Bill Kochiyama, Rev. Bishop Ishiura, Sue Michibata, Roy Miya, Jesse Nishihata, Rev Bishop Tsuji, Dr. Irene Uchida, and Harry Yonekura. Gordon Hirabayashi, Gordon Kadota, and Tom Shoyama inspired me. My parents Matsujiro and Chisato Watada and Roy and Kay Shin supported me and my work. Please forgive me if I’ve forgotten someone. But if I go back to the beginning, I’d have to say Mary Ishiura was the greatest influence on me. She was a small woman with a huge heart and boundless energy as most minister’s wives are. After she passed, she was proclaimed a Bodhisattva by a world governing body of the Buddhist Church. Mrs. Ishiura (I could never call her Mary to her face) along with Sue Michibata (tennis great Glenn Michibata’s mother) was the first to say, “Go out on stage, Terry, and play your music for everyone.” And so I did.
– Terry Watada
In the community and in the university (I am a PhD student), I have said that my grandpa, Ian Belcher, has inspired much of my work—and he has. But my grandma, Maryanne Belcher (née Hamaguchi), has remained an all-too-unsung hero. She, too, has not only been a continual source of inspiration: she has made so, so much of my work—in the Japanese Canadian community and in the university—possible. When I needed a place to live in Vancouver, my grandma let me move in with her. As roommates, we have bonded even more than we already were! She shares so much with me, from wisdom (yes, Grandma, you are sharp!) to after-dinner teas and “little noshes,” as she calls them. She also shares seemingly endless positivity. You ask her how she’s doing, and she says: “I’m good! I’m always good!” She’s downright amazing. Here’s to you, Grandma! Love you.
– Angela May
I would like to honour my father, Yosh. He is 87 years old and suffering from COPD and severe spinal stenosis. Through both emotional and physical pain, he recently opened up, and took time to write down his story of what happened to his family before, during, and after WWII, and how we came to be here in Los Angeles. This was prompted by me, after stumbling upon an online article about his dad, Kanshiro, and a fish camp that he operated on Gabriola Island, BC, between 1934 and 1941. My father courageously wrote his story as a family legacy to me and future generations. For this, I am truly thankful. Arigato Dad!
– Tim Koyama (Whittier, California)
My mother Fumiko had a contentious relationship with her own mother growing up – chafing against cultural and familial expectations she found unreasonable. After marrying my father and leaving home she lost her connection with the JC community, losing much of her Japanese language in the process. It wasn’t until we moved to Vancouver in 1969 that she began to reconnect with other JCs, and soon found herself in the thick of an activist community that was beginning to reassert itself after going underground in the post-war years. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but looking back now I see how profound that reconnection was for her and for our entire family. When I myself became involved in the community some years later I was known for the longest time as “Fumiko’s son.” Looking back, I now know that it was a badge of honour. People still tell me how much she meant to them, particularly younger sansei who were struggling to find their place in the world and who she took under her wing. I share their sense of gratitude for all she gave.
– John Endo Greenaway
My father, Jenji, was born on Mayne Island, BC, surrounded by the ocean and the trees, shortly before the Second World War. His family was relocated to the beautiful Shuswap Valley in the interior, yet the sea and the forest remained a strong force in my dad’s life. After graduating in Forestry from UBC, he would eventually raise his family on Vancouver Island, and leave a legacy of forest renewal as manager of Seed Production for the Provincial Ministry of Forests Reforestation Division. Countless stands of BC timber exist today because of his work; generations of harvested and replanted trees have supported our economy and our environment. When my dad wasn’t gazing up at the cone crops of trees, or tending to his vegetable garden, you’d find him out on our little boat fishing for salmon. He inspired in his children a deep respect and love for nature and an appreciation and reverence for all that we harvest and gather from the land and the sea. Thank you, dad!
– Sandi Konishi Arts
I have two stories. One story is about my grandfather Hideichi Hyodo 兵頭 who married my grandmother Toshi (maiden name Sasaki of the Uda Genji line) in their native Ehime’ Ken. It was an arranged marriage, Toshi was 15 and Hideichi was 30. Almost immediately after being wed they went to start their new life in Canada.
The other story is about my aunt Hide Hyodo Shimizu, Toshi and Hideichi’s first born.
Grandpa was something of a world traveller before returning to Japan for the wedding, including working as the bartender on a ship with the likes of the Prince of Wales, later Edward the 7th aboard.
Reputed to be among the wealthiest Japanese to settle in the Vancouver-Steveston area (around 1915) the couple had a family of six by the time WWII internment camps happened. After release from the camps, none of their assets or wealth was returned to them and they were forced to relocate to Japan or further East in Canada. They settled in Hamilton, Ontario.
My memory of my grandparents begins in Hamilton. I used to spend a couple of weeks each Spring/Summer to help them in their garden where they even grew their own green tea!
The two of them only spoke Japanese between them, although Grandma insisted her education in Uwajima be in English she never spoke English to me. But grandpa would describe what life was like in Shikoku when he was a child (1870s to 1890s). He grew up in a very different world than the one I knew.
Grandpa kept his job with the Royal Bank until he was in his 90s and received a letter from the president of the Royal Bank honouring him with grace.
If anyone could justify being bitter and resentful about the theft of his wealth and means of providing secure futures for the children, it was grandpa. He was in his 60s when they started from nothing again in Hamilton, with their five children. But the fact is, it was my grandfather who provided the living example of what happiness looks and feels like.
The photo of grandpa was taken in Hamilton 1953, when he met the Crown Prince (Emperor) Akihito at the TH&B Station. Prince Akihito was on his way to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. My grandpa is in the far right in the photo.
I’d known my aunt Hide for as long as I could remember, partly because of our annual Hyodo family picnics. But also because during the years I owned a restaurant in Toronto I used to help keep her lawn cut and do chores around her place.
In 1986-87 my aunt Hide came to visit me in England. It was an unusually hectic weekend for me as I’d completed several huge Ice Carvings and needed to set them in positions for a banquet at the Stratford Hilton. And it was also a weekend to host a Canadian friend’s son, who was attending Eton.
To help with the timing a British buddy volunteered to show aunt Hide around Stratford-upon-Avon, including the Stratford theatre and the Hilton where I was setting up my Ice Carvings.
My Canadian friend’s son from Eton was helping me place the Ice Carvings, so as fate would have it, aunt Hide’s tour of Stratford Hilton included seeing my ice carvings and meeting Anthony from Eton (young Lord Cecil.)
Soon after she met Anthony, aunt Hide gave her tour guide the slip. My buddy came to tell me he somehow lost aunt Hide, right there in the Stratford Hilton!
So I told my buddy not to worry, and went to find her. Eventually I found aunt Hide in the hotel’s industrial laundry room. As I entered the laundry rooms aunt Hide had all the staff lined up for photographs that she was taking.
She turned toward me with eyes a sparkle, as if finding her there was perfectly normal, and said, ‘I’ve always wondered how these places clean all this laundry!’
Fortunately Aunt Hide was staying at my place in the Cotswolds so we could enjoy a more leisurely time and conversation during her visit.
– Rodger Hyodo
We stand in appreciation of our elders, our ancestors who arrived as settlers in Canada. The Issei who re-started their lives in their new country and fought many battles including constant discrimination and racism. Each subsequent generation having more layers of challenges. My Canadian roots start in the 1800s with the Doi family in Cumberland, and the story of my grandfather Kenichi Doi who played for the Vancouver Asahi baseball team. In 1906, Oikawa Island in the Fraser River was pivotal to the start of my father’s family in fishing and boat building. My uncle Tatsuro Buck Suzuki would fight to unite fishers, face a personal battle to serve Canada during WWII, and act to save our environment.
In all of this history, the stories of the women are often missing. They had no less of a role in the protection and development of family and community and faced some gender-specific discrimination in addition to the racism. Their determination and resilience was fierce, and I saw it in my grandmother and mother. Most of my time with my grandmother, Sumiko Doi, was spent with her in her garden or watching her in the kitchen. I was amazed at her variety of skills in culinary arts, sewing, drafting, gardening, music, and her physical strength. She could easily swing a heavy dowel longer than her 5 feet and use it to roll out her dough for udon noodles. But when I learned about what she endured during internment, I realized it was the strength of her spirit which was even more amazing. My mother, Mae (Doi) Oikawa, was a child survivor of internment. Later, she would become a young single parent of two small children when my father died suddenly. She went out and got a job at a department store and we carried on. When I was an adult, I asked her how she managed and why she never married again. She was surprised at the question, and said her priority was her children. Maybe determination is embedded in my DNA, but it’s also something I learned from my grandmother and mother. Like the Japanese proverb, Nana korobi ya oki, you may fall seven times, but you get up eight times.
– Lorene Oikawa
TO MY GRANDPARENTS, WITH LOVE
My maternal grandmother Chiyo (Tsuyuki) Umezuki was the grandparent we knew best. My mum’s dad, Masao Tsuyuki died before I was born and my dad’s mum Matsu (Ida) Kobayashi died two months after I was born. My dad’s father, Tomoaki Joseph Kobayashi was a quiet man, whose full life became more known to me after his death through his translated memoirs. He was Japanese Editor of the Montreal Bulletin for 19 years, created the first Japanese Garden in Montreal and after moving to Toronto expanded on his passion for bowling by writing a 5-pin bowling manual.
Born in 1907, Chiyo came to Canada at the age of 11. The eldest in her family, her siblings were born in Canada and intermarried. Which explains why her English was particularly good for an issei. She and my grandfather owned a dry-cleaning business on West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano, of which they were dispossessed by the BC Government in 1942. The business went on for another 50 years.
After being Interned at Tashme, with my grandfather Tsuyuki sent to a road camp, the family ended up in Montreal, having been barred from resettling in Toronto. After my grandfather Tsuyuki’s death in 1952, my grandmother moved to Toronto and started a very successful dressmaking business with two employees in the affluent Forest Hill neighbourhood. The business thrived and enabled her to be one of the founding group of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.
She married again. Takeichi Umezuki, a widower, affectionately known by all as TU was the grandfather, we knew best. TU was the Japanese Editor of the New Canadian and a recipient of the Order of Canada in 1978. Memory fades, but I believe a visit to the long narrow office of the New Canadian on Queen Street West to say hi to TU was made after a tempura dinner I cooked for her at my nearby apartment.
Other memories float by; helping her prepare a doll display for a JCCC event, taking her to my favourite Mizoguchi film, Ugetsu Monigatari,and inheriting her ACME juicer, brown rice cooker and Omega watch. Memorable occasions include a large banquet at Sai Woo to honour TU on his receiving the Order of Canada, her attendance at my graduation from Concordia, and a photo of her in discussion with Ed Broadbent and John Turner which appeared in the New Canadian.
In hospital visits to TU and then Grandma who survived TU – not long before each passed – each gave me relationship advice. Leading me to wonder if this is customary for elders or was I thought of as being in particular need of guidance. I won’t reveal what that advice was as I may not have done well in heeding it. Though, to my credit my husband and I are still together after 35 years.
The memories of my grandparents’ hard work, dedication to community, obstacles overcome with dignity, sustain me even more, the older I get. I wish I had been more curious and appreciative then, of who they were, their love for me, and how much I love them.
– Lynn Deutscher Kobayashi
My parents, Isao and Etsuko Soranaka, both grew up in Hyogo, Japan, and immigrated together to London, Ontario in 1972. With limited resources and a big dream, they founded the London Japanese Heritage and Language School in 1983 and brought the JC community together in London. They held on to their cultural roots with pride and worked tirelessly to pass on their core values to me – the perseverance and persistence of the “ganbare spirit”, the ambition and resilience needed to achieve a goal, and the humble gratitude required to build meaningful relationships. My parents sacrificed so much to ensure that I would succeed and be happy. As my husband and I raise our two daughters in a bicultural household, I have become ever more aware of the significance of my parents’ effort.
– Kanata Soranaka