Mas + Stan Fukawa – a lifelong love of learning, side by side
Stan Fukawa first noticed Masako Shinde at a meeting of the UBC Nisei Varsity Club during the 1960-61 school year. Stan was studying Asian Studies and Sociology while Mas was in the Education faculty. It wasn’t, he confesses, love at first sight, but he was impressed that she wasn’t shy like most of the nikkei he knew.
“I guess her self-confidence and competence were attractive to me,” he laughs. “In light of our most recent work together, it is perhaps fitting that it was Japanese Canadian history that brought us together. She had just decided to do a paper on the Internment for her English course and couldn’t find any material. I was on the spot with references and a tape of a two-hour special on the CBC.”
Stan claims that he somewhat nervously confessed his feelings for Mas on Valentine’s Day 1961, a story he is sticking to despite Mas’s insistence that it wasn’t until several weeks later.
Regardless of the exact date, after a whirlwind romance they married six and a half months later and as Stan says, “I have been madly in love with her for 52 years.”
After marrying, the two moved to London, England where they spent three years, Stan a grad student while teaching Japanese on the side, and Mas doing clerical work for one of the Queen’s charities.
Relocating to Japan in 1964, Stan and Mas were hired by Gwen Suttie to teach English at Toyo Eiwa Women’s College. Explains Mas, “Gwen Suttie was the woman who had organized the high school in New Denver. We didn’t know about her connection to Japanese Canadians until after her death. She was a remarkable woman.“
Their first child, Ellen Kaede was born in Tokyo in 1965. Her Japanese name, which means maple, was given to commemorate the new Canadian flag that was unveiled that same year.
In 1965 the couple returned to North America, first to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where their son Kevin was born, and then to Toronto. Stan continued his studies and taught Survey Methodology, while Mas took on various jobs, the most challenging and all-consuming being that of mother to their two young children.
The family of four moved back to Canada in 1971, settling in Nanaimo, where Stan taught Sociology and Japanese at Malaspina University College, now Vancouver Island University. Mas began her teaching career in Nanaimo, teaching grade one, before moving on to became a resource teacher, head teacher and then principal of two elementary schools.
In 1989 the family returned to Japan for a year, where Mas and Stan taught English and Canadian History in Tokyo at a junior college. On their return to Vancouver Island, Mas was seconded to the Ministry of Education in Victoria coordinating the Asian Languages and international exchange programs. After five years at the Ministry she returned to Nanaimo to set up an international high school program for Malaspina University College and retired from there.
With the birth of their first grandchild, the couple found themselves taking the ferry to the mainland every weekend, which was both time consuming and expensive. After re-evaluating their lives and talking it over with their kids about, they made the decision to buy a house in Burnaby together with their daughter, where they live in a big extended family, sharing many of the household duties. Their son lives two kilometres away in a house jointly purchased with his own in-laws.
Long retired, both Mas and Stan keep themselves busy with various community projects and helping out with their four grandchildren. Both are heavily involved with the Vancouver Nikkei community, particularly in the field of history.
Mas’s most recent book, Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War, written with Pamela Hickman, is an overview of the Japanese Canadian wartime experience targeted at young audiences. The book has been garnering great reviews across the country.
On the eve of their acceptance of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal on February 3, Mas and Stan spoke to The Bulletin about their full and rewarding life together.
In their own words: Mas + Stan Fukawa
Mas, do you remember how Stan proposed to you?
Mas: Stan was sooo romantic! His proposal was “I’ve booked a cabin for two on the Saxonia to England. Are you coming?” He had just received a letter informing him that he had been granted a Commonwealth Scholarship to study at the London School of Economics in England for two years. I didn’t realize what I was getting into until we were looking for a wedding band at Eaton’s and the sales clerk said “No, I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.” We were both students, didn’t have any money, and the ring with tax came to $13.13. She changed it to $13.12!
Stan: Wrong! It was bought at the Bay on Georgia. Gold has gone up 50 times since then, from $32 an oz to $1,600 an oz. It was a shrewd purchase.
What has been your biggest challenge as a couple?
Stan: Maybe it was convincing her to marry me. I was just going to be a grad student with a scholarship. It was a good scholarship but I didn’t have a job!
What do you enjoy doing together?
Stan: Everything, I think. We enjoy travelling to foreign countries and have been to many countries in Europe and Asia and Australia and Peru. When we went to Japan in 1989 and taught English together as Exchange Teachers, I remember mentioning to Mas that the only times we were separated were the times we were in the toilet.
Mas: The trips we enjoyed the most have been to places – Peru, Vietnam, Australia – where we were able to learn about the Japanese diaspora and the Nikkei community in these countries.
You’ve both been involved in the Nikkei community for many years. Was it something you consciously sought out, or did it just happened naturally?
Mas: We believe that our family is our first responsibility but we also have a duty to contribute to our communities – not only to the Nikkei community but also to the larger community. Stan has been involved in many community organizations wherever we lived.
My involvement has focused on the younger generation; not only in my career as a teacher and administrator but also in retirement. I’ve been involved in the development of resource materials for teachers; developed education kits for the Nikkei National Museum and the Richmond City Museum; and maintain a website, japanesecanadianhistory.net. I also served on the City Social Issues Committee for four years.
Stan: I grew up in Abbotsford where I was a student leader and thought it my duty to fill that kind of role, and not just in the Japanese community. In high school I was the top student rep and in the Japanese community, President of the local Nisei Club. At UBC I was on the Executive of the Nisei Club, the East Asian Studies Club, and the World University Service Committee. In Nanaimo I was President of the Japanese Canadian Society, on the Board of the Nanaimo Credit Union, Native Friendship Centre, School Board Anti-Racism Committee, Nanaimo City Committees for Planning & Social Issues, Provincial Race Relations Council, etc. After coming to Greater Vancouver, I joined the Japanese Canadian National Museum Board and worked on the 125th Anniversary of Manzo’s arrival and the Suian Maru Centennial.
I’ve been on Burnaby City Committees in Community Policing and in Sister City Relations with Kushiro. I’ve been an active member of the NDP since 1972.
I believe you’ve received a number of awards for your community work.
Stan: In 1992 I received a Canada 125 medal for my efforts in the Nanaimo community. Mas and I were involved with a UBC committee and symposium related to the Honorary Degrees for the Nisei who were forced to quit their studies there in 1942. At about the same time I was awarded an honorary degree at Keio University in Tokyo for my involvement with their student exchange program. I was an exchange student in 1958-59 and became close friends with the remarkable group of students who funded and organized an exchange program from student fees at a time when Japan was struggling to recover from the war. I hosted them when they visited UBC and attended their anniversaries. They liked my community service record. Taizo Nishimuro, who was the exchange student to UBC in 1959-60 is now President of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, although I can’t say that we’re close!
Were you involved in the Redress movement?
Mas: Stan was the president of the 7 Potatoes Society at the time. The membership wanted it to remain a socio-cultural society and did not want to take on political activities. Members in Victoria were expressing similar sentiments so we formed a separate society. Stan wrote the constitution and I served as its president, representing Vancouver Island on the NAJC Council.
Stan: Maybe I should explain what 7 Potatoes refers to. Nanaimo Japanese use the term because in Japanese, “nana” = 7, and “imo” = potato. The JC group has its unique nickname. It’s an inside joke.
You have both been heavily involved in the ongoing Nikkei Fishermen’s Project, including the two books – Nikkei Fishermen on the BC Coast: Their Biographies and Photographs and Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet: BC’s Japanese Canadian Fishermen, the latter of which won the Canada Council 2010 Canada-Japan Literary Awards. What was it like immersing yourselves do deeply in one subject like this?
Stan: It’s generally been fun. We’ve mostly avoided being together in executive positions at the same time in most JC organizations because we felt that it would be unfair to the others. We have been together in other organizations where we felt able to help one another – when Masako took charge of an Asian American Educators Conference we held in Vancouver about 15 or so years ago, I served as Treasurer. For the Fishermen’s project, Masako was important for her experience and her fishing family roots and they needed someone who could research the Japanese sources.
Mas: Researching and writing about Nikkei in fishing was challenging because the earliest writings are in Japanese but fortunately, Stan was able to contribute his expertise in that field. It was frustrating and maddening to learn about the racist attitudes that targeted Nikkei fishermen and institutionalized into racist laws and policies. At the same time the spirit with which they fought these injustices was heartwarming and a legacy that I wanted passed down and not forgotten by future generations.
As you know, I have a personal connection to the fishing industry for over 100 years. My paternal grandfather arrived in 1895 and did some fishing, among other things. My maternal grandfather became eligible for a fishing licence in 1907 and fished until the removal from the coast in 1942. My father fished before his boat was confiscated and re-entered the fishing industry in 1951. My youngest brother started in 1978 and would still be fishing if he could make a living at it. He loves fishing – both commercial and sport.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I say that almost every Nikkei family has/had some connection to the fishing industry. In spite of the effort to include as many names of fishermen as possible, I meet Nikkei who tell me that their grandfather, father, uncle or a cousin was a fisherman and its news to me. At its peak in the early 1900s there were 4,000 Nikkei in fishing so it’s shouldn’t come as a surprise. But there are always surprises.
Do you travel to Japan often?
Stan: We’ve enjoyed getting in touch with our Japanese Canadian roots in Japan. We were hosted by the Town Council in Manzo Nagano’s home town in the 125th anniversary year of his arrival in Canada; we visited Jinzaburo Oikawa’s home village in the centennial year of the Suian Maru voyage and stay in contact with his great-granddaughters. Kim Kobrle is their cousin and I have translated their letters to each other on occasion. We’ve visited Burnaby’s sister city as delegates and have helped host their delegation here with the help of members of the local Nikkei community.
It’s clear that your shared heritage is part of the glue that has held you together all these years.
Stan: We were probably quite unusual among Nisei at that time because I think most of them were uncomfortable defining themselves as Japanese and were trying to deny this part of their identity. It was this attitude we had in common of accepting who we were and of our interest in analyzing how things turned out the way that they did.
We’re approaching the demise of the Nisei generation. It’s important to get their stories before it disappears. We need more people to work on writing their own stories or recording the stories of those who can’t or don’t feel motivated to write them but would feel comfortable telling them to others who will listen and transcribe them. It can be simple questions: Where were you? What happened to you as a Nikkei? How did you and other Nikkei of the different generations react and feel? etc.
My mother made an observation 40 years ago after living in Canada for 35 years. She said, “I’m so impressed with what good people Japanese nisei are. They’re honest. They work hard. They help each other. They are not the bad ones like I’ve seen in Japan.” Maybe she had a slightly over-optimistic view of us, but considering what we’ve had to endure, I think we’ve performed remarkably well. Our stories, both good and bad, if there are any, should be recorded.