Memories of Dr. Midge Ayukawa
by Frank Kamiya
This past summer I contacted Midge about accepting the NNMCC Japanese Canadian History Preservation and Education Award and asked for her thoughts on preserving our heritage. She mentioned that she had just returned from the hospital but did not elaborate on her ill health, which was typical of Midge. She did not think that she would be well enough to attend the dinner and asked if I would accept her award. Midge emailed me the following on her involvement with the Nikkei community:
“I remember attending Tamio Wakayama’s “Dream of Riches” photo exhibition when it opened in Ottawa and that was when I first decided to become involved with the Japanese Canadian community. In 1980 my husband and three of our children moved to B.C. Within a year my husband had passed away and my children left for university. At loose ends, I myself decided to return to university, choosing to study Japanese at the University of Victoria. I subsequently began my study of history, completing my Ph.D dissertation on the history of pre-1941 Japanese pioneers in 1997.
“My interest in our Japanese Canadian history deepened through my Ph.D research, during which I interviewed Hiroshima-ken Japanese Canadians living in Canada and Japan. I felt that we needed to work to preserve J.C. history, so I joined the Japanese Canadian Museum & Archives Society as a director in 1997.
“The first time I met Frank Kamiya was at his home in North Vancouver while Kay Shimizu and I were attending an interviewing workshop conducted by Suni Arinobu.
“In the early days I recall attending board meetings with Dick Nakamura once a month on Sunday afternoons at the JCCA office at 511 E. Broadway. We used to take the ferry over to Vancouver from Vancouver Island and return the same day and then later the meetings were held on weekday evenings, forcing me to stay overnight.
“Grace Thomason was our chairperson when we met with the Nikkei Place organizers, Robert Banno and George Oikawa and negotiated with them to obtain as much space as possible for our National Museum & Archives. We felt strongly that it should be a more important component of the National Nikkei Heritage Centre than the allocated space seemed to represent.
“I believe that our Japanese Canadian past needs to be preserved and am pleased that the Nikkei National Museum is continuing through with their commitment to preserve our history.
“Thank you very much, Midge Ayukawa.”
Before she completed her PhD Midge often participated in many of our museum & archival projects and activities around 1993. She joined a group of Japanese Canadian Nikkei who participated in the Japanese American National Museum’s Nikkei Symposium in 1995 with a photo display of Japanese Canadian history which was well received. Others that joined included Norm Tsuyuki, Wes & Misao Fujiwara, who have passed away since, as well as Audrey Kobayashi, Tony & Kim Tamayose and Frank & Naomi Kamiya. As we toured Japantown and had lunches and dinners together we saw the lighter side of Midge as we exchanged our many personal experiences and stories that were very entertaining. We were all inspired and impressed with the JANM building and operation and looked forward to our move into the new NNHC building which opened in the year 2000.
Midge became a director in 1997 and agreed to be our recording secretary for many years. She would make the journey by ferry from Victoria at her own expense and often stayed overnight at her brother’s condo in Vancouver or occasionally at Karen Kobayashi’s, Stan Fukawa’s or at our house. We appreciate the many years of dedication and commitment she gave to the evolution of our Nikkei National Museum and for her support of the Nikkei Community.