The following excerpts are from the new oral history research gathered as part of the creation of this exhibit. Original tapes and transcripts are available as part of the collections of the Japanese Canadian National Museum. Check out www.jcnm.ca/collections to see what other treasures are available in the museum.
Nancy is the daughter of TG Morishita, who ran the Ebisuzaki Dry Goods Store at 337 Powell Street.
I first learned Japanese dancing from Mrs. Sasaki who ran the old World Hotel on the corner of Dunlevy and Powell Streets. I had to perform at a Fukuoka-ken party. My uncle was one of the presidents then. I think Fukuoka-ken people liked to perform, so my cousin Kentaro would be dressed up with moustache and that sort of thing. The performances took place at the Language School.
My other dance teacher was Mrs. Tonogai on Alexander Street next to the Language School. I still have my kimonos—they were all made by my aunt Hide Ebisuzaki. I remember dressing up in my purple kimono when King George and the Queen Mother came —we lined up in front of the CN station with flags in our hands.
Toragoro Nimi, Bob’s father, ran the drug store Nimi Shokai at 331 Powell Street.
I heard from my father that he bought the Nimi Drug Store from Ishikawa in 1918. Asiatics were not allowed to dispense western medications—only Japanese-style herbal medications. So Nimi Shokai sold Kodak cameras, film, 78 records of popular songs, pancake makeup, Shaffer pens, gift items, binoculars. Lots of people bought their omiyagi from us, gifts to take back to Japan with them.
We used to go to Gore Avenue to catch crabs. The water was not too clean—the canneries dumped stuff there. I used a spoon and a bucket to catch crabs on the beach there. We also fished for shiners—could catch a bucketful in two hours. We would bring them home and make sushi with them. Lots of people did it. My grandfather loved it.
One of the pleasures of living on Powell Street was eating all these things—uni, abalone, sea urchin. One of the things all the kids ate was a piece of ginger coloured red—it was only 2 or 3 cents for a bag full—we would chomp on that. There were so many confectionaries!
Mytsuu Sasaki Fugeta
When I was younger, in the 20s and early 30s, the Japanese culture was quite important. The old Buddhist church used to be on East Cordova— they had a hall there. They had a competition among all the different prefectures. Everyone performed. It happened every two years. The place was always packed. I know the people from Shiga prefecture, they were always some of the top. Shibai is acting, a general drama, or live stage play. My mother was a shamisen player—she was very talented. Before she came to Canada, she took training in it. When I started taking dance lessons, Mom used to play for us.
My parents were very into cultural things—I didn’t want to do it, to tell you the truth. I had to go to dancing lessons, and I had to go to Japanese school and public school. I had homework to do, and after supper had to go to lessons. Busy time for me, but my parents insisted. In a way, I learned lots. I didn’t have too much time for socializing.
Tamiko Nakamura Corbett
Tamiko’s parents and grandmother ran the Nakamura Florist at 270 Powell Street.
My grandmother started the florist after mother and father got married. I must have been 2 or 3. My uncle grew flowers at Eburne, on Lulu Island. We went to work with grandmother and lived behind the shop. I don’t think there were any windows—but we survived. There was balcony and bedroom off of that. Kitchen and living quarters were below… We were more or less street children, because we couldn’t play at home. There wasn’t much room in the back. It’s astonishing to think, parents just let their children be free on the street all day. We were given roller skates. On Saturdays, we would go to CanCo because there wouldn’t be any traffic. I remember playing jacks on the top part of St. James Cathedral steps. I remember the warden coming out and threatening us… Maybe he was expecting a wedding or something.
Powell Street was certainly insulated—a community that was pretty self-sufficient. We didn’t go beyond to shop, except for entertainment. We certainly had freedom of the streets. Looking back it’s amazing how permissive my parents were, but different times…
Kaye Kaminishi’s mother operated the Dunlevy Rooms at 143 Powell Street. His family also owned and operated the Royston Sawmill on Vancouver Island.
I started playing baseball in Japan. When I came back, I first joined the Hompa Bukkyokai Church League. Around age 16 I joined the Asahi Giants, and at age 17 I joined the Asahi Senior team. All Nisei looked up to the Asahi and I was proud to represent the community. When I first received my Asahi uniform, I couldn’t sleep the night before I was so happy! We were the bridge between Occidental people and Japanese—we broke down some barriers.
I played a lot of sports— Japanese table tennis league, roller hockey at CanCo lot, lacrosse. When I really got serious about baseball, I quit the others.
On Powell Street, there was everything, different stores. Nobody used English, only Japanese. Most Nisei spoke good Japanese—everyone went to the language school. Sure was a hustle-bustle town—lots of activities. Church groups were special for socializing—we were always active doing things.
Jean Ikeda Kajiwara
The Ikeda Family ran a barber shop at 260 Powell Street.
We used to go to a public bath. We didn’t have a bath at home; we went to the public ofuro every other day or so. It was a beautiful bath house, all tiles. There were several other smaller bathhouses, but we went to this one because it was the nicest one; we used to pay by the month and went every other day because it was so close. My sisters and I would go. My mom would go sometimes. It was very interesting. These ladies that work in the Japanese restaurants have a way of putting white makeup on, and we would watch them. You wash outside with a small tub and chair, wash and rinse yourself, then go inside to the big tub to warm yourself. Separate men’s and women’s. We would try to go when it wasn’t that crowded; after supper or something. Our dad had a small bath in the back of his barber shop, but it was closed in the 20s.
Powell Street—it was all Japanese. Now it’s all scattered. It just breaks my heart to go down Powell Street. I was proud of it. It was such a pretty street. They kept it really nice. Not a slum like now. They kept it up. Japanese people are pretty neat. They used to keep the place clean.
Terry Ikeda Miyamoto
I used to hate going to Japanese school—I thought that was crazy—Monday to Friday. I wanted to go to the baseball game instead of going to Japanese school—everyone else went, but my father was strict. On Powell Street, we spoke Japanese and English. In my house, we didn’t speak English. My family was very versed in Japanese. Looking back, that was very important, because I am able to read.
I used to go to the barber shop every Sunday to clean—my two brothers and I. When my father was busy at New Year’s, we used to help with the hot towels. Everyone gave me 5 cents. We were poor, so that was a big deal. Money was scarce then in the 1930s.
This exhibit is dedicated to all the people who knew and loved Powell Street before the war. Thank you to the many community members who helped us with the research or shared their wonderful stories! Thank you also to all the museum staff, translation from Nichola Ogiwara, design by Zoe Garred, and AV assistance from Greg Masuda. Funding support for this exhibit was received from BC Arts Council, Vancouver 125, Vancouver Foundation, National Association of Japanese Canadians.