Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre Celebrates 20th Anniversary in Style
by Art Joyce
A full program of activities for the 20th anniversary celebration at New Denver’s Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre on August 9 demonstrated the profound contribution of Japanese Canadians to the culture of this country. Organized by NIMC Manager Momoko Ito with the support of Village staff and volunteers, opening ceremonies featured introductions from Mayor Ann Bunka, MLA Katrine Conroy, Kyowakai Society president Gail Swanson, Kamloop’s resident Roy Inouye and Japan’s Consul General Seiji Okada. New Denver Village councillor Heather Fox was MC.
“New Denver is honoured to be home to this centre and it’s a reminder of history that must not be forgotten,” said Mayor Bunka.
Inouye, who received Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun in 2002, was an important early advocate for the establishment of the NIMC. He recalled hearing from New Denver resident Sakaye Hashimoto that the old Buddhist church on the former internment site was to be moved and the remaining internment shacks demolished. Inouye at the time was a member of the Buddhist Church of Canada and a director of the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Though it took some convincing of Village council at the time, Inouye promised to find a way to finance the preservation of these buildings. By that time the Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation had been given $12 million in reparations payments by the government. Inouye and Hashimoto applied for and were granted $500,000 to begin work on the NIMC.
“This site is the only site of its kind in Canada, the US and Brazil,” said Inouye. “It’s unique in showing what the Canadian government did to the Japanese Canadians.”
Consul General of Japan Seiji Okada, stationed in Vancouver, said coming to this event was an education for him. He spoke of touring the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby before arriving in New Denver for the NIMC celebration. “I drove from Vancouver yesterday and seeing how far it is I realized how far away the internees were sent from their homes on the coast,” said Okada.
MLA Katrine Conroy congratulated the Kyowakai Society for “all the work they’ve done in the 20 years to make this possible, and also for council who had the foresight to support the centre, which has really put New Denver on the map. There’s some good that has come of it because we have the Japanese heritage in our community because of it. People across the province talk about this place and how much it means to them.”
Kyowakai Society president Gail Swanson acknowledged another key visionary in the establishment of the Centre, Mrs. Chie Kamegaya. “Sadly, many of our elders are no longer with us,” said Swanson. “The centre is a reminder of the need for peace, tolerance and compassion in the world.” Mrs. Kamegaya’s memory was further honoured in haiku readings by Sean Arthur Joyce to a soundtrack of Paul Gibbons’ bansuri flute and recordings of Kamegaya reading her poems in Japanese.
NIMC Manager Momoko Ito joked that when she contacted Roy Inouye about the celebration, he reminded her the first order of business was to get event tents to shelter delegates from the searing afternoon heat. At the dedication ceremonies 20 years ago Inouye recalled having only volunteers holding umbrellas for shade. Ito read a message from Dr. Henry Shimizu, a former New Denver internee and past director of the Redress Foundation. “From the beginning there was no question this project was a national one, despite its location and the small New Denver group,” wrote Dr. Shimizu. “Time proved it to be true when it was designated a national historic site. Not only was it on the original site but it had original buildings. It is a fitting memorial and there’s no other like it here in Canada or the United States. Personally it is dear to my heart because my family lived here from 1942 to 1946.”
The opening ceremonies were followed by the cake cutting and a brief break before launching into the day’s program. White Pines Dojo in Slocan offered aikido demonstrations in the Kohan Garden while on the main stage Manna Miwa Garrick Rice performed an interpretive dance. Kootenay Shambala Meditation Centre provided a demonstration of big brush sumi-e painting, followed by the haiku performance. The tea ceremony had to be cancelled due to illness. Vancouver designer Terry Sasaki next premiered several of his original designs with dancer Rachel Harris and local models Fran Wallis, Morgen Bardati and Rika Kuroki.
The focus shifted back to the Kohan for the culmination of the day’s events. A shakuhachi flute performance by Master Takeo Yamashiro was given added drama by the interpretive dance of artist Tsuneko ‘Koko’ Kokubo. Judging by the 200 or so people who crowded into the Kohan for the Uzume Taiko drumming performance, it was the ‘hit’ of the day. The Vancouver-based trio featured drummers Naomi Kajiwara, Bonnie Soon and Carolyn Chan. Kajiwara is a fourth generation Japanese Canadian or yonsei whose parents were born in the Tashme internment camp near Hope, BC. She said the troupe took its name from the goddess of laughter, Ame No Uzume No Mikoto who, according to legend, first began taiko drumming, “because we like to bring laughter and enjoyment to our audiences.”
Sponsors for the event included Citizenship and Immigration Canada, National Association of Japanese Canadians, Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance, Columbia Basin Trust, Slocan Valley Legacy Fund, Columbia Power Corporation, Kootenay Savings Credit Union, RDCK Recreation Commission #6, Kyowakai Society, The JCCA Bulletin, Village of New Denver, Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, Slocan Lake Garden Society Village of Silverton, Kootenay Shambala Meditation Centre, Valhalla Fine Arts Society, Slocan Solutions Society, everyone who donated items to the silent auction, and the “incredible staff and volunteers.”
Sean Arthur Joyce is a well-known writer, journalist and poet in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. Joyce has been a freelance journalist since 1990, and is the author of two books on local history. His recently published book, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, (Hagios Press 2014) is a captivating blend of memoir and history. It offers an insight on the subject of Western Canada’s British ‘home children,’ who were taken from poor families in the UK and sent to the colonies to work as child labour. Joyce currently lives in New Denver, British Columbia, and is an avid supporter of the NIMC.