Review: Hiroshima Immigrants book
Hiroshima Immigrants in Canada, 1891 – 1941
by Michiko Midge Ayukawa
UBC Press, 2008
review by Jacob Derksen
Anyone who has ever endured a post-secondary history class has likely come away wondering why the majority of academic historians feel the need to take an otherwise interesting topic and make it tedious and insufferable. In Hiroshima Immigrants in Canada, 1891 – 1941, Midge Ayukawa—no stranger to academia—has done us a great service by rescuing history from the pedants and making it both immediate and relevant.
From the opening pages, one is left with a strong impression of the hard work that the early Japanese immigrants engaged in. Initially, of course, many of the first arrivals were young men seeking to escape the poverty of rural Meiji-era Japan. They toiled in lumber camps, saw mills, and on fishing boats. Later on they would lease or purchase farms, clearing land for tilling and planting as they cleared social and economic hurdles with their picture brides beside them working equally hard.
Life for the Nisei was no picnic either, many of whom —caught between two cultures—found it difficult to relax outside their own groups. Levels of acculturation would vary from family to family but Japanese language schools, as can be imagined, played a key role in the lives of the vast majority of early Nisei children.
Despite what she refers to as the “frustrating” lack of primary material, in Hiroshima Immigrants Midge has crafted an intimate portrayal not only of the lives of early immigrants from Hiroshima area, but of many of the early Japanese immigrants to North America as well. Set primarily in the West Coast of BC, Midge paints a very vivid portrait of the social milieu of the day, of the Issei and Nissei interaction therein, and above all, the strength of community.
I’ve long maintained that, while one can not judge a book by its cover, one can judge a book by its footnotes and bibliography. As I’ve just learned, one can also judge a book by how accessible it is. Hiroshima Immigrants is not only rigorously researched, attested to by the 32 pages of footnotes and an extensive bibliography and personal interviews, it is engaging as well. Undoubtedly it will prove for many to be as inspirational as it is informative.
Jacob Derksen is a self-described incorrigible information junkie with a keen interest in issues relating to language, culture, and history. He is a founding member of Uminari Taiko in Victoria.