In 1945, before the end of World War II, the Canadian government offered to “repatriate“ any ethnic Japanese to Japan after the war ended, even Canadian-born British subjects. Although signing up for the move was voluntary, many felt pressured to agree. In 1946, fully a year after the end of the war, some 4,000 Japanese Canadians travelled by ship to a Japan devastated by war—an action that violated international law at the time.
Uprooted Again: Japanese Canadians Move to Japan After World War II is an English-language version of Nikkei Canada-jin No Tsuiho, written by Tatsuo Kage and published by Akashi Shoten in 1998. More than a translation, the Japanese text has been re-configured by Kage in collaboration with translator Kathleen Merken for a North American audience already familiar with the situation of the BC coastal Japanese Canadian communities during World War II.
The story of those who moved to Japan after the war is largely unknown in Canada. Basing his work on interviews with 25 men and women, most of whom were teenagers in internment camps during the war, Kage writes of their struggles to survive and adapt in post-war Japan.
On Saturday, May 19th, from 3-5pm a book launch will be held at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby. The book will be sold there and will be available soon from Nikkei Books of Toronto.
Interview: Tatsuo Kage
You refer to the exodus of Canadians of Japanese ancestry as exile. From the point of view of the Canadian government, though, they were being sent “back where they came from.” This is probably key to the entire episode.
This expulsion of Canadian residents of Japanese ancestry was a continuation and extension of the policy of removal and incarceration of Japanese Canadians which started right after the beginning of the Pacific phase of the Second World War in December 1941.
Most of us heard about “repatriation” or “deportation” but it was rarely talked about during our redress campaign in the 1980s. Perhaps this was because our campaign emphasized the Canadian nature of the issue, in other words, we raised the issue of unjust treatment of its own citizens by the government and we demanded amendments of the wrongs done to Japanese Canadians in Canada. Therefore, activists in the Redress campaign in Canada had little interest in people in Japan even though their experiences could have been even more serious or aggravated.
Was the aim of the government to send as many people as possible to Japan after the war?
A general policy direction of the expulsion was given by McKenzie King in his speech on August 4, 1944 in the House of Commons. In his speech the Prime Minister categorized Canadians of Japanese origin into two groups:
a) Those who were loyal to Canada: They had to comply with the policy of dispersal, i.e., they had to disperse themselves as evenly as possible in Canada, in concrete terms they had to move east of the Rockies. From the beginning of the removal from the coastal BC, dispersal was encouraged and promoted, but the policy was not very successful, as even in 1944/1945 the majority of Japanese Canadians still remained in BC.
b) If Japanese Canadians were unwilling to move to the east, they were regarded as disloyal to Canada and they had to be sent “back” to Japan as soon as the circumstances allowed, i.e., right after the end of the war. When the end of the war was in sight, the RCMP conducted the so-called “loyalty survey” of all residents of Japanese ancestry. They were asked if they would sign a document to give up citizenship and “repatriate” to Japan. They were encouraged to sign the document and told that they could change their mind at a later date. Initially over 10,000 “chose” to be exiled to Japan. When the war ended and they learned about the situation in Japan and the “deportation” became imminent, many rescinded their application to go to Japan. According to the government records of “repatriation,” 3,964 were exiled to Japan in 1946. At the time the government insisted repeatedly that the choice was voluntary, but considering the circumstances, Japanese Canadians were forced to choose one way or another.
It should be noted that two thirds of the exiled were Canadians, therefore the government term “repatriation” or “deportation” did not accurately describe the nature of the policy. It should also be noted that Canadian citizens were required to give up their citizenship when they left Canada.
Why did some Japanese Canadians “choose” to be exiled to Japan?
There were a few reasons for Japanese Canadians to decide to go to Japan:
• After four years’ internment they were too discouraged and unsure about re-establishing themselves in the unknown land of eastern Canada. During the prewar years over 95% of the community’s population lived in BC. Generally speaking, young adults were more adventurous and willing to go east, but older people were anxious. If they couldn’t go back to the Coastal BC where their homes were, they preferred to go to Japan. It created a dilemma and discord among family members.
• In some cases, they wanted to join family members who had been stranded in Japan. For example, Mary Seki, nee Otsuji, was 11 years old, living with her father and four siblings when the war broke out while her mother and one brother were stranded in Japan. When the war ended, it was a natural choice for the family to go to Shiga, Japan where her mother was.
• Some JCs were disappointed with Canada’s unjust policy of removal and incarceration. They saw the hypocrisy of the Canadian government: While Canadians were fighting the autocratic regimes in Europe and Asia for the sake of freedom and democracy, the Canadian government treated its own citizens as enemy aliens. Mr. Yukiharu Mizuyabu remembers that he watched a news movie reel reporting the liberation of Europe by the allies shown in Lemon Creak, an internment camp, where he was incarcerated with his parents. He did not have any objection to his parents’ decision to go to Japan. He felt freedom when he arrived in Japan.
What was life like for these people once they arrived in Japan?
Life in Japan was very trying. Soon after the end of the war, essential resources such as food, clothes and housing were extremely scarce. When they arrived they could not eat what they were served at the reception centre in Kurihama in Tokyo Bay. Their train travel to the final destination was also trying, as trains were packed like canned sardines and all windows were broken. Passengers got in and out of the train through the windows.
Soon after they arrived, most teenagers and young adults got a job with the occupation forces in order to support themselves and their families. They were able to use their language ability. This way they were able to alleviate the food shortage to some degree.
Some exiled Japanese Canadians returned to Canada. Do we know how many?
There seem to be no exact figures. A Canadian official once admitted that there are no official records of those exiles who came back to Canada. In the early 1990s I had a discussion with Kaz Ide, who was then the president of the Association of Japanese Canadians in Japan which was formed after the Redress Settlement. According to his estimate, half of the 4,000 “deportees” must have returned to Canada. He also mentioned that Japanese Canadians in Japan should be 1,000 to 1,200 though among these, 200 to 250 were those who had been in Japan since prewar time.
Dr. Audrey Kobayashi made a similar estimate in her study of postwar immigration: “Between 1,000 and 2,000 of these [15,000 immigrants from Japan] were actually Canadian citizens ‘deported’ to Japan in 1946.” (Demographic Profile of Japanese Canadians, 1989.)
Were those who went back to Japan eligible for Redress payments?
In 1993 the Redress Secretariat in Ottawa indicated that 1,337 JCs in Japan had applied for the redress payment and 1,123 had received it.)
Why did some return to Canada?
Most of the younger people wanted to come back to Canada where they were born and brought up. They were longing for their lives in Canada as it was at least familiar and materially more comfortable. Soon after the lifting of the restrictions in 1949 Canadian-born Nikkei were allowed to come back but they had to have a sponsor in Canada. Furthermore, the travel had to be paid by foreign currency, but due to a strict exchange control they could not convert Japanese Yen into US or Canadian dollars. Once settled in Canada, they tried to sponsor their siblings and parents.
Why did some remain in Japan for over a half a century?
a) Perhaps employment was an important factor: If they had a good and stable job they remained in Japan. Even though job opportunities with occupation forces were decreasing, some found a job in trading, travel industries, or multinational companies, such as ones promoting soft drinks in Japan. Their English ability was an asset, but they had to learn Japanese, both speaking and writing, in order to function in a work place where most other workers or colleagues were Japanese.
b) There was another factor: Among those in their twenties, some found a Japanese spouse and that encouraged them to stay in Japan.
You have interviewed many of those who remained in Japan. Can you share some of their experiences?
It depends on individuals:
a) Some maintained strong emotional ties with Canada: Mr. Kaz Ide, who was exiled from Lemon Creek, BC to Fukuoka commented: “After all Japan is a temporary shelter.” “I am thinking of going back to Canada for my retirement. But I am not sure if my wife could adjust to the life in Canada as she is Japanese and never lived in another country.”
b) Mrs. Marge Ikebe (nee Yamori) is another articulate person. After the war she studied at UBC and lived in the US with her husband who is a businessman. She is a bicultural and bilingual person. But her perspective is very different and interesting: “I got married to a Japanese who is the eldest son in his family. So I had to look after in-laws and family graves. I was tied down: by marrying to a Japanese person, I got married to Japan.”
c) Mr. Hideo Nose, who was also active in the Association, tried to assimilate to life in Japan. “Whenever someone told me that he/she was not aware that I was born and brought up in a foreign country, I felt extremely pleased.” After I interviewed him, he sent me additional notes stating that even though he was born in Canada, his situation can be described as a repatriate rather than an exile. “By repatriating Japan became my first home land and Canada became the second.”
I imagine those who stayed are pretty well completely integrated into Japanese society.
Those who have been living in Japan for many years are well-integrated in Japanese society. Most of my male interviewees in Japan are married to a Japanese; accordingly, they spoke Japanese at home and their home customs are Japanese. One interviewee said that it is not necessary for their children to learn English because they are living in Japan. The Canadian heritage does not seem to be transmitted to the second generation of the exiles.
Males seem to prefer a Japanese spouse: I also noted that exiled and returned males seem to have a preference to have a spouse from Japan. Among these are Roy Uyeda (Vancouver, BC.), George Miyagawa (Gloucester, Ont.) and Robert Okabe (Winnipeg). However, some married Japanese Canadians: George Tsuruda in Edmonton came back to Canada as a single person and eventually got married to a woman who had also been exiled. George Nakano is living in Tokyo and his wife is a Nisei who was stranded in Japan because of the war.
Women seem to have different ideas. Mary Seki mentioned: “It was totally out of the question to choose a Japanese man, especially one from a rural area, as my husband.” As a young single person, she dated an American Nisei from Hawaii while she was working for the US Army in Kyoto. After she came back she got married to a Canadian Nisei. Irene Tsuyuki nee Kato was able to come back as early as December 1949 sponsored by her father’s good friend. A year later she got married to one of his sons, Norm. Marie Katsuno got married in Japan to a stranded US Nisei.
Are there stories or hardships that we haven’t heard about here?
The exiles experienced additional exploitation and hardships which are hardly known: When they left Canada, they had to surrender dollars in their possession and received a note that was a proof to receive equivalent amount of Japanese Yen when they arrived in Japan. Both the American and Japanese governments were interested in the recovery and stability of the Japanese economy and the exchange rate was made artificially unfavorable for those who want to exchange dollars to yen. The black market value of dollars was three times the official rate. In short, exiled Japanese Canadians were exploited for the benefit of the US and Japanese governments. By crossing the Pacific Ocean, 2/3 of their money disappeared!
Even with yen, they had to deposit it in a bank and were allowed to withdraw only a limited amount. Further, inflation made the Yen lose value very quickly. The Canadian government urged the US government to improve the situation for the benefit of Japanese Canadians, but the US did nothing about it. For some elderly exiles life in Japan must have been extremely difficult.
You’ve spent a long time studying this little-talked about episode in Canadian history. What do you hope comes out of your research?
I would like to suggest that this lesser known aspect of community’s experience of expulsion should be appropriately incorporated into the history of our community and of Canada in order to better understand the vulnerability of democracy and citizens’ rights during times of national emergency, whether actual or perceived.
Your book was published in Japan in 1998 as Nikkei Kanadajin no tsuiho. How was the book received there?
It is difficult to give overall picture. I am sure that my Japanese book stimulated those who lived in Japan to write their experiences, as they are now in their late 70s or older.
I also know that Japanese researchers and scholars dealing with Japanese Canadians appreciate the book, as there are only a few books written or translated in Japanese. For example, one of my friends in Tokyo who teaches Canadian Literature at a university informed me that she had been using my book at her classes and encouraging her students to read it.
What made you decide to translate the book into English?
Since I am living here for a long time and many friends including Nikkei people do not understand Japanese well, so I felt that both Nikkei and other Canadians should know the unique experience of Japanese Canadians who had to move to Japan in 1946.