by John Endo Greenaway
Reprinted from January 1994 issue of The Bulletin
Tell me about Grandma and Grandpa and how they came to Canada.
My father came from near Sendai, in Miyagi-ken. He immigrated to Canada before the First World War and he worked here for maybe 20 years, on the railroad, in hotels, before going back to Japan to marry my mother, who was from the same area. The marriage was arranged by his family back in Japan. He sold his little restaurant that he owned on Ballantyne Pier and went back. I think they’d selected two or three different brides for him, and he chose my mother. She didn’t have a choice of course . . .
Anyway, they got married in Japan and then came to Vancouver where they stayed for a year. This was around 1927. It was difficult to find work and a friend in Saskatchewan told them that there was a C.P.R. hotel being built in Moose Jaw and they would need some people. So my father decided to go to Saskatchewan. My mother worked as a chambermaid until I was born. That was in Moose Jaw, 1929, April 16th. I was followed by three sisters and a brother.
How old were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
Let’s see . . . I must have been around 13 or so. It didn’t have too much of an impact on me. I felt like my parents and their friends were a bit agitated, but I didn’t quite understand what it was all about. Because already there was the war with Germany and we were doing all kinds of things, you know, making afghans and balaclavas for the soldiers overseas. I don’t know if they ever wore them—they were awfully itchy.
What was the effect on your family of Japan entering the war?
At that time I didn’t realize it . . . but I know my father lost his job, because he was working for the C.P.R. hotel. So he went on relief, that’s what they called it in those days. I think at first he was too proud to go on relief but money was running out, so he finally had to. He did a lot of outdoor work, cleaning up parks, working in skating rinks during the winter. It was a very difficult time. Fortunately the churches were quite charitable, so at Christmas time we got CARE packages . . .
Did you see a sudden influx of Japanese families as a result of the evacuation from the West Coast?
Not until the war was over. There was an R.C.A.F. camp just outside Moose Jaw and suddenly there was a great influx of Japanese Canadians. It’s only in the last few years that I discovered why they came there. Because all the internment camps were closed down and people had to choose to go east of the Rockies or go to Japan. I think some of the Japanese Canadians were allowed to go back to the coast in 1949 but a lot of them had lost everything and decided to make a new life elsewhere.
There are a fair number of well-known people from Moose Jaw, aren’t there?
Let’s see . . . I was looking through an old Moose Jaw reunion book a couple of days ago . . . There are people like Peter Gzowski, Earl Cameron, Elwood Glover, they all worked for the CBC. Roy Kiyooka was born there—my mother and father knew his parents. Lets see . . . Don McGillivary, he writes for the Sun, Emile “the Cat” Francis (goalie for the Moose Jaw Canucks)—Moose Jaw had one of the best junior hockey teams. Art Linkletter . . .
Were you the first one in your family to leave Moose Jaw?
Eventually. After finishing high school I took one year of Commercial—typing, book-keeping, that sort of thing—what young ladies were supposed to learn. Then I worked for four years in a Chinese grocery store. I didn’t figure out ’til later that it was because I was Japanese that it was difficult for me to find work. But these Chinese partners, they knew my father, and they gave me a job as a book-keeper/clerk at their store. And I saved up my money. My ambition was always to be an artist, so I saved up, quit my job and went to art school in Regina, where I spent two years. Then I got a scholarship to go to Philadelphia—The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and also the Barnes Foundation, which was a great honour. Not many people were accepted to attend their lectures. I’d only seen great paintings in books—it was amazing to see original Picassos, Matisses and Rembrandts.
You met Papa around this time.
I met Tod through my art teacher in Regina, Art McKay. Tod and Art and Roy Kiyooka had all gone to art school together in Calgary. Art had just returned from Paris and got a job teaching at Regina College. Anyway, Tod was in Toronto, working, and he’d hitch-hiked to Regina. I think he was just passing through on his way to visit his parents and met me and stopped there. That was about 1953, I think, before I went to Philadelphia. I came back from the States in ’54 and we got married.
You were separated for a year?
Yes. Isn’t that romantic? (laughs)
Uh, huh. Tell me about your wedding.
Well, I wanted a simple one. But because I’m the oldest in the family my mother and father and sisters felt I should have a church wedding and a banquet at the hotel where my father worked. And all the old friends of my parents from Moose Jaw and Regina attended my wedding.
What did your family think of this man you were marrying?
Well . . . he was a bit strange. Because he was an artist. Anyway, after we got married we stayed in Regina for a year. I worked at the college, in the library and Tod was working, I think, for the Regina radio station. Then I got transferred to the University of Saskatchewan library in Saskatoon and Tod worked for the TV station, making up advertisements for television. And then we took off to Europe. (Editor’s note: Tod and Fumiko spent a year or so running a fishing camp in Lac La Ronge in northern Saskatchewan before going to Europe.)
That must have been quite a change from the prairies.
It was! We lived in London for a few months and then travelled in the south of England for a couple of weeks and then we took off to Spain, right after Christmas and lived there ’til summer. We were able to live in Spain because Tod had just finished selling a one-hour script to the CBC, a drama. It was nice to get a cheque in the mail which kept us going for a while. From there we went to Venice and stayed there for a month and then travelled through Europe back to London with 25 cents in our pockets—25 shillings actually. And then I found out that I was pregnant. Since we had no money to come back to Canada, we stayed there in London and Tod worked as a temp—as a temporary secretary. And then he found a film producer, Derek Knight, who was interested in his writing, so he started writing documentary films. So we stayed there for four years—you and Rachel were born there. It was interesting, we met all kinds of people. We made friends with people from Jamaica, and people from Scotland, mainly all . . . lay-abouts (laughs), artist types. We met Quentin Crisp in London and got to appreciate vintage cars and spent a lot of time at the British Museum and Victorian Albert and the Tate Gallery. London was a place where you could just walk and walk and walk, and everywhere you turned it was interesting.
It sounds like you didn’t have too much connection with your Japanese side for all those years.
No. I didn’t meet anyone until we came to Vancouver, actually. Even though we lived in Toronto and Montreal we didn’t meet any Japanese people . . . I spoke Japanese at home until I was five. And once I started school, of course, I started speaking English. I remember that my mother always emphasized that we lived in Canada and we should act Canadian.
What made you decide to come back to Canada?
Well, England was no place to make a living, and we had two children, so we decided to come back . . . I guess we were homesick too. The reason we left Canada was because it was getting pretty boring. Nothing too much was happening in the way of the arts. It was very conservative. So we thought that travelling would give us something . . . when we came back to Canada we were surprised—all our artist friends had become quite well known. It was really a time when they blossomed and the scene became much more exciting. That was the time that the Beatles really got going. Although in England I wasn’t really aware of them, that was the time they were getting started. We went to Montreal because Tod was offered a job at the National Film Board and we stayed there a couple of years. Rafael was born there. And then we moved to Toronto where Tod worked as a freelance writer and photographer for documentaries. We didn’t like Toronto too much, so when Roy Kiyooka called to say that there was an opening at the Vancouver Art Gallery for a photographer, we packed everything into a U-Haul trailer and drove out. I’m glad we came. Roy was really our only Japanese Canadian friend at this time, he wasn’t involved in the community either. We just poked around, went to Kits Beach . . . enjoyed ourselves.
And then I found out through a friend that they were building co-op housing in Strathcona. So we went to some meetings and ended up joining S.P.O.T.A.—the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association—and I got involved in the Chinese Canadian community.
Were you involved in the fight to stop the freeway from being built through Chinatown?
No, that was before we got involved. But in the aftermath of the fight there were all these empty lots where some of the old houses had been torn down. So they figured it was best to start filling them with housing. So the C.M.H.C. agreed to do the financing. And there was this quite large lot and the C.M.H.C. wanted to see a co-op built. We were one of the first to sign up. Most of the people who first lived in the co-op were Chinese but I don’t think they really liked it—they couldn’t get equity, so they started moving out and the Japanese started moving in. We’d met Takeo by this time and he moved in. And then Tamio moved in and Motoko and Clyde, Keiko and Keskei and then the Domon family later. . .
Was it a conscious decision on your part to become involved in the Japanese Canadian community?
Not really, it wasn’t a conscious effort, but when the opportunity came . . .
A friend of mine at S.P.O.T.A. told me that the Centennial Project needed a book-keeper, so that became my first involvement with the Japanese Canadian community. Tamio, Roy Miki and Randy Enomoto, Linda Hoffman and a lot of other people were involved in the project. It was very interesting—most of them were sansei and quite a few had come from Japan—what you’d call shin-ijusha, new immigrants: Takeo and Michiko and Kuniko, Maia. Through Takeo I got involved in Tonari Gumi and I volunteered there. I guess I met more sansei than I did nisei, I think Tamio was the only one. They were all very enthusiastic and excited about this community. And the enthusiasm was there from the shin-ijusha as well. It was like being in a new country! I think one thing about Vancouver was that I felt very comfortable being among the Chinese community, maybe because they were Asians . . . It was almost like coming home, in a sense.
What were you doing for money?
Gee . . . I had so many jobs! I started out being a volunteer parent at City School, the new alternative school you and Rachel attended and eventually got hired on as a staff member. And then the school moved and I decided to leave. I wanted to get a job at Tonari Gumi but my Japanese wasn’t good enough so I got a job at Intermedia Press as a book-keeper. After a while I got bored with book-keeping and I wanted to learn typesetting so I learned from Linda Hoffman who was working there also. Business got slack so I quit that and went to work for a software store until they went under.
How did you end up working for the Bulletin?
That was in 1984 when the redress movement in Vancouver was gaining momentum. I attended quite a few meetings with a lot of sansei who wanted to get this movement going. And the only way the government would listen to us was if we became part of the JCCA. But it was difficult, at that time, to get the JCCA to do anything about redress. So, in order to become JCCA we had to . . . take over. So we attended the AGM and managed to get most of our members elected and ended up taking over the board. And then the people who had worked on the Bulletin—they were mostly volunteers, really, plus a part-time office worker, resigned. At that point I jumped in and said that I would like to help, along with Tamio. So I got hired on to look after the office as well as run The Bulletin. Tamio was the English editor and Sumio Koike, who was a graphic artist, was hired to edit the Japanese side as well as design the paper. Koike-san had a Japanese computer which was a great innovation.
So, at that point, did the Bulletin become a vehicle for the redress movement?
Oh yes, definitely. We had to get the message out to all the people in the community.
Was it difficult to garner support for the movement?
No . . . not really, not in that sense. I felt the community, on the whole, was a bit passive about the redress movement. So it needed the energy of the few who were really . . . who felt something should be done, to put an effort into it. A lot of the sansei were quite, how do you say . . . indignant about what happened to their parents and that nothing was being done and I guess the example of the redress movement in the United States urged them on to do something here.
It seems like the Centennial Project and the formation of the Powell Street Festival was a rallying point for the Nikkei community, which in turn gave way to the redress movement.
I think so. Because Powell Street and the Centennial Project drew people in to renew the community and a lot of them became the core of the redress movement.
That must have been quite something, when you heard that the government had agreed to compensate the Japanese Canadian community.
Oh yeah . . . We were still at the office at the language school when the news came. That was the same office where we had a meeting with David Crombie. He was the minister of Multiculturalism, and then he went out and Weiner came in. I think Weiner was more sympathetic, and that helped the ball get rolling.
Do you think it’s important to have a Japanese Canadian community as such?
Gee . . . I don’t know . . . maybe I’ve taken it for granted. Because it feels good . . . Powell Street . . . working at the JCCA, having these different occasions happening in the community, Keirokai . . . yeah, I think it is important. It’s up to the children really. Maybe they don’t care anymore . . . whether they feel like being in the community, I don’t know. Maybe they’d rather just slip into the mainstream. But my own feeling is that I certainly feel much more comfortable being involved in the JC community. We don’t necessarily agree on all the same things, but there are certain things in our upbringing . . . maybe there’s something in the Japanese culture that gives us something in common.
The Japanese Canadian community is such a big part of your life.
Well, I like being with people. And I feel at home here. It’s given me an opportunity to do some writing, which I didn’t feel very secure about. It’s given me a lot more confidence in myself and I feel like I’ve got a lot of things to offer the community, like being involved in conferences and so on. I never thought of myself as being a public person, but it seems to have happened anyway . . . Sometimes I long for a quiet life, but, I don’t know, I think I like the excitement. I’d like to travel more, or even shoot rapids. If I was younger I’d take up kayaking and maybe do some white water . . .
The Bulletin, A Journal of Japanese Canadian Community, History & Culture, is a Japanese Canadian community publication in print continuously since 1958. Published by the Japanese Canadian Citizen’s Association, The Bulletin is available free of charge to members. It is also available online at jccabulletin-geppo.ca