SEDAI: The Japanese Canadian Legacy Project

Sharing the unique history and experiences of Canadians of Japanese ancestry

Research Guide for Adults

Films

All the films listed below may be ordered or downloaded for free from the National Film Board of Canada. They are listed here in chronological order.

  • Warclouds in the Pacific, 1941 (20 mins)
    This film, made when the war Europe had already started, outlines the potential for war with Japan and sets the stage for the actions against Japanese Canadians that would soon follow.
  • Fortress Japan, 1943 (17 mins)
    Narrated by Lorne Green, this wartime film presents a distorted view of Japan that both reflects and promotes stereotypes about Canada’s enemy in the Pacific. While Canadians had legitimate concerns about the expansion of Japan’s military success, this type of film unfortunately served to stir up feelings against Canadians of Japanese ancestry.
  • Of Japanese Descent, 1945 (21 mins)
    In this production Japanese Canadians in forced relocation camps are (inaccurately) divided into those who were loyal to Canada and those who were not. It reflects the attitudes held by many non-Japanese Canadians at the end of WWII.
  • Bird of Passage, 1966 (10 mins)
    This is the story of a Japanese Canadian who was uprooted during WWII but then went on to a career as a chemical engineer in Montreal. The script is by Jesse Nishihata.
  • Enemy Alien, 1975 (27 mins)
    A combination of still photos and live footage tell the story of Japanese Canadians uprooted from their homes. It is a thoughtful, beautiful and eloquent presentation.
  • Minoru: Memory of Exile, 1992 (19 mins)
    Authentic footage and animation blend together to tell the story of Minoru Fukushima. Born in Canada, he had to go to Japan after WWII when his family chose to return there. This is the story of how he bore up in a strange country and eventually returned to Canada after the Canadian military requested his service.
  • Shepherd’s Pie and Sushi, 1998 (45 mins)
    Of mixed Celtic and Japanese heritage, Mieko Ouchi was very nervous when she auditioned in 1993 for a role in television drama about the 1940’s internment. While acting on the set of “The War Between Us”, she discovered much about the Japanese side of herself that she had never known before.
  • Obachan’s Garden, 2001 (95 mins)
    A touching meditation that explores the Japanese Canadian identity.
  • Sleeping Tigers: the Asahi Baseball Story, 2003 (51 mins)
    The Asahi baseball team was famous for its domination of the northwest minor league. It was a source of pride for many Japanese Canadians, because it exemplified teamwork and dedication. Abruptly ended by WWII and the forced relocation, the players carried on their spirit in the camps and inspired the whole community.

Articles

  • “British Columbia and the Japanese Evacuation”W. Peter Ward, The Canadian Historical Review, September 1976This is a scholarly piece that emphasizes the importance of lingering prejudice and war-time fears that turned out to have little or no basis in reality. It is well researched and carefully argued. Ward did not have access, however, to key government documents that became available later. It is still well worth reading.The article was reprinted in Readings in Canadian History: Post-Confederation (2nd ed.), R. Douglas Francis and Donald B. Smith, 1986, ISBN 0-03-921877-5 ([v. 2])

Books

  • A Dream of Riches: The Japanese Canadians 1877-1977
    The Japanese Canadian Centennial Project, 1978, ISBN 0-9690708-0-2

This trilingual (English, French, Japanese) book provides a brief overview of the first one hundred years of the Japanese in Canada. The factual text is interspersed with quotations that add much humanity to the account. There is a fine collection of photographs. Unfortunately, the photos are not labelled as they appear, but at the back of the book, and the descriptions are very limited. Nevertheless, the photos provide a fine visual record of many of the events, and clearly show the Japanese community adapting to Canadian society while retaining their unique identity.

  • Nikkei Legacy: The Story of Japanese Canadians from Settlement to Today
    Toyo Takata, 1983, ISBN 0-919601-94-4

This is a fine survey of the Japanese Canadian experience during their first century in this country. In only 170 pages, with many photographs, it covers clearly the story of immigration, settlement, internment and post-war re-establishment. Takata stresses that the Japanese were much like other newcomers seeking at first to make a quick buck before returning home, later seeking to fit into their new homeland while retaining some of their ancestral traditions. Some notable pioneers are given special attention.Takata addresses all the key issues such as language and other cultural barriers, the ethnocentrism of all the groups involved, and conflicts within Japanese Canadian society. He is very good at describing the ambiguities of a community that had a very high volunteer and casualty rate as Canadian soldiers in World War I yet persisted in sending Canadian-born children, especially boys, to Japan for education.The forced relocation of World War II, life in the detention camps, and work on the prairie farms are well presented. One of the strengths of the book is its successful combination of analysis and description. Befitting from earlier in-depth research by writers such as Adachi and Sunahara, Takata had available all the facts and scholarly information needed to provide a convincing case that the harsh treatment of Japanese Canadians by the government of Canada was unwarranted and unfair. Benefiting also from interviews done by investigators such as Broadfoot, Takata weaves into his chronicle many personal stories that keep the human face of the story front and centre.Published in 1983, Nikkei Legacy does not cover the redress struggle and final settlement. The book suffers from the lack of an index but has a good bibliography. For those lacking the time or energy to read the much more detailed The Enemy that Never Was or The Politics of Racism, Nikkei Legacy provides a thorough and comprehensive presentation of the Japanese Canadian experience.

  • Years of Sorrow, Years of Shame
    Barry Broadfoot, 1977, ISBN 0-385-12550-X

In the mid-1970’s Broadfoot travelled to many parts of Canada and interviewed Japanese Canadians about their experiences before, during, and after World War II. The interviewees included men and women of different ages whose experiences and attitudes varied widely. They constitute a reasonably representative cross-section of a community whose diversity was ignored by those who lumped them all together as “Japs” or “Enemy Aliens”. Some individuals were bitter because of the humiliation and material losses they suffered; others argued that the government policies were a blessing because they got them out of their limited lives in B.C. . Throughout the interviews we hear the authentic voices of those who resisted, those who complied reluctantly, and those who resigned themselves to a baffling reality.Adding to the usefulness of the study is the inclusion of non-Japanese voices ranging from government officials, police and military guards, and average citizens who initially knew little or nothing of what was happening in B.C.The strength of the book is the personal touch of the anonymous interviews that bring out the humanity behind the documents and statistics of other studies. Each of the fourteen chapters begins with a useful introduction that provides background to the reports that follow.One weakness of the book is its lack of documentation. But guarding the identities of the interviewees probably encouraged them to speak more freely, and other books provide the necessary references. There are also some inaccuracies, as might be expected from internees who are looking back many years with not always precise recollections. Again, those errors are easily correctable in more scholarly treatments. The lack of an index makes it hard to cross-reference points mentioned more than once. Finally, there are almost no views included of the most racist of the politicians involved. As repugnant as those views were, it would have been useful to read exactly what they said.Overall, this collection of interviews is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the story of the Japanese Canadians.

  • The Enemy That Never Was
    Ken Adachi, 1976, ISBN 0-7710-0723-X

Years of painstaking research and a journalist’s ability to tell a story effectively make Adachi’s book a very valuable resource. A Japanese Canadian himself, he is able to understand and explain the many points of view to be found in various segments of the Japanese and non-Japanese communities.The first two hundred pages deal with the early history of the Japanese immigrants and their Canadian-born children before the attacks on Hong Kong, Pearl Harbor, and Manila that precipitated the Pacific theatre of World War II. There are many insights into the culture and changing attitudes of the immigrant community that was torn and victimized as a result of the actions of Japan’s military forces.The second half of the book describes the forced relocation and expulsion of British Columbia’s population of Japanese ancestry.The discussions are in-depth and include Japanese terms that help explain the attitudes of those who were caught in the upheaval. (Many of the terms are defined in the Sedai “Glossary”.) In fact, the discussions may be too detailed for the casual reader. But this is a complicated story and Adachi weaves together its disparate parts very effectively.The only serious weakness of the book is that certain key government documents were still under lock and key when Adachi did his research. Therefore, further reading is necessary to obtain a more complete picture despite the depth of his analysis.

  • The Politics of Racism
    Ann Gomer Sunahara, 1981, ISBN 0-88862-413-1

This is the definitive study of the forced relocation and expulsion of Canadians of Japanese ancestry. Writing a little later that Broadfoot and Adachi, professional historian Ann Gomer Sunahara had access to previously withheld government documents including minutes of federal cabinet meetings. She goes beyond Ward’s conclusion that the actions taken against the community were overwhelmingly the result of war paranoia. She demonstrates that the panic of war gave victory to a small group of racists. Of course, there was genuine fear of a Japanese attack on British Columbia. And certainly the government was preoccupied with the war in Europe, conscription, and numerous other issues. Nevertheless, it was the race prejudice and opportunity for economic gain that compelled the anti-Oriental politicians to push their agenda on to a country that, with some significant individual and group exceptions, was prepared to ignore the rights of a minority during a severe national crisis.This study strongly supported for the case for Redress, which was achieved in 1988.This book is now available on the internet. Anyone interested in this topic needs to read at least the preface, introduction, and conclusion of Gomer Sunahara’s thoroughly researched and cogently argued investigation.

  • A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America
    Greg Robinson, 2009, ISBN 978-0-231-12922-0 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-52012-6 (e-book)

No serious researcher can omit this book when studying the history of Japanese Canadians. It is an excellent study that builds on the pioneering work of Ken Adachi and the scholarly analysis of Ann Gomer Sunahara. Furthermore, it presents new evidence and insights.While primarily an examination of what happened to Japanese Americans, A Tragedy of Democracy also includes much information about Canada and some on Latin America. Greg Robinson, a New Yorker by origin and professor of history at the University of Quebec in Montreal, brings a wide range of research interests, skills and experience to this project.In the Introduction Professor Robinson begins by wrestling with the controversial terms. “Relocation” and “Internment” are rejected in favour of “Removal” and “Confinement”. He does not accept government euphemisms. [Please see the glossary on this website for the suggested definitions of other terms.]He then notes the irony of the arbitrary and anti-democratic actions of many governments throughout the western hemisphere during a war that was ostensibly being fought for liberty and the rule of law. Given the threat of terrorist attacks in the 21st century and the laws designed to prevent them, the question of what limitations on personal freedom in war time are permissible needs to be re-examined through historical examples.The first chapter offers a useful review of the situation of Japanese immigrants to North America. The context of the governments’ actions during and after WWII is thus provided.Robinson traces the origins of wariness and hostility that existed; he notes the fear of economic competition and cultural differences found in the non-Japanese communities. And he does not neglect the issue of ambiguous identity felt by many Nisei children who did not see themselves as Japanese but had to struggle to be accepted as Americans or Canadians. At the same time, he expresses how the sending of Nisei children to be educated in Japan made them objects of suspicion when conflict with Japan broke out in 1941.Support expressed in North American Japanese language newspapers for the Imperial Japanese Army in its attacks on China earlier in the war heightened animosity towards the Japanese immigrant communities. This fact is clearly addressed as is the role of Japanese consulates in their attempts to recruit spies.Robinson carries the story through the period of incarceration, post-war adjustment, Redress and beyond in a thorough manner with a compelling narrative.One of the greatest strengths of this book is the new evidence that Robinson has unearthed. He describes the deliberate manipulation of information about the war situation and internal security issues by senior government officials in both the US and Canada. He provides fresh examples of racial bias in white communities and on the part of American President Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister King. New cases of blatant racism among some key figures on both sides of the border are also spelled out clearly.Throughout his work Professor Robinson makes good use of comparisons between the US and Canada. In so doing, he helps clarify events in both countries by offering the two perspectives. For example, in discussing the question of allowing citizens of Japanese ancestry to volunteer for military service he notes: “Japanese Canadians would encounter more intensive discrimination and official restrictions that their southern neighbours in the early post-war years, in part because they did not have the same opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism.” (p. 244) With regard to government action he writes: “…while Canadians did make an effort to take note of American policies, Canadian leaders from Prime Minister King downward also continued their long-standing habit of making use of American policies and the need to keep in lockstep with them, less as a guide to action than an expedient justification for it (or sometimes for inaction) when it suited them.” (p. 65) And again: “…the Canadian experience, like the American one, suggests that the scope and nature of the removal policy were determined primarily by political interest, without regard for framing policies that mixed security with protection of democratic rights.” (p. 102)One of the greatest strengths of this book is its section on legal issues. Both Americans and Canadians tried to use the court system to uphold their fundamental freedoms. In both countries the system let them down. Robinson deals very effectively with the complicated issues here and clarifies them well.One conclusion of A Tragedy of Democracy is particularly chilling. Referring to the reluctance of US army leaders to relinquish their war time powers, Robinson observes: “The durability and the popularity of the military dictatorship are a frightening precedent for the survival of American institutions in time of war and offer a discouraging message about the capacity of civilian governors to roll back limitations on democratic rights, even when there is no justification for them.” (p. 246) In Canada, too, anti-Japanese Canadian measures were kept in place for years after WWII ended.Two weaknesses of the book should be noted. Some key terms used in the book are not to be found in the index. More importantly, while the significance of the attack on Pearl Harbor is duly addressed, there is perhaps not enough attention given to the anger and anti-Japanese feeling created in Canada by the violent actions of the Japanese Imperial army that resulted in the death of Canadian soldiers and nurses in Hong Kong.Overall, the analysis and exposition of A Tragedy of Democracy are superb. Be warned, however, this is a difficult and complex book. But so is the story it tells. A challenging read, it is worth the effort. And it is nice to find an American who actually understands Canada.

  • From Slocan to Hong Kong
    James H. Kinoshita, 2005, ISBN 978-1-4251-2244-7

Over twenty thousand Japanese Canadians felt the impact of the forced evacuation of 1942. Each individual has a story to tell. This autobiography of JHK (as he refers to himself) is one of those stories. Overcoming his family’s difficult experience, James H. Kinoshita would become an influential architect (as would his brother Gene also).JHK’s grandfather and father came from Shiga-ken, not far from Kyoto. Like many Japanese, the original plan was to make money in Canada and return to the homeland rich. His grandfather did well enough to go back and become the mayor of Hikone. His father chose to stay in Vancouver where he successfully operated several businesses in the Japan town area on Powell Street.Born in 1933, JHK was eight years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. (It is interesting to note that he makes no reference to the similar attack on Hong Kong.) His family was interned in Slocan, first at Roseberry and then at Popoff. Like many of the children in the prison camps, JHK had mixed feelings. He recalls both the hardships (cold, cramped conditions) and the fun (berry picking and fishing). He did not enjoy his training in Kendo but he accepted the “shikata ga nai” attitude of the adults around him. He did wonder, however, why Japanese were selected for forced relocation and not Germans or Italians.After the war he stayed in Slocan for a period, and then completed his high school education in Vancouver. Next came Winnipeg where he began to call himself “James”, because his fellow students had trouble with his given name of “Hajime”. Helped by family, members of the JC community, and sympathetic Canadians of various backgrounds, he did very well in architectural school at the University of Manitoba. While there he met his future wife, a student from China.After completing his studies he travelled to Japan to visit family and to learn first-hand about Japanese design. His trips to Kyoto and Nara left a lasting impression. From Japan he went to China where he proposed to his Chinese sweetheart. He was accepted by her and her family with no prejudice.The remainder of the book describes his experiences as a successful architect, world traveller, and family man.While this book does not focus on the internment experience, it does show how the situation improved for Canadians of Japanese origin after World War II due to their own efforts and a changing attitude among Canadians in general.

  • After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Life and Politics
    Greg Robinson, 2012, ISBN 9780520271586 – review by George Hewson

Do we owe Redress to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.? Are Japanese unique among the many minority groups of North America? Should Japanese Canadians avoid or celebrate sushi? While Professor Greg Robinson may not answer each of these questions directly, he does cast much light onto the background discussions that revolve around them.

After Camp is the third in a series of books Robinson has written about the Japanese American experience. The first (By Order of the President, 2003) looked at the role played by US President F. D. Roosevelt in the decision to forcibly remove Japanese immigrants and their families from the west coast during World War II. While Roosevelt was a true liberal, he was still caught up in the underlying prejudices of the time. The second (A Tragedy of Democracy, 2008) demonstrates how, in both the USA and Canada, wartime hysteria was used as a cover to implement the racist policies favoured by certain extremists. Robinson demonstrates how fragile our freedoms can be under the duress of a perceived threat.

As its title indicates, this third book (published in 2012) examines the experience of Japanese Americans before and after World War II. It focuses largely on the reestablishment and renewal that followed the release of the inmates from the detention camps. Robinson argues that this process is just as important as the dramatic events of the war in shaping the life of Japanese Americans. The volume consists of a series of case studies organised thematically rather than chronologically that investigate topics such as national resettlement, the mental and physical adjustments of the former detainees, and their political links to other minority groups. Most of the material is previously unpublished. Robinson notes that his investigation is not intended to be definitive, but rather to encourage further research and discussion.

The key themes Robinson addresses are: the general shift in group leadership from the Issei to the Nisei; the debate over accommodation vs. assimilation; and the relations between Japanese Americans and other communities that were also striving for rights and recognition.

Part I centres on the question of resettlement and dispersal. Part II explores identity. Part III details the shifting relations with Mexican Americans and Jewish Americans. Part IV and Part V examine the making and breaking of alliances with African Americans in the common struggle for civil rights.

Robinson outlines the idea that the Nisei overcame obstacles exclusively through their cultural values of hard work and subdued diligence. But he also notes opposition to the view that Japanese Americans were conformist and passive, and discusses the “model minority” thesis and its critics. While it is true that most Nisei families tried to blend in with mainstream American culture (even to the point of rejecting all ties to their Japanese heritage), the evidence suggests that the experience of individuals was both more complex and less cohesive than the “quiet American” stereotype would indicate.

The consciousness of being members of a small and exposed group of outsiders resulted in certain Nisei reaching out to other marginalised groups such as Hispanics and Jews. As a result, some negative images that the various groups held of each other were reconsidered.

Both Japanese and African Americans were the victims of various forms of legal and economic discrimination. Immediately after the war they worked together to fight these common forms of oppression. Gradually this cooperation declined as many Japanese Americans’ lives moved in different directions than African Americans. Growing militancy in the African American community in the 1960’s further increased the gap between the two groups especially where the older Nisei were concerned. At the same time, however, some younger Nisei and new Sansei leaders were inspired by the “Black Power” movement to take greater pride in their Asian roots. As part of the broader civil rights movement the campaign for acknowledgement of the wrongs suffered by Japanese Americans gained strength and resulted in federal redress legislation in 1988.

The great strengths of Robinson’s book are its original research and penetrating analysis. This is an academic volume that the average reader might find rather scholarly in approach; it is not meant for holiday reading on the beach. But anyone who chooses to think seriously about the situation of Japanese Americans today must read After Camp. And, by extension, since no one looking into the Japanese Canadian story can avoid making comparisons with the experiences of other Nikkei communities (especially those in the USA), this book is of great value to Canadians also.

  • Uprooted Again: Japanese Canadians Move to Canada After WWII (Nikkei Kanadajin no tsuihou)
    Tatsuo Kage, 2012, ISBN 9781896627205 – review by George Hewson

Uprooted Again is a translation of Tatsuo Kage’s 1998 book Nikkei Kanadajin no tsuihou (“The Expulsion of the Japanese Canadians”). However, it is not a literal translation; it has been updated, and also adapted for an English-speaking audience that might require further explanation of some of the ideas that would already be clear to Japanese readers of the original.

Kage, born in 1930, grew up in Japan, taking degrees in history from Japanese universities. After witnessing Japan’s successful moves towards democracy after growing up in ultra-nationalistic pre-war Japan, he immigrated to Canada in 1975.  Interested in the Japanese Canadian experience, he became active in the Redress movement.

The memoir aspect of the book is paramount. Kage interviewed about twenty-five of the nearly four thousand Japanese Canadian exiles who opted to go to Japan after World War II. Kage tells the stories of the refugees well, noting their shared circumstances but also their highly individual situations and reactions. The book is certainly worth considering for the personal anecdotes shared by the interviewees.

Kage successfully outlines the complexity of motives for accepting “repatriation”. The government’s sometimes subtle yet powerful coercion was one factor, but there were many others as well. The Japanese Canadians’ experiences in war-ravaged Japan – such as poor quality food, resentment from native Japanese, feeling foreign, and working for the Occupation forces – make for touching reading. The importance of language proficiency comes to the fore, since varying degrees of fluency in Japanese and English resulted in wide range of circumstances for the exiles in Japan.

Furthermore, the author delves thoughtfully into the reasons why some exiles stayed in Japan and others chose to return to Canada.

The Redress settlement of 1988 is reviewed and its purpose and effectiveness are also insightfully examined.

Read this book for the memoirs, certainly; but go beyond them too. As the author writes, “It is infinitely satisfying to listen to individuals and set down their stories, but one must also consider the meaning of their experiences within a wider setting.” (p. 139)

For example, Kage attempts to study the implications of the “repatriation” policy on the JC community as a whole, and on certain individuals whose reactions range from bitterness to denial and to stoic acceptance. He is particularly concerned about all Canadians who are “visibly exceptional”, and he briefly explores the psychological tension that arises when one is a member of a minority group. The book also outlines some of the difficulties we face with our policy of multiculturalism in Canada.

At the end, there is a call to action. Kage hopes that he has offered encouragement and suggestions for any reader involved in the protection of human rights. He notes the hostile reactions that continue to be directed unfairly after the attacks on New York City in 2001, “…we cannot be sure that members of minority groups such as Arabs and Muslims would be protected as Canadians with full rights of citizenship.” (p. 139)

It is worth noting that Uprooted Again includes copies of many relevant documents such as the notice for voluntary repatriation and the declaration itself. There are photographs of families preparing for deportation. Well researched, there is a fine bibliography for those who would like to explore these topics in more depth.

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