“Never again” Over a Cup of Tea

“It was a military necessity,” Ottawa said when it coldly, calmly, arbitrarily, confiscated the right of Japanese Canadians to own property after Japan attacked the USA Pacific fleet based at Pearl Harbour.

That December 7, 1941 attack touched off a panic reaction in the western states and all too soon slopped over the 49th parallel where a large commercial fishing fleet operated between Victoria in the south, Prince Rupert in the north and a multitude of smaller ports between.

Not all the fishing boats were owned and operated by Japanese Canadians, but many were – and for every one of them was a whispered conjecture that when at sea they would make wonderful spy ships for a Japanese navy.

In fear, the USA was organizing the controlled eviction of citizens of Japanese ancestry from all coastal areas. Their new government controlled “camps” were not called prisons; just “controlled.”

In Canada, Japanese families were treated much the same. Individual fishing boat owners were stripped of ownership and their vessels sold at giveaway prices while they and their families were shipped to “camps” in the Interior.

It was not just fishermen who suffered from the heavy hand of a panicked government.

One Japanese Canadian who had his life’s work and achievements seized was Mr. Eikichi Kagetsu. He was active in the forest industry, owned a railway and marine industry developments including an oyster farm. He lost it all; dispossessed by decree based on unfounded assumptions.

The detailed story of Mr. Kagetsu is now part of what is described as “the massive archive and oral histories” being collected by the University of Victoria Landscape of Injustice research program in co-operation with the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby.

They have set 2021 as the year they hope to have a touring exhibit ready to show the world.

It will undoubtedly contain a section on Esquimalt’s once famous Japanese Teahouse – Canada’s first Japanese garden and teahouse located in what is now Esquimalt Gorge Park. It was opened in 1907 by brothers Hayato and Kensuke Takata and operated successfully until 1942 when they were both interned.

Writing recently for UVic News (http.//www.uvic.ca/news/topics/2018+Japanese-teahouse-gorge+news) Stephanie Harrington describes the old teahouse at its best and at its vandal destroyed demise. “It took 35 years to nurture the tea gardens, which opened in 1907, and mere months to destroy what the brothers had built.”

Which brings me in my own convoluted way to an announcement by Esquimalt municipal council Council that it is considering building a new Japanese Tea Garden on the old site. A good idea and a fitting reminder of what can happen in the finest of nations when racism runs riot in defiance of logic and basic decency. Leaning on expertise available at UVic or the Mikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre and true to tradition the Japanese Tea Garden “with hundreds of Japanese lanterns hung throughout grounds dotted with bonsai and cherry trees” could be reborn.

A place for calm conversations during which we can acknowledge past failures of our government and we, the people of the day who raised no objections at the time but now pledge “never again” over a good cup of tea.

3 comments

  1. Governments usually go overboard when it comes to security and anyone who disputes this hasn’t flown recently.

    If Japanese-Canadians were perceived as a security threat after Pearl Harbour there were simpler ways to address this issue than depriving them of their civil rights and property. In fact, the confiscation of property seems to have been the real reason behind this.

Leave a Reply to Dale Odberg Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s