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Japan Journal: A Repat's Story - Part 2

Continuation of Hiroshi Kumagai’s story.

Read Part 1 >> 

Going to Japan

My father had land there (in Japan). That was the reason why he came to Canada: to send back money and hold on to the land he was responsible for. He didn’t want to lose it all in his generation.

After father died, mother didn’t have much to do. She used to teach me Japanese. The Matsushitas were in Lemon Creek too. So Lily would come over to learn Japanese too. In Lemon Creek there was a community and quite a bit of cultural activity: flower arranging, sewing, the housewives used to have classes. I’d never seen so many Japanese before. I liked that. We were the same race—but then, I didn’t feel different from the others in Burquitlam until the war started. There were a lot of Doukhobors who’d come and sell us potatoes and sunflower seeds. I used to like kidding around with them.

My parents’ idea before the war was to have left me in Canada to take care of the farm by myself. I was born in Canada and grew up in Canada. They’d say we cannot change Hiroshi’s mind. We’ll leave him here. If he’s not cut out for farming maybe he’ll go to New Westminster and start a bakery or something. After everything settled down in Canada with me, they were going to go back to Japan.

Father was an average Japanese man, as ordinary as any Japanese these days. There’s no difference. They were very honest, straight; maybe if they were told to go to war they would have probably. These days I wouldn’t go to war even if I had to. Mother was an ordinary woman too. She worried a lot about me. She taught me Japanese since I was a young kid. I used to study kanji too. I really didn’t remember it all, even after we came back after the war. She wasn’t a real teacher. She grew up in Asamizu. They were farmers who did a lot of calligraphy (shodo).

We had to come back to Japan. There wasn’t any choice. Mother was worried about Hatsuko and Tomie. I was just 15 or 16. I really didn’t want to come back because I couldn’t really speak Japanese. I was learning but I didn’t know enough to communicate. I knew in my mind that Japan had lost the war and you never know what was going to happen. I’d been hearing and reading there was no food over here. I didn’t mind coming over here and associating with the Americans, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the Japanese. I knew we were the same people but I didn’t know I could get along with them like I do now. I can probably get along with the Japanese more now than with Canadians. You have to work for that too.

We felt we were coming back to a country that had lost the war. In that instance, most nikkei felt we shouldn’t have come back, we should have stayed in Canada. Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t admit it, but I would.

We came over on the General M.C. Meigs. The ‘General’ shipping lines were the President’s lines before the war. Most of us came on the M.C.Meigs. On the same boat we came over on there was a deluxe first class section of the boat. They were for Americans going to war-torn Japan for sightseeing. These people used to watch us from the upper deck as we repatriates left the ship. It was hot when we arrived in Uraga, south of Yokohama, where all the ships arrived. This is the same place where Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in July 1853. That’s where we landed. Big ships couldn’t come into Yokohama or Tokyo because there were a lot of sunken subs there.

When the ship came into port, a motor boat with a U.S. lieutenant came on the board to check the ship. Some of the nisei on the deck said, ‘Oh, the Americans are here. Now we know Japan lost the war.’ Until that time a lot of people still didn’t believe that Japan lost the war. After that, a kind of a tugboat came to unload the baggage. These were all full of Japanese army men who were repatriated from China or some place. They were used to unload the baggage.

These guys looked really poor. They would come on to the ship and wrap the sheets and blankets around themselves, even the toilet paper—they didn’t have toilet paper or anything. That’s how bad it was. Some of the officers who were guiding people and ordering around the other military people looked pretty sharp though.

Until we got to the barracks we didn’t have any food. They didn’t have any food. We were given tin bowls with rice and plain miso soup. We slept inside mosquito nets.

After two weeks, we were in the jurisdiction of the Japanese who were to send us repats wherever we were supposed to go or wanted to go. In our case, we had to go to Uwanuma where we had land, but there was no communication—we couldn’t make any telephone calls. We couldn’t get on the trains, they were so packed. They weren’t running on time. For two weeks we didn’t know when we’d get back to Sendai. There were thousands of us on Kyushu. Tokyo was in ruins. We took the train from Yokosuka—which still is a U.S. military port—it used to be a Japanese naval port. We went maybe as far as Shimbashi and changed over to a local train to Ueno. That’s when we passed Yurakucho and I could see that Tokyo was just flattened. Nothing. Just huts with red tin roofs. You could see from one side of Tokyo to the other; it was a vast flat land of huts.

The streets were still there. Sometimes you’d see an American M.P. jeep. Around the Yurakucho area there were a lot of people going back and forth; it was an entertainment place, they used to have strip shows there. Everything was shocking then U.S. soldiers were around and the mind was still at war in a way. The Americans were here and said no Japanese are going to fight, they were here to occupy Japan. The Japanese were saying ‘Oh, these Yanks!’ There was a mixture of feelings there. Canadians were different. At that time I had a feeling that I came to Japan, but in my mind I knew I came from Canada, that it was a country that won the war, although I was Japanese. I think a lot of niseis over here thought that way—you felt more superior at the time. I remember waiting in Ueno Station (in Tokyo) until 11 p.m. and when we got on the train there were no seats. It was late, a lot of people were standing, sleeping on the floor, all kinds. When the train passed Sendai that city was flattened too. Finally, we arrived in Uwanuma. There was no one at the station. That worried mother. My brother-in-law eventually showed up and walked us home.

I don’t know whether we were really accept or not. My sisters had three or four kids who we’d never seen before and they were running around. In those days you didn’t have the food and that. It was more important to think about what you’re going to eat today. There wasn’t a general generosity about greeting a new comer even though they’re family.

Part 3 >>


* The original story was written more than 10 years ago in the Toronto-based Nikkei Voice newspaper. Lloyd passed away in November 2004.


© 1996 Norm Ibuki

Canada nikkei repat repatriots