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https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2022/8/12/greenwood-80th-anniversary/

Greenwood's 80th Anniversary Commemoration

80th Anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Internment Reunion Concert

Mission Accomplished. Greenwood’s 80th Anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Internment Reunion Concert, held on July 16, 2022, was a resounding success!

With people shaking hands, embracing each other with hugs and big smiles all around, there was that ambience of camaraderie and friendship. The Japanese Canadian Survivor Health and Wellness Funding goal was achieved.

How significant was this event held in the first internment ‘camp’ in British Columbia? First of all, there were some 23,000 Japanese Canadians in Canada at the time prior to 1942. Most of them lived around the coastal parts of B.C. When the forced removal began in March-April of 1942, many Japanese Canadians were scattered beyond the 100-mile radius to internment ‘camps.’ 

After 1945 (followed by the message of “Go East of the Rockies or to Japan”), many more Japanese Canadians were ‘forced’ farther east beyond the Rockies. Nearly 4000 went to Japan.  

After 80 years since the incarceration, there are now only about 6000 ‘camp’ survivors left. The Health and Wellness Funding wanted to help give these survivors a sense of emotional comfort in their twilight years.

The early immigrants, the Isseis, are now gone. The Nisei population is now in their 90's and even 100's. The Sansei group will be the next elders.  

City of Greenwood was celebrating its 125th birthday, incorporated July 12, 1897. This year coincided with the Japanese Canadian 80th Anniversary of the internment. This gave impetus to Greenwood organizers to put on a weekend event showcasing the rich mining history and the commemoration of the first internment site.

On July 15, Greenwood Museum started off with the Meet 'n Greet event Friday evening as an ‘ice breaker.’ Many former Greenwood residents made their ‘furusato’ journey to Greenwood for the weekend. There was no need to break any ‘ice’; the ‘ice’ was already melted. The mixed crowd immediately embraced themselves so much so that the emcee didn’t need to have an introductory welcome speech.

Saturday, July 16 was the big event. McArthur Centre was decorated with cherry blossoms all around the room and lanterns hanging from above. Japanese kimono, yukata and haori adorned the floor space. The 80th anniversary banner hung profoundly on the wall. Greenwood's population is tad over 700. Over 300 attended.

When the story of Greenwood’s internment history was told, eleven Japanese Canadians interned in 1942 were honoured as residents who never left Greenwood. That is because Mayor McArthur and the City of Greenwood protested to keep their ‘new’ friends from being forced to relocate again in 1945 when the government’s ultimatum was announced: “Go East of the Rockies or to Japan.” 

Hard to imagine there are Japanese Canadians still living in a former internment ‘camp.’ They are Nancy (Asahina) Yamamura, Irene Terada, Hana (Hatanaka) Pasco, Martha (Honda) Johnson, Matsue (Ishida) Oye, Sylvia (Shigematsu) Oye, Fumio Iizuka, Joe Ishida, Shig Uyeyama, Gordon Shimizu, and Johnny Ikari, the oldest at 94.

Japanese Canadian float showing some of the ones who were interned in Greenwood and never left. Only 11 remaining Japanese Canaddians who made their homes for 80 years in Greenwood.

At the reunion, Shizu (Nishimura) Omae was the oldest at 97 and second was Mrs. H. Imai at 93. The oldest attendee out-of-province was Bob Murakami at 90 from Alberta.

Farthest away was Damien Tanaka from Boston, Massachusetts. Farthest south were Kim and Mary (Nakagawa/Tasaka) Marti of Ventura, California.

What was also memorable is that so many descendants of the early Greenwood families who came in the early 1900's attended the 80th anniversary.

The Southern Wave Okinawan Music and Dance Society displaying Okinawan culture. “Photo by Patrick Li.

The reunion capped off with some fabulous entertainment. First off, Kayo Miki, a classical violinist from San Francisco, paid tribute to her father Ichio Miki with a video performance. Kayo was part of Quartet S.F. Group that was twice Grammy nominated in the classical genre. Next was our ‘local’ group Yamabiko Taiko of Kelowna. The Southern Wave Okinawan Music and Dance Society showcased Okinawan culture. The group began with a 15th century ‘Welcome Dance’ that was reserved only for the highest dignitaries mainly from China. That dance was followed by Tanchame, a Fishermen Dance, and the grand finale Mirukumunari with the Eisa Taiko. 

 

Tamika Roberts, a multi-talented 15-year old hapa singer/songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and dancer.

We also had a multi-talented 15-year old singer/songwriter, guitarist, pianist and dancer Tamika Roberts sing classic Japanese songs, her own original and popular retro hit songs.

The jammed packed audience went home with a sense of nostalgia and euphoria. As an attendee named Jean (Clark) Higashi and her son Shawn exclaimed:

“It was wonderful and beautiful and very emotional. I have been telling my friends here in Calgary about it and I keep choking up part way through. In so many ways, we were fortunate to have lived through it and survived.” 

Jam-packed audience enjoying the entertainment portion after they had their bento.

Patsy (Yodogawa) Wood, another attendee, stated:

“Words cannot express the amazing 80th Anniversary gathering of the Japanese Canadians whom most of the outstanding ones....our grandparents and parents are now spiritually present never to be forgotten. Thank you in making the fruition of the time span served by our ancestors into two days of extraordinary recollection and inter-twining the past, present and future.” 

David and Shelley Hamaguchi stated:

“A couple of Southern Wave Okinawan Music and Dance Society members said that the Greenwood experience they had was one of the best times they've had in Canada. They enjoyed meeting new people, hearing about the internment stories and finished off their stay with a jam session, singing and playing their sanshin.” 

Melodie Tomiyama mentioned:

“I saw tears in the audience, both young and old....” 

Personally, the 80th anniversary brought back so many people from the United States, out-of-province, and many more from within B.C. It succeeded in bringing many former Greenwood JC survivors together to rekindle and to reminisce with old friends, and meet ‘new’ friends. To see so many smiling faces gave me a sense of satisfaction that the event was well worth the effort. 

Moreover, to see so many early Greenwood hakujin families making the trek to come specifically for the 80th was another heart-warming scene. The proof is in the pudding of how well the two cultures embraced each other. The McArthur descendants were very well-represented. One great-granddaughter commented that she is proud to be a McArthur.

Sadly for some, this may be their last reunion. For those who attended, they had that expression on their faces that said:

“So glad we made it to this reunion.”

 

© 2022 Chuck Tasaka

anniversaries British Columbia Canada Greenwood internment camp World War II World War II camps
About the Author

Chuck Tasaka is the grandson of Isaburo and Yorie Tasaka. Chuck’s father was 4th in a family of 19. Chuck was born in Midway, B.C., and grew up in Greenwood, B.C. until he graduated from high school. Chuck attended University of B.C. and graduated in 1968. After retirement in 2002, he became interested in Nikkei history. (Profile photo courtesy of Nelson photographer)

Updated October 2015

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