Exile and Back: The Story of the Hirai Family

This series narrates the history of the Hyoshiro and Fujiye Hirai family, especially focusing on the two sons, Shig (Shigeru) and Miki, both of whom have been very active members of the Japanese Canadian community in Vancouver, B.C. (British Columbia). When Shig and Miki were children, the Hirai family were among the nearly 4000 Japanese Canadians exiled to Japan at the end of World War II.

The first chapter briefly summarizes the Hirai family background and their life in Canada before and during the internment period until their decision to move to Japan after the war. Subsequent chapters will describe in more detail their life in Japan during the period immediately following the war, their return and readjustment to Canada in the late 1950s, and finally Miki’s life after retirement and his vision for the Japanese Canadian community going forward.

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Chapter 6—Life after Retirement and Vision for the Japanese Canadian Community

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From 2019 Shig and Akemi gradually started to retire from their grocery chain business. Their daughter’s husband joined Fujiya after graduating from university. At first he was doing various jobs such as cutting up the fish, and gradually became more involved in the management and eventually took charge of the company. Due to Shig’s health problems, he and Akemi have now retired completely from running Fujiya, leaving their son-in-law in charge.

Miki’s retirement was a gradual process as he ended his various consulting roles over a period of several years. In some cases, the companies he was …

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Chapter 5—Struggle to Adjust

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In stark contrast to Shig, who had previously lived in Canada till age nine and spoke English as his first language, Miki could hardly speak any English at all. He had never learned English in Japan. He had learned romaji (Roman letters), but little more. However, he was naturally good at math and had also studied soroban in Japan, so math class was easy for him. He had done very well in school in Japan — one of the top three in his class out of about one hundred and fifty students.

This would not be the …

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Chapter 4—Return to Canada

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Arrival in Vancouver

At some point in the mid-1950s, Hyoshiro and Fujiye Hirai decided to move their family back to Canada. Miki now characterizes his life after returning to Canada as “a story of frustration, challenge and finding success in my own way. It has been a long time, starting in 1956, and is still going on.”

He describes why his family returned to Canada as follows: On his mother Fujiye’s side, two of her brothers and one sister were living in Taber (in southern Alberta), while just one sister was living in Oyabu, their hometown …

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Chapter 3—Childhood Experiences in Taga, Japan

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Miki had no problem adjusting to Japan due to being only two-years-old when he arrived. In fact, he felt like he had been born in Japan as he had no memories of Canada, and Japanese became his first language.

He got along well with friends and played baseball using a bat made from bamboo. Every morning they got up around 6:00 a.m. so they could play baseball for an hour before school. Miki played third base and was a good batter and home run hitter. He remembers what a great day it was when his dad …

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Chapter 2—Life in Postwar Japan: Hardships and Neighborly Support

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Difficult Relations with Relatives

On October 2, 1946, the Hirai family boarded the Marine Falcon, one of three ships chartered by the Canadian government to transport Japanese Canadians to Japan. Miki was two years old and Shig was nine. Shig recalls being seasick every single day of the voyage, and the terrible food they were given after landing at the repatriation center in Uraga. Of the infamous rancid soup given to repatriates at Uraga, he quips, “If you say it was soup, then I guess it was soup!” After about two weeks in Yokosuka, they made …

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