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The Japanese Canadian Experience Conference: Sharing Our Stories of the War Years - November 19-21, 2010

Frequently enough, people will approach me and inquire, “What are you?” To which I respond “Japanese of course.” But what does Japanese really mean to me? What happened to the Japanese population in Canada during World War Two (WWII)? How did the Japanese community become the way they are today? These are common questions amongst the Sansei, Yonsei and even Gosei and are questions that I find myself asking. I began to search for answers, and as a Yonsei of half Japanese descent I decided to ask, who I believed knew the answers, my Sansei father. He of course is very much involved with the Japanese Canadian community at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC). At an early age he began following his passion of karate studying the style of Shito Ryu Itosukai and currently holds his 6th Dan. He told me what he knew.

My grandparents were uprooted at a young age from their childhood homes in Vancouver and Steveston, British Columbia. They were forcibly relocated to the interior of British Columbia, and lived within crowded shacks in Lemon Creek. Their families were divided, split up, and far away from one another. Limited correspondence through mail was the only means of connecting with each other. The hardships they endured were life changing, but when asked about the war years, Obachan and Ojiichan respond with fond memories. School plays and sport games, concerts and dances, barbeques and fishing, and the big celebration of May 24th with pole weaving.

Saying goodbye at the train station - evacuation. Vancouver, 1942

These stories began to peak my curiosity, and I questioned further. Why did the Japanese Canadians have to leave the West coast? Where were the internment camps located and what did they look like? What was it like to live in the shacks and how were they arranged? How were the Japanese Canadians treated during this time? What happened to our family and other Japanese Canadian’s after the war ended?

I am fortunate to have both my Obachan and Ojiichan still in my life and I am therefore able to ask questions about their war year experience and our Japanese heritage. Unfortunately, many people do not have the same fortune and thus rely on other family members, family friends, and even books to gather the information they are searching for. These individuals rely on the story and memories of other Japanese Canadians to answer questions about the Japanese Canadian experience and discover what their families might have endured. The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre has recognized the importance of documenting the history of the Japanese Canadians during the war years (1941-1945) and will be hosting The Japanese Canadian Experience Conference: Sharing Your Stories of the War Years on November 19-21, 2010. This conference offers a unique opportunity to allow individuals whose family members have passed away the ability to listen to the stories of the Niseis who experienced the war years.

With our founding generations passing sooner than we would like, the urgency to gather the Japanese Canadian history before it is lost has reached its most crucial time. The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) understands the importance of preserving the history and stories of the founding generations. With dedication and hard work, the members of the conference steering committee have put together a weekend long event dedicated to preserving this critical part of history. The conference invites all Niseis who remember the war years to come and share their stories and personal experiences in a small round-table discussion. The conference is a tribute to our founding generations and the JCCC personally invites all Japanese Canadians and anyone interested in learning about the Japanese Canadian history to attend this conference.

Baseball in Lemon Creek, B.C. July 1945

Featured in the conference will be the Lemon Creek Harmonica Band and Greg Robinson (University of Quebec, specialist on historical relations between Asian Americans) on Friday evening during registration and reception. Saturday will feature Canadian Film maker Brendan Uegama's film 'Henry's Glasses'. Individuals who participate as listeners (individuals who are not sharing a story) will be given the opportunity to learn from the Nisei stories and a short seminar on the history of Japanese Canadians. Also featured on Saturday are guest speakers Dr. Ina (Japanese American licensed marriage/family therapist) and Frank Moritsugu (Journalist, WWII Veteran). The conference will finish on Sunday morning by coming together to discuss commentary and impressions of the conference and share what everyone has learned.

Were you too young to remember the war years? Were you born after World War Two? The conference is a unique opportunity to come and listen first-hand to the stories of the Nisei WW2 survivors. Within small mixed groups you'll have the chance to hear their personal stories about what happened during the war years. Hear stories from the internment camps, life in Japan, the road camps, the prisoner of war camps, farm experiences, the self-supporting locations, the armed forces, and experiences from life spent in other provinces and countries.

The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

In order to preserve the Japanese Canadian history, the conference will collect and preserve this important period by documenting the stories with video cameras (for those who are comfortable sharing their stories with us on camera).  The war years significantly shaped the Japanese Canadian heritage, more so than any other time and we hope you will agree to participate in this important conference. Every story and every memory is truly unique within each individual who experienced the war years. The Nisei stories are important to preserve for the future generations and these experiences cannot be learned through a history textbook.

If you experienced the war years, or know someone who did, or would like to learn more about the war years, we extend our heartfelt invitation to you. We hope that you will encourage your friends and family to join you and everyone at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre for a weekend long tribute to the Japanese Canadian history.

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For further information please contact Lisa Uyeda at the JCCC, 6 Garamond Court, Toronto, Ontario, M3C 1Z5., 416-441-2345 ext 303 or by email at

© 2010 Lisa Uyeda

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