The period where Japan and Canada had the toughest relationship (The history that we should not forget)

Almost 150 years have passed since the first Japanese immigrants arrived in Canada. Two countries are now enjoying a trusting and friendly relationship. However, they also experienced a very tough period through the 150-years-history. It is of vital importance for us to reflect on the past so we could build better a relationship and not repeat the failures. Today, as the eighth part of the series, the office would like to talk about the Japan-Canada relationship during the Second World War, featuring the Prairie provinces.

1. The Japanese Canadian internment and the Redress agreement

The Second World War, especially, the Japanese military attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7th (8th in Japanese time) gave the Japan-Canada relationship, and lives of Japanese Canadians significant and extremely negative impacts. (The Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong at the same time as the attacks on Pearl Harbor.)

In February, 1942, from the War Measures Act, Japanese Canadians were ordered to leave the land within one hundred miles from the Pacific coast. By the summer, 1942, approximately 21,000 Japanese Canadians left homes along the west coast. Majority moved to internment camps in British Columbia interior. About 3,500 chose to work at sugar beet farms outside British Columbia and about 3,000 were allowed, by their own expenses and by groups, to leave the west coast in order to settle in “self-supporting projects” in other provinces.

Later in the 1970s, Japanese Canadians started requesting the Federal government to apologize to them for its war measures against them. The National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) continued the advocacy under the leadership of President Art Kazumi Miki (Term as the President: 1982-1992). Then, after the prolonged negotiation with the Brian Mulroney government (elected in 1984), they were successful in reaching the Redress agreement in September, 1988. Prime Minister Mulroney officially apologized for the treatment of Japanese Canadian based on the War Measures Act at the House of Commons. It would be worth mentioning that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg has an important and permanent display on this issue.

NAJC President Miki and
Prime Minister Mulroney

The year of 2022 marked the 80th anniversary since the Japanese Canadian internment began and Japanese Canadian Associations in this office’s jurisdiction held special gatherings for commemoration.

Mr. Mark Sakamoto’s “FORGIVENESS: A Gift from My Grandparents” (the bestseller at the time of its publication in 2014, and a CBC’s Canada Reads winner in 2018) tells a story of a family that left British Columbia due to the war measure and worked at a sugar beet farm under severe conditions. After leaving British Columbia, Mr. Sakamoto’s paternal side’s grandparents’ family worked at a sugar beet farm in Coaldale, southern-Alberta. This story was recently dramatized by Playwright Mr. Hiro Kanagawa, and it premiered in Vancouver and Calgary in early 2023.

There is another Japanese descendent who protested against the internment.

Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi (1918-2012) was an American sociologist and is well-known for his consistent protest against the Japanese American internment during the Second World War. As he was the chair of the sociology department, University of Alberta from 1970 until 1975 and continued to teach until his retirement in 1983, his connection with Alberta is very deep. (The right picture: Panels introducing Mr. Hirabayashi prepared by the Edmonton Japanese Community Association (EJCA), taken at the time the panels were shown at the Consulate.)

2.Japanese Canadians who fought the Second World War as Canadian soldiers

There is a substantial number of Japanese Canadians (second generation) that enlisted in Canadian military forces in order to show their loyalty when Canada declared war against Germany on September 10, 1939. However, after the war against Japan, most of them were demoted to a lower ranking and conscripted in Canada.

Even so, Mr. Toru Iwaasa (born in Raymond, southern-Alberta), who enlisted in the military at the beginning of the Second World War, joined operations with the Royal Canadian Engineers in Normandy, Belgium, the Netherland, and Germany for five years. (He passed away in 1994 on his own farm in Raymond.) Judging from his family name, he is probably a son of Mr. Kojun Iwaasa, of whom the office mentioned in the second part of this series.

According to Mr. Toru Iwaasa’s verbal statement, Mr. Joe Takahashi, Mr. Shin Takahashi, Mr. Toru Takahashi, Mr. Harry Higa of Japanese Canadian community in Raymond also enlisted in the Canadian army and Mr. Higa was dispatched to the Asian sphere.

3.Battles between Japanese and Canadian forces

Though the office is not well aware, it assumes that most of Canadians first think of the battle of Hong Kong if asked to name the battles between Japanese and Canadian forces during the Second World War. Mr. Mark Sakamoto also described the battle in his book “FORGIVENESS” (mentioned earlier). His maternal grandfather became a prisoner of war during the battle of Hong Kong and spent his time at a war-prisoners-camp in Niigata prefecture, Japan until the end of the war.

The office would like to introduce some displays in Calgary, which are related to Japanese and Canadian forces during the Second World War.

First Comes Japan’s “Fu-Go” weapon (balloon bomb). This was developed and deployed by Japanese forces during the Second World War. It consisted of a paper balloon with high explosive bombs. It was designed to reach North America using jet stream and igniting its bombs with a timing device. (The upper right picture: a display of the weapon’s remains at the Hanger Flight Museum, it is located next to the Calgary International Airport.) (The right picture: A panel on the balloon bomb at the Military Museums, Calgary.)

For your information, during the Second World War, the current Calgary International Airport was a facility for the “British Commonwealth Air Training Plan” by UK, Canada, Australia and New Zeland. (Under the plan, a lot of facilities established throughout Canada.) This plan had about 130,000 air crews graduate altogether. (The right picture: memorials and four countries / ari forces flags which commemorate the plan next to the Hangar Flight Museum.)

The right picture is also a display of the Military Museums. This is HMS Formidable, a British Aircraft Career and was attacked by a Zero fighter’s Kamikaze attack on May 4th, 1945, off the Sakishima Islands, Okinawa prefecture. The ship became operational again after temporary repairs. Even though the ship suffered another Kamikaze attack on May 9th, it survived this time too.

HMS Formidable was first dispatched to the Pacific in April, 1945. And among the military men on board, there was a fighter pilot Lt. Robert Hampton Gray (Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR)). He was born in Trail, British Columbia and enlisted in RCNVR in Calgary. In mid-July, Lt. Gray sank a Japanese destroyer with a direct hit during the attacks against the Japanese Homeland Islands. And again, on August 9th at Onagawa Bay in Miyagi prefecture, while leading an anti-ship attack, he scored direct hit against Japanese ocean escort “Amakusa”, despite his F4U Corsair had been hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire. (The right picture) His Corsair was clashed into the bay, killing him. He became the last Canadian fallen soldier during the Second World War. Now, there is a memorial which commemorates Lt. Gray at the Onagawa town Regional Medical Care Center.

4.An important thing that we should not forget

We are still witnessing wars, conflicts, and discrimination all over the world. And we may sometimes think that the eradication of these things can only take place a dream. However, as we look back at the history between Japan and Canada, we can understand that former enemies could be good friends and people with diverse backgrounds could live together.

Every summer around August 6th, which marks the anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945, a lot of Calgarians kindly gather together to attend a peaceful event, it is led by the Japanese living in the city (Please see the right picture. Location: The Olympic Plaza). On these kinds of occasions, we Japanese float lanterns to send off the spirits of the dead and pray for their spirits to rest in peace. And Calgarians are so kind that they also do the same to seek the peace.

By learning the history, we can make a better future. The office believes that this must be an important duty that we should carry out.