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Immigration Story of Harry Mizuta (Japanese Immigrant)

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The World War 2 and the Kika-nisei

This is the story of the small group of the Japanese Canadians called Kika-nisei (they were born in Canada, sent to Japan before the war, lived in japan through the war and returned to Canada right after the war). For the age-wise they were born between 1910’s to 1930’s, they would be 70 to 90 years old and the numbers are decreasing every year.

During the war time they lived in Japan as the Japanese, after the war they were allowed to return to Canada because they obtained the Canadian Citizenships by their births. In next ten years, most of these people will be disappeared from our society. They have encountered quite a different life to the Japanese Canadian Nisei who are forced to evacuate from the B.C. coast and live in internment camps.

In my case, I was born in Revelstoke, B.C. in 1933, moved to Japan in 1938 where my mother was born to receive Japanese educations. Generally, many Canadian born Japanese children went to Japan to receive educations in japan. It was mainly for the education purposes, on the other hand it might help to minimize their parent’s living expenses in Canada.

Some cases, some of the children were sent to the grandparents or to the relatives in Japan alone while their father stayed in Canada to work, the mother and the children went to Japan.

The village I was grown up known as the immigration village in Japan. It was not strange site when I was enrolled in grade one, about a half of the pupils in the class were Canadian born. Because one half of the village populations were in Canada.

My father went back to Canada just before the war broke out, we lost his contact and his financial supports as the war erupted. It became as a single mother’s family. I did not realize consequences because there were similar situations through whole village at that time.

Still I can remember that in the fall of 1940, we celebrated the year 2000 of Japanese Emperor’s Year in marching with lighted lanterns and in the spring of 1941, the elementary school has changed to the People’s School. But for very young people like us, we could not understand the dangerous situations in the world. Those days I thought most respected persons around us were the school principal and the police man in the village.

In the December, 1941 the Second World War broke out, the Japanese Army advanced to the south east-Asia. We marched with lighted lantern for celebrations. We did not have any doubt for winning a war and we thought we could live together under one roof in a short while.

In middle of 1942, I felt a kind of a shock there were news that the Japanese navy lost the war in the Midway Battle and the General Commander Yamamoto has been killed in the action.

Around that time, we were told not to use any English words such as Mom and Dad for daily use. I was kind of hesitating to use words “Oka-san” to call my mother. My mother told me that if I do not use Japanese words she would not answer to me. That made me to call her “Oka-san” in Japanese.

We sent off the soldiers just about every day with waving Japanese flags.

In 1944, all the senior students were called to work in factories leaving studies behind. And at age 17, all young men in the village were enlisted to join the army. Some of the young men including the Kika-nisei were volunteered to join the army before they were called up to join. All Japanese including Nisei they felt it was their obligation and their duty to serve the country. Specially, they looked so brave and beautiful in their navy uniforms. Even today, I can remember their looks. I was only 10 or 11 years old that time, I was hoping to enter the navy college and to become a navy officer one day. But I was not old enough to go to the college, so I asked my mother “why could I be born a few years earlier?”

Meantime some Kika-nisei were killed in actions as many soldiers died in the battle at the overseas. Many young Japanese men lost their lives as this war progressed.

In the village, the special police in civilian uniforms came around the village to search for espionages just because some of the villagers could understand the English. Some of the villagers were very nervous because of their actions.

In late 1944, the Kamikaze special air attacking units were formed and B-29 (Boeing 29 Heavy Bomber) has bombed the city of Tokyo. In 1945 spring, our village was bombed by the fire-bombs, 21 houses were burned down and 6 villagers were victimized. It was a fire all around our house, the house stood front of our home was burned down. Luckily our house escaped from burning. In the morning when the sun rises the few of the homes just front of us were all burned down to the ashes.

The U.S. Air Forces had an advantage over the Japanese air-spaces because at this time Japanese had no air force to encounter the U.S. bombers. Around 11 p.m. every night, bombers flew right over our heads with flying lights on, heading northwards on Kii peninsula to attack Osaka area. Every time the siren sounds we scramble to the safety. We were so nervous for the bomb attacks and a lack of the sleep.

The next town was bombed as there was a factory engaged in making fighting goods. There was a U.S. airplane going down to the ocean with black smoke spewing and burning which was hit by the anti-aircraft gun.

Even we were living in the countryside we could understand that the big cities as Tokyo area and Han-shin area would have been like in a hell every nights by the bombings.

For schooling the government made up a registration to cancel all the classes except those classes up to the six grades and we were sent to the fields for volunteer works. In 1945 when the German was defeated, the villagers with few males left behind have started training for bamboo spearing to combat with the enemy lines at the shores. We were told that it would be a last defence line to protect ourselves having prepared for a last assault. In that June the Japanese Defence Army in the Okinawa was wiped out and in the August Soviet Army invaded the Manchuria from the north, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were severely bombed by huge new bombs. We were so scared that effects of the new type of bombs would be so strong to kill everything in the area for next few hundred years. Later on as we discovered the damages and sadness caused by the atom bombs I wondered the future of a Japan. I was told those real sad stories by the people who were directly affected by the bombings in Canada later date.

That hot day of the August 15th (1945) the Second World War was finally ended. From that day on that fighter airplane called “Grumman Fighter Plane” flew over our rooftops every day in very low flights. We could see the face of a pilot and the plane sounded like they were showing off victoriously. We have been so scared that it was only couple months ago we have experienced that those fighters did shoot us in random in so many times.

There were some rumours that occupational forces would kill all males and they would sell all the females and children. When those soldiers came to the village, most of them were so young and chewing a gum on the jeep. It was so impressive that the imperial mark on the Japanese Army Gun lying beside a driver’s seat was smashed badly by a hammer. Among many kids in the village gathered around the jeep to get some chewing gum from the soldiers, there was a young mother with a small baby on her back. Her husband went to war and was killed in an action. We thought she came here to make an avenge for her husband towards soldiers. Suddenly, she started to speak to the soldiers. Those soldiers replied with a smiling face. We started to realize that she was speaking in English. As their conversations progress, the surrounding atmosphere has changed to more friendly mood. Then we found out that the lady was born and educated in Canada and came to Japan before the war.

In 1946, I proceeded to Senior High School in begging my mother in difficult time. There was shortages on everything, food and basic necessities. The first reading book in high school was a sheet of paper which was cut to make pages as a book. It did not bother me at all of shortages of school supplies but it was quite a shock to me that guidance for a life, history and geography we learned were all cancelled, specially the Japanese history in old sections were denied. I was really confused in believing what was right and what was wrong in our histories. There on I began not trust everything right away.

Then there were lot of the changes, currencies reforms means some of the moneys were useless next day (did not affect us as we were poor), agriculture land reforms, price controls, and education system reforms. Specially, like us who do not own farm lands, we suffered shortages in foods. My grandmother went out every day to collect eatable weeds and anything to fill our stomach. We were so worried when our mother got sickness because of a lack of nutrition’s.

Many old soldiers and people came back to Japan from overseas. At the same time many families (about 425 people) came back to our village from Canada. Many Canadian born children were enrolled into the classes that made everything look flashy. But reality was that they encountered shortages of the foods. They spent very difficult time in the interment though they did not suffer a food shortage in Canada. They did not stay very long in Japan in suffering. Soon they went back to Canada in short while.

In 1949, some of us who went to Japan before the war and stayed with their grandparents or relatives were first to go back to Canada where their parents lived. Although, it was not all happy ending for the returnees. There was a deep gap between them when they returned. Specifically, in communications; their brothers and sisters all spoke in English. For myself, I was separated 6 years from my father during the war. I could not get along with him because we have been separated for many years or because of my stubborn age at the time. Just may be it has not happened if there was no war at that time.

When you look at a level of the educations for those Kika-Nisei received in Japan. It was much different before the war and during the war. Soon as the war erupted their financial aid were cut-off and that affected their living conditions severely. There were not many households who could sustain higher educations for their sons and daughters during the war. So far the main goals to get higher educations in Japan were demolished because of the war. Some of the Kika-Nisei who went to Japan long before the war had opportunities to receive higher educations and they were enjoying comfortable living in Japan. They stayed in Japan after the war as they did not have to come back to Canada to engage in labour works.

I owed my parents for sending me to the high school despite financial hardships. I was employed by one of major manufacturing companies in Osaka after graduating high school. But I was thinking of going to Canada as some of my friends were going to Canada when I realized that a high school education was not good enough in competing against the university graduates. It did not materialized but I was offered to come to Canada by the General of Canadian Occupational Forces who wanted to take a Canadian born Nisei with him when he leaves Japan.

After all, I came to Canada in the spring of 1955 by the ship across the Pacific Ocean when I was 22 years old by the help of my cousin who came to Canada earlier.

I could not speak a word of English at that time. The Canadian society was very protective and there was very limited employments available for the Asian races other than heavy labour works. It was very difficult to find a good employment for even English speaking Canadian born Japanese Canadians.

Sometimes, I was called “Chink” by mistaken as a Chinese immigrant by the white people. I realized that I should learn English as a first priority as I was not accepted as a Japanese Canadian in Japanese Canadian society as I acted in the Japanese style.

The healthy body was the only asset we had. Everyone worked so hard in sawmills, fishing and gardening. For the gardeners, the hourly wage was one dollar per hour. Our primary target was to earn $300 per month. We have worked 10 hours a day for 30 days per month without a day off in order to achieve this goal. We used the city bus to go to the work. We had to get on the bus with our sweaty clothes on the way back home; I was so embarrassed everyone on the bus was looking at us. One thing to encourage us to work harder was the rate of currency which was pegged one Canadian dollar was worth 360 Yen in the Japanese currency at the time. And it was huge money in Japan.

Meantime, we went to the night school to learn English and stayed with a Canadian family to catch up on daily conversations. Those Kika-Nisei girls were working as housemaids and they worked in the fishing cannery in summer time to support their family back in Japan. There were huge gap in living standards between the Japanese Canadians and white Canadians. It has been quite an achievement that those gaps have been narrowed in recent years.

In 1960’s, some of the Kika-Nisei were starting to emerge as private enterprisers. Especially the gardening, they gained a reputation as the best in the industry. They have purchased their own houses, raised the family and they have built up their firm foundations. One point this has to be mentioned that Kika-Nisei’s priority was their children’s educations as the first generations. Also, they were so keen in Japanese education for their children, more than half of the students were Kika-Nisei’s children in the Japanese school at one point.

We, Kika-Nisei who are included in the recipients in redress are so grateful for the efforts provided by the J.C. redress committee in 1998 when Japanese Canadians achieved the redress from the Canadian Government.

Time flies, it has been more than 50 years since we came back to Canada. We are living comfortably with the pensions and surrounded by the children and grandchildren. It has been an interesting life and we have experienced with some hardships. We are so fortunate in comparing with some of other people who are affected by the last war.

Fortunately, we Kika-Nisei have experienced the Japanese cultural life during the most important time in one’s life to form humanity in Japan. We are so proud of that it has been our back bone in thinking and important decision makings. When we look back our own lives, we feel we are so fortunate that we are experiencing new different lives in Canada.

We realize that our hearts are real Japanese like our parents have even our nationality is the Canadian. Even living more than 50 years in Canada you can observe that we live like Japanese living in Japan (conversations, eating habits, readings, hobbies and etc.) and we are trying to carry our Japanese traditions to the next generation. It is so distant that Kika-Nisei think and act very much like the Japanese do.

Our time is approaching to a closure quietly. We sincerely hope that there is a perfect peace on the earth though we fully understand that it is happening at this right moment, there would be a heavy sufferings and sad separations among the families and many people in the world affected by the fighting’s and many people in the world affected by the fighting’s and wars as long as mankind exist on the earth.

(This is the English translation of the article published in the J.C.C.A. Bulletin of September, 2009 issued in Japanese that was authored by Harry Mizuta)