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Japan Journal: A Repat's Story - Part 3

Continuation of Hiroshi Kumagai’s story.

Read Part 2 >> 

Missing Canada

I wasn’t happy at all. In a way, I was angry but not really angry. I longed for Canada. I missed Lemon Creek. I wanted a friend who was a Canadian who speaks English. That’s what I wanted. I felt really lonely.

My brother-in-law let me go to school there. That was also terrible because I was much taller and older than the others and I couldn’t speak Japanese. Well, I could, but everything I did didn’t fit into the picture. You didn’t wear shoes, you wore geta which you slide with when you walk. I would lift my feet and the kids would say ‘this American here doesn’t know how to wear a geta!’ They would laugh. That used to make me mad. ‘What the hell is going on?’ I used to think.

What I did say was; ‘O.K.’ they had baseball gloves, bats and balls but these guys didn’t really know the rules of baseball. I started to teach them and that was really good. That made me popular. After about six months they were pretty good players. We used to play the next mura and were one of the strongest teams in the area.

In the winter, I’d brought back skates, so I showed the guys how to skate. In those days the skate blade was fixed on a geta. You couldn’t really skate. I was the first one with real skates. I’d brought back a hockey stick, too. We used a wooden puck. Even now when I go back to the country and meet some of those guys they’d talk about it.

This really helped me get into the society even though I still had Canada and Lemon Creek on my mind. I always wondered what the hell happened to those other guys who ended up in Wakayama and all that. Here I am in Uwanuma. No other Canadians around. I was lonely.

I started school in the sixth grade. My brother-in-law was a senior teacher and arranged to have me sit beside Sato Oichi, the smartest kid, who coached me. The only subject I was really behind in was Japanese. Mom’s lessons helped and I was able to catch up quite fast. Things were different from what I’d been taught. It took about one and a half years to catch up.

After that I was promoted to Hasama high school. I was no different from any other Japanese by then. They could tell if we sat down and really started talking or if I had to write a report in Japanese they could tell, but other than that—mingling, understanding the jokes and all that—I was pretty well adjusted. I didn’t like a lot of subjects: algebra, etc. I still can’t read a lot of kanji.

In high school, I switched from baseball to basketball. I wanted to do something different. After graduating from Sanuma high school in 1952, I came to Sendai. Through an introduction by a relative I got a job working with the U.S. Army. In those days, if you were Canadian it was easy to get a job. I started as a clerk in the Officer’s Club. That’s where I learned to make cocktails. I never liked what the Japanese call “the water business” (mizu shobai). I wanted to get into something more academic, so I transferred into the Criminal Investigation Detachment. I worked as an interpreter dealing with criminals in the black market. After five or six years, I was transferred to Tokyo.  The U.S. began pulling out of Japan after the peace treaty was signed. Pan-Am Airlines needed staff to take care of passengers. I’ve been in travel business ever since.

Tea ceremony

I thought about returning to Canada, but I started to get used to Japanese life: I had quite a few friends, I started getting used to the lifestyle, the food improved, I had drinking friends, in those days. You’re away from Canada so long. You’re still proud You’re Canadian. You can’t get away from it.

In 1967, I traveled to Vancouver alone, my wife Kazue remained in Japan. I wanted to see the mountains. I wanted to breathe the Vancouver air. I checked into Hotel Georgia. I rented a car and drove to Burquitlam. Our family farm was close to North and Clark road. It’s a subdivision now on the other side of Burnaby. I stopped in front of Mountain View School and took pictures.

About 10 years ago I met Lily Matsushita by coincidence. She came to Japan with a group of friends and students. Through a friend, I heard she was looking for me. We met at a hotel for the first time since World War Two.

Lloyd and Riko

I’m really happy that my daughter, Riko Karen, is married in Richmond to a sansei—Lily Matsushita’s son, Tim! We have two grandchildren there, Brett Kenzo, now 13, and Harumi Matsushita, 10. Part of myself is in Canada. I was the only son. I was born in Canada. and I wanted to leave something in Canada. I didn’t want to cut my relationship after the war. I didn’t want to leave it that way. I grew up there, went to school. Friends are there, I have Canadian citizenship. My son, Jun and daughter, Maiko Jean, could get citizen-ship too, if they wanted. Maiko has two children: Hideaki, four and Rina, one.

I don’t know about the isseis but I think a lot of them would have wanted the sansei and the yonsei to have a connection with Japan. A lot of American nikkei do. I don’t know why it’s not the same with Canadians. If you’re nikkei you should be introduced to Japan. You’d feel closer. A good example is we are learning aikido. I’m learning under Makiyama sensei, an American nikkei who has a Japanese face, name, and there’s a lot of feeling in there that’s still Japanese. Yeah, the feeling is important.

* * * * *

As I watched Mr. Kumagai’s grandson, Hideaki, toddle around his Tokyo apartment, I caught a glimpse of his dream. I saw too his Canadian grandson, Brett, who will grow up in Richmond, and his daughter Riko Karen as a new generation of issei different from the grandfather she never knew yet carrying the same hope, aspirations and dreams for Brett as Takashi and Masako Kumagai had for Lloyd Hiroshi, 65 years ago.


* The original story was written more than 10 years ago in the Toronto-based Nikkei Voice newspaper. Lloyd passed away in November 2004 and Thomas Makiyama sensei passed away in September 2005.


© 1996 Norm Ibuki

Canada nikkei repat repatriots