Saturday, February 6, 2010

OT: Vancouver Olympics and World War II Concentration Camp for Japanese

Did you know that Vancouver Olympics is about to start in a week? I didn't, as I don't have TV any more.

Did you know that one of the venues sits right next to the park (Hastings Park, Wikipedia makes no mention of this) where, during World War II, the Canadian government forcibly relocated the Japanese Canadians from their coastal homes (many of them were fishermen) and put them in exhibition halls and horse stables?

Pacific Coliseum, which will host figure skating events, sits right next to that park, and the top contenders for gold medals for both men's and women's figure skating are Japanese.

Here's an article in Yomiuri Shinbun, one in the series for the coming Olympics. In Japan, both summer and winter Olympics are major, popular events. Japanese athletes increasingly compete on the top, world-class level in many sports, and the winter Olympics figure skating is one of them.

Olympics Figure Skating Venue Sits Next to Former Japanese Concentration Camp Site (Shoichi Yamashita, 2/6/2010 Yomiuri Shinbun; my partial translation, original is in Japanese)

Winter Olympics will start in a week in Vancouver. Few people know that, right next to the building that will host figure skating, in which top Japanese skaters are competing for medals, there was a concentration camp for Japanese Canadians during World War II.

10 kilometers east from the center of Vancouver stands "Pacific Coliseum" in a large park. It is a venue for figure skating and short tracks ice skating.

According to the archive at the city library, 8,000 Japanese living on the pacific coast side of Vancouver were interned for a half year in 1942, in pavilions and horse stables in the park. Many Japanese in Vancouver at that time were fishermen, and the Canadian government was afraid that they would collaborate with the imperial Japan providing the detailed information on coastlines. The government seized their fishing boats and houses, and forced them on a bus.

Mary Ohara, 80-year-old Canadian-born Nisei, was one of them. The police came to her house one day, and ordered the family to leave the house within 24 hours. They were allowed to carry one suitcase. She left with her parents and siblings. Obediently, because they were taught not to resist the government and the police, lest they became a shame onto the Japanese.

In the camp, a horse stable was the living quarters for women and children. Ms. Ohara had to endure the smell of horse manure by laying down the cushion stuffed with straw on the concrete floor. Only privacy they had was a blanket between the double-deck bunk beds. Freedom was restricted. Ms. Ohara remembers watching white children playing in the park, from behind the fence.

Japanese Canadians were later moved further east, and couldn't come back to Vancouver until after the war. The Canadian government formally apologized in 1988.
In "multicultural" Canada, increasing number of Japanese are marrying out. People who knows the hardship of Issei and Nisei have decreased. Ms. Ohara's son and daughter are no exception. Ms. Ohara, who spent 8 years in Japan after the war and then came back to Canada, says she doesn't hold hard feelings toward Canada, and she will cheer for both Canada and Japan in the Olympics.

Starting in 1942, the Canadian government forcibly moved 22,000 Japanese Canadians in British Columbia from the coastal region to 100-mile inland. They were initially housed in a concentration camp in this park. They were allowed to come back to Vancouver after the war, but since all their belongings had been taken away by the government, many went back to Japan.

[And I remember the irony of irony... It was Japanese American soldiers who liberated a Nazi concentration camp in Dahau, while their families were still "interned" back in the United States.]


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