With the passage of time, their numbers continue to decline, but in the early 20th century, Japanese Canadian settlers were significant contributors to the local fishing industry.
Following the loss of their fathers, three descendants of these fishermen started the Nikkei Fisherman’s Reunion Project in 2001 to pay tribute to their forefathers, and to the generations that followed. A book, which Richmond’s Jim Tanaka co-wrote, is the third component of the project that also included a reunion dinner for the retired fishermen along with their spouses and widows, as well as and a life-sized bronze statue located at the former Phoenix cannery waterfront.
Recently recognized at the 34th BC Book Prizes gala, Changing Tides: Vanishing Voices of Nikkei Fishermen and Their Families, provides a unique and often personal glimpse into the lives of these pioneers.
“These are their own stories as they remember them,” says Tanaka of the book that complements an earlier publication Nikkei Fishermen on the BC Coast: Their Biographies and Photographs.
“It is hoped that this collection of personal stories and experiences revealed the racism that was so prevalent prior to and during the war years, as well as a decade of post-war years,” explains Tanaka. “However, our generation and the generations that followed are forever grateful for the opportunities, educational choices and careers that became available.”
While compiling the book over a four-year period, Tanaka was surprised how vivid and detailed their recollections of events—which took place 60 to 75 years ago—were.
“Yet the dates and years of the experiences correspond with the chronology of Canadian history,” he says. “Also, none of these in-depth stories are recorded in any previously published book.”
Tanaka also learned that many of the children of the Japanese Canadian fishermen weren’t aware of what their parents went through during the internment and post-war years—either being too young to remember, never told or born much later.
Neither Tanaka nor any of his co-authors—Fumio Kanno, Henry Tanaka or the late Kotaro Hayashi—had written a book before, but were involved in the publication of Nikkei Fishermen on the BC Coast: Their Biographies and Photographs. Tanaka also edited the newsletters of the BC Wakayama Kenjin Kai (Association) for over 20 years.
The current book brings to a close a project that Tanaka describes as “the fruition of our labour of volunteerism.” But he left with one regret; that his senior colleague Hayashi passed away before the completion of the book. As well, some of those interviewed in the book have also since passed away.
Tanaka says each of the individuals who shared their story deserves special acknowledgment.
“We are honoured and humbled to make the shortlist of finalists, let alone win the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional BC Book Prize,” he says. “We are equally thrilled to make the shortlist of finalists for the most prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Historical Writing Competition in 2017, receiving an honourable mention.”