WHO AM I?

My parents never spoke of what had happened to them in WWII.   Shikata ga nai.
It can't be helped.  They bore the shame and put the past behind them.  Because of the
silence, I grew up feeling that it was a bad thing to be Japanese Canadian. More than
anything, I wanted to be white and I hated being Japanese. It took me my entire life to
forgive the past and love who I am.

       How Can I Be a Canadian Who Is Not a Canadian?      

                 Mixed Media  24"x 22"

      Why Can't I Be Like Everyone Else?

            Mixed Media 24"x 22"

         Target   Mixed Media    24"x 22"

  




Wanted: Model Canadian   Mixed Media   24"x 22"

    You Can't Be Serious!  Mixed Media  24"x 22"



   Gehinna / Vulgar, Coarse   Mixed Media  24"x 22"

 






The Death Mask Speaks of Endings   Mixed Media  24"x 22"

Is it Japanese Artist or Artist Who is Japanese? 

            Mixed Media  24"x 22"




Ancestors' Ashes  Mixed Media   24"x 22"

 

 

How Can I Be a Canadian Who Is Not a Canadian?

All Japanese Canadians had to be fingerprinted

and carry identification cards which they had to

carry at all times and produce if anyone asked

to see them. They felt like criminals.  Here we

see my parents' ID cards.  

Who is a Canadian who is not a Canadian?

I ask

Is a Canadian who is not a Canadian,

a Canadian?

I ask.   


Why Can't I Be Like Everyone Else?

When I first went to school in Ontario, there

were no Asian or Black children in the whole

school. The children were all very kind to me

and accepted me as one of them. But I felt

different, an outsider. I wanted to look like

mainstream Anglo children. I was ashamed of

being Japanese. I decided, at age six, to stop

speaking Japanese, my first language, at home. 

It must have hurt my parents very much.









Target    

I grew up with war movies – anti German, anti

Japanese. There were a huge number of war films

in the 1950s and 1960s. I always felt that the

Japanese were ‘them” not us. In my teens, the boys

wanted to see if I were like the Geishas in the

movies. On the one hand, I was flattered that white

boys wanted to go out with me. On the other hand, I

hated being seen as exotic.  

Here, I feel targeted by any references to

Japanese.  As a result, I became very shy, quiet

and easily embarrassed. I grew up denying my own

culture.

Wanted:  Model Canadian  

The Japanese are a “shame” culture. Everything an

individual does reflects on the whole community. 

Because of the forced relocation of Japanese

Canadians during WWII, they felt that if they

behaved as perfect Canadians, they would once again

be accepted as members of Canadian society.   I am

a Sansei, a third generation Japanese Canadian. 

Still, I always felt that I had to earn my

citizenship. My father wanted me to be perfect in

every way, especially at school. I became obsessed

with being the best.   This work is reminiscent of

a wanted poster.  

Wanted: Model enemy alien – Not a single act of

rebellion during WWII by Japanese Canadians

Wanted: Model Minority – See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Wanted: Model Assimilation – No visible Japanese Canadian community, loss of culture/identity

Wanted: Model Citizen – All Japanese Canadians are

law-abiding  

You Can’t Be Serious!  

Mixed romantic relationships created problems for

young people of all immigrant families.  The

marginalization of my family made me determined to

belong to mainsteam Canadian culture, not to

Japanese culture.   In high school, I was very good

good friends with a Ukrainian Canadian boy who used

to walk me home. I was very hurt and shocked when

his parents threatened to throw him out if

hecontinued to be friends with me. We had done

nothing wrong.   He was just a good friend.   “you

Can’t be Serious” is both literal and figurative.

It is a warning that young mixed race couples can’t

be serous about each other. It also expresses

disbelief that you can’t be friends with anyone

outside your own culture.

  

Gehin na (Vulgar)    

At the CNE in Toronto, 1965, Toyota Motors made its

Canadian debut. It was the first Japanese export of

quality to North America, following postwar cheap

breakable toys and trinkets. Toyota hired Eleanor

Fulcher Modelling Agency to find models.  I was

chosen to be one of the four models.   Before this,

I had distanced myself from anything Japanese, but

my ego won out and I represented Toyota at the CNE.

I overheard two elderly  Japanese women say, “Gehin

na”. I could not speak Japanese but I understood

the derogatory comment.  I was ashamed.  The women

were disgusted by the pseudo Kimono I was wearing –

tight lame gold pants with a peau de soie kimono

opening in the front, spiked high heel gold shoes. 

 Even worse, I represented a Japanese company.

Japanese Canadians did not buy Toyota cars for

years as they did not want to be associated with

Japanese products.  

To this day, I am embarrassed as I remember the

shame.

The Death Mask Speaks of Endings

HAIKU

Who am I? I ask

Death Mask speaks of endings

My people have gone

Is it Japanese Artist or Artist Who is Japanese?

One of the most difficult things for me, as a young

artist, was to play the role I'm an artist on

display at art openings.  I was a very shy person

who valued private space. One absurd question

asked by people was, "How long have you been in

this country?" I replied, "I was born here. So were

both my parents. And my grandparents, all four of

them, came here when they were very young."  The

answer was invariably "Oh my, that is a long time.

" Another absurd question was, "Why aren't you

doing art that is more Japanese? It's a shame that

you're not doing what your people do so well." 

Would they have asked the same questions if I were

a Caucasian Artist? I think people make judgments

on what a person looks like. I look Asian, so I

must be a foreigner, a recent immigrant. And we

should all do art that "our own people" do.  Am I,

then, a Japanese artist, or am I an artist who is

Japanese? Perhaps ultimately, the answer to that

question is heavily ironic; perhaps,

ultimately, there is no distinction.

Ancestors' Ashes

All of my ancestors came from a culture thousands

of years old. Because of our shame of war with

Japan, my generation, the Sansei, the third

generation, distanced ourselves from anything

Japanese to become more Canadian. As a result, most

Sansei chose to marry outside the culture. We lost

our heritage, our traditions, our language. The

fourth and fifth generations have almost no trace

of being Japanese. As I grow older, I regret this

loss for my grandchildren

.