Series – Shikata ga nai: Sansei Forgiveness in a Broken World

For most of us, our whole world was broken for three generations. I am a Sansei who has struggled with the silence and found home at last near the end of my life. Mark Sakamoto’s book title “Forgiveness” is the most meaningful word for me, although the context is totally different. This series depicts my past, as a young woman who was ashamed of being Japanese to my present, as a woman who has finally learned to forgive and let go the burden of shame carried by all Japanese Canadians who were dispossessed and relocated. When I look at my work, I see a clear dichotomy of who I am. I value being Japanese so I have chosen to work primarily with Japanese papers and Japanese ink. Yet, the pen and ink technique is western, not Japanese sumi painting. Even now, I feel like an outsider in both cultures; yet totally comfortable looking in.

#1 Keep the Past in the Past   Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

Shikata ga nai. Don't talk about what happened. I grew up feeling that it was a bad thing to be Japanese Canadian.

#2  Eyes are the Enemy Alien     Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

I hated my eyes, as they were the most obvious feature which made me different.

#3  Wannabe       Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

More than anything, I wanted to be white and I hated being Japanese. Here I want to be Marilyn Monroe.  It took me my entire life to forgive the broken world of the past and love who I am.

#4  Death Mask: End of My Line  Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

I married outside of my culture, as did 95% of Sansei. I am the last of a long line which stretches back for thousands of years. This revelation boggles my mind!

#5   Unmasked   Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

I finally find closure near the end of my life.   I have learned to forgive myself for hating myself. I no longer feel that my eyes are hateful.

Installation Stone Cold Memory in Zen Haiku Garden

The inspiration for this installation is reflection in the tranquility of a zen garden. It speaks to the catastrophic journey of Japanese Canadians from Dec. 7, 1941 to final closure in the present.  Shikata ga nai(It Can’t be Helped), the mantra of the Issei and Nissei is cracked open as the silence about the past is broken. The circle is symbolic of closure. The haiku represent the events in our journey.


my world blown apart

act of war against my home

by my own people      

atonement to be

for my ancestral Japan

resting in my hands  

my dark shame to bear

a stranger in my own land

shikata ga nai  

persevere, survive

with all that life throws at me

the journey is long

loss of all I own

forgiveness is worth the price

to belong once more  

keep past secrets mute

look only to the future

silence is the way      

who am I? I ask

sansei drift in silent space

bury deep the shame  

black rain blankets all

covers ancestral cities

ashes to ashes      

at last a new dawn

hope shines out of dark exile

redress for past wrongs      


will soon be complete for us

left without a trace      

out of forgiveness

sansei see at last the way

our spirits soar      

who are we? we ask

deep within our hearts we know

we are Canadian        




Signature Image for  Iki:breath, Old Town Hall Gallery, Newmarket Ontario


Mixed Blessings   Ink Drawing on Shoji Paper, 2020

It has taken me most of my life to finally breathe in. I have forgiven myself for my choices in my long journey to come to terms with injustice, loss, and my own denial of being a Canadian with Japanese ancestry.

 My children and my grandchildren are the best part of me.  They are also the end of my Japanese heritage, both genetically and culturally. They mark the end of my Japanese line.  But I celebrate the fact that they are a new kind of people – children of the world. My grandchildren carry the DNA of ancestors from far corners of the world – Japanese, English, Irish, French, Scottish, Dutch, German, Jamaican, Egyptian, African, Polish.

 My family are no longer hyphenated Canadians. We are simply Canadians.