Two women, both Japanese Canadian, stand in a home, here captured in a black and white photo. One woman turns aside from the camera, doing something on the counter. The other woman, closer to the camera, looks at the photographer.

Fun, Friendship, and I Don’t Know

In Greenwood, there were so many children that it was fun—at my age, eight or nine, ten. Lots of friends to play with! We were out there all night, playing! Kick the Can, and… you know, there’s a lots of games that we played.

But I had one particular friend. He was, uh… I forget his name now. It was a long time ago. And we had fun! We used to go and break up the beaver dams! We had lots of fun, going up the mountain, picking wild strawberries, up on the hill, and we picked up lots of interesting stones. Because it [Greenwood] was a mining place. We used to wade in the creek there, and look for these little bugs that made their own house! Of stones and twigs. I forgot the name of it! There’s a name for these little creatures. That lived in the water? They’re about the size of your finger? And, you know, we used to go and break them up, their little houses! It was fun, breaking things. I mean, we were kids!

And there used to be butterflies, and then there used to be grasshoppers. There were regular—I don’t know what colour they were—but regular grasshoppers. And then there were red grasshoppers, and yellow grasshoppers! And we used to tie these red grasshoppers around with a string, and let them up in the air—and they go: bachi bachi bachi bachi bachi bachi. We call it [the grasshoppers]: bachi bachi batta. Ha!

We tied it with the strings because we didn’t want it to go away! We wanted to have it as a pet! Yeah, my friend and I, we used to… I forgot his name now… we used to go and catch animals! You know, try to trap it. And keep it as a pet! We had lots of fun! It was nice! Living in the country. So much more than in… uh, Steveston, which is, you know, paved, mostly paved. Yeah. It’s… so I grew up having fun. I was sort of glad that we were there [in Greenwood]. It was more fun because there’s a lot of things to do, being in the country.

Other than that, I don’t really remember too much. We were outside most of the time. We just come in for supper, right? And then go to bed! And then, of course, we went to school.

But I… I do remember, because we were living in a commune, in a disused hotel, where we had a common kitchen, common bathroom—you know, for each floor. So, I noticed that there were dissensions? Because people would say, you know, You didn’t clean the hall! Or whatever. But of course, I dismissed it. You know, I heard it. But I dismissed it. So there were some tensions because you’re living, you know, right under your nose, everybody. But I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

And of course, my father was working in a store, in Greenwood. Somebody else’s store. Somebody from Greenwood. Two or three people had stores. You know, one would dissolve, and then the other one would come in, and then another one… so, I think he worked for three grocers. Caucasian people. From Greenwood, or from somewhere else, I don’t know.

And of course, my mother was always busy with five—six children. She was too busy! Right? Just looking after us is busy. But we were too busy outside, causing mischief! Ha!

Oh! Now I remember the guy’s [my friend’s] name. His name was Isao Morii. He and I were good friends. And we used to—oh yeah, we made a fort! Uh, at the bottom of the… uh, apartment or… hotel. Outside. Yeah. ‘Cause we [everyone at the hotel] had a wood-burning stove, ‘cause in those days, there were no gas stoves. There was coal, I guess, but we used wood. To heat up our home. And so, there was plenty of wood. There was a wood shack in the back [of the hotel]. And it was piled with wood. So Isao and I, we used lumber to make a fort!

Isao Morii and I, we used to do a lot of things and then… and then, when they [the Morii family] went back to Japan, I think I went into their room and cried. ‘Cause we had so much fun! Isao Morii and I. Yeah. It was so sad. We were all wrenched! You know.

And one time—ha!—there were these Chinese men that lived near the creek. One day, Isao Morii and I, we were down by the creek there, and we saw these Chinese men, sitting in the front of their… um, I don’t know, it looked like a barn. So, we said to them: Ch**** Ch**** Ch***man! And the one guy got this great, big meat chopper, and started chasing us! So, Isao and I ran home and we hid under the bed for a whole day! Ha! I mean, we don’t know anything about things like that! It’s just, I guess we heard something like that, so I guess we did it! And then we would peak out from under the bed… Do you think it’s alright to get up now? You know! Haha! Well, I guess we finally got out.

So I was really… well, I guess I must be having fun!

Yeah! Isao Morii. I think he came back to Vancouver. Eventually. I met him once. I can’t remember.

I remember, you know, living in Greenwood, as a child, it was more fun then.

But I lost a lot of friends, too. Some of them went out east. Some, like Isao, went to Japan. Um… yeah. It was sad, when they all left. It was not that many left in Greenw—yeah. My father’s cousins, quite a few cousins were living in Greenwood, and they all opted to go to Japan? But my father said, No, I’m not going! It’s not a good place to go! Because my mother and father were sending food and clothes to Japan, to my mother’s sister, who was born here, but had married a Japanese man…

And—as aside from this is—my Aunt Grace, my mother’s sister, and her friend, were the first Japanese nurses in Canada, really. They tried to become nurses here in Vancouver, but they wouldn’t accept them. So, Aunt Grace and her friend went to Alberta! And that’s where they became nurses. Aunt Grace was surgical nurse, and she got a Governor General’s Gold Medal, my mother said. ‘Cause she was so good. Aunt Grace. Oyama. And she came back and she tried to get into nurse here, but they wouldn’t accept her, and that’s why she went to Japan, to the Red Cross Hospital. And there, she married a Japanese man.

Yeah. So, my mother was sending food and clothes to Japan because… yeah, Aunt Grace. You know, later we found out, after my cousin came back here, to Vancouver, she said it was terrible [in Japan]. No food. No food. It’s very, very bad, she said. Because most of the food, I guess, went to the soldiers? And Ian’s father [George Belcher, father of Ian Belcher, Maryanne Belcher’s late husband] also said, too, that the Japanese people who incarcerated him in Shanghai [as Prisoner of War] had hardly anything to eat, too, he said. He [George Belcher] said he knew that. He said they [the Japanese soldiers running the POW camp in Shanghai] were kind. He said they let him out, once in a while. That’s what Ian’s dad said. He said, Sometimes they let us out! So, I don’t know. That’s what he said. He said, you know, They didn’t have enough to eat either! he said. That’s what he said.

Two women, both Japanese Canadian, stand in a home, here captured in a black and white photo. One woman turns aside from the camera, doing something on the counter. The other woman, closer to the camera, looks at the photographer.
Asako (Maryanne) Belcher (nee Hamaguchi) and her cousin, Tomiko Uyema (nee Yoshida), in Tomiko’s first home, in Greenwood, British Columbia.

Did all of this impact me? It must’ve! Because, you know, if I had been in Steveston, I think it would’ve been an entirely different upbringing—because my father had a store, and he was fairly “well-off,” in quotations. We used to go on a holiday every year. You know, and… because he had a store, he was fairly “well-to-do,” in quotation marks. So, it woulda been different. But here, we were all… the same.

I think they were getting some kind of money from the government. Because the fathers were all taken away, so, how would they… live, without any money? I don’t know the details of that. I never asked my mother.

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