Thursday 4 April 2019

Tashme : The Living Archives tells another sad tale of racism & repression
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Tashme. The name sounds, vaguely, as if it could be Japanese. And though I taught high school social studies 50 years back in Surrey, never once did I even hear of it. What is now Sunshine Valley RV Park just east of the Hope Slide was a Japanese-Canadian war internment camp from 1942 - 1946. Tashme housed nearly 2,700 souls who had been forcibly uprooted from their home communities around B.C. and herded there. They were officially called "enemy aliens" under the War Measures Act. Even if they were Nisei -- second generation Canadians of Japanese heritage.

Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa pore over a Nisei journal from one of the 2,700 Japanese-Canadian detainees in Tashme, the internment camp just east of Hope, literally and figuratively. Ottawa created a 100-mile on-shore protectorate after Pearl Harbor, and Tashme was as close to Vancouver as these "alien enemies" were permitted. 
Photo credit Tashme Productions
Creators and actors Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa are offspring of Tashme detainees. Their two-hander is a loving memory play -- a verbatim documentary that attempts to be what its subtitle suggests : "The Living Archives" of this time and place so its memory does not fade forever from us. 
The script is culled from more than 70 hours of interviews with 20 Nisei from across the land. They act it out through the voices and stories of these elders : their memories as kids in Tashme; what detention looked and sounded and smelled and felt like; what life was like after war's end and the Tashme people's next diaspora to the Prairies and Toronto. That occurred as a result of the efforts of a certain Ian Mackenzie, federal Minister of Pensions, who proudly announced his post-war slogan and diktat : "No Japs from the Rockies to the seas." [sic]

The James Lavoie set and George Allister projections render the memories a mix of f.1.4 intimacy and blurred detail from the times spent at Tashme and after for Japanese-Canadians during World War II. 
Photo credit Tashme Productions
Albeit a somewhat sullied expression these days, "truth and reconciliation" are always admirable goals -- whether among siblings, spouses, or society's various races and strata. And because truths are elusive and personal, what better way to approach them among Nisei than in sharing stories around a kitchen table made by Julie's grandpa. Backed up by simple opaque screens upon which images of people and sites at Tashme are flashed, including the shot immediately below:

A farm truck loaded with "dispersed" Japanese-Canadians freshly released from the cattle barns at Hastings Park PNE grounds in Vancouver arrives in Tashme. 
Photo credit UBC Archives / Wikipedia

The script put together by Manning and Miwa is a rainbow of colours, of intensities, of emotional hues. Indeed, what strikes the viewer perhaps most of all is the stoicism of most of the Nisei when remembering all the thunderclouds from those days. In Japanese the expression is Shikata ga nai, meaning "it cannot be helped". 

One would expect, probably, considerable anger at the whites, the Haku-jin, who subjected their fellow citizens to these indignities. Whites who wrested all men from 18-45 from their families and sent them out to build BC's highways as gang labour, such as one of myriad Yellowhead Highway crews pictured below put together from the 21,000 individuals chased away from the Pacific shores. 

Photo credit : Wikipedia, original source unknown
Bitterness writ large from some -- a grandpa who sizzled angrily about a teacher in Toronto calling him and a buddy "Japs". But others remembered folks in BC's Slocan valley -- where eco-hero David Suzuki and his family were sent -- talking about how "the Japs planted that tree" : but their memories now claiming the Haku-jin said it "not in a derogatory way, just normal talk from them."

Even the creators / interviewers Manning and Miwa came away somewhat bemused and in wonder : "I'm shocked by all the things they told us but never asked us to ask them : who are we to them after all?"

This show is a prime example of how powerful oral history can be when dialogue is stitched together to tell a tale from numerous elders' perspectives and memories. How some remember the fun and play they enjoyed as kids just being kids at Tashme, the breathtaking beauty of the Coastal mountain range whose sparkling rivers the Skagit and the Fraser are the flowing parentheses that bracket it all. Others recall more the hardships, the ice on the floor of their shacks in winter, the wrenching separation from their families, the wanton theft of their homes and fishboats and cars and artworks, the burning of their kids' toys. 

Both actors emote forcefully and faithfully. Mr. Miwa works hard to re-create the broken cadences of Nisei English from the crippled old men he was interviewing. Ms. Manning provides most of the show's warmth and comedy and forgiving sentiments. He perhaps represents the harder "truth" of the time, while she the one more "reconciled" to the Shikata ga nai impulse.

Fittingly, the West Coast premiere of the show takes place in Vancouver's former Japanese neighbourhood. Just up the block on Alexandra Street the Japanese Hall last year celebrated its 90th anniversary. The Firehall Theatre itself was Vancouver's original fire house from 1906 and also witnessed all this history first-hand. 

Across from Oppenheimer Park in what used to be called "Little Tokyo", Tamura House pictured below has been restored and renovated and is now run by the Lookout Society to provide housing for people in challenged personal and social circumstances.

People with a yearning to fill in some important gaps in their knowledge of where this country is -- and where it has come from -- will find the experience richly rewarding through the many poignant insights it brings to life.

On at the Firehall Arts Centre, Cordova at Gore in DTES. On until April 13, 2019. Schedule and ticket information via phone @ 604.689.0926 or at the internet site
Creation & Performance by:  Julie Tamiko Manning & Matt Miwa
Direction by:  Mike Payette
Video Design by:  George Allister
Sound Design by:  Patrick Andrew Boivin
Head LX:  Jon Cleveland
Technical Direction by:  Tristynn Duheme
Stage Management by:  Isabel Quintero Faia
Movement Dramaturgy by:  Rebecca Harper
Set & Costume Design by:  James Lavoie
Assistant Set & Costume Design:  Laurence Mongeau
Lighting Design:  David Perreault Ninacs

Addenda : From Ann Sunahara's The Politics of Racism : the Uprooting of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, Toronto, J. Larimer, (1981) as reported by Wiki :

On January 14, 1942, the federal government passed an order calling for the removal of male Japanese nationals between 18 to 45 years of age from a designated protected area of 100 miles inland from the British Columbia coast. The federal government also enacted a ban against Japanese-Canadian fishing during the war, impounded 1,200 fishing vessels, banned short-wave radios, and controlled the sale of gasoline and dynamite to Japanese-Canadians. 

From a September 24, 1988 interview in the Toronto Star with Ken Adachi as reported by Wiki :

"Born in Canada, brought up on big-band jazz, Fred Astaire and the novels of Henry Rider Haggard, I had perceived myself to be as Canadian as the beaver. I hated rice. I had committed no crime. I was never charged, tried or convicted of anything. Yet I was fingerprinted and interned."

Tashme, the name : Not of Japanese origin in the least. Originally the B.C. Securities Commission wanted to name the internment camp "Hope Mile 14 Ranch", but the Royal Mail bureaucracy for some reason would have none of it (despite having approved "100 Mile House" in the Cariboo and "Six Mile Ranch" on Kamloops Lake). So BCSC members Austin Taylor (Vancouver businessman), John Shirra (B.C. Provincial Police) and Fred John Mead (RCMP) took the first two letters of each of their surnames and created "Tashme" -- as reported on the Tashme website.

Tamura House at Powell and Dunlevy was a "Little Tokyo" rooming house fully restored that Lookout
Society now provides homes for the hard-to-house folks in Vancouver's Downton East Side. 

Photo credit : Merrick & Merrick Architects


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