Douglas Todd: Joy Kogawa’s many shades of Japanese-Canadian shame
2016/10/22 Leave a comment
Interesting and disturbing:
Joy Kogawa has noticed reviewers of her new bookof memoirs have not touched arguably the most controversial section of her intimate exploration of betrayal and hope.
Reviewers have focused instead on the way the Vancouver-raised author of Obasan and The Rain Descends dealt with her Japanese-Canadian family being sent to an internment camp, the bombing of Nagasaki and how her father was a pedophile.
However, Kogawa, 81, has been publicly forthright for decades about those shame-filled realities.
The most cutting-edge section of her book, titled Gently to Nagasaki, digs into horrors most Canadians and ethnic Japanese want to deny — Japan’s war atrocities.
The peace activist’s memoirs describe her painful relatively recent discovery of the extent of the slaughters and mass rapes committed by the Imperial Japanese army.
It was while Japanese troops were killing millions of Asians and others that Canadian governments in 1942 sent many Japanese-Canadians, most of them from B.C., to internment camps.Following her family’s ordeal in camps in the Kootenays and Alberta, Kogawa gained wide attention for helping lead the campaign that culminated in Ottawa’s 1988 apology and compensation to 20,000 Japanese-Canadians.
The many honours eventually bestowed upon Kogawa included the 2006 establishment of Vancouver’s Kogawa House, where the family had lived until 1942. It’s now a residence for writers.
But Kogawa has not allowed adoration to stop her pursuit of the authentic. Her mission seems to be to move beyond denial on all fronts: regarding internment camps, racism, global warming, her priest-father’s sexual crimes and her relatively recent discovery of Japanese war monstrosities.
“Love and truth are indivisible,” Kogawa says.
Her wise aphorism has had unpleasant consequences, though. Since most Canadians who don’t want to offend ignore Japan’s grisly war history, Kogawa acknowledged in an interview from her residence in Toronto that she’s had to “face the rage” of many.
“It’s cost me some really good friendships.”
Whether in Toronto, Vancouver or Japan, Kogawa said, many people, including ethnic Japanese, “just don’t believe” the atrocities occurred. They’d “rather die” than have the reality exposed.
“Or they feel I’m betraying them by talking about it. But it takes the truth to get to reconciliation.”