The following is an excerpt from the interview I did in Winnipeg with United Church minister Rev. David Nobu-tsune Murata. In this snippet, he relates some of his memories of his involvement in the Japanese-Canadian campaign for redress for internment during the Second World War.
SN: Tell me more about the Japanese Canadian redress campaign. How did you first get involved in that?
DM: I was asked in Vancouver to coordinate the bridge between Japanese-speaking Japanese Canadians and English-speaking Japanese Canadians. Japanese Canadian redress actually started in 1946 and was going on, off and on, for four decades. In November of 1987, the Minister of Multiculturalism said, “We’ll give the Japanese Canadian redress campaign $12 million total, and you take it or leave it.” That was October or November of ’87. That’s when redress strategy people in Vancouver contacted me and asked if I would be willing to work in bridging the gap between Japanese-speaking and English-speaking people. Because Japanese-speaking people, during those days, thought there’s no way redress will take place because human society is not that clean. They considered internment activity to be a shame and rather than the shame becoming open, they’d rather keep it silent and not do anything about it. They thought that was the Japanese way, which it is not. But they thought that was the Japanese way. I agreed in November of ’87. I was actually doing film coordination with a Japanese TV company at the time, from Alaska to Chile, going the migration path of Native people. I was called back from Baja California to do this in November. That’s how it began.
I did national coordination between the Japanese-speaking people and the English-speaking people. Mostly misunderstanding. Also, Japanese-speaking people, they had a misunderstanding of what “Japanese” was supposed to mean. Some of the Japanese-speaking people, I think they’re understanding of “Japanese” is from what they’ve learned from their parents or they heard from the village people, maybe in Japan. Japan was, of course, a caste-oriented society for a long time. There’s four basic castes: The top, of course, is Samurai or Bushi, knights, and those things; military people. The second is agricultural, the farmers. The third one is the technologists, like builders, carpenters. The fourth level is merchants. Merchants are supposed to be the lowest in the Japanese system. Most of the people who came here were second level, agricultural or fishermen. They had their way of understanding: to be silent in face of any unjust thing done by the military class, because otherwise they’d be wiped out. So that kind of mentality was here. They thought that was being Japanese. I said, “No, that’s not being Japanese; you need to be able to be proactive. Which is the totality of Japanese understanding, to do that.” Fortunately or unfortunately, my family came from that Samurai class, so we were being raised with that kind of consciousness from way back.
So we did that. I was flying all over – Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, especially the east coast, to beg Japanese-speaking people not to make problems for their children and grandchildren, because they really do have the best for them in their heart.
They started saying things like, “My children and grandchildren don’t understand the Japanese way.”
So then I could say, “What kind of Japanese way we talking about? This is what happened,” and they all agreed. “And this is what should have been,” and they all agreed. “Then what are you supposed to do about this?”
That’s what I did: I went from community to community, talking to people, and especially the leaders and especially those people who have media connections, the editors and these people who speak, and convinced them, one by one. We did that in November, and by April of ’88 we heard from the PMO that, yes, they were going to go ahead. That ended up giving $550 million just in compensation.
SN: How did you find that it either helped or presented challenges to you doing that work that you were someone who had been born in Japan and emigrated to Canada?
DM: I was there at the right place at the right time and I was able to do it. I know the Japanese language and the English culture. I was there. Nowadays, there are more people who can speak both fluently. The other thing is I was single, so I was able to go to these places without much problem. [laugh]
SN: But you didn’t face the barrier that you were seen as less legitimate because your family hadn’t endured the –
DM: Of course, of course. But, in another way, I was more legitimate; I had no personal stake in this. So I told them. But the problem in the Japanese Canadian community during those days was if you went through the internment, then you must be related somewhere. That tends to be quite a contention, because there have been rivalries all over and all these things. I said, “No, no. Get rid of that.” I was able to act as a midwife in that situation. I was not a mother, I was not a father, so I could be a midwife: it was done, and I got out. Because I shouldn’t be there when they’re honoured by all these people. I got out by May or June of ’88, after we heard from the PMO, so somebody else would then claim it.