Kunio Yamagishi was completely unaware of the Japanese Canadian internment when he moved to this country in 1972.
He said the discovery that the internment of his countrymen took place anywhere other than the United States was a shock.
“Of course, I knew it happened in the States, but to think it could have happened here … was very surprising to me. It’s not at all what I knew about Canada before moving here,” he said, in an emotional interview. “It was a shock for me to find out. This is known as such a peaceful country. So I started to study the history of Canada and the Japanese internment camps here. It was very upsetting.”
Yamagishi worked at the Japanese Consulate General in Toronto, where he lived before moving to the Comox Valley in 1997.
The 74-year-old Yamagishi has spent the last 10 years writing The Return of a Shadow, a historic fiction novel. It’s his his first novel.
“This book sheds a new light on the Japanese-Canadian internment camps and how it affected the life of an internee afterwards, from today’s point of view,” described Yamagishi.
The novel chronicles the life of protagonist Eizo Osada, a pre-Second World War immigrant to Canada, who was interned during the war. After 43 years in Canada, Osada returns to his homeland to reunite with his family, whom he had left in Japan and had never seen since. Correspondence with his wife had dropped off under mysterious circumstances more than 20 years prior to his return to Japan.
Yamagishi said the inspiration for the novel came during his time in Toronto.
“One day I saw a very elderly gentleman in a black coat and a black hat, who came to the office to renew his passport,” said Yamagishi. “He was so dispirited, and so down, I thought, ‘that’s my character.’ I have never seen him since, I know nothing about that man’s background, so as far as the book is concerned, he [Eizo Osada] is completely fictional. He never existed. But that’s where the [inspiration] came from.”
Yamagishi said he was deeply affected by his discovery, and subsequent research, of the Japanese internment in Canada, and the novel was, to some degree, part of his own healing and reconciliation process. He said although his research did not produce any relatives who were interned, he does remember one returning to Japan before Yamagishi ever came to Canada.
“My aunt’s father-in-law was in Canada and he came back to Japan after the internment,” explained Yamagishi. “Before I immigrated to Canada I had a chance to meet him, but he never said one word about his experience. So I did have at least one relative who was involved.”
Yamagishi has come to terms with how his countrymen were treated here at the time of the Second World War.
“Every country has its past,” he said. “We have to take it as a lesson and we have to go forward. Compared to the United States right now, under Mr. Trump, we are very lucky here.”
The Return of a Shadow can be ordered online at amazon.ca, and is also available at the Laughing Oyster Bookshop in Courtenay.
Yamagishi is hosting an official book launch on Saturday, March 24, 2 p.m. at the Filberg Centre (412 Anderton Ave.), in the Evergreen Lounge.