A Child in Prison Camp

[For Secondary LESSON PLAN: War Diaries]

from A Child in Prison Camp

Vancouver, British Columbia

March 1942

Japan is at war with the United States, Great Britain and all the Allied Countries, including Canada, the country of my birth. My parents are Japanese, born in Japan, but they have been Canadian citizens for many, many years, and have become part of this young country. Now, overnight our rights as Canadians are taken away. Mass evacuation for the Japanese!

"All the Japanese," it is carefully explained to me, "whether we were born in Tokyo or in Vancouver are to be moved to distant places. Away from the west coast of British Columbia-for security reasons."

We must all leave, my sister Yuki, my older brother David, my parents, our relatives-all.

The older men are the first to go. The government feels that my father, or his friends might sabotage the police and their buildings. Imagine! I couldn't believe such stories, but there is my father packing just his clothes in a small suitcase.

Yuki says, "They are going to the foothills of the Rockies, to Tete Jaune. No one's there, and I guess they feel father won't bomb the mountains."

The older people are very frightened. Mother is so upset; so are all her friends. I, being only eleven, seem to be on the outside.

One March day, we go to the station to see father board the train.

At the train station

An empty bottle is tossed in the air.

I stand away, hold my mother's hand.

Angry, dark curses, a scream. A train window is broken.

Most of the men have been drinking.

An angry man is shouting.

The men are dragged violently into the trains.

Father can be seen. He is being pushed onto the train.

He is on the steps, turns. His head is above the shouting crowd. I see his mouth opening; he shouts

To his friends, waves his clenched fist.

But the words are lost in all the noise.

Mother holds my hand tightly.

A sharp police whistle blows.

My blood stops. We see a uniformed Mounted Police drag

An old man and hurl him into the train.

More curses, threats. The old train bellows

Its starting sound. White, hellish smoke appears

From the top of its head. It grunts, gives another

Shrill blast. Slowly, slowly, the engine comes to life.

I watch from where we stand, fascinated.

The huge, black, round, ugly wheels begin

To move slowly, then faster, and faster.

Finally, the engine, jet dark

Rears its body and moves with a lurch.

The remaining men rush toward the train,

Scramble quickly into the moving machine.

Men crowd at the windows. Father is still on the steps,

He seems to be searching the crowd, finally sees us, waves.

Mother does not move. Yuki and I wave. Most remain still.

The dark, brown faces of the men become small.

Some are still shouting. Yuki moves closer to mother.

The long, narrow, old train quickly picks up speed

As it coils away along the tracks

Away from all of us who are left at the station.

Mother is silent. I look at her.

I see tears are slowly falling. They remain

On her cheeks. I turn away, look around. The women

And the children stare at one another. Some women

Cry right out loud. A bent old woman breaks out

Into a Buddhist prayer, moves her orange beads

In her wrinkled hands, prays aloud to her God.

Mother and the other women bow their heads.

The silent God seems so far away.

Shizuye "Shichan" Takashima pp. 5-7


October 1942

Meanwhile school for us has not begun. I am getting restless.

The Provincial Government of B.C. claims that the Japanese people do not deserve an education. Yet, father says, they are taking tax money for education as well as rent for our houses. Can you imagine? Every day the elders bravely complain to the B.C. Security Commission. Finally, during the last week of October, school starts for the children, but just from grades one to eight. "The Japanese people do not need, nor do they deserve, higher education." Father says that's what they told him and Mr. Sumi, our other spokesman. So Yuki cannot finish high school and she has only one more year to go. Mother is very upset. Yuki remains quiet.

We are taught by older girls. They have completed high school, but they are not "teachers," so everything is noisy and very un-school-like at first. We are given correspondence sheets which we must follow. I don't like this at all. We have books, too, but nothing else. I miss the familiar desks and my school friends.

First days of school

I stare at the boy sitting beside me.

Feeling my eyes, he turns, smiles gently.

I feel warmth towards him. I wonder what his name is.

Too shy to ask, I return my gaze to our teacher.

End of October. I feel the cold

of the winter wind. It seeps through the paper-thin

walls of the houses. The class is held in a

house the same as ours, only there is one big

room, not three. Each class or grade has one house.

I hear the wind outside. Our black, pot-fat

stove is in the far corner of the room. I cannot

feel the heat. I bend forward and put my hands in

my overcoat. I wish I were home. I sigh.

"Will you stand up." Startled, I look up.

Miss Mizuno, our teacher, is staring at me.

I obey. "Now," Miss Mizuno continues, "can you

tell us your name, where you lived before coming

to New Denver?" I stare out the window. I feel like

saying "Marco Polo's daughter and I just came

from China, with camels, bells and all,"

for I had just been reading about it.

I can almost see the brown, funny-looking

camels with the fur-capped Tartars. I start to

smile, forgetting all about Miss Mizuno, her

question, the class room. I look down at the wooden

desk, turn to the boy next to me. Miss Mizuno's

voice reaches me from far away. The other students

snicker. The boy next to me whispers, "your name?"

"Oh, yes, I forgot!" meaning the question, not my

name. Everybody starts to laugh, the boy next to me the loudest. Miss Mizuno is angry.

"Go outside until you can behave and

remember your name." Miss Mizuno turns

all red, opens the door. I hurry out,

for I have started to laugh, too, and once I start,

I know I will not stop. The door slams after me.

I can still hear laughter. "Class behave!"

The teacher commands. I sit on the steps outside the school

Trying not to laugh. Then I hear the door open

Once more. I turn. It is the boy who shares my desk.

The door slams behind him, too. Silence.

He sits beside me on the narrow steps, he smiles,

Squints his dark eyes. "Teachers are funny people.

What were you daydreaming about?"

I tell him, "Marco Polo. Can you imagine

If I came down the streets with all

My camels and servants, with jewels and bells.

It's so lovely. I wish I could travel. It's so dull.

These dumb schools. I know how to read now

and write. I don't see why I have to learn

all the other things." The boy stands up

and walks away. I follow. "Do you think

you'll travel when you're older?" he asks.

"Yes, I promise myself every night before

I go to sleep that I will go far, far away, and

See all the lovely countries. Don't you want to

travel?" The boy stares into my eyes; his reflect

the dull fall sun, seem so full of dreams.

"Yes, but, you know, my mother is not well."

I stand up, look away, feel sad. I look at the gray,

pale sky. The smoke from the school house chimneys curls up, up, into the wide, empty sky.

I feel the cold wind against my face.

The boy stands too and stares at the sky.

Shizuye "Shichen" Takashima, from "A Child in Prison Camp," Tundra Books, Montreal, Quebec, 1971. pp. 26-28

(note: Shizuye Takashima was 11 years old at the beginning of her book and 14 years old at the end. In a postscript, she states that she was actually two years older than she pictured herself. She was very small due to a premature birth. She survives and went on to become a known artist.)

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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