While the story of the Japanese Canadians who stayed in Canada after the internment is fairly well-known, the stories of those who returned to Japan really aren’t.
Aya Shimamura has returned to Japan with her father following their release from an internment camp and it’s a tough transition. Image courtesy: Penguin Random House
During the Second World War, the mass diaspora of the Japanese across the world came to a shuddering halt. These Nikkei had migrated to places like Brazil, Portugal, the Philippines, and North America.
After Japan entered into the war, the issei and the nisei, or the second generation of Japanese-born immigrants who had been born overseas, were forced into camps in Canada or sent back to Japan.
In 1947, the SS Marine Angel left Vancouver carrying about 3964 internees back to a war-devastated Japan, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.
Resources were limited and work was scarce in Japan, but the alternative of being kept cooped up in an internment camp wasn’t an enticing offer.
This is the hard choice Aya Shimamura’s father had to make when giving up his Canadian citizenship to be returned home.
The Translation of Love is writer Lynne Kutsukake’s first novel and it’s also one of the picks for Penguin Random House Canada’s New Face of Fiction’s 20th Anniversary Year.
She weaves together the stories of three different characters who find themselves intertwined in the search for a young woman somewhere in Japan.
Aya Shimamura is a young Japanese-Canadian girl who barely speaks a word of Japanese. She’s enrolled in school the moment she arrives in Japan, but her transition is a challenging one.
Her teacher at school had hoped that Fumi Tanaka, another schoolgirl, could help the “repat girl” get used to life in Japan, but their first meeting doesn’t go as planned.
And at the same time Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese-American working with the Occupation forces, is translating letters sent in by the Japanese public to General Douglas MacArthur.
It’s a masterfully written tale that has high aspirations and meets them with ease. The characters have beautiful human touches to them, but the story doesn’t shield the reader from the dark period that was post-war Japan. Those sent home struggled to survive while the country itself was in ruin.