Skip to comments.The Japanese Ghost Town Buried Deep in a Canadian Forest
Posted on 09/25/2019 12:49:35 PM PDT by robowombat
The Japanese Ghost Town Buried Deep in a Canadian Forest Archaeologists have dug up sake bottles and delicate rice bowls.
BY REINA GATTUSO SEPTEMBER 23, 2019
AT FIRST, IT DIDNT LOOK like much: a clearing about an hours walk into the dense forest of British Columbias Seymour Valley, with some rusted cans scattered among the dank leaves and moldy tree trunks. It was 2004, and Bob Muckle, an archaeologist and anthropology instructor at Capilano University, was looking for a site to teach his students excavation. When a forester told him about the household artifacts locals had found in the clearing, Muckle assumed the area had been an early-1900s logging camp, one of the many small settlements that housed men who worked in the areas timber industry.
But when the team started digging, they uncovered something unexpected: delicate, intact, blue-and-white china rice bowls whose undersides were stamped Made in Japan. Excavations quickly unearthed more objectssake bottles, ceramicssuggesting the camp had been occupied not by transient loggers, but by a community of about 50 to 60 Japanese Canadians, including women and children, over a period of 20 years.
The people who lived here were likely employees of Eikichi Kagetsu, a prominent Japanese-Canadian logger. While the team has yet to uncover definitive proof of how long the village was inhabited, Muckle theorizes residents stayed from around 1920 to 1942, far after logging work dried up and other camps closed shop in the mid-1920s. In a woodsy nook an hours bus ride from Vancouver and another hours walk into the forest, residents built a small, self-reliant village. With racism against Japanese Canadians on the rise, says Muckle, the villages remote location may have provided inhabitants with a sense of security. They just could have stayed there on their own without being interfered with.
Muckles team has been excavating ever since. The artifacts they uncovered reveal a community that maintained their cultural and culinary traditions, even in the middle of the woods. The team found delicate soup and rice bowls, likely bought in Vancouvers Japanese neighborhoods after a laborious trek, which indicated that inhabitants still ate traditionally, probably with chopsticks. They uncovered a square of nitrogen-rich garden soil, fertilized with bone meal, which at one time may have been lush with Japanese vegetables such as daikon and fuki. Even rarer, the team found the remnants of a traditional Japanese-style bathhouse and shrine, suggesting an attempt at recreating traditional village life unparalleled in North America.
It surprised me when I saw those artifacts. I thought Oh! Thats pretty nice china!, says Linda Kawamoto Reid, reference archivist at Canadas Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Center. Indeed, the fine quality reveals that village inhabitants sought to make the remote space feel like home. But, says Muckle, they also carry a more sinister implication: that residents likely left in a hurry.
Usually when people abandon a site, they take the good stuff with them, says Muckle. But here, the good stuff was left behind: parts of a camera hidden by the bath house, an expensive cook stove stashed as though someone meant to come back to retrieve it. To Muckle, this suggests the villages residents left the site by forcepossibly in 1942, when, just as in the United States, the Canadian government began interning Japanese citizens and their Japanese-Canadian descendants.
Toothbrushes and toothpaste were also found.
While World War Two was the tipping point, racist sentiment had been building against Canadas Japanese community for a long time. It was fueled, partly, by white Canadians resentment of Japanese Canadians growing economic power, including their agricultural success. The first Japanese immigrants reached British Columbia in 1877, and worked as laborers in agriculture, lumber mills, fisheries, railroads, and mines. Despite racist policies meant to prevent Japanese land ownership, Japanese communities thrived. Many families acquired land, which they often held collectively, started farms, and became pioneers in British Columbias berry industry. They used their earnings to build self-reliant communities centered around institutions such as Buddhist temples and Japanese-language schools.
This self-sufficiency extended to the communitys culinary life. Early Japanese immigrants in Canada, particularly male railroad workers, existed on meager, employer-supplied diets that mixed Japanese and Canadian elements, writes archaeologist Douglas Edward Ross in his dissertation on early Asian-Canadian food cultures. Since bread was expensive and we couldnt afford the same foods as whites, we ate dumpling soup for breakfast and supper, said one railroad worker of life in the early 1900s.
As the community grew, so did their imprint on Canadas culinary landscape. In each Japanese neighborhood, says Reid, There would have been a tofu maker, absolutely. There would have been somebody making miso. Local communities likely milled their own rice. Japanese neighborhoods in cities such as Vancouver also supplied sake and tableware imported from Japan, including, Muckle speculates, some of the bowls and bottles at the Seymour Valley site.
Internment ruptured this thriving community. On February 24, 1942, several years after Canadas entrance into World War Two, the federal Cabinet issued an order enabling the detention of any and all persons from areas deemed sensitive.* These broad powers were used to target Japanese communities. By March 16, Canadian officials transported the first group of Japanese Canadians to Hastings Park, a race track and exhibition ground in Vancouver. Officials housed women and children in barns. Those who resisted were sent to prisoner of war camps.
Interned Japanese Canadiansincluding, evidence suggests, those villagers from the Seymour Valleywere forced to leave almost everything behind. They were only able to take one suitcase, anything that they could carry, says Muckle. The Canadian government took the rest. Originally claiming theyd keep Japanese Canadians confiscated land in protective custody, the state of British Columbia encouraged the Canadian government to sell the property instead, using the proceeds to run internment camps.
A road crew of interned Japanese-Canadian men at Yellowhead Pass, British Columbia. COURTESY OF LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA They talked the federal government into confiscating the property and selling it off so that internees could pay for their own internment, says Reid. Its just highway robbery. Many Japanese Canadiansthose who werent forced to work on road crewswere made to labor on sugar beet farms.
The trauma and displacement of internment caused many Japanese Canadians to lose track of their family histories. Another means of erasure, says Reid, was shame. Humiliated by racist treatment, many survivors preferred not to talk about that time. There was this code of silence, Reid says.
But in a clearing deep in the Seymour Valley, objects speak. In the years since they discovered the site, Muckle and his team have uncovered hundreds of objects, each holding stories of a lost way of life: A key to a home that has disappeared. A stopwatch that ceased telling time years ago. Milk bottles for babies that have long since grown. Stacked in the shadows of monumental, lichen-dusted trees, the blue-and-white rice bowls look ghostly, minute and delicate. Their presence is a poignant reminder of the communities broken up by racist government policies.
For Reid, these remnants of culinary life are also testimonies to Japanese Canadians strength. The Seymour Valley village, which the British Columbia government has commemorated for its significance to Japanese-Canadian history, is one of many archaeological sites whose objects reveal hidden memories. Among these sites are the fields of Tashme, the largest Canadian internment camp, which are now open for occasional tours. At a recent tour of the site, Reid says, the curator showed visitors a field where, after more than 70 years, the lush green leaves of fuki, planted by internees, continue to reach toward the sun.
Youd have to survey people to see what would be the one thing, the one piece of food or vegetable that would signify the Japanese-Canadian spirit, says Reid. It might be fuki. Because its still growing.
*Update 9/25/19: This post has been updated to clarify that Canada entered World War II in 1939, not in 1942
Ah yes, governments at work, confiscating and expropriating private property with little or no compensation to the owners.
Doesn’t even need a majority to take someone else’s property.
Run by the same liberals then as those who claim to champion minority rights now. Never forget that it was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the favorite whipping boy of the left, who warned FDR against putting Japanese Americans in internment camps and it was Earl Warren, then attorney general of California and later hero of the left, who talked him into doing it anyway.
And it makes it much more easy if the owners dont have access to firearms.
They have always been the party of slavery and disregard for constitutional rights. nothing has, or ever will, change.
And actually, the Japanese internment camps were in effect until 1949 (four years after World War II had ended). In contrast, the ones in the United States were declared unconstitutional within a few months of being created.
The original was actually closer to accurate than the "correction".
Canada declared war on Japan on December 7, 1941 (That's a lot closer to 1942 than to 1939, for the math impaired) following the Japanese surprise attack on Hong Kong. (Canadian forces were sent to Hong Kong in November, 1941). The official declaration was issued the next day, December 8, 1941.
So, of course, they couldn't get organized on rounding up the Nips until after the new year, or in 1942.
Don’t forget that Farbman built houses too!
[ Karl Farbman ]
Those houses certainly are breathtaking.
Jerry Seinfeld came at us with an ax! Oranges?
But was it really a “World War” before 1941? There was a regional war in Europe, and the even longer running Sino-Japanese war. In 1939, Russia and Germany were on the same side, while Russia and Japan had just settled their war.
One can have a good game with “When did World War II begin”. Japan - China, France - Thailand, Spanish Civil War, Russo - Finnish War, Russia - Japan....
Sort of like the old posting exchange from a few years ago - “When was the first US Soldier/Sailor/Marine killed during World War II”
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