“We’re all affected by this history in different ways,” says co-producer of Japanese Problem
by Erica Isomura
On the 75th anniversary of Japanese Canadian internment, JAPANESE PROBLEM by Universal Limited sparked reactions. Recent reflections on this dark period of our history have shared a sentiment of feeling simultaneously horrified and deeply moved by this dramaticized history. This seems to resonate among audience members, both those who are Japanese Canadian and those who are not.
“We can live on land that has borne witness to terrible things and never know the stories beneath our feet. We go about our days, oblivious, until someone draws our attention to our history. … A horrific thing, something we should have all learned about in history class, happened a few kilometres from my house in the east of the city – and I had no idea until I went to see The Japanese Problem.”
-Marsha Lederman, Globe and Mail on October 10, 2017.
For those of us who are Japanese Canadian and carry fragments of this wartime history with us, watching this performance is a rare opportunity to see one’s family’s murmured memories and hidden truths come alive for a brief 40 minutes. While the plot of this play is not a full-on surprise to members of our community, it doesn’t make this performance any less emotional or heartbreaking to witness. I saw many tears shed by audience members at the end of the show and for myself, a deep heaviness that lingered well after it had ended.
JAPANESE PROBLEM grapples with the legacies of internment that face descendants of internees today, naming intergenerational trauma, community assimilation, and mixed-race identity.
“This ‘hapa’ culture – mixed culture – it’s not a coincidence. How better to blend in than to marry and have babies with white people?” exclaims Nicole Yukiko, an actor and collaborator for JAPANESE PROBLEM. This is in reference to the high percentage of mixed-race marriages in the Japanese Canadian community. At one point in the performance, the actors break character and admit how hard this show is to re-enact.
“Some of the actors have a direct connection to this history, and are dealing with intergenerational trauma. We’re all affected by this history in different ways,” acknowledges lead actor Yoshié Bancroft, one of the show’s co-producers.
For some, this performance serves as a visceral reminder of the unspoken grief and drawn-out silences stitched into the fabric of our family stories. How do we, as descendants, reconcile with the questions about our history that remain unanswered? The reasons we have come to even exist or, as advocate and elder Judy Hanazawa once put it, “the forever altered destiny of our community”?
These kinds of questions have spawned my involvement in the Japanese Canadian community today – to resolve my own unanswered questions, learn about my history and hear stories I didn’t know while growing up.
I often think about how this history affects my daily life. I am ethnically mixed. I am unable to speak or read or understand the Japanese language. I have a blurred familiarity with Japanese traditions and customs. I was never really sure “where I came from” when asked while growing up and still don’t like being asked that question. As a descendent of Japanese Canadian internees, these are real ways that I am impacted by this history every day.
The deep-rooted pain expressed in JAPANESE PROBLEM lingers too. Performances like this and other work interpreting the internment experience are reminders of the heartaches and unresolved traumas that have deeply impacted our communities. But with this pain comes new opportunities to seek healing, too.
This is the second piece in a series exploring the JAPANESE PROBLEM performance and its relevance in Vancouver today. Read part one: #JAPANESE PROBLEM: Hastings Park 1942 and part three: #JAPANESEPROBLEM: The “Chinese Problem” too.
JAPANESE PROBLEM is screened hourly as part of Nikkei National Museum’s Hastings Park 1942 exhibit. The Hastings Park 1942 exhibit runs now through January 18, 2018. Nikkei National Museum’s gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11-5pm.
For more information about Japanese Problem or Universal Limited’s work, please visit japaneseproblem.ca.
To learn more about the history of Hastings Park, visit hastingspark1942.ca
Series written by Erica Isomura
Erica Isomura is a yonsei (fourth-generation) Japanese and Chinese Canadian, who writes from Vancouver on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil Waututh nations. She was the curatorial and programming assistant for the Hastings Park 1942 exhibit at the Nikkei National Museum.