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Raymond Moriyama's Sakura Ball Speech - Part 2

Read Part 1 >>


War is hell! Physically facing an enemy is hell! It is even more of a psychological hell when your own country, the country of your birth, without warning, insensitively and officiously stamps you an “enemy alien,” disowns you and expels you to an internment camp in the mountains far away from home.

It was referred to in the House as a minor incident on the West Coast. Father was sent to a POW camp in Ontario for resisting the Government’s contradictory action of going to war to preserve democracy and individual rights and at home disregarding the rights of 22,000 citizens—dispersing men and women in different places—‘a minor incident.’

Mother in despair and having to face a future with three children and $34.92 in savings after 13 years of struggle in Canada, lost the only brother I could have had. Moreover, in the camp, I was mocked in the public bath (we only had two) by my fellow JCs calling my scars ‘contagious disease.’ “Disease, disease, don’t touch him!” Disowned by my Country and mocked my own community, father a POW in far away Ontario, self-esteem destroyed—I would have gladly walked into a gas oven.

In despair, I decided to bath in Slocan River on the other side of a Little Mountain away from the camp. Water was glacial, but it was better than hot tears. To see who might be coming I built an observation platform. Soon I found myself wanting to build my first architectural project, a tree house, without being found out by the RCMP, with just an axe as a hammer, an old borrowed saw, six spikes, some nails and a rope. It was hard work building it by myself—mostly of branches and scraps from the lumber yard.

It was a lesson in economy of material and means. It was a great experience to remember for a lifetime. That tree house when finished was beautiful. Better still it was MAGIC…MAGICAL IMPERFECTION! It was my university, my place of solace, a place to think and a place to learn. THIS IS WHEN FOR THE FIRST TIME I LEARNED TO LISTEN TO THE EARTH, THE RIVER, AND TO START LEARNING THAT WORLD IS ALIVE.

Looking down from the tree house, the 13-year-old eyes saw that every square foot of ground was different from the next square foot and the next square foot and so on. Is every square foot of earth, THE WHOLE WORLD, different like this? It is amazing!!! IT IS ALIVE!!!

The view of nature from the tree house was absolutely astonishing,
The mountains, green and silver, around the river,
The whisper of the river and the sound of nights,
The crisp night sky and the stars so close,
The sunrise, the sunset, the sound of the wind.

I was learning the true meaning of dynamic permanence of temporariness—that the “frightening” storm was a part of a balance to the beautiful sunset and that IT was less vengeful than mans’ irrational thoughts and deeds.

I was amazed my despair was subsiding. I began to understand that I could not hate my community and my country or my hate could crush my own heart and imagination and replaced my mind with other ideas what I could do as an architect to help the community and Canada, help the handicapped like my best friend, George Kada, with his clubfoot. How I must develop my gyroscope, as mother told me to, to have a sense of balance and sensitivity to other people’s needs by listening and learning from listening and do good architecture.

I was starting to see my place in architecture, gain a sense of optimism, but was I learning enough??? Amazingly, I never read one book in the tree house. What did that mean? The inspiration for the Canadian War Museum came during this period, at age 12 and 13, from the sound of nature and the evening breeze I heard in the tree house coming fully alive 60 years later. The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo is a tree house inspired by the original. Was my path in life to be dictated by the philosophy of phenomenology? I was fortunately never caught by the RCMP as a saboteur! I WAS LUCKY I HAD DECIDED TO BE AN ARCHITECT AT 4.5. NOW THE TREE HOUSE AND ITS MAGIC AND NATURE GAVE ME A NEW FOCUS ABOUT ARCHITECTURE and give me hope and optimism.

Another boost came at my high school graduation. So soon after the war, father had very little money. Instead of a material gift, he passed me an envelop at the graduation ceremony. For a moment, just for a moment, I thought it could be a cheque to pay for my tuition at U of T. But it was better than that or anything else he could have given me at that point in my life. It was a poem he worked on very hard, I’m sure, with a lot of love and wisdom, beautifully scripted—he had such wonderful handwriting in both Japanese and English.

           DRIVE A NAIL OF GOLD.

He did not ask me to build the temple. He wasn’t even asking me to design it. He was asking me to drive in just one nail—just one, but one forged of gold.

This poem propelled and sustain me through university and my professional life. I thought about it for years and tried to live up to its fuller meaning. It propelled me at University. Architecture needed to be more than nicely proportioned surface treatment. If it is to be truly “golden,” architecture had to be humane and its intent the pursuit of true ideals, of true democracy, of equality, of inclusion of all people.

Sachi and I promised to pursue a different drummer and different criteria for design. I tried to do this quietly, but Jim Koyanagi, a classmate here tonight, may tell you I was a disagreeable bastard classmate when it came to design—but I must admit I was pretty good.



I consulted Sachi, fully expecting her to say “NO” in her gentle way. We had 2 children, Michi and Murina. We had saved $392.00, that’s all we had. She was remarkable. She said, “The two children are paid for. DO IT! The worst that could happen to us is you will go back and work for another architect.”

OK!!! What a support! What a partner! I submitted my resignation the very next day to my employer then, Dr. Eric Arthur, the dean of design. He said absolutely nothing. Two days later, I heard on the street that Dr. Arthur was spreading stories that my survival rate was virtually nil, six months maximum.

I was curious. I had confidence in my design ability, but nothing else. The next day, I decided to speak to him, fully expecting him to deny everything I had heard. True to his character, he did not deny anything. When I asked him for three reasons, he said, “I’ll give you four.”

What is your first reason? “You’re too young.” I was 28. Your second reason? “There is a recession.” I didn’t know a recession from a hole in the ground, I admitted. What’s the third? “You do not have enough capital to start.” You most likely are right, I admitted. He did not know that the amount we had was $392.00, far less than what he was thinking. “You also have two very young children to feed.”

What’s the fourth? “Because you’re an oriental and a Jap at that!” This last reason came down on me like a ton of mud. Yet I was not totally stunned. I told him that I had greater faith in Canada and Canadians than he had. This perhaps will be my challenge, but there are other architectural ideas I will be pursuing that may be more difficult.

“Well, Ray, you go out and try. They will shred you apart!” was his simple, firm reply. I believed that, at that moment, in his special way, Eric Arthur was handing me a stick with a sharp nail to goad myself on. I told him as we parted that I will do my best design-wise, service-wise, work diligently and hope to prove him wrong, especially about the Canadians.

I opened a one-man practice with Sachi as my sole unpaid helper—secretary, bookkeeper, researcher, baby sitter and everything else—appropriately on Workers Day—May 1, 1958. I was 28, Sachi was 26.

Eric Arthur was right. The ‘50s and the ‘60s were quite different in Canada than today. I had to learn to pick myself up quickly. At a meeting of the Board of Education in Toronto, 1958, a senior member bluntly told me, “We don’t give jobs to an enemy! Remember what you did to our soldiers in Hong Kong!”

How do you fight such ignorance? I just asked him to check the facts: that both the Canadian soldiers in Hong Kong and the Japanese Canadians in Canada were both Canadians and that they were both victims. I said no more and left. To think that such unthinking mind was involved in educating our Canadian young in the late ‘50s sent me emotionally back to the internment camp.

Part 3 >>

© 2010 Norm Ibuki

architect architecture Canada canadian internment Japanese Canadian slocan World War II