An ongoing exhibit at the Kamloops Museum (KMA) and Archives focuses on the experiences, history and ideas of identity of local Japanese-Canadians.
Collective Memories: Japanese Canadian Reflections was put together with the help of the Kamloops Japanese Canadian Association and its members, with a number of their stories shared and pieces of history loaned to the museum.
The exhibit will run until March 11, 2022, at the museum, which is downtown at Seymour Street and Second Avenue.
“I was trying to get away from just a historical survey and have more of a mix of contemporary art and a museological exhibition,” curator Craig Willms said.
Willms, who is half-Japanese and works at the Kamloops Art Gallery, was contracted by the KMA to help put the exhibit together.
The history within the exhibit spans from early settlement in the Kamloops region to the internment of those in Canada with Japanese heritage during the Second World War, the subsequent fight for redress and the establishment of associations such as the Kamloops Japanese Canadian Association.
“Really it’s been an attempt to capture, in some way, the Japanese-Canadian community in our area,” Willms said.
Sports feature prominently in the exhibit.
One article on display is the gi of Kamloops’ Henry Uyeda, which he wore while winning a tournament in Japan.
Uyeda was inducted into the Kamloops Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and holds other honours, as well. He started as an instructor at the Kamloops Judo Club in 1963.
Another article on display is the baseball jersey of Kaye Kaminishi, the last surviving member of the famed Asahi baseball team. That club was based in Vancouver and the Kamloops connection stems from the Second World War.
The Asahi disbanded in the 1940s when its members were interned across the province.
Kaminishi ended up in Lillooet and later settled in Kamloops.
Japanese-Canadians like Kaminishi were interned across B.C., in places like Lillooet, Bridge River, and a number of locations in the Kootenays.
“Japanese people come together in the Interior. They can’t go to the coast, but they have to go somewhere, so they ended up here,” Willms said.
Although the exhibit is anchored on the internment of Canadians of Japanese heritage, Willms said there is a tendency to remain focused on that piece of Japanese-Canadian history. As a result, Willms said, a lot of exposure to culture is lost.
“So, the goal of the exhibition was to educate people about that and maybe bring back some family history, but also to look beyond it, at what people were actually doing — sports, work in the community,” he said.
Another piece on display is the jersey of Kamloops Blazer Aaron Keller, who Willms said is half-Japanese.
“I’m not sure how many people know that and I’m not sure how much it actually matters. That’s one of the questions asked in the exhibit: How much does this cultural history matter? What does it really mean?” he said.
Addressing identity is an important part of the exhibit and Willms said it also features a series of films exploring those very ideas by a Kelowna filmmaker.
The exhibit also features work by artist Jana Sasaki. Her work is also on display in The Cube at the Kamloops Art Gallery, downtown at Victoria Street and Fifth Avenue.
Titled Injustice and Identity, the exhibit is linked to the KMA exhibit, as is the main exhibit at the art gallery, called Whose Stories?, which features six artists of Asian descent. Both exhibits will run until Dec. 31.
The collaboration between the Kamloops Museum and Archives and the Kamloops Art Gallery was a long time coming.
“This is something we’ve been talking about for years, getting on the same page at the same time, and it’s finally happened,” Willms said.