Shikataganai–It Can’t Be Helped (review)

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In years past we have attended the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) and visited the barns on the fair grounds. However, I will never view them with the same casual attitude I have till now, after reading Sumi Kinoshita’s book Shikataganai—It Can’t Be Helped. That’s because those barns at Hastings Park became the home of Canadians of Japanese descent  when they were forcibly evacuated from their homes along the B.C. coast after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Later they were moved to internment camps in the B.C. interior.

Sumi (Morisawa) Kinoshita was four at the time their family was loaded onto a train, forced to leave behind everything in Victoria except what fit into two suitcases each. Their first stop was Hastings Park where they lived for six months before being moved on to New Denver and other places in the Kootenays.

Sumi tells the story of her family’s experiences during the internment without self-pity or whining, sprinkling good memories and humour throughout. She typifies well the resignation of Japanese Canadians at this time, captured by two words, “shikataganai” (it can’t be helped) and “ganbaru” (to persevere). She explains her people’s attitude at this time:

”…the ‘shikataganai’ philosophy also gave them the impetus to go on, to cooperate with the government and ‘ganbaru’ (to persevere). Making the best of their circumstances by submitting to government policies, it helped to prove their loyalty as Canadian citizens” p. 35.

Memories of Sumi’s siblings follow her narrative, helping to tell the story from a variety of ages and perspectives.

Aspects of the book I found particularly moving:

  • The book’s cover image, a blown-up photo of the 1200 or so confiscated Japanese fishing boats.
  • The final chapter, “Afterthoughts,” where Sumi details the effect of the internment on her and how she came to peace about it:

“For years and years even after I was married, I felt too ashamed and humiliated to talk about the injustice and indignity of living in the animal stalls of Hastings Park and ensuing internment. Then one Christmas the story of Jesus being born in a manger came alive to me in a new way. Jesus, the King of Kings, was born in an animal stall and was also subjected to the shame and indignity of being placed in a smelly environment surrounded by animals. … He identified with me and others who experienced the same shame and understood what happened to us. Jesus forgave those who sinned against Him as He died on the cross and rose again. That thought gave me great comfort and healing” – pp. 134,135.

For those wanting to discover more about this regrettable chapter of B.C. and Canadian history, Shikataganai is a great choice.