Fieldnotes – The Nakagama Store

I hadn’t heard much about Japanese internment or labor camps in Canada until last year. That’s when I wandered into the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, and discovered an amazing exhibit telling the story of the Japanese-Canadian experience during and after World War II. In particular, I was struck by this:

The exhibit explored the Japanese-Canadian experience in general, and paid particular attention to the story of Ryutaro Nakagama. In 1942 Ryutaro was a successful merchant in Steveston, a mostly Japanese fishing community near Vancouver, when Japan entered the war. Within weeks, the ethnic Japanese inhabitants of British Columbia – a majority of them Canadian-born – had their possessions confiscated, and were sent to labor camps in the interior of Canada. Ryutaro, along with his wife, daughter, and a few other relatives, ended up in Alberta, where they labored in the sugar beet fields. After the war, surprisingly, the Nakagama family and many other Japanese-Canadians opted to stay in Alberta. Ryutaro saved his money, bought a truck, and started travelling the Alberta countryside, selling tofu, miso, rice noodles and other Japanese foods to Japanese living on isolated farms. He soon established a storefront in Lethbridge (although his application for a business license was turned town many times), and the Nakagama store became a magnet for people of Japanese origin in Alberta.

The store is still going strong, 64 years after its founding. Ryutaro’s son, Ken, runs the business, and still gets up extra early on Fridays and Saturdays to make sushi – using his mother’s rustic recipes – for his loyal customers. About two thirds of those customers, says Ken, are not of Japanese origin: a big change from the early days.

As for the connection of the Nakagama family to their ancestral country, Ken says this:

“Japan, to me, is a fascinating country with a fascinating culture. I still speak the language, and we still practice some of the cultural things that my parents brought with them to this country. But as for me…I’m Canadian.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 303 304 305 306 307 308 309 310 311 312 313 314 315 316 317 318 319 320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327 328 329 330 331 332 333 334 335 336 337 338 339 340 341 342 343 344 345 346 347 348 349 350 351 352 353 354 355 356 357 358 359 360 361 362 363 364 365 366 367 368 369 370 371 372 373 374 375 376 377 378 379 380 381 382 383 384 385 386 387 388 389 390 391 392 393 394 395 396 397 398 399 400 401 402 403 404