‘The Ja­panese maple,’ Koyama em­braced ser­vice

Ken Koyama fell in love with Cana­dian Navy de­spite treat­ment dur­ing WWII

Penticton Herald - - REMEMBRANCE DAY -

In Jan­uary, 1942, the Gov­ern­ment of Canada in­voked the War Mea­sures Act, le­gal­iz­ing the in­tern­ment and de­tain­ment of all Ja­panese Cana­di­ans as “en­emy aliens.”

All “en­emy prop­erty” was confiscated; the RCMP im­pounded 1,200 fish­ing boats, shut down Ja­panese news­pa­pers, Ja­panese schools, and in­car­cer­ated 23,000 Ja­panese Cana­di­ans launch­ing the largest mass ex­o­dus in Cana­dian his­tory.

Then prime min­is­ter Wil­liam Lyon McKenzie-King’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment di­rected all Ja­panese-Cana­di­ans be moved east of the Rocky Moun­tains, re­act­ing to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure caused by Cana­dian losses at Hong Kong, the Amer­i­can re­ac­tion to Pearl Har­bour, and based on spec­u­la­tive ev­i­dence “they could be Ja­panese spies.”

One of the 23,000 Cana­di­ans af­fected by this dis­place­ment was Kiyosbi (Ken) Koyama, an 11-year-old boy.

Born in Cal­gary in 1931,the youngest of a fam­ily of four chil­dren, Koyama spent his early years on Mayne Is­land, one of British Columbia’s Gulf Is­lands, where his fa­ther was a suc­cess­ful fish­er­man.

His fam­ily was “housed” in horse barns in Van­cou­ver’s Pa­cific Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion in 1942. From Hast­ing Park, Ja­panese aliens were shipped to work camps in the Koote­nays where there was no school­ing for chil­dren.

Af­ter be­ing in­terned at Le­mon Creek in the Slo­can Val­ley for 18 months in the spring of 1945, the Koyama fam­ily were drafted to Okana­gan at the south end of Kala­malka Lake. There, Ken and his fa­ther laboured grow­ing toma­toes on poor soil in Oyama. Strictly mon­i­tored , Koyama’s fa­ther was di­rected to re­port to the Ver­non gov­ern­ment of­fice once a month. Too late for school in Septem­ber 1945, Ken worked and saved.

“My fa­ther died in Oyama that year an an­gry man mostly from the dev­as­ta­tion of los­ing three fish­ing boats, our Mayne Is­land home and prop­erty.

“Around 1945, I saw my first Navy man, my first sailor in Oyama, B.C., home on leave wear­ing bell-bot­tom trousers and the rest of the uni­form. I fell in love with the im­age.”

Koyama was the first Asian to join the Royal Cana­dian Navy af­ter the war.

He be­came a “Sick Bay Tiffy” — the ship’s “Doc” — and it suited Koyama’s in­de­pen­dent na­ture. Koyama spent countless hours read­ing med­i­cal jour­nals which ac­counts for his suc­cess­ful RCN ca­reer, from or­di­nary sea­man to petty of­fi­cer first class in 10 years was an im­pres­sive ac­com­plish­ment.

Koyama en­joyed his job. His strength as a Sick Bay Tiffy was his abil­ity to di­ag­nose. But his hori­zons were ex­pand­ing. In his late 20s, he left the reg­u­lar Navy, trans­ferred into the re­serve and was ac­cepted into uni­ver­sity as a ma­ture stu­dent at UBC, then U of T. Com­mis­sioned in the early 60s, Koyma’s last job in the navy was as staff of­fi­cer to over­see pub­lic health on the West Coast. He left the Navy in 1962.

Fifty years af­ter his time in the se­nior ser­vice, Koyama re­flected on how Cana­di­ans re­acted to him af­ter the Sec­ond World War.

“Al­most without ex­cep­tion, the of­fi­cers and the men of RCN dur­ing my time were kind and ac­cept­ing of my Ori­en­tal back­ground,” he said. “As the ‘Doc’ aboard ship, I was treated like gold.”

Spe­cial to The Okana­gan Week­end

Ken Koyama in a Naval uni­form, circa 1964.

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