Writing haiku was an art form that many Japanese Canadians held onto while interned in camps.
In Tashme, outside of Hope, residents there created a club. Thanks to the efforts of one of those residents, Sam Sameshima (1915-2017), the work created in that time and place were preserved. His legacy is an important one, as it shines a light on life in the internment camp.
The story of the Tashme Haiku Club, the preservation of the work, and the translation efforts was all chronicled by authors Jacqueline Pearce and Jean-Pierre Antonio in a story published in the British Columbia History magazine’s Spring 2020 edition.
That story has now earned the authors the Anne and Philip Yandle Best Article Award from the BC Historical Federation.
The story was partly the result of a 2019 BCHF Centennial Legacy Fund grant to translate at least 300 of over 600 haiku poems contained in two unpublished documents written in Tashme during the Second World War.
Located about 20 km southeast of Hope, Tashme was the largest internment camp for Japanese Canadians in BC. At its peak, over 2,600 people were incarcerated there. Among them was Sameshima, an integral member of the Tashme Haiku Club, who saved the documents now being translated. The story included several examples of his work, in both Japanese and English.
“Early haiku written in Canada by Japanese immigrants are an overlooked piece of Canadian social history and literature,” Pearce says. “We are thrilled to receive the award for our article and to share the story of haiku written by Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.”
“Writing the article was a powerful experience,” Antonio says. “It was a very intimate kind of research. The haiku wording can be deceptively simple, but as we translated the Japanese into English, we felt the deep emotions in the imagery.”
Twenty-one stories published in British Columbia History in 2020 were eligible for the prize, which includes $250 and a certificate. A panel of judges chose the winning article, which appears on the BCHF’s website at https://tinyurl.com/3anhdzar.
One judge called the story “simply stunning. Poetry as art, as subversion, as escape, as emotion.”
Pearce is an award-winning haiku poet and children’s book author based in Burnaby. Antonio, who grew up in Duncan, is currently teaching English at Suzuka University in Japan.
The award was announced June 5 at the BCHF’s annual conference, hosted by the Surrey Historical Society and, for the first time, held virtually.
An interview with Pearce by the BCHF’s Mark Forsythe can also be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MTej0aGN-w