Vancouver City Hall “Joy Kogawa Cherry Tree Planting”

Today, Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell pronounced November 1st as “Obasan Cherry Tree Day.” Campbell read the proclamation in celebration of the planting of a cherry tree graft from the childhood home of author Joy Kogawa. Mayor Campbell acknowledged Councillor Jim Green who spearheaded the tree planting initiative, going to the house with Kogawa last year to take the tree clippings that were nurtured for a year for the planting.

Also speaking at the ceremony was Paul Whitney, City Librarian, Vancouver Public Library, and James W. Wright, General Director, Vancouver Opera. Joy’s novel Obasan was the 2005 choice for the library’s award-winning program One Book One Vancouver.

James Wright said that when he came to Vancouver he was given a copy of the book “Great Canadian books of the century” written by Vancouver Public Library (1999) (ISBN 1550547364). He said that he read about Obasan, and it was one of the first books he read after arriving in Vancouver. Next, he discovered Kogawa’s children story Naomi’s Road, and was so moved by it, he commissioned it as an opera.

Joy Kogawa expressed thanks and gratitude to everybody involved.  She said she was very happy that these things were happening and it was like a shooting star. She also gave special thanks to Ann-Marie Metten and myself, for the work we are doing with the Save Kogawa House committee.

There was a good-sized crowd for the tree planting including media from Globe & Mail, Metro News, CityTV, and Shaw TV. City councilors attending the ceremony included Raymond Louie, Anne Roberts, Ellen Woodsworth, Fred Bass, Tim Stevenson. Vancouver Opera staff who worked on Naomi’s Road included Music Director Leslie Uyeda, Artistic Coordinator Hitomi Nunotani.

The following is the text that Mayor Campbell read from and was presented in a program that was handed out: 

Joy Kogawa Cherry Tree Planting
In Commemoration of the Japanese-Canadian experience during the Second World War

In 2005, Japanese-Canadian writer Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan was Vancouver Public Library’s choice for One Book, One Vancouver, a book club for the entire city.  Throughout the summer people read, discussed, and celebrated Kogawa’s novel and explored the Japanese-Canadian experience in Canada. This fall, Vancouver Opera presented “Naomi’s Road,” an opera for young people based on Kogawa’s children’s book, Naomi’s Road.

2005 also marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Asia.

Kogawa’s book Obasan is one of the most powerful books ever written about the experience of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. The story of Obasan and its message about the consequences of war and prejudice are as relevant today as they were when the book was first released in 1981.

The house of Obasan still exists in Vancouver with a cherry tree that Joy Kogawa remembers from her childhood as “propped up and bandaged, but still very much alive.”

On September 10, 2005, Vancouver City Council adopted a Motion on Notice to plant a cutting of Joy Kogawa’s cherry tree on the City Hall campus as a way to commemorate the experience of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.

Today, we plant a cutting from Kogawa’s cherry tree as a symbol of friendship and to commemorate the experience of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.