Joy Kogawa “Emily Kato” book launch at Vancouver Public Library – Feb 27, 2005
Report by Todd Wong

I am still just winding down from a wonderful book launch for Emily Kato. Joy said at the launch, that she had never before had a book launch before.

7:30 pm – Janice Douglas welcomes people to the library, invites them to pick up the library events brochures, and especially invites people to return for Tuesday night (Feb 28) as Max Wyman will be addressing that as we move from the Information Age to the Imagination Age, the role of creative activity is fundamental to the healthy and peaceful development of human society.

Janice introduces the program by stating that Obasan was the 2005 choice for One Book One Vancouver, and how pleased the Vancouver Public Library is to have Joy Kogawa back at the library for Emily Kato book Launch.

7:40 pm MC Todd Wong introduces Joy Kogawa, by talking about what a pleasure it is getting to know Joy through the Save Kogawa House campaign. Todd explains that tonight will be celebratory and that Joy had wanted to ask author Roy Miki and musician Harry Aoki to participate. There will also be a DVD animated feature by animator Jeff Chiba Stearns, to help make Emily Kato come alive by the participation of the guests, to help address the themes of internment, redress, and identity in the book.

7:45 pm – Gail Sparrow, former chief of the Musqueam First Nations, is invited to the stage to give a prayer and blessing for the evening.

7:50 pm – Musicians Harry Aoki and Alison Nishimara take the stage.  Actually, Alison performs two pieces on the grand piano beside the stage. They invoke strong emotions that speak to tragedy and panic of the evacuation and internment. After Alison’s performance, she identifies the pieces as a Prelude by Stravinsky and a Tocatta by Kachaturian.

8:00 pm – Roy Miki is introduced as having been almost born on an Alberta beet farm after the internment of his family, from Vancouver. He is a leader of the JC redress committee of the 1980s, and Todd praises his book “Redress: The inside story of the Japanese Canadian redress movement,” citing its relevance and parallels to the current Chinese Canadian movement for head tax/exclusion act redress. Roy is also an English professor at SFU, specializing in American and Canadian literature and a Governor General’s Award winner for poetry for his collection “Surrender.”

8:05 – Roy Miki says he was actually born on a beet farm in Alberta, and talks about the redress movement and reads from his book Redress. He starts with a passage where people quote passages from Joy Kogawa’s then-new novel – Obasan. He tells tales of government misconceptions and how language is used to euphemize the tragedy and actions to intern and destroy the Japanese Canadian community.

8:15 – Todd welcomes Harry and Alison back to the stage. Todd explains that both Harry Aoki and Roy Miki had served as inspirations for some of Joy’s characters in her books.

8:20 – Harry and Alison play a duet on piano and double bass that Harry wrote in 1943. He explains what it was like to have to leave Vancouver during the “evacuation”, as he had to leave behind his beloved violin, and could only take his harmonica.

8:25 – Todd introduces the next segment by discussing the names of the Issei, Nissei, and Sensei – first, second and third generations of Japanese Canadians. The newest generations had to grow up with a sense of negative identity, not really knowing the extent of the internment as many Issei and Nissei refused to talk about it. Todd tells a story about how Joy introduced her half-Japanese grand-daughter at the Canadian Club luncheon, as being the “future of Canada.”

8:30 – “What Are You Anyways?” an animated short film by Jeff Chiba Stearns is presented Todd pushes play on the DVD player to present the chapters:
“Cauc-Asian” introduces the main character as growing up half-Japanese and half-Euro-Mutt in Kelowna BC.
“Ethnic Roulette” explains how challenging it is to be asked “What are you?” all the time.
“Meeting Jenni” explains how the character comes to terms with his half-Japanese ancestry by meeting another half-Japanese “girl of his dreams”

8:40 – Joy Kogawa takes the stage, and explains how when Obasan was first released, there was never a bad review but lots of praise.  When Itsuka was released, it was the reverse, like an ugly sibling. She explains the challenge of the Emily Kato release – a book that nobody can find in book stores. She talks about why she wanted to re-work Itsuka when Penguin had announced plans to re-release it as a companion with Obasan.

Joy reads several passages from Emily Kato including sections on living in Granton Alberta, the redress movement, and the older Issei growing old living in small rooms scattered across the country. She uses these examples to demonstrate how the Government of Canada purposely broke up the Japanese Canadian community, and how the community is still divided and unsupportive of its own culture and members. All the while, Joy emphasizes what it means to be Canadian and the importance to be respectful of different cultures and human rights issues. She is an impassioned speaker, and her words walk the fine balance of moral sermon, a punishing critique, and an inspirational talk – all in one. Amazing.

9:00 – Harry Aoki returns to the stage to comment about the future of the Japanese Canadian community, how it is disappearing, due to the negative identity, inter-racial marriage, and being scattered across the country. He plays one more song on double bass, with Alison Nishihara on piano.

9:10 – Conclusion… explanations of Silent Auctions, Thank yous…  Acknowledgments of artist Raymond Chow and his painting of Joy Kogawa as a young child, the role of The Land Conservancy in stepping in to lead fundraising for the Save Kogawa House campaign.

Joy signs books, and takes people’s questions.

There is an immediate long line-up to buy books and have them signed by Joy. I am asked where Harry Aoki is by Dal Richards, bandleader and musician, who is interviewing Harry for his radio show. It is a good audience of about 90 people. I meet First Nations people from New Brunswick, I meet poet Sita Caboni of the Pandora poetry collective. People sign up on the silent auction items.

I sign up on a collection of Roy Miki books, but I am outbid.
Jen Kato, signs up for the Linda Ohama print, donated by Roy Miki. It is a good night. I receive lots of compliments for my MC work. Joy signs lots of copies of her books. People are happy, and we feel a good sense of community.

9:35 – Katzumi announces the last call of the Silent Auction
9:40 – we wrap up and start putting things away.
10:00 – we shut the doors and go home.

Cheers, Todd