(Post by Todd Wong)
It was a good event for the launch of Naomi’s Tree. So good that all the books that had been delivered in advance to Kidsbooks sold out. We were holding two extra copies, so I passed them on to two people who didn’t have any. They were both very thankful.
One of them, an Asian women said she had met me before. She was a cousin of Joy’s, and we had met once at a dinner, then again at the Church when Joy’s brother Rev. Timothy Nakamura came to speak. It was nice to see her again, and I am glad that she had a book that Joy could sign for her, and take home with her children.
When Joy performed her reading, she told the audience of children and adults that she had fallen in love with a tree. It was a special “Friendship Tree” – a cherry blossom tree.
She explained that she had a special unbound copy of the Naomi’s Tree. She could hold it up and show the beautiful pictures by Ruth Ohi, while she read the words on the other side of the page.
It’s a beautiful story that spans across an ocean, beginning in the “Land of Morning” – Japan, and travels over the Pacific Ocean to the “Land Across the Sea” – Canada. The story also spans many generations. And along the way it also briefly tells about the internment of Japanese Canadians during WW2.
But the story is also about forgiveness, remembering and love.
It’s been almost 3 years since I got to know Joy during the May 2005, when One Book One Vancouver chose Obasan to become it’s literary selection for that summer. It’s been a pleasure becoming friends with Joy, as we have shared the fears of her childhood home being threatened by demolition, and the joys of watching Vancouver Opera Touring Ensemble’s production of “Naomi’s Road” – her children’s novel as a mini-opera. After the reading, Joy signed a copy for me.
My brother Tim and I were born in Canada, in Vancouver, B.C. When I was six years old in 1942, our family along with the entire Japanese-Canadian community on the West Coast were classified as enemy aliens and removed from our homes. All our property was confiscated. Following WW2, the community was destroyed by the government’s dispersal policy, which scattered us across Canada.
On August 27, 2003, I discovered that my old family home, with the cherry tree still standing in the backyard, was for sale. On November 1, 2005, which was dcalred Obasan Cherry Tree Day, Councilor Jim Green and I planted a cutting from the cherry tree at Vancouver City Hall. On June 1, 2006, after a short intense campaign, the Land Conservancy of B.C., with the help of the Save Joy Kogawa House Committeee, purchased the house for a writers’ center. The cherry tree, sadly was fatally ill, but a new Friendship Tree grown from a cutting of the old tree was planted on the property. To this day, children can visit the Friendship Trees at Vancouver City Hall and at my childhood home, at 1450 West 64th Avenue.
I would like to thank with profound appreciation the work of the Save Joy Kogawa House Committee, the Land Conservancy of B.C., the writers’ organizations, school children, and others too numerous to mention. Without the initial vision and heroic labor of Anton Wagner and Chris Kurata in Toronto and Ann-Marie Metten and Todd Wong in Vancouver, the house and tree would not have been saved. In particular, I wish to thank members of the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society for their ongoing commitment. Finally, I offer my deep gratitude to my dear friend, Senator Nancy Ruth, whose action made all the difference.