The Goat interviewed the last known survivor of the Japanese internment road camps near Valemount after he contacted the newspaper last year. Yeiji Inouye (known as Lanky) was 17 years old when he joined his dad at a camp near Tete Jaune. Sadly, 93-year-old Inouye passed away this June, before the Goat’s Laura Keil was able to meet him in person where he lived in Victoria.
by Laura Keil
Yeiji Inouye wasn’t afraid of being sent to Tete Jaune in April 1942. He was about to be reunited with his dad. He was also about to learn about the remote B.C. wilderness and the ways of the older generation – the Issei.
There were only five youth or Nisei (second-generation who were born in Canada) like Inouye in the Tete Jaune internment camp in 1942. Inouye said the younger ones like him were the gophers – told to “go for this, go for that.” The internees his father’s age did the majority of the road work, while the older ones – in their 60s and 70s – took care of the gardens.
Inouye – known as “Lanky” to many – left Vancouver by train in April 1942. When he arrived in Tete Jaune, the camp was already largely built – there was a stable with six large draft horses, a mess hall, gardens, two bunkhouses, a public outhouse, and a bathhouse. The guardhouse was along the river. There were about 60 people there altogether.
Inouye recalls the public bath – a Furo, in Japanese. He also recalls the privy having running water.
“Somehow they rigged to get the water from the lake up top behind us,” he said.
When he was bored, Inouye spent time whittling a slingshot, which he used to hit groundhogs or other pesky animals the elders wanted for medicinal reasons.
He learned new practices from the older generation – Japanese massage (learning how to place hot pads), acupuncture (learning where to put the needles) as well as a Japanese card game called Hanafuda.
Inouye said the younger ones caught on quickly to the card game and challenged the Issei.
Inouye said shortly before the internment camps, he was prevented from going to school, but for the most part he didn’t feel discrimination. He said it depended though on how – and where – you were brought up.
“I played a lot of sports and that made a big difference. I always believed in playing sports to break the barrier of any place,” he said.
Inouye started learning Judo at age 13 and in the internment camp, he played baseball.
“Myself and some of the young guys – we had a baseball team. They tried to play baseball with the McBride team. I remember it, because we were hot to go and they were expecting us, but then the government said, ‘No, there are some sons fighting that could be in the Pacific fighting area.’ A riot – that’s all you needed then.”
Instead, Inouye’s team had a game with the Red Pass camp.
“It was all mixed – and we have a picture of the team that played.”
The half-dozen guards were World War I veterans. Inouye describes the relationship with them as amicable.
“They were human beings same as us, only they said you can’t do this or you can’t go here… you can’t have a firearm, stuff like that. They said be careful with your camera – they never said you can’t have a camera though.”
“We took some pictures of the camp. The camp itself, no, but people that were amongst us.”
He said if they got short on food, the guards would go hunting for them.
Another source of food was the vegetable garden. Inouye said some of the internees did gardening for a living.
“They had a nice flower garden for whatever flowers they could scrounge and the guards would bring up some from wherever they lived.”
Not having firearms, the internees had to be careful about bears.
“There were lots of bears, that was true. We were very careful about the bears.”
Inouye said he even witnessed some people in the camp making moonshine.
Inouye said, for himself as a young man, the time in Tete Jaune was an adventure.
“I enjoyed it because I wasn’t used to that kind of life … There was no worry for me as far as I was concerned. I was eating, I was sleeping, my dad was there.”
“At that age, you’re not too afraid of anything. You don’t think twice about anything.”
Prior to the internment camp, Inouye had been prevented from going to school and had had to abide by the curfew imposed on Japanese Canadians. When Japanese Canadians were sent to internment camps, the government seized their properties and possessions and sold them.
Before the war, his dad worked mostly in logging camps, State Falls, Coquitlam, and Hammond Mill.
Inouye’s mother, brother and sister had been sent to Greenwood internment camp, and in late summer 1942 most of the married men – like his father – were removed from the roadcamps and sent south. After a short stint in New Denver, Inouye’s father was reunited with Inouye’s mother and siblings. Inouye was also sent to New Denver, though he stayed there for a few months longer than his father.
In about 1945 his family moved to Cedar Springs Ontario.
Inouye joined the Navy in 1948 (retiring in 1974) and taught many of his colleagues the art of Judo. He even had the chance to train in Japan.
In 1957, he co-founded the Victoria Judo Club.
He became the second Canadian to achieve his 9th degree black belt in Judo and refereed games at the World Championships and the Olympics.
He passed away June 26th, 2018.