Monday, 8 December 2014

The Kamloops Kid and Honda-San: Japanese Soldiers in Hong Kong

Earlier in this blog, I'd written about how the Canadians fighting in Hong Kong in WWII led to my reaching a greater awareness of Remembrance Day and its significance.

December 7, 1941, is a date that many of my readers would recognize: it was the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, officially launching the United States into WWII. However, this was not a singular attack. Pearl Harbor was part of a co-ordinated series of Japanese military assaults throughout the Pacific Theatre, including the British colony of Hong Kong. Due to time zone differences, the attack on Hong Kong is recorded as having started in the early hours of December 8, 1941; hard fighting for the colony ensued between the Japanese and the defenders (made up of British, Indian, Canadian and native soldiers, at least) until the surrender on December 25, 1941. The surviving Allied soldiers were held as Prisoners of War until the end of WWII in 1945, and the story of these POWs is what often comes to Canadians' minds when they think of Hong Kong at the time.

But my focus here is not on the Canadian soldiers just yet. With all these anniversaries coming around at this time of year, I feel that focusing too strongly on that can stir up old conflicts and resentments towards Japan and its people. Sounds far-fetched? Maybe. But I have seen and heard such comments in person in the past (including claims that Japan deserved the 2011 Tsunami due to the Imperial Japanese Army's actions in WWII) to know not to bring that up. Rather, I want to encourage you, my readers, to step back and look at the Japanese involved in this conflict as people. Who were they, and how did this affect their actions?

Fortunately, my examination of the Canadian role in Hong Kong during WWII has managed to unearth accounts of (at least) two very different cases: one that falls into the common image of Japanese atrocities, and one that completely contradicts it. Both men are still shrouded in mystery, but please allow me to share what I have found thus far.

Kanao Inouye: the "Kamloops Kid"

Kanao Inouye was commonly known as the "Kamloops Kid" due to his being, in fact, a second-generation Japanese-Canadian born in Kamloops, British Columbia. He appears in a number of Canadian POWs' accounts of their imprisonment as an interpreter with a sadistic streak. One interview recalls him giving a POW a severe beating for pointing out poor medical facilities in the camp to a Red Cross worker, while other accounts point at Inouye's taunts, prophesying a Japanese takeover of Canada, and threatening harm to the Canadian POWs' families in that event. After the war, he was identified by POWs in Hong Kong, and was ultimately tried and executed for treason.

Something like this would correlate with many accounts of Japanese atrocities committed during WWII. However, there is more to Kanao Inouye than initially meets the eye, and much of this depth lies upon his being a Canadian citizen at the time. Like the United States, Canada and its government took preemptive measures to prevent traitorous behaviour from its Japanese immigrant population by confining many of them to internment camps well away from the Pacific coast. This is a dark spot on Canadian history, as at the time, Japanese-Canadians had not shown any indication of disloyalty to Canada, and, like their American counterparts, often worked to actively show their loyalty to the Canadian government during this time. So the "Kamloops Kid", then, was an exception instead of an indication of the norm.

So why did he behave this way if he was a Canadian citizen? As it turns out, anti-Asian sentiment was not new to Canada, and Inouye believed himself to have been a victim of bullying during his childhood in Kamloops, British Columbia. Although it was circumstances that led to his being conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army - he had been studying abroad in Japan there when war broke out - his post near a large group of Canadian POWs prompted a spirit of vengeance. The Canadians in Hong Kong confirm this, noting that Inouye would, in the midst of his harsh treatment of the POWs, make remarks such as, "Now where is your superiority, you dirty scum?"

In other words, Kanao Inouye cannot simply be taken as an example of Japanese soldiers acting cruelly during WWII. His story is also a warning to Canadians and Americans in the present day of the dangerous consequences of racism: in short, racism breeds more racism.

Honda-san: The Mystery Good Samaritan

There is less out there on this man, from what I have seen. I have found several accounts of a Japanese officer and interpreter with the surname Honda who seemed to treat POWs more kindly and humanely than many of his fellows, but, in fact, I do not even know if these accounts point at one man or two. So for our intents and purposes, I will simply call him "Honda-san" ("Mr. Honda" in Japanese).

One account comes from a Canadian officer, Captain S. Martin Banfill, who was captured during a Japanese attack on the Salesian Mission in Hong Kong on December 19, 1941. Prior to the surrender, many POWs were summarily executed, but Banfill was singled out from his men and spared, ending up at a POW camp at the instigation of Honda-san. Had it not been for this, it is likely that Banfill would have died. Attempts to find this mysterious Japanese officer after the war proved futile; a man fitting his description was seen in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb fell on August 9, 1945, but there is no way of knowing if this truly was him or, if so, whether he survived the blast.

A second account comes from Lieutenant C. Douglas Johnston, who was sent to a POW camp after the surrender of December 25. The account of his imprisonment, in full, can be found here. In this, he makes several references to a Sergeant-Major or Warrant Officer, also with the surname Honda, who he describes as "a real gentleman". This was someone who, although known for strict discipline, also engaged with the POWs in conversation and seemed to show genuine interest in them. After the events of the war, Johnston recalls that the Canadian POWs sought to protect him in particular, allowing him to stay at Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel to keep him safe from any generic reprisals against the Japanese.

Are these two accounts speaking of the same man? It is hard to say based on such little evidence (note that Honda is not an uncommon surname in Japan). But, in my opinion, there is a part of me that would rather these be two different people and two completely separate stories of human decency in the chaos of war. Just like a bad apple could spoil the bunch, particularly good ones can leave behind a very positive impression.


"C. Douglas Johnston's Story." Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association. n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2014.

"Kanao Inouye." Wikipedia. 12 Jan 2014. Web. 8 Dec 2014.

"Remembering the Kamloops Kid." Veteran Affairs Canada. Government of Canada. 19 Nov 2014. Web. 8 Dec 2014.

Roland, Charles G. "Massacre and Rape in Hong Kong: Two Case Studies Involving Medical Personnel and Patients." Journal of Contemporary History. 32.1 (1997): 43-61. Print.

"The Kamloops Kid." WWII in Color. n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2014.

Image Credits

Photo (c) WWII in Color

Saturday, 6 December 2014

December 6: A Dark Day in Canadian History

Every nation has one: a date that looms large in the national consciousness as the anniversary of some disaster or tragedy. Oftentimes, there's no need to provide details; those in the know will recognize what happened just by the date. For example, think of how easily we recognize 9/11: no-one needs to explain what took place or why it's important, as it is now simply a part of our culture.

Because of Canada's more behind-the-scenes role in world history, I don't think we have anything that resonates quite so much as 9/11. However, I do believe that Canadians have their own "dark day": December 6.

Not many people talk about it (compared to 9/11 at least), not even in Canada itself. But I would posit this as a suitable candidate for one of the darkest days in Canadian history. Why? Because not one, but TWO tragedies took place on December 6.

December 6, 1917: The Halifax Explosion

Aftermath after the Halifax Explosion (Image (c) Library and Archives Canada; Photographer unknown)
It was, for many Haligonians (i.e. residents of Halifax, Nova Scotia), just a normal day. Yes, Canada was fighting the Great War (aka WWI), and Halifax was a major port city at the time, ferrying supplies and soldiers to and from Canada and Europe.

With such a bustling harbour, perhaps it was only a matter of time before something went wrong. On the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, a Norwegian ship, the S.S. Imo, was scheduled to leave Halifax after spending several days refuelling before heading on to New York. She had originally been scheduled for a Dec. 5 departure, but had been delayed due to anti-submarine nets being placed in the Halifax harbour in the evening. So, by the next morning, she was eager to be underway.

In order to do so, however, she must pass through a channel known as the Narrows. Harbour protocol dictated that ships were supposed to pass each other port-to-port, each taking the starboard side of the channel in order to keep traffic running smoothly. However, to avoid collision with a tug-boat coming into the harbour at the time, the Imo swerved and overshot her turn into the Narrows, ending up closer to the port side than was safe. This combined with her going above the proper speed limit sent her straight into the path of the French ship SS Mont-Blanc that was entering the harbour at the same time.

Map of Halifax Harbour on the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, showing the Imo and Mont-Blanc in their original positions before the Imo began her exit and the Mont-Blanc her entrance. (Image (c)
At 8:45 a.m., the two ships collided.

For all intents and purposes, the collision should have been a mild one. Both ships were travelling at low speed, and had already stopped their engines: it was their continued momentum in the time it took to stop that caused the accident. However, disaster was imminent due to two factors: the collision had caused a fire on the Mont-Blanc, and, being a cargo ship on her way to the European front, she was stocked full of explosives.

The Mont-Blanc's crew fled the ship, but the scene drew a crowd of spectators. It is understandable: on what was just a normal school and working day, a ship caught fire in the Halifax Harbour. It's the same sort of human behaviour that makes motorists slow down upon coming across an accident scene. So many Haligonians stopped what they were doing to go out to the harbour to watch, oblivious to the Mont-Blanc's cargo and what it meant. Even when the Mont-Blanc's crew tried to warn their rescuers about the imminent danger, they were not heard in the confusion.

At 9:04 a.m., the Mont-Blanc exploded, sending white-hot metal debris flying almost 300 metres into the air, which rained down on the city and its inhabitants. The shockwave destroyed the buildings within a 2.6 kilometre radius, but damage stretched far further to nearby communities and was felt in the other maritime provinces. On top of this, the explosion vaporized most of the water in the harbour, and the seawater rushing in to replace it swelled into a tsunami wave 16 metres high.

Halifax two days after the Explosion (Image in Public Domain, found via Wikimedia Commons)
All things told, 1,600 people were killed and 9,000 injured. Not only did this include dockworkers and sailors, but many civilians as well. Particularly horrific in hindsight is the fate of those who watched the Mont-Blanc's fire from their windows as the force of the explosion shattered the glass, blinding many people. The Halifax Explosion was the largest artificial explosion at the time, and would remain so until WWII and the development of nuclear technology. While Halifax has rebuilt itself since then and is now once again a major maritime city, the Halifax Explosion is still a major component of Canada's history: wartime and otherwise.

December 6, 1989: The École Polytechnique Massacre

Chances are, if there's one major Canadian disaster that took place on Dec. 6 that you'll be hearing about on the news, it's this one. Why? Because the events of the École Polytechnique Massacre led to December 6 now being memorialized in Canada as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Perhaps that name alone suggests where this is going, but in short: this is the deadliest school shooting in Canadian history.

The École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, as it appears today. (Photograph by MyName(Slp1) on Wikimedia Commons, Image used according to Creative Commons 3.0)
So what does a school shooting have to do with violence against women? It comes down to the shooter and his actions. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lépine, aged 25, made his way to École Polytechnique, a post-secondary engineering school affiliated with the University of Montreal. There, he entered a classroom filled with approximately 60 students where a mechanical engineering class was in progress. This is where the violence against women aspect becomes apparent. After gaining control of the classroom, he ordered male and female students to opposite sides of the room. Then, after ordering the male students out of the room, he opened fire on the remaining 9 women, saying, "You're women, you're going to be engineers. You're all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists." Of his victims in that classroom, 6 were killed and the 3 others wounded.

After this, Lépine continued on through the school, aiming his attacks at classrooms, students in the corridors, and a cafeteria, before shooting himself in the head. In total, 14 women (13 students and one employee) were dead, and another 14 people (including 4 men) were injured.

Commemorative Plaque at École Polytechnique listing the names of the deceased. (Image in Public Domain, found via Wikimedia Commons)
In the aftermath of the massacre, a suicide note was found in which Lépine reiterated his anti-feminist rhetoric. His view was that through feminism, women would retain their existing benefits from society and the government as well as claiming those that also belonged to men. In other words, and in my opinion, he confused feminism with misandry, and felt that any woman who sought a higher education (such as these students) or a career outside of what was traditionally feminine was a radical feminist and would ruin his own opportunities in life.

It's no wonder then that the anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre has become a day for remembrance, then, as Canadians continue to raise awareness of violent acts against women in general. However, I wonder if Lépine realized the coincidence his choice of date was creating. December 6 was already an infamous day in Canada - and he made it even more so.


"École Polytechnique Massacre." Wikipedia. 6 Dec 2014.

"Halifax Explosion." Wikipedia. 6 Dec. 2014. 6 Dec. 2014.


All images used under Creative Commons 3.0, individual credits in the captions

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Six Months In: Things I've Learned as a Gallery Interpreter at the Royal Ontario Museum

In terms of my volunteer work at the Royal Ontario Museum, I have recently hit a personal milestone: I have completed my time as what's called a provisional Gallery Interpreter (i.e. a trainee volunteer) and am now officially an active member of the ROM's Department of Museum Volunteers. I do get some perks from this: best one being my own ID badge/key card so I don't need to trouble fellow volunteers to let me in each time I show up for a shift.

The ROM's famous Rotunda Ceiling mosaic. The text reads: THAT ALL MEN MAY KNOW HIS WORK
So what's a Gallery Interpreter, you ask? What we do is go out into the galleries with a small specimen or artifact that visitors could interact with. Engagements take the form of a short Q&A session, where we use guiding questions to offer information about both the object(s) we have, and the surrounding relevant museum displays. I myself spend most of my time in the two Canadian galleries at the ROM - the Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples; and the Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada - with one specimen each: a miniature replica birchbark canoe in the first, and a late 19th-century French-Canadian maple sugar mould in the latter.

A "period room" set up in the style of 16th century England in the Samuel European Galleries at the ROM. This is an example of one of my favourite parts of the museum, albeit not where I actually work.
Officially, I have only been a Gallery Interpreter since this past July, but before that, there had been more rigorous training where I had gone out into the galleries accompanied by a more experienced GI (as we're called for short), meaning that I have been out and about in those galleries for approximately half a year by this point. And in this half a year, I have learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way: things that I am sharing with you now as some of my favourite highlights thus far in my life as a Gallery Interpreter at the ROM.

1. Nothing quite beats working with historical objects.

Especially when said objects just happen to be particularly old, or beautiful, or relevant to your field of interest. I still remember when, in the early stages of my training (i.e. before I was even in the galleries), I was given a demo from an instructor on how one of these Q&A sessions would work. The gentleman had a piece of mosaic with him, and I was to pose as the "visitor". I knew going into the dialogue that the mosaic was used in the ROM's Ancient Roman gallery, but imagine my surprise when I discovered that the fragment I was handling was actually 2,000 years old, and a genuine artifact! And since our initial training included objects from both the ROM's Natural History and World Culture collections, I'm sure that's not even the oldest thing I handled by the time I was done.

2. The fascination applies to visitors as well.

I daresay some of the giddiness that comes from working with historical artifacts might seem to come just from my being somewhat of a history enthusiast. However, it's not just me or fellow museum volunteers and employers who get like that: the visitors do, too. For instance, while the miniature birchbark canoe I work with is a replica, I stand near some First Nations birchbark canoes that are well over a hundred years old. And people love it when I point that out!

One of the original First Nations birchbark canoes at the ROM. I work with a smaller, miniature version when I chat with visitors.
The same sort of thing happens with the maple sugar mould as well. Many visitors are fascinated by the fact that not only am I holding an artifact from the late 19th century, but that (with gloves and my supervision) they are welcome to touch it as well. GIs are trained to make sure that artifacts are handled with care at all times (for example: cupping our hands below the visitor's to catch any objects that might fall), so it's a fun and safe experience for everyone involved.

3. Some people just want to be taught.

I've seen this a number of times already in the past six months. The intent for the GIs is to engage with visitors in a conversation, and the Q&A idea stems from that. However, I have had several instances where visitors who are interested don't want the preamble. They'll come right up to me, point at what I'm holding, and ask, "What is that?" Depending on the overall tone of the conversation so far, I sometimes respond by asking for guesses, but it certainly has happened where I end up just telling them directly, and the visitor is very appreciative for the information. This happens a lot with the maple sugar mould in particular, since it's not as immediately recognizable an object as the birchbark canoe. I can see how trying to guess what it is can be rather intimidating, actually.

19th-century French-Canadian maple sugar moulds at the ROM.

4. Sometimes, I am the one who gets taught - and that's even better.

Just about every single GI has had an encounter like this: a visitor comes by who turns out to be an expert in the field relating to the object in question. I hear a lot of these stories coming from the Natural History sections of the ROM in particular, especially relating to children who are currently in their dinosaur/animal enthusiast stage.

I myself have had a similar experience with the miniature birchbark canoe. One woman I met turned out, in fact, to be First Nations herself (specifically Ojibway) and made similar miniature canoes as a hobby. So she was the one telling me a lot about the process she used: soaking the birchbark to make it pliable, sewing it with sinew (the ROM's replica uses thread), and even beading her canoes for decoration. That was definitely a rewarding experience, and I hope to have more in the future!

5. Being a GI can be a great chance for cultural exchange.
Folk musicians from the ROM's Polish Heritage Day in the summer of 2014, one of many such Heritage Days devoted to Canada's many ethnic communities as part of the ROM's summer activities.
 The ROM receives visitors from all over the world - and even if it didn't, Canada is a sufficiently multicultural nation for us to meet visitors from all sorts of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. What this means is that some of the conversations I have had as a GI focus around comparisons between cultures: Canadian and the visitor's culture of origin.

Some such instances that come to my mind right now include a Swedish visitor talking about woodworking techniques while looking at the birchbark canoes, an East Asian family comparing the qualities of birchbark as a construction material compared to bamboo, a Brazilian family comparing the handiwork of Canada's First Nations peoples with their own indigenous crafts, yet another Brazilian visitor telling me about how rubber is made from tree sap harvested like Canada's maple sap is, and visitors from maple-producing parts of the United States giving me tips and pointers on some of the inner workings of the business.

And that's just scratching the surface!

6. Sometimes, the visitor's more interested in me than in the objects.

I've had cases where overseas tourists are more interested in sharing to me about their thoughts on their trip to Canada thus far than anything directly related to the objects I'm working with. And that's fine - if everyone is comfortable and at ease, I am more than willing to listen and, hopefully, provide further positive memories for them to bring home.

There's also been one occasion where I was in the First Peoples gallery with the birchbark canoe, and a visitor asked me if I was First Nations myself. I told him that no, I wasn't; I'm actually Chinese. He was surprised, since he thought that if I was working in a First Nations-related gallery, I would likely have to be First Nations myself. That's the sort of question that gave me pause to think for quite a long time afterwards.

7. Because, like it or not, politics does get involved sometimes.

Perhaps this is a lesson that's rather gallery-specific, as I have only had this sort of thing happen to me when I'm in the First Peoples gallery. Many visitors are genuinely curious about the place that the First Peoples have in Canada, and I, being a visible ROM worker, naturally become a magnet for those questions.

Modern-art sculpture inspired by the traditional Plains First Nations eagle feather headdress: the wapaha.
 This is especially the case since the history of Canada's First Peoples is a painful one: one that is based on what once was a form of cooperation between Native Peoples and Europeans, but that degenerated into oppression and discrimination before now steadily working towards some form of reconciliation and recognition. So it's understandable that some visitors are concerned, for instance, that the ROM is presenting a colonialist view on the history - particularly since so many of our artifacts come from 19th and early 20th century European donors. Other times, however, I am met with surprise that the First Peoples and their cultures have survived through the tribulation into the present day: their view was that this had all been in the past, but the ROM is careful to show the First Peoples in the present as well.

In both cases, I respond the same way: acknowledge the questions and comments, but encourage the visitors to direct them to the actual ROM curators, who could give more thorough answers than me. Particularly in the former case, things can get very touchy, very fast; and as a GI, I'm not in the position to actually discuss the ROM's political stance. So I pass it on, and hope for the best.

I will, however, reveal this much: the First Peoples gallery at the ROM was designed with the input of many First Nations advisers, and the ROM has been careful to make sure that all the current interpretations and commentaries shown are actually from a Native perspective.

Six months in, and I've already learned so much. Who knows where I'll be after another six!


All photographs from the Royal Ontario Museum, taken by Kita Inoru