New Plaque Commemorating the Early Japanese Settlers
The entrance to the garden is through the trees from the lower part of the park, near to the small putting green and the public washrooms built by volunteers working with the Mayne Island Parks and Recreation Commission several years ago. Last year (May, 2002), in time for the Lieutenant-Governor’s visit to the island, one of our residents, Hans van Tongeren, made and erected a superb Japanese torii gateway at the entrance to the woods. For a year now this has stood in isolated splendour.
The plaque unveiled by the Lieutenant-Governor last year dedicated the garden to the early settlers. How-ever, it was felt that many people visiting the garden for the first time would not understand why this small island had created a Japanese Garden. So I had the opportunity to design, draw and produce a bronze plaque commemorating those Japanese families that emigrated to Canada from the same small village of Agarimichi in western Japan. The first settler in 1900 was Gontaro Kadonaga who farmed, fished and logged at Horton Bay and St. John Point, so within their own community they came to know Mayne as Gon Island. Most of these settler families were closely related to each other. A number of them returned to Japan in the 1920’s and 30’s, those remaining were interned in April 1942, being sent to New Denver and other points east. Up to this time they had established a close relationship with the white population and were a major support to the island’s economy. That relationship was maintained through the following years, although very few of their families returned to Mayne to live. Many of them have stayed in touch with old friends, and the National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre in Burnaby has assisted us in contacting them.
Through those contacts the Commission enabled many of them to attend last year’s ceremony. It worked again this year, though fewer were able to come. It was a beautiful sunny day for a barbecue (all done by volunteers again) prior to the unveiling that we had arranged to be done in an informal manner. We had earlier moved a large rock close to the gateway and mounted the plaque the day before. First to speak was Ken Chubb, chair of the Commission; then over to “Mr. Gardener” (Don Herbert) who has brought the garden to the wonder it is today; then because I was the prime mover for the project I was expected to say a few words. The following are extracts from what I had to say:
“I am what would be considered as one of the “people from the outside”, or as the Japanese say “yoso no mono”. I am a white man or hakujin. …With a slight understanding of the Japanese way of thinking I have deliberately made an error on the plaque. The Japanese people believe that when perfection is attained it can only be downhill from there on. A certain temple gateway at Nikko has a column that has been deliberately inverted for the same reason. I can only follow in a master’s footsteps. Other possible errors are the result of an ignorant hakujin. …on the plaque I have used the Japanese symbol yasumi meaning “rest – for man and tree”, appropriate when you find time to sit quietly within the Garden and reflect on nature and your place in it. …There is also a well known haiku poem by the 17th century Zen poet Basho about a frog and an ancient pond. An invitation for your imagination to take wing.
Frank Kamiya, representing the Nikkei Centre, honoured the occasion by unveiling the plaque. A fairly large plaque (30″ x 24″) it attempts in an abbreviated manner to tell the story of those early pioneer families and provide a better understanding for all visitors to the garden, and maybe to stimulate their curiosity to learn more. If that happens then I have successfully accomplished what I set out to do. During the brief ceremony the ethereal sound of a wind instrument had drifted through the woods. A short while later as we entered the garden we met the shako hachi master, Takeo Yamashiro as he continued to play his two handmade bamboo instruments, the clear notes rippling across the water. An ending like that is hard to beat.