This article was to capture some of the highlights of Mr. Jiro Kamiya’s long and illustrious life for the JCCA Bulletin as he and his wife were one of the first residents to be admitted to Nikkei Home in 2002, but unfortunately he passed away in his 105th year in early March as this article was in the process of being written.
The information of his life for the Bulletin article was obtained from my interview with Mr. Kamiya, articles written about him sent to me by his son Frank and the staff of Nikkei Home. Mr. Kamiya truly exemplified our Seniors Health Care motto of ‘kenko de nagaiki’ (live long and well.).
Mr. Kamiya was a person who lived life being true to his convictions; ability to overcome hardships in his life in a positive and constructive way; and to set a high standard of excellence in activities he chose to do. He was proud of his accomplishments and was also a very generous person helping others.
Mr. Kamiya was born in Oshika, Shizuoka, Japan in 1910 and spent his earlier years there until the age of 23. You might say that carpentry was in his blood as his father’s family were carpenters for generations. He started learning his trade at an early age of 15 years and became an excellent carpenter while helping his father who had a large construction company involved in building structures such as churches, schools and government buildings.
Mr. Kamiya learned his trade well and became a master carpenter as an apprentice working for his father’s construction company for 8 years.
He immigrated to Canada in 1933 as he wanted to experience the adventures and challenges of a new country. His sister had come to Canada earlier and was living in Pitt Meadows B.C. After arriving in Canada, Mr. Kamiya worked on his sister’s family farm for room and board.
He went back to Japan after 3 years (as in those days, in order immigrate to Canada, one had to sign a contract with the Canadian government to stay for at least 3 years). In 1936, he went back to Japan and married his wife Toneko. He returned to Canada in 1937 with his wife following a little later the same year. Mr. Kamiya obtained a job with Hammond Cedar Mill and helped out on his sister’s family farm after his regular workday and on weekends without receiving any salary. His wife also helped out on the farm. He built a house on a lot near his sister’s farm and the family lived there for about 4 years. His first two sons were born in 1938 and 1939 while his third son was born in 1946 in Manitoba during the internment years.
In 1941, Mr. Kamiya bought a 10 acre farm and built a 3 bedroom house and he had just completed it before World War II broke out. Mr. Kamiya had to leave behind his newly built house and most possessions, which the government sold the following year for a nominal $800 net, and along with about 21,000 persons of Japanese descent who were interned or relocated away from the coast of BC to the interior or to other provinces.
Mr. Kamiya chose to relocate to Oak Bluff, Manitoba to keep his young family together and work on the sugar beet farm. However because of his carpentry skills, he was hired by the sugar beet company to build houses which were 16 ft.x 24 ft.with a shared kitchen and living room and 4 bedrooms, each measuring 8ft.x 8ft. These modest un-insulated houses often accommodated 2 to 3 families all having to live together.
As the sugar beet season was a relatively short one, Mr. Kamiya asked and was granted permission to take on independent carpentry work near their home. He and his friend Mr. Yamada had 2 crews of 3 to 4 men each. He became well known for his fine carpentry work in the area which resulted in having work lined up for many months.
He was able to purchase a used car after a year or so which enabled him to travel to the sugar beet fields and nearby towns to do carpentry work. He built his own 16ft x 16ft. house with the Sugar Beets company supplying the lumber.
Some 5 years later, Mr. Kamiya and his family moved to Fort Garry where he built a 16ft x 24ft. house which was a much better than the shared one he lived in during the early years of relocation. He and his wife worked on the sugar beet farm on a contract basis in the Fort Garry area as well as he doing carpentry work.
He caught a cold working in Selkirk while installing storm windows in 20 degrees below freezing weather which resulted in his requiring two operations on his ear and also developing kidney problems which required him to spend about 4 months in hospital. Although he had been advised to stay in bed for 2 months after his discharge from the hospital, on the first day out of the hospital, his son broke his arm so Mr. Kamiya, wearing only his pajamas drove to Winnipeg to see the doctor.
In 1947, after regaining his health, Mr. Kamiya decided to apply for a permit to return to BC. He and his family moved to Kamloops in 1948 and lived on his sister’s family farm. He found seasonal employment with a construction company building houses out of town.
Around 1949, Mr. Kamiya and his family moved to the West Coast as he was looking for year round employment. “Although he had never built boats before, he found employment working for Matsumoto Shipyards building wooden commercial fishing boats. His finishing skills resulted in him becoming a foreman in charge of all the finishing work on the interior cabins. He worked building boats for this company for about 9 years. On a personal note, the writer’s father, Joe Teranishi and Mr. Kamiya first became acquainted with each other while working at Matsumoto Shipyards. Mr. Kamiya occasionally came out to Steveston on weekends to help the writer’s father build his house in the very early 50’s.
After working for Matsumoto’s Shipyards, Mr. Kamiya joined a union for the first time so he could work for larger construction companies and was involved in all aspects of construction from layout and set-up to finish carpentry which was his specialty. He worked on many large projects including Simon Fraser University, Capilano College, Guinness Towers and the Royal Center in Vancouver which was his last big job before his retirement around 1976. However, Mr. Kamiya continued to do odd jobs in house building for his friends and relatives. During the 1980’s he helped to build his nephew’s houses on Mayne Island and built his own summer house with help from his family and nephews which was completed in 1988.
After his retirement, Mr. Kamiya was able to spend more time participating in his hobbies which were growing chrysanthemums, bonsai, gardening, 5 pin bowling, fishing and travelling
as mentioned earlier in this article, Mr. Kamiya and his wife were one of the first residents to move into Nikkei Home Assisted Living Residence in 2002 as his wife was not well and he needed more help to care for her. In addition to taking excellent care of his wife with the help from the Nikkei Home staff until her passing in 2004, Mr. Kamiya took part in the recreational and social activities of the Home. He keptup his lifelong interest in carpentry by making chopsticks from the hardwood given to him and with his own tools which he was able to bring to the Home. He made over one thousand pairs of chopsticks over the years until he was 99 years old and donated them to staff, Nikkei National Museum, Tonari Gumi or on special occasions to those who attended his 99 and 100th birthday celebrations. He always kept active and wanted to be independent as possible while at Nikkei Home. He attended exercise classes and also participated in Wii computer bowling (won several championship trophies in singles and doubles competitions). He was involved in doing karaoke until a few years ago and did gardening in his earlier years at Nikkei Home.
According to the staff, Mr. Kamiya was well liked and had a good rapport with the staff and volunteers and other residents at Nikkei Home. He was grateful and appreciative of their help and was respectful to them. One of the staff described him as being ‘like an unofficial Nikkei Home ambassador’ with his warm smile and welcoming way when greeting and speaking to visitors from Japan or other people touring the Home. He would often volunteer to show his suite to visitors touring Nikkei Home as a sample of a typical assisted living unit at the Home.
Mr. Kamiya left a legacy as one of the longest surviving Issei’s who had come to Canada in the early years of the Japanese settling here.
The above is only a brief history of Mr. Jiro Kamiya who lived a long and enriched life .
Written by Tom Teranishi
Translated by Tomoko Koike
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