Field Notes: Mayne Island (B.C.) Japanese Memorial Garden, 2008

torii gate separates the super & natural

Map: Japanese Memorial Gardens (on Mayne Island)

Note: further reading and resources at bottom

On a snowy day in Dec. 2008, i (along with the dear traveling companion) visited a Japanese Garden on Mayne Island, one of the Gulf Islands between the mainland and Vancouver Island in the Salish sea.

The garden is absolutely charming, a remix of traditional style and Pacific northwest flair with blown glass “balls/baubles/lanterns” intertwined with the trees and Torii gate, and we had the place to ourselves on a short and stormy day.

The garden was made by locals in tribute to their dear Japanese neighbours who were hauled away to internment camps and never returned.

As it goes, this island was settled with Japanese largely from Tottori-ken, the province across Honshu from my home in Okayama over on the Sea of Japan side where i toiled as a mushroom farmer in early 1990s.

I should know more about this topic but as I understand it: once Japan “opened up” to the west during the Meiji restoration, many farmers & fishers who now somewhat freed from the feudal system migrated to the North American West Coast, in this instance, the Salish Sea area, and set up homesteads on Islands on in which are both/either in BC or Washington state {which may have felt geographically familiar to the “Seto naikai/ inland sea” islands}, as well as mainland BC/Washington (and on down to Oregon and California), started businesses and worked as farmers and fishers before the tragedy of internment camps, (which occurred in both USA and Canada).

For a while, I worked in an office in what was once Japantown (now colloquially called Railtown) and often walked by the former Japanese community school where I understand they still conduct Japanese lessons. {Note to self: dig up the pictures of the Japantown exhibit from the museum of Vancouver which are stashed in some hard drive somewhere.} There is also remnants of the Japanese entrepreneurship and diaspora in the fishing port area of Richmond called Steveston.

There’s also a Japanese summer Matsuri festival held in the area oh, I should also mention the legendary Asahis baseball team… so much to say but onwards with the garden right.

The garden is centred round a pond and lanterns, stones and artfully arranged trees placed intentionally.

…and with it being the festive winter season, the trees were festooned with various glass globes, balls, and bulbs adding a touch of whimsy to an otherwise rather-solemn (in this weather and with the backstory) atmosphere.

Torii gates I rather ubiquitous here in Japan, often painted vermilion red but really most often now made of concrete. Seeing this beautiful wooden structure, along with the perfectly tide bellrope, was wonderful.

In my mind, the only tree that comes close to the Bristlecone Pine for *twisted mysterious gnarliness* is the Arbutus, or is it the Madrona? I don’t exactly know the difference. Regardless, the red bark peeling from the hardwood and the distinct shapes intrigue me. Though looking at snaps, this tree night not be in the garden… regardless, on island.

Meanwhile, after stomping around in the snow and enjoying a very leisurely visit to the park thinking about the brave folks who travelled from Tottori (where I accidentally “returned the favour” years later), we retired back to a cabin with a woodstove.

skylight and woodstove, just like Tsuchida Cottage

While I’m thinking about it: also recorded a podcast story time about a wild incident on Taos New Mexico during the heavy snow storm that knocked the power out allowing for a very pleasant evening around a woodstove.

blessings to the past and future of Mayne Island and the Japanese diaspora such as it is

Further Reading and Resources

FB Group: Mayne Island Japanese Memorial Garden who just shared this event:

sure the event is prob past but you get the gist that this is a topic to explore

National Association of Japanese Canadians recently (Sept 4, 2022) had a field excursion to the gardens (FB Group)

Meandering My Way blog has lovely photos of the Japanese Memorial Garden, in spring and much more about the history of the garden, ergo:

This peaceful garden located at Dinner Bay Park, is dedicated to the Japanese families that originally lived and farmed on Mayne Island. Early Japanese immigrants first came to Mayne Island in the early 1900’s to work the land and fish the coastal waters. They built homes and businesses that not only provided for people on the island, but also for markets on the mainland. At nearby Dinner Bay a saltery was established to process and package fish for export overseas.

Dinner Bay where a saltery was once operational from Meandering My Way

Unfortunately in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, all Japanese families were forced to leave their properties and their livelihoods here on the island and move to Vancouver where internment camps were set up. All their property and possessions were auctioned off and none of the families that left the island would return. These gardens were built to honour those Japanese families and the impact they had on the history of this island.

Blurb: Mayne Island is a small island off the southwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. Information about the island that will give you a glimpse of life on our precious island:

Many years ago, Mayne Island was home to an active, successful Japanese community until World War II, when they were taken away to war camps in the interior of B.C. for fear of espionage. They played a very important role in our colourful history. (See the Japanese Gardens)

and so we go on…

Meta Note: actual trip Dec 2008, draft assembled June 2020, tidied and published Aug-Sept 2022

One thought on “Field Notes: Mayne Island (B.C.) Japanese Memorial Garden, 2008”

  1. Thank you Dave…. For a great walk down memory lane. In earlier times, when Tosh and Don were still with us, I recall those beginning days when we all gathered to do battle with the fireweed (incredible root system) and the garden started to take shape. It was a real work of love and respect for our Japanese neighbours who were so badly treated. Can we ever do enough??? Kindly, JohnG

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