Books·How I Wrote It

Terry Watada explores the dark history of Japanese-Canadian internment with novel The Three Pleasures

The Toronto-based author talks to CBC Books about his novel that shines on a light on Canada's treatment of its own citizens during the Second World War.
Terry Watada is a Toronto-based writer, professor and author. (Tane Akamatsu)

Terry Watada is a poet, playwright and author based in Toronto. Watada is a Canadian of Japanese descent and his novel, The Three Pleasures, revolves around a dark period in Canada's history involving the removal and detainment of Japanese-Canadians from the coast of British Columbia during the Second World War.

The story is told through three main characters in the local community, Watanabe Etsuo, Morii Etsuji and Etsu Kaga, at a time when the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbour and racial tension is building in 1940s Vancouver.

In his own words, Watada explains how he wrote The Three Pleasures.

Discovered pasts

"I didn't even know about the history around the Japanese Canadian internment until I was about 19. My parents and friends of the family never talked about it. All I had known was they came from Japan, lived in Vancouver and then came to Toronto. That's all I knew. 

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"But then I saw an exhibit about the internment period and I was shocked. The fact they had lived in captivity and under such conditions, I just couldn't believe it. My parents were really hesitant to talk about the past and what life was like during the Second World War. But I kept asking and pestering them about it and they finally opened up and told me how and where they lived during that time."

Shared emotion and experience 

"I realized that my family had this incredible past on the West Coast that I knew nothing about. I also learned that all my friend's parents and grandparents lived there too and there was a solid community during that time.

"Through talking to my family and my friend's families, I managed to find a treasure trove of stories of these people. I asked a lot of questions and realized I had enough material to write a book. I really had an intuition to show the characters as human beings, with a range of emotions and motives." 

Defusing stereotypes

I was also reacting against the stereotype of the Japanese-Canadian as being silently passive and co-operative, particularly in the face of being rounded up and arrested at that time. Surely there were those who were angry about what was happening and having their property and homes taken away?

"I went to a conference years ago and I learned the history of the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group (NMEG), who had, at the time, decided to fight against the forced removal. They knew they had to leave but wanted to keep families together, which seems reasonable, but the government wouldn't let them. That's how I started with the story."

Terry Watada's comments have been edited and condensed.