The Emperor's Orphans

Sally Ito writes about her family being "repatriated" to Japan after the Second World war, and explores the displacement of her family through interviews, letters, and shared memories.

Sally Ito

During the Second World War, approximately 4,000 Japanese-Canadians were "repatriated" to Japan. Among those Canadians sent back to were members of Sally Ito's family. 

As a Japanese-Canadian child growing up in the suburbs of Edmonton, Alta., Ito's early life was a lone island of steamed tofu and vegetables amidst a sea of pot roast and mashed potatoes.

Through the Redress movement of the late 1980s, the eventual parliamentary acknowledgement of wartime injustices, and the restoration of citizenship to those exiled to Japan she considers her work as an author of poetry and prose, meditating on themes of culture and identity.

Later, as a wife and mother of two, Sally returns to Japan and re-lives the displacement of her family through interviews, letters, and shared memories. Throughout her journey Ito weaves a compelling narrative of her family's journey through the darkest days of the Pacific War, its devastating aftermath, and the repercussions on cultural identity for all the Emperor's Orphans. (From Turnstone Press)

From the book

Japanese school introduced me not only to the language but to its literary forms, both high and low. For example, I first learned about haiku in Japanese school, a poetic form that I would return to writing in my later years. I read Japanese folktales I'd never heard of outside of the famous Momotaro and Bamboo Princess. In one of our textbooks, there was a folk tale about a childless old couple who scraped all the dead skin off their body while in the bath and made a doll out of it. They breathed into it and lo, it came to life. They named him, appropriately enough Akataro. Or Dead Skin Boy. My friends and I couldn't believe a Japanese Ministry of Education textbook would contain such a dirty story in it. Here was a Japanese folktale comfortable with frank expressions about the body that we found hilariously inappropriate. However, in the same textbooks, I would also discover the magical writing of Kenji Miyazawa. Miyazawa was a Taisho era children's writer and poet who hailed from the northern part of Japan where the climate was harsh but also starkly beautiful; he wrote imaginative tales of a kind that I never encountered before in English. I would later read his translated poetry and be moved by it also. Miyazawa's writing contained both the wisdom and the innocence of a child; it was a literature that begat wonder, admiration and gratitude.

From The Emperor's Orphans by Sally Ito ©2018. Published by Turnstone Press.