On Nov. 5, the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre will welcome the Re-Enactors, an award-winning heritage performance group that showcases many of Surrey’s early settlers from the late 18th to early 19th centuries.
The performance`s main character, Zennosuke Inouye, was a Surrey business man, World War I veteran and the only Japanese-Canadian war veteran to regain his land after World War II.
Uncovering the past
Inouye is one of seven characters currently cast, with the Re-Enactors performing at different festivals all around the area.
“Originally we had five characters,” says Yvette Dudley-Neuman, writer and director of the performance. “It changes; we could potentially have up to nine characters at a time. When it comes to Zennosuke, we’d been wanting to add more diversity to the cast, to reflect the Surrey population.”
The new character was found in a brochure from the Nikkei Centre, which had a one page article about Inouye.
“I read about him and I thought that his story was amazing,” says Dudley-Neuman.“I started digging at the Nikkei Centre, and was able to find archival information about him, including copies of the 80 letters he wrote.”
Immigrating to Canada in 1900, Inouye worked a variety of jobs. When World War I began, he was unable to register in BC because of anti-Japanese sentiment. Undeterred, he moved to Calgary and enlisted before fighting in key battles including the Somme and Vimy Ridge. After the war, he bought 80 acres of land in Surrey where he raised a family.
During World War II, Inouye and his family were interned along with thousands of other Japanese-Canadians. At the end of the war, Inouye had to fight to reclaim his property. After sending over 80 letters to the government, he was the only Japanese-Canadian war veteran to regain his land.
Dudley-Neuman was also able to connect with Inouye’s family, who were generous enough to sit down and talk about their grandfather. She also uncovered information showing how involved Inouye was in the community; he was the President of the Surrey Berry Grower’s Association and volunteered at the local Japanese Language School.
“To me, the most interesting thing is that anybody’s life can have significance if you look closely,” says Dudley-Neuman. “I hope that people tell this story for another 100 years.”
Connection to the words
Inouye will be played by Kevin Takahide Lee. The performance features three different monologues, each of them representing a different time in Inouye’s life.
“The first is in 1914. It’s his coming to Canada story,” says Lee. “The second is in 1935 when he is going to vote for the first time. He’s now a veteran and was able to buy land. The third is in 1949, after the Second World War. It’s his story of being interned and his fight to get his property returned.”
During the monologues, there will be a slideshow showing photos from the time period that is being spoken about.Between the scenes, there will be interludes of music while Lee changes costume. The music is authentic Japanese melodies that were acquired from Lee’s grandfather.
“This is my family’s history,” says Lee. “I see a lot of my history and a lot of my grandfather in the monologues.”
That point was driven home when Lee went on a tour of the internment camps and went through the monologues there. It strengthened his connection with the piece and allowed him to better experience a history not always touched upon.
“I think this is important because it portrays a history not often talked about in schools,” says Lee. “It allows for important dialogue; it’s something we have to talk about.”
For more information, please visit www.centre.nikkeiplace.org.