Looking Back – The Origins of the Haney Nokai in a Clash of Cultures

In 2006, William Hashizume translated a manuscript from the Haney Nokai covering the period from 1919 to the late 1930’s.  Written by Yasutaro Yamaga, it is an invaluable resource on the life of the Japanese Canadian community that was 30% of the Maple Ridge population before their internment during WWII.

When Japanese Canadian farmers first began to arrive in significant numbers in Maple Ridge, it wasn’t long before prejudice raised its ugly head.  Seen as particularly “foreign” and with strange habits and practices, the non-Japanese community wasted no time in finding fault.

Hiro Inouye is the man credited with originating the strong Japanese Canadian presence in Maple Ridge.  He was a strong community leader throughout his time here and was a sophisticated and educated man.  He understood the idea of “a clash of cultures” better than most.

By 1919, despite Japan having fought with Canada in WWI, anti-Japanese sentiment was being drummed up in a number of quarters.  The non-Japanese majority – referred to as Hakujin – were not thrilled with the competition for fresh fruit markets while the keepers of Canadian culture were just generally unhappy with this rapidly increasing foreign presence.

Inouye had serious misgivings about creating Japanese-only organizations as he knew they were isolating and would only fuel the sense that these strange people were setting up their own private community.   However, the anti-Asian movement forced his hand and the Haney Nokai was born.

Over the long run, Haney Nokai was primarily an agricultural cooperative.  However,  the main concerns addressed in its earliest days were more cultural than agricultural.  The Nokai members were able to meet to discuss amongst themselves how to address the complaints of the Hakujin majority and also with the already existing  Nokais of Mission, Hammond and Whonnock.

One complaint that had caused a lot of friction was the practice of working on Sunday.  The Japanese Canadian feeling was that being Buddhist, there was no reason for them to abstain from Sunday work.  After many angry confrontations and threats of legal action, the Nokai convinced Japanese Canadian farmers that it was necessary to at least appear to *not* be working on Sunday so any work done should be out of sight for the Hakujin. 

Another Japanese Canadian custom that really grated on the Hakujin was the practice of having women working in the fields alongside the men performing the same tasks as men and often with babies strapped to their backs.  Since the members of the Nokai were all male, it was necessary to gather all the women at one home and explain to them that woman should confine their work to areas out of sight of public roads, particularly when carrying babies. This practice continued with the women gathered together to receive courses on language and cultural assimilation.

In recognition of the importance and contributions of the Haney Nokai to the growing communities of Maple Ridge, a municipal park was named “Haney Nokai Park” in 2012.

Val Patenaude, published in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows NEWS June 6, 2012