Roy Kurita and Sharon Lee

Roy Kurita grew up in hard times.  Born just before the great depression, he was just a teenager when his family was confined to interior British Columbia during World War II.  Despite all this, he has kept a positive outlook on life and continues to inspire those around him.

Roy’s daughter, Sharon Lee (nee Kurita) loved hearing her father’s stories about his childhood.  While connecting virtually during the pandemic, she started documenting these anecdotes and as often happens, this project took on a life of its own.  It soon became her mission to preserve these tales for his grandchildren and future generations.

Growing Up Nisei: Boyhood Tales of a Japanese Canadian came together while connecting virtually with your father during the pandemic. What was this process like? 

It was both fun and challenging.  Connecting with a 94-year-old through video chats was a new experience for my father.  We did manage to get it all set up, and we would chat once a week, sometimes for up to 2 hours!  He could see me typing all his anecdotes, but for the most part, all I could see was his head and the ceiling in his room!

These stories were originally captured to be shared with his grandchildren and extended family.  One thing led to another, and this book was published.

Did you learn new stories from him that you hadn’t heard during childhood?

Most were stories he always enjoyed telling us from his childhood days in Vancouver and during the WWII internment.

There were a few new ones.  One that comes to mind was an incident of blatant discrimination, but the boys on his baseball team who were with him, stood in solidarity with him.  I had heard the story about going to play in the city finals, but not of the discrimination.  I think that probing for more details helped to round out the full story.

I also learned more details about my aunt, his eldest sister, who was killed in a bombing raid in Japan and more about my grandmother’s struggles through the depression.

What advice do you have for individuals hoping to record their families’ stories?

Don’t procrastinate!  You might think that you have time to capture family stories or that you don’t know where to begin, but just start.

I had captured most of these stories and my random notes were saved on my computer.  The book got a jump start when my father had a slight stroke and we realized that time was precious.  With the help and guidance of my brother-in-law, Rob Chute, the book came to life.

For my mother, we collected her favourite recipes and those of her children and grandkids.  We put them together in a little booklet with photos of the person who suggested the recipe or a photo of the dish.

As you think of items, anecdotes and remembrances, keep a note of them.  This project can take many different forms.  Don’t worry about how you want the completed memory to look.  It really is the first step that begins the journey.  The finished product may simply be a list, a file of important papers/awards/publications, video and audio recordings or even a recipe collection.  Remember, it is important to cherish the memories and keep them to share with the next generation.

Good luck in recording your family history and stories, start today!