Abuse survivors raise concerns about true legacy of Kogawa House

Vancouver Sun [Vancouver, British Columbia]

July 7, 2022

By Denise Ryan

Esther Matsubuchi is 85 years old. She and her brothers grew up in Marpole, not far from the small bungalow that has become a retreat for writers.

“It is also the former home of (Kogawa’s) father, a priest pedophile who molested hundreds of children,” said Matsubuchi.

Matsubuchi is not the type to speak out about private matters, but said, “This struck a nerve.”

Four of her brothers were abused by Kogawa’s father, Gordon Goichi Nakayama.

Now she wonders why her family, and other survivors of Nakayama’s abuse, were not consulted about the heritage application, which goes before city council on July 12.

Peter Wallace, a representative for the Japanese Canadian Working Group, an organization that supports healing for survivors of Nakayama’s sexual abuse, said, “A lot of members of the community see the house as a reminder of that abuse.”

The report to council mentions the house’s “national significance as a symbol of the discrimination experience by Japanese-Canadians,” including their forcible removal and internment, and cites the house’s cultural value for its connection to author Joy Kogawa.

It contains no reference to the fact that Nakayama abused children while he owned and lived in the house.

“Nobody ever asked any Japanese-Canadian organization what the house meant to us before applying for this heritage designation,” said Wallace. “Kogawa House has positioned itself as spokespeople for Japanese-Canadian history, but their history is just one part of the story. For many Japanese-Canadians, the history presented about Kogawa House doesn’t reflect their experience.”

Nakayama abused an estimated 300 boys. In 1994, Nakayama confessed in a letter to the Anglican Church, excusing his crimes as “sexual bad behaviour.”

After receiving his confession, the Anglican Church retired Nakayama as a priest, but did not report his crimes to the police.

Wallace said he doesn’t personally oppose the heritage designation, but the group wants open acknowledgement of the history from the city in its heritage documents.

On the website of the Land Conservancy of B.C., the house is lauded as a “a literary landmark and symbol of hope, healing and reconciliation for all Canadians.”

“There can be no reconciliation without truth,” said Wallace. “We want open disclosure when we are discussing Kogawa House, that history of abuse needs to be told.”

Wallace said he admires Joy Kogawa, her work, and all that she has done for the community.

“I have (Kogawa’s novel) Obasan, and in it is a note to my mother from my grandma saying she hopes this book can answer some questions about our history.”

It did, said Wallace.

“This isn’t about Joy Kogawa — Joy’s work helped me and my mom understand our history. It’s about the structure that is inextricably linked to the house’s dark history, and that history’s exclusion from the heritage application.”

Anne Marie Metten, founding director at Joy Kogawa House, provided a statement to Postmedia which reads, in part, that Nakayama “did many good things, including helping to build the Church of Ascension in Kitsilano and the Japanese Language School in Marpole.”

The statement also acknowledges that Nakayama had abused children while he lived on the property, and “brought considerable harm to the Japanese-Canadian community.”

“We are now working to position Historic Joy Kogawa House as a site of trauma and healing for the unspeakable truths that happened at this house before the war,” Metten said.

In 2015, the Anglican church apologized for Nakayama’s behaviour, and for not coming forward about his abuse. The Anglican Church of Canada provided a settlement of $600,000 to the National Association of Japanese Canadians for a “healing fund” for those impacted by Nakayama’s abuse, but Wallace said it has been difficult for survivors to come forward.

“It’s a complex history, with internment, abuse, racism. People have lived with this trauma for so long,” said Wallace.

Wallace hopes for more healing for survivors and their families. “The healing fund is open for survivors and we want all members of the community to know they can come forward, and we will provide the assistance they need and confidentiality.”