Fumiko Kariya packed her bags months ago. Her granddaughter,
Michiko, gave her a few pairs of coarse, warm stockings and some
99-cent stretch gloves to wear under her mittens if the rink in
Nagano is too chilly, but Fumiko won't put them on now, even
though mild Vancouver has turned unseasonably cold. Those, she
says, are her Olympic clothes. Fumiko turns 82 on Feb. 15, the
eve of the meeting between the Canadian and U.S. hockey teams at
the Games. She says watching her grandson Paul in the Olympics
will be the dream trip of her life and her last trip back to
This will be Paul's second trip there. In 1991 he played in
Yokohama, in an international junior tournament. He remembers
the rink was new, the food was good, the hockey was fun, but it
was an obscure tournament played before scouts and crowds he
could have counted himself. He returns next month as a rock
star, a fourth-generation Canadian-Japanese playing in the
sport's biggest showcase.
"Paul probably doesn't fully realize his importance to Japan,"
says Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Dave King, a three-time
Canadian Olympic coach who is general manager of the Japanese
team for the 1998 Games. "He's the most revered NHL player
there. Sure, they like Wayne Gretzky and Raymond Bourque, but
because of Paul's heritage, he's the guy the focus will be on.
There's not a lot of hockey in Japan, but they know the game.
The Japanese see themselves in Paul. He's 5'11", not 6'3". He's
skilled and courageous. His presence in Nagano could motivate a
lot of Japanese kids to play the sport.
"I don't know, but maybe Paul took something from the Japanese
way of doing things, at least in the way he has planned his
career. Most players see a goal, the NHL, and all they want to
do is get there as quickly as they can. But Paul's whole career
has been planned around long-term decisions. He wanted to go to
the East Coast to play college hockey, to do some weight
training there and get stronger, and he did. He wanted to play
for the Canadian national team, and he has. Everything's been
step-by-step, even in his contract decisions."
January 26, 1998
On Nov. 30, 10 days before Kariya signed the two-year, $14
million deal that ended his 32-game holdout with the Anaheim
Mighty Ducks, Canada's Olympic general manager Bob Clarke
announced the members of the team in a televised ceremony. As
Kariya watched in his parents' family room in Vancouver, his
heart beat a tattoo. Edmonton Oilers general manager Glen
Sather, who's influential in league councils, had been saying
that players not under NHL contract shouldn't be considered for
the Olympic team, and Kariya, one of the five best players in
the world, worried that Clarke might have the audacity to leave
"My father played rugby [fly half in the 1960s] for Canada, and
I always found it neat to represent my country," says Kariya,
whose miss in a shootout with Sweden cost Canada the 1994
Olympic gold medal. "Besides, growing up I wasn't a big guy, but
I could skate and had skills, so everyone was pointing me toward
the international game. Not that I didn't want to play in the
NHL. That's every kid's dream. But more important for me was the
chance to represent Canada."
Why shouldn't he be honored to play for a country that shipped
his grandparents to a detention camp in the woodlands of British
The checks arrived late in 1988. There was $21,000 for Paul's
grandfather, Isamu; $21,000 for Fumiko; $21,000 for Paul's uncle
Yasi; and $21,000 for Paul's father, Tetsuhiko, whom everyone
calls T.K. Isamu and Fumiko and their son Yasi were uprooted
from Vancouver in June 1942 and resettled in an internment camp
in Greenwood, which is 180 miles east of Vancouver, hard by the
U.S. border. Fourteen months later, on Aug. 6, 1943, T.K. was
born in Greenwood. The Kariyas didn't really need the money,
which was a token of apology from the Canadian government.
Isamu, who died in 1995, owned a Vancouver dry-cleaning business
that he and Fumiko operated for 20 years after returning from
Greenwood, and then he had worked from '70 through '81 as a
purchasing agent for the University of British Columbia. T.K.,
who has a master's from Oregon, was teaching at a high school,
and he, wife Sharon and their five children were middle-class
comfortable. The redress Canada paid to the approximately 14,000
surviving internees did nothing but open a small window to a
distant, surreal period in their lives.
"It never was brought up at home," says Paul, 23. "I remember
being at my grandmother's when the checks came. Really, that was
the first time anybody had said much about it."
"My bachan"--the Japanese word for "grandmother," the name
T.K.'s children call Fumiko--"never went into details about what
it was like in the camp," says Michiko, 24, the eldest of Paul's
siblings and the only member of the family he would allow SI to
interview for this story. "Certainly we knew about the camps. We
knew our father had been born there. But there was no bitterness
on my grandparents' part. They looked at it as a mistake that
Canadians had made collectively. They started fresh when they
came back to Vancouver, but they were never bitter, never
The internment of 23,000 Japanese-Canadians after the bombing of
Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, is a shameful chapter in Canada's
history. (The U.S. impounded about 120,000 Japanese-Americans
during World War II.) Although there was no bona fide military
or security reason for displacing Japanese-Canadians--75% of
whom either had been born in Canada, like Fumiko and Isamu, or
were naturalized citizens--the government used its War Measures
Act to designate them as "enemy aliens" and herd them beyond a
protected zone that extended from the Pacific Ocean to 100 miles
inland. Almost 4,000 were exiled to sugar beet farms in Alberta,
Manitoba and Ontario. Most others were sent to six internment
camps in the interior of British Columbia.
Isamu, who had to give up his job with a trading company in
Vancouver because of the internment, worked for a short time on
a road crew near Taft, B.C., for 25 cents an hour--less than
half the 60 cents an hour Caucasian workers were being
paid--before joining Fumiko and Yasi in Greenwood, a mining town
whose heyday had come during the turn-of-the-century silver
boom. With 10 other families, they settled into an abandoned
hotel in 1942, just as the final whiff of a Japanese threat to
the West Coast ended with the Battle of Midway. By the end of
October, 1,177 Japanese-Canadians were being held in Greenwood.
No barbed wire ringed the internment camps. For Canada, the
isolation and travel restrictions on "enemy aliens" were as
effective as armed guards. The war ended in 1945, and the camps
were shut by the end of the following year. Only the purgatory
continued. The government had given Japanese-Canadians two
choices: repatriate to war-ravaged Japan, a cruel irony and
semantic impossibility considering they could hardly go home to
a country that had never been theirs, or move east of the
Rockies. Japanese-Canadians would not be allowed to return to
the West Coast until 1949, the year they were given the right to
Isamu, Fumiko and their sons remained in Greenwood until 1949,
when they decided to take Canada up on its offer to send them to
Mio, the fishing village in southern Japan that was the
ancestral home of both their families. They had their
inoculations and had shipped their clothes and other goods to
Japan. They were scheduled to go on the last ship, but the
Canadian government abruptly terminated the program. Their 10
boxes crossed the Pacific. They didn't. A vast ocean lay between
the Kariya family and Japan in '49. So it has remained for
almost 50 years.
T.K. and Sharon Kariya provided their children with the most
resolute of Canadian upbringings. They were nominally
Japanese-Canadian in that the boys, Paul Tetsuhiko, Steven
Tetsuo and Martin Tetsuya, were given English first names and
Japanese middle names, while the girls' names, Michiko Joanna
and Noriko Ann, were the reverse, but there were few other
Japanese grace notes to their lives. Any Asian artifacts in
their house were gifts. The cuisine was mostly standard
Vancouver fare. When they were young, Michiko and Paul attended
a Japanese language school a few days a week for three years, a
concession to their bachan, but the language eluded them. The
Kariya siblings, in the argot of the day, are "half-ers."
For the Kariya brothers the only thing that mattered was sports.
Paul, who played lacrosse, rugby, tennis, basketball and almost
anything else in which the score was kept, was so proficient a
golfer that at 13 he almost quit hockey to concentrate on that
sport. Steve, 20, is a hockey star at Maine, where Paul, as a
freshman, won the Hobey Baker Award as the outstanding U.S.
collegian in 1993. Martin, 16, plays Tier II junior hockey in
Victoria, B.C. "The biggest thing with my parents was letting
you find out who you are and then making sure you were happy
about it," Paul says. "You weren't pushed. If you didn't want to
learn Japanese, fine."
"One of the tough things for Paul is that the Japanese community
wants him to be a part of it," Michiko says. "They want his
involvement. The relevancy just isn't there for Paul. To
associate with a group of people based only on heritage is a
strange concept to Paul and me."
As Paul said one night last month in a Calgary steak house, "The
past is history."
The waiters come and go, clearing the last of the plates. If
they recognize Kariya, they don't let on, either because they
are extraordinarily discreet or because he's a household name in
Canada without being a household face. "It's weird, but most
people think I look more [American] Indian than Japanese," he
says. "My mom's of Scottish descent. But you don't hear, 'Paul
Kariya's from Scotland.' I don't care, but it's all part of this
business of sticking labels on people."
For Kariya, labels are things you sew on kids' underwear, not
things you slap on people. He has detested labels since someone
first called him too small. Really? For what? But because his
truncated 1997-98 NHL season has left him fresher than his
battle-nicked teammates and rivals; because his speed, hockey
sense and wondrous timing are an ideal marriage with the larger
200'x100' international ice surface; because he will be playing
in a country that considers him a long-lost son; and because
representing Canada means so much to him, there's one label even
Kariya will have difficulty dodging: most dangerous player in
"My dad taught me to be humble," Kariya says at the suggestion,
heat rising in his soft voice for the only time this night.
"From the beginning, we learned to respect other people. To walk
softly. Not to talk about ourselves. Today, arrogance is
everything, in all walks of life. Maybe this is going against
the norm, but humility is what we learned."
The man who said, "The past is history," over the soup, seasoned
his lemon chicken with the profundity, "You are who you are."
Yes, this is true. For Kariya. For everyone. As his bachan said
about her time in the internment camp, "It can't be helped."