Terry Watada

Sakura: The Last Cherry Blossom Festival

Terry Watada is an accomplished novelist, poet, playwright and singer songwriter who lives in Toronto. Recognized for his many contributions to writing, music, and community volunteerism, Terry has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the National Association of Japanese Canadians National Merit Award and the Gordon Hirabayashi Award for his work in human rights. His papers, personal, academic, literary and musical have recently been installed in the East Asian Library Collection and the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at Robarts Library, the University of Toronto, and he delivered the keynotes address at the opening of “Being Japanese Canadian”, an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Terry Watada with Kobi's sons
Bob Kobayashi, Terry Watada, Les Kobayashi and Derek Ritschel.

When Artistic Director Derek Ritschel was looking for a playwright with a Japanese background to write a play about Kobi Kobayashi, a Japanese man who came to Canada and made Port Dover his home, Terry was recommended to Derek by playwright Aaron Jan. Derek invited Terry down to Port Dover and arranged for him to learn about the town’s history with Kobi and meet his sons. Terry was drawn to the project because Kobi reminded him of his own father. They were both born in the early 1900’s and came to Canada with their fathers and older brothers at about the same time, and worked in the lumber industry. “My dad, like Kobi, couldn’t speak English very well but managed to prosper and live a good life. There are differences, of course, but I thought that I knew Kobi, so writing a play about him would be a joy, revisiting my dad in a way.”

When writing about a real person Terry makes sure he has all the facts. There are certain things that are unknown and may never be known and here Terry employs poetic license and constructs fictitious trips and incidents in order to explain the nature of the characters. There are various histories about Japanese Canadians including many self-published books just for the Japanese Canadian community and this is where Terry found references to Kobi’s life. Roy Ito’s “Stories Of My People” has a section of Kobi, the “Directory of Japanese Residing in Canada” (1929) has a record of when the Kobayashis came to Canada, their full Japanese names and where they lived. It also provided information about Kobi’s wife and her family. Terry was also able to get information about Kobi and his family’s fate in Canada from a project group out of the University of Victoria he was a member of for a time, the Landscapes of Injustice Committee, a group of scholars working on a seven year project researching the Japanese Canadian community and history.

Kobi Kobayashi planting cherry blossom trees in Powell Park

Terry has decided to structure the play in two acts. “The first examines how Kobi, his brother and father came to Canada and how Kobi decided to stay and eventually settle in Port Dover. I wish to explore the conflict with his father, his conversion to Christianity, his brother’s fate and his adherence to Japanese traditions.” The second act will explore his life in Port Dover – from the suspicion, racism and hatred he faced at the beginning, especially with the outbreak of WWII, and then follow his rise in stature in the local community and his generosity towards and love of Port Dover. The working title is “Sakura: The Last Cherry Blossom Festival” in recognition of the planting of the cherry blossom trees in Powell Park, a gift from the Japanese government to recognize and celebrate Kobi’s life and service to Canada.