Oka Family collection


general material designation


Graphic material ; object ; textual record


446 photographs : b & w ; colour ; 47 objects ; 35.6 cm of textual records ; 1 digital image






scope and content


The collection consists of 8 series. The first series consists of objects that were owned by Kinori Shinohara Oka pertaining to sewing, calligraphy, and cooking. The second consists of two hundred and fifty-one photographs from Kinori Shinohara Oka and her daughter Nancy Miyuki Oka Woodward. The third series titled Oka Family Textual Materials, consists of textual material accumulated by the Oka family. The fourth consists of poetry notebooks from Kinori Oka. The fifth consists of documents that belonged to Nancy Miyuki Oka Woodward. The sixth consists of general papers and correspondence created by Kinori Shinohara Oka's daughter, Betty Masako Oka Stillwell. The seventh consists of documents pertaining to research and writings done by Betty Masako Oka Stillwell. The eighth consists of objects that were owned by the Oka family.





Kinori Shinohara Oka was born in 1904 in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. Her father, Mr Shinohara, was a farmer. She had two older sisters. One of her sisters married and lived in Formosa. When Kinori was fifteen years old, she helped her sister as a babysitter and stayed in Formosa for a year. After she returned home she learned about kimono sewing and biwa playing. Biwa was the folk music of Kyushu, especially in Fukuoka.



When she was seventeen, her other sister who married and lived in Canada came to visit and said her neighbour in Canada wanted to marry a Japanese woman and wondered if Kinori would like to live in Canada. Kinori accepted, and in 1921 the marriage ceremony was held in Fukuoka without her bridegroom, Sanzo Oka. He spent the next few years saving money so he could travel to Japan to bring her to Canada in 1927.



Sanzo's parents bought eight acres of land in Haney and began a strawberry farm after language barriers made trading impossible. After the seasonal work with the strawberry farm, Sanzo and Kinori went to the logging camp in Ocean Falls. She also worked as a cook in the camp but could not manage the work and returned to Vancouver to work as a housekeeper for a Canadian couple until she gave birth to her daughter, Nancy Miyuki. After Nancy's first birthday, Kinori lived in Britannia with her husband and their daughter in 1930. In 1932 Sanzo moved to Powell River and then he went to Woodfibre and worked there until the War began. Kinori came back to Vancouver and again worked as a housekeeper.



Kinori eventually came down with tuberculosis. While she was in the hospital she began to write poetry. After the War began she went to Hastings park with three children, one of which was only a few weeks old. The baby was very sick and lost his hearing due to a lack of proper medication. After four months the whole family was sent to Lemon Creek and there Kinori was again hospitalized in Resbridge. Her older daughter, Nancy Miyuki moved to Toronto. Kinori saw her again ten years later, and at that time Nancy was married to a Canadian.



Kinori and her husband moved again to New Denver, where Sanzo worked as an ambulance driver. They were baptized and Sanzo took the name Paul.



After the war, they moved to Nelson. Sanzo worked as an ambulance driver and Kinori worked as a cleaning woman. Their son, Peter Eiichiro who had lost his hearing, was institutionalized.



The Oka family eventually moved back to Vancouver and started a grocery store in 1955. Mr Oka passed away in Vancouver in 1960. In 1967, Kinori visited Japan for the first time since she left. She enjoyed her retirement, filling it with poetry, church, socializing and her daughters.



An interview with Kinori Oka can be found in Yuko Shibata’s PhD thesis in 2003 called Overlapping Lives: Cultural Sharing Among Five Groups of Japanese Canadian Women on pages 62-65, 75-77, and 84-87.








Nikkei National Museum


Open Restricted