Sansei: The Storyteller puts humourous twist on Second World Japanese Internement camps


Sansei: The Storyteller adds an uplifting twist to one of Canada’s more disgraceful moments — the internment of Japanese-Canadians early in the Second World War.


Calgary performer Kunji Mark Ikeda finally brings his long standing one man show “ Sansei: The Storyteller” to the Sterndale Bennett Theatre, tonight, April 14 through Saturday, April 16.


“It really is an honour to be here in these shoes on this stage ,” Ikeda enthused, practically vibrating with excitement.


Kunji Ikeda brings Sansei: The Storyteller to The Sterndale Bennett Theatre this week. Photo by Richard Amery

 His grandparents were sent to an internment camp in the interior  of B.C. shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941. Later on, his dad ended up moving to Picture Butte to work on a sugar beet farm.


“ I remember in  Grade 10 or 11  history there was a paragraph in the text book about the Japanese interment camps, and the other kids in my class said ‘you’re Japanese, you must know about this, ’but I didn’t. So I asked my dad. And he said if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be here,” he related, noting while his grandparents passed away before he could ask them about it, his aunt and uncle’s stories were invaluable.

His telephone conversations with them as well as original CBC reports on the camps are part of the show. 


“Japanese people weren’t allowed within 100 km of major cities because people were afraid they would be sending secret codes. Even in Lethbridge families like the Nakamotos needed special permission to live in the city. But my grandparents didn’t want to weigh us down with that,” he said.


“ My aunt and uncle were very open,” he said, adding they painted a vivid picture of the camps.


“Their stories explained a lot. Like about why they didn’t want to go camping. They’d tell stories of  the wind blowing through the walls of these tar paper shacks they were living in,” he continued.

 He started planning the show in 2009, then started really developing it in 2013 as a way to combine several different arts disciples including spoken word, poetry, multi-media art and modern dance and started performing it in 2014.

“I started examining ways to combine all of those elements. Some people find modern dance to be scary, but it isn’t,” he said.


Kunji Ikeda brings Sansei: The Storyteller to The Sterndale Bennett Theatre this week. Photo by Richard Amery

 “ It isn’t crowd participation, but  there is a give and take of sharing energy with the audience,” he said.


He can trim  the show down to 55 minutes or expand it to 75 minutes. He has performed all over interior B.C And Alberta and even performed excerpts of the show in Paris.

“ In Lethbridge it will be 60 to 65 minutes long , which is about average,” he said, adding the show is a comedy.


“It’s a comedy,” he emphasized.


“It’s had a full life. It’s expanded. So doing this show again is like visiting with an old friend,” he said.


“ It}s the most fun you’ll have learning about Japanese interment  camps,” he summarized.


Sansei: The Storyteller , which is sponsored by the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens runs in the Sterndale Bennett Theatre April 14-16 at 7 p.m.. Tickets are available  at the Yates Ticket Centre, online at and 403-329-SEAT (7328)..

— B y Richard Amery,L.A. Beat Editor