Ken Nakagama’s parents, Ryutaro and Nobuko arrived in southern Alberta in 1942 as part of the Japanese Relocation.

Citing national security concerns, the Canadian government forced tens of thousands of Japanese-Canadians to move from the B.C. coast to areas east of the Rocky Mountains during World War II.

After starting out working in the area’s sugar beet fields, Ryutaro wanted to reestablish his business.

“He had a retail store in Steveston, B.C. and he always wanted to get back to that,” Nakagama said. “His goal was to set up a Japanese food store in southern Alberta.”

Nakagama’s Japanese Food and Giftware began as a delivery service in 1946.

“He went with his truck, taking product all around southern Alberta out to Taber, Vulcan, Turin,” Nakagama said.

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But the dream of opening a retail store would have to wait.

“The license was not granted immediately. There was still actually a ban on Japanese persons in the city, ” Nakagama said. “Even though the war was over, it still took some time for that acceptance to occur.”

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According to Lethbridge Historical Society president Belinda Crowson, roughly 2,500 Japanese-Canadians arrived in southern Alberta through the Japanese Relocation. Part of the agreement was that people of Japanese descent were not permitted to live in Lethbridge.

“I can’t imagine how much it took to go before council and to basically demand the rights that every Canadian citizen had in the 1940s,” Crowson said.

“It took him ten months, but in September 1947, he did get his business license,” Nakagama said.

The Nakagamas moved to Lethbridge and opened the first brick and mortar location on first avenue.

“We became one of the first Japanese families — possibly the first independent Japanese family — to live in Lethbridge,” Nakagama said.

“We had a rooming house and an old restaurant. He built apartments and a lot of the Japanese people coming into the city for the first time located with us.”

The Nakagamas also blazed a trail in other areas.

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“(My father) was the first one in Canada to bring in the Kokuho Rose rice and Kokuho Calrose rice,” Nakagama said. “Back then, the rice that was available to the Japanese community was mostly a long-grain and it was poor quality and actually more suitable to the Chinese diet. When he contacted the Nomura company that developed this company, they were ecstatic because they too were trying to expand.”

“That set the base for our business to grow from there and we just kept going.”

From fighting to be accepted in a new city to celebrating 75 years in operation, Nakagama has one thought as he looks back on his family’s journey.

“It’s pride,” Nakagama said. “My parents started off and… they were like so many people coming out after the war.”

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“They didn’t really have much. They took a chance and my father was able to develop a business from it.”

Today, the store is in its second location on 2nd Ave. South and on its second generation, with Nakagama entering the business in 1977. He expects Nakagama’s Japanese Food and Giftware to remain in the family well past 75 years, as his daughter Kendra is currently involved in the shop.

This content was originally published here.