By Andrew Hasegawa

By the time I was born in the early 1960s the long shadow of World War II, was starting to fade. The 1950s and ’60s saw wave after wave of immigrants arrive in Australia, but almost no Asians or Japanese. The White Australia policy still prevailed, and if the colour of my skin was anything to go by, it succeeded. However I still had my Japanese name.

My father was born Raymond Taro Hasegawa, son of Leo Takeshi Hasegawa and grandson of Setsutaro Hasegawa, a Japanese immigrant to Australia who had arrived in 1897 prior to Federation and the enactment of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, known as the White Australia policy.

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I never met ST Hasegawa, which was the way he often signed off, as he passed away in 1952 at the ripe old age of 81.  However, I do know that he was born in Otaru, Hokkaido, was a school teacher, and eldest son. Like many of his generation, he took advantage of the freedom to travel that came at the end of the Tokugawa era and the enactment of the Meiji reforms. He arrived in Australia on the cargo and passenger ship Yamashiro Maru in 1897 to work as a ‘houseboy’ in Melbourne, Victoria and learn English. He later left the service of his employer and started to work in laundries before setting up his own business in the city of Geelong, also Victoria. By 1905 he was married, and the first of three boys was born.

Setsutaro Hasegawa

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In some respects I think the marriage and the arrival of three sons were instrumental in keeping ST Hasegawa in Australia until he died, rather than returning home to Japan. As the eldest son it would have been expected that he would care for his family, as tradition dictated, but by 1911, he was father to three boys, and by 1914, a single parent.

Leo Takeshi, Moto Kozo and Joe were all born with the surname Hasegawa, but only one of them died with it. It seems that life ran along a rather straight path for the Hasegawa family in Geelong until the outbreak of World War II. All that changed the day after Pearl Harbour was bombed and war declared on Japan. ST Hasegawa was arrested and interned at Tatura internment camp. At the same time, Leo Takeshi joined the army while Moto Kozo worked in Melbourne, and Joe was an accountant.

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ST Hasegawa’s Certificate of Alien Registration, 1942 (Photos supplied by author)

The children of Leo Takeshi, of which there were eight, lived with ST Hasegawa in the house he had bought in the 1920s. World War II was a difficult time. The name Hasegawa along with Asian looks brought the worst out in some people, but not all. My Aunt Matsu, a teenager during the war, tells of stones being thrown at her because of her Japanese heritage. While in Melbourne, Moto Kozo had had enough of being called a ‘Jap’ and decided that the easiest thing for him and his family was to adopt his long lost mother’s maiden name, Cole.

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ST Hasegawa, Leo, Leonard, and Matsu

In 1943, ST Hasegawa, now in his seventies, secured an early release from Tatura on compassionate grounds. He was subject to restrictions but allowed to live with his family at 21 Little Ryrie Street, Geelong for the rest of the war.

Little Ryrie Street, Geelong

Setsutaro Hasegawa (right) with his son Leo and grandson Leonard (Photo supplied by author)
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Garden, Little Ryrie Street, Geelong

In those days if you wanted Japanese food you had to walk down to the wharves in Geelong when the Japanese ships were in town to buy wool, and barter with  Japanese sailors.  It is said that while ST Hasegawa was still alive, there were always Japanese pickles in the house. The Japanese community in Geelong was tiny and consisted of four men who along with my great grandfather had married Australian women and ran laundries. They would, I am told, gather on a regular basis to chat in Japanese.

By the time I arrived in the 1960s, the Japanese garden at Little Ryrie Street had fallen into neglect, and the fishponds were empty, the birdcages long gone, and the memory of ST Hasegawa had all but faded. In 1956 after his father died the youngest son Joe changed his name to Cole, and purged the memory of a Japanese heritage. Leo, my grandfather, kept his name until his death as did his three sons.  Matsu, daughter of Leo, was known to most as Sue, the second and third generation and those around them were often uncomfortable with the idea of Japanese heritage.

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Japanese residents of Geelong on a picnic (Photo courtesy of State Library of Victoria)

I often wonder why it was me, a fourth generation who became interested in my Japanese heritage.  In hindsight, I can see there is no one reason, but rather many.  My curiosity started at home as my father had gathered various items that had belonged to his grandfather, including his passport, pocket watch, abacus and other things. As a little boy I can remember him showing me these family treasures and talking about his grandfather. It left an impression on me and along the way I became more and more curious.  At face value I was a little boy growing up in the white Anglo western district of Victoria who looked just like them, on the other hand I didn’t.

My Japanese heritage

It was also an era when attitudes to Japan were in transition, namely it was going from pariah state to being our biggest trading partner, and a source of great interest as its consumer goods, animation and food captivated our attention and imagination. As a boy in the early 1970s, I can remember visiting Sukiyaki House, a Japanese restaurant in Melbourne where most of the waitresses were Japanese war brides and having one of them write my surname in Japanese. It may have been the first Japanese restaurant in Melbourne, and it was certainly my first experience meeting Japanese people and eating Japanese food.  It was in many respects the start of a life long association with the country of my great grandfather.

Eventually I went to live in Japan, first in the early 1980s as a student, and in more recent years as a businessman.  In short, my heritage has become my life.  On reflection, I can see that the second and third generations of the Hasegawa family had to deal with complex issues relating to race and hate, particularly during the war and its aftermath, which led them to shun their Japanese heritage.  It has been much easier for me.

Deakin University Interview with Grandma Hasegawa