Uncle Hiroshi


This photograph was taken at the International Exhibition of Photography at Expo 67 Montreal by my uncle, Hiroshi Morita, the diminutive figure holding his camera at his waist. The imposing man holding a camera to his face is unknown to us, and probably to the photographer as well. Hiroshi Morita was an avid amateur photographer, who, when he died a few years ago at age eighty-five, left a photographic archive of thousands of images, mostly of Toronto: Nathan Phillips Square, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Canadian National Exhibition, and many modernist buildings as well as less recognizable streetscapes. My uncle appears in some of the photographs, sometimes his full image in the frame, other times as a shadow or a reflection. The photographs represent a map of his life in Toronto.

Hiroshi Morita was born in Vancouver in 1927 and sent by his parents to Japan at age seven. In 1945 he was living near Onomichi, sixty miles from Hiroshima, when the atomic bomb was dropped. The blast and resulting firestorm killed about 70,000 people, tens of thousands more died in the subsequent months, and there was famine and poverty throughout the region where he lived. In 1949, when he was twenty-two, Hiroshi Morita returned to Canada and joined his parents in Greenwood, BC, where they had been interned as enemy aliens during the dispossession of Japanese Canadians in World War II. There he struggled to integrate into the family. In his late twenties he moved to Toronto and took up work in the warehouse of a stationery company; over the next sixty years he rarely returned to Vancouver to visit his family.

I got to know my uncle Hiroshi later in his life, when I began visiting Toronto as an adult in the 1990s. We often strolled through Nathan Phillips Square and always went out for a meal. His English was quite poor (as was his Japanese) and conversation between us was awkward; at these moments Hiroshi would bring out his camera or his iPhone and snap photos of me or take selfies of us together.

This piece is part of a larger project about Hiroshi Morita.

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