When the friendly waitress handed me this plate during dinner at a Japanese restaurant this past weekend, I knew there would be a story to share. Kudos restaurant is located in an old wooden house covered with vines on a tiny street in a small Vancouver island town where I least expected to find a Japanese restaurant. The meal was delicious, the waitress and cook (I think they were also the owners) were welcoming and generous (serving us more than one on-the-house item) . . .
and Maneki Neko turned up in more than one spot.
It wasn’t until our after-dinner stroll around the block that we came across a mural and sign and realized that we were walking through what had once been a tiny but thriving Japantown.
Before WW II, the small sawmill town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island had a Japanese community of about 300 people. During the war, Canadians of Japanese descent were removed to internment camps (losing their homes and businesses), and many did not return afterward. Chemainus fell on hard times in the early 1980s when its mill closed, but transformed itself into a tourist destination as a town of outdoor murals. Though little remains of the original Japanese community, it is remembered in one of these murals.
The owners of Kudos restaurant (9875 Maple St –around the corner from the Hospital auxiliary thrift store in the lower part of Chemainus) immigrated from Japan a decade or so ago, and are part of a new community, which depends less on natural resource industries (though the mill has reopened) and more on arts, culture and tourism, (the town is now known for its murals, eclectic shops, and live theatre).