David Hiroshi Tsubouchi (born in 1951) was the first Japanese-Ontarian Member of Provincial Parliament. Born in Toronto and brought up in Scarborough, he went to York University for post-secondary school and Osgoode Hall for law school, graduating in 1975. He entered politics while living in Markham and served as a city councillor from 1988 to 1994.
In 1995, he ran for the provincial seat in Markham and won by 25,000 votes. He was appointed Minister of Community and Social Services. During his tenure he was responsible for many cuts to social services, including welfare. In 1996 he was moved to Minister of Consumer and Commercial relations, re-elected in 1999, and made Solicitor-General of Ontario. In 2002 he was moved to Minister of Culture. He lost re-election in 2003 and went back to his law practice.
Tsubouchi’s parents were born in British Columbia and had never been to Japan. His mother spent her teens behind barbed wire. His father, for the “crime” of arguing that men not be separated from their wives and children when they were interned, was sent to a PoW camp near Marathon, Ont., on the north shore of Lake Superior — PoW number 606.
There is something about being marked with numbers that scalds the human soul. Tsubouchi says he’s amazed at the lack of animosity his parents displayed. (Their anger was stifled as a survival tool; in Tsubouchi it emerged as a quick temper and propensity, as a young man, for fighting on the hockey rink.)
After his parents were released from internment, they had to make their “second start from nothing,” he said.
What was lost was profound. What was gained was a deep shame among Japanese-Canadians about their identity. When Tsubouchi was a child, his parents never spoke Japanese at home, he says, because they did not want their children to have accents. He has no photographs or mementos of the sort families pass down.
“Their life basically started after the war,” he said. His legacy from his ancestors is a single sake cup from his grandfather. “That’s what I have left from that heritage.” What he did inherit from his father, however, was the spirit of “gambatte” — which means “do your best” — that was constantly urged upon him.
From his days as a Star delivery boy, Tsubouchi did just that — even though there was always a sense “of being an outsider.”