More Memories of Harry Aoki

This is one of my favorite pictures of Harry. It was the first open house event at Kogawa House. And we had a musical surprise for Joy Kogawa, playing “The Farewell Song” from the Naomi’s Road opera, with soprano Jessical Cheung, guitarist Masaki Watanabe, and accordionist Todd Wong. Joy has shared that she based the musician character of Stephen Nagai in her novel Obasan, partly inspired by Harry. – photo by Deb Martin.

This is the Obituary printed in the Vancouver Sun/Province

AOKI, Hirowo Harry
August 22, 1921- January 24, 2013
Harry passed away peacefully on January 24, 2013 at the age of 91. Harry experienced a varied career well into the 80’s. He was a logger, timber cruiser, ski instructor, B.C. Electric systems analyst, teacher, musician, conductor, arranger and composer, recording artist, musicologist, band leader, impresario, advocate for social justice, traveller, and pioneer in the field of world music. During the 1960’s, together with good friend James Johnson, Harry operated a family oriented “folk” coffee house in Qualicum Beach. The duo hosted the CBC TV show “Moods of Man” that featured folk, jazz, blues, and classical music. This was followed by tours of the U.S.A. college circuit with their menu of multi-cultural folk music. In 1978, he was musical director for the opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. Later in life, Harry was honoured by the Asia Pacific Foundation with the “Living Heritage” award in recognition of his contribution towards preserving traditional Asian culture for the enjoyment and enrichment of future generations of Canadians. His vision of intercultural harmony through the arts survives in the countless lives he touched and the loyal friends and communities that he brought together. His passing is a deep loss, but his work and legacy will live on. Harry leaves this world in accordance with his own vision of being true to oneself. No service will be held by his request, but there will be a private family gathering at a later date. In addition Harry’s friends are invited to attend a brief gathering at the Vancouver Crematorium chapel, 5505 Fraser Street, Vancouver, on Saturday, February 9 at 9:30 AM. Harry was predeceased by brother Dr. Ted Aoki. He is survived by brother Tats Aoki and sisters Mary Malcolm and Judy Matsuba. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Aoki Legacy Fund established through the Friends of Harry Aoki in partnership with St. John’s College at UBC (http:/ /, or to a cause of your choice will be deeply appreciated. Share memories of Harry at

At the February 1st Friday Forum…

This was the first session since Harry’s Passing.We played songs and shared stories of Harry. It was a good evening… and I played on my accordion the song “Neil Gow’s Lament for his Second Wife” and Maxwell Ngai accompanied me on violin.

I read Joy Kogawa’s email message about Harry….
“When I was a kid in Coaldale Alberta, the name Harry Aoki was magic to me.  He played ‘Intermezzo’ on his harmonica for the annual CJOC radio talent contest in Lethbridge and I was beside myself with pride. He always came in second behind Dale Bartlett who was the best pianist around. I thought about Harry when I was writing Obasan and based the character Stephen the musician on him.”

I read it from my cell phone… and people enjoyed it. Many commented that they never knew that Harry had helped inspire the character of Stephen Nakane, and others said they would read Obasan again.

The next session will be March 1st at St. John’s College at UBC and it will be a musical tribute to Harry, and it will be Celebration of Life.

Here is a Harry playing Star Dust on his harmonica, accompanied by my friend Joe McDonald.  The occasion was my 50th Birthday party in 2010.  Harry enjoyed himself, and even got a chance to play with my friends in the celtic ceilidh group The Black Bear Rebels, as he picked up Jay MacDonald’s double bass to join in on some songs. – photo Patrick Tam Flunging Pictures.

Service for Harry at the Vancouver Crematorium.

This morning was the funeral service at the Vancouver Crematorium.  9:30 to 10am… but we started arriving at 9am, and left by 10:30am.  There was music playing upon arrival.  It was from Harry’s album with Jim Johnson – “The Many Moods of Man”

Themba Tana introduced himself and explained how that service would be simple with Zen Buddhist chanting.  People were asked to sign the guest book that Harry’s niece Catherine, had created with pictures of Harry’s life.  Ken Keneda explained that people could write their thoughts on pieces of paper, and place them into the open casket with the chrysanthems that each person was given.

Ken then read a note from Harry’s Niece in California… and he placed Harry’s harmonica and eye glasses in the coffin, while Themba Tana played his african finger drum.

After Harry’s coffin was wheeled out of the room… people were invited to say a few words.  Nobody stepped forward – initially.  But I brought up John Endo Greenaway – who had wanted to say that Harry would be featured in the next edition of the JCCA Bulletin.

I had arranged with Ken Keneda to read a Joy Kogawa poem, as I had previously told Ken that the last time was I was at the Crematorium had been for a concert performance by soprano Heather Pawsey, pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa and flautist Kathryn Cernauskas, who had all performed at Kogawa House before.  They had performed poems by author Joy Kogawa, turned into songs by composer Leslie Uyeda.  But I couldn’t remember which songs they had been.

But, I found an appropriate poem by Joy that I could read, titled Where There’s a Wall”.

I introduced it by prefacing that Harry had broken down many walls through his music, friendship, and connections, and strength of will.  Then I closed with a verse of Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Sang – that I had never seen before, that was sent to me this morning – by Harry’s niece

Where there’s a Wall

Joy Kogawa

where there’s a wall
there’s a way
around, over, or through
there’s a gate
maybe a ladder
a door
a sentinel who
sometimes sleeps
there are secret passwords
you can overhear
there are methods of torture
for extracting clues
to maps of underground passageways
there are zepplins
helicopters, rockets, bombs
bettering rams
armies with trumpets
whose all at once blast
shatters the foundations

where there’s a wall
there are words
to whisper by a loose brick
wailing prayers to utter
special codes to tap
birds to carry messages
taped to their feet
there are letters to be written
novels even

on this side of the wall
I am standing staring at the top
lost in the clouds
I hear every sound you make
but cannot see you

I incline in the wrong direction
a voice cries faint as in a dream
from the belly
of the wall


Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.


On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 + nine =