Sayuri Koyama moved from China to Japan to the Okanagan. (Carrie O’Neill/Heaton Place photo)

Sayuri Koyama moved from China to Japan to the Okanagan. (Carrie O’Neill/Heaton Place photo)

Language barriers can’t stop Armstrong senior from shining

Heaton Place resident shares story of how she moved from China to Japan to the Okanagan

Our sweet Sayuri Koyama is a bright light at Heaton Place.

She’s always greeting the staff with her infectious smile.

The language was a barrier in getting to know her better, and so with the help of her dear friend, Ivan, we were able to learn a little about her life.

Koyama began her earthly journey in northern China on July 4, 1932 – a journey that would eventually bring her to Canada.

She is one of six children, three sons and three daughters, Koyama being fourth in line in the Yamaguchi family.

Her father was contracted to build railroads in China for the Japanese government. What made this an unusual situation was that he was given permission to bring his family with him.

Being a professional engineer with great credentials impressed the government of the day to place him in charge of an important assignment.

Koyama grew up where winters are usually severe with Canada-like winter temperatures – no doubt, a good orientation for Canadian winters later. Her childhood was bilingual; Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.

Her playmates were Chinese as were most of her family friends.

At 10 years of age, Koyama and her family moved to Japan, a country that she was a stranger to. To complicate matters, her father was re-assigned to Korea on their way to Japan.

Koyama wasn’t to see her father for many years, her mother now having to be a single parent.

One day, Koyama was walking home from school when she heard someone calling her name.

When she turned to see who recognized her, she quickly realized it was her father.

Her adjustment to Japan was fraught with frustrations because of language issues, as well as being looked upon as an outsider.

It didn’t help that she was obviously well-fed compared to her classmates.

In her early 20s, Koyama embraced the Christian faith and became a member of a small church which nurtured her in her new-found faith.

In 1972, she was introduced, via a letter by mail, to Paul Koyama, who was the son of Japanese immigrants, living in Winfield.

They corresponded for about a year.

Koyama then came to Canada, leaving her family and friends, to marry Paul.

Her first place of residence was in Monte Lake, where Paul was employed by Tolko.

This, again, was a huge adjustment, especially as it related to language and culture in general.

Customs, food and a new way of thinking each presented more challenges.

She endured the isolation for about three months, then moving to Vernon as Paul was transferred to Tolko operation in Spallumcheen, where he worked for about 45 years.

Paul and Sayuri were married for 40 years, before he passed away in 2011.

They were never blessed with any children.

Her daily routine includes reading her Japanese Bible, watching the Japanese television channel and looks forward to Sumo tournaments of which she is a huge fan.

Koyama has been living at Heaton Place in Armstrong since March 2017 where she enjoys gathering for mealtimes with the other residents and enjoys her suite.

One of the things that I have noticed about Koyama is that despite the language barrier, she never appears to be lonely or unhappy.

Rather, she is always seemingly content.

It has been a joy serving her and having her presence among us at Heaton Place.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Sayuri!

Carrie O’Neill is the resident relations coordinator at Heaton Place in Armstrong.


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