Migration and Settlement
The first known immigrant from Japan, Manzo Nagano, arrived in British Columbia in 1877, and by 1914, 10 000 people of Japanese ancestry had settled permanently in Canada. The 2006 census estimated that there were 98 900 Canadians of Japanese ancestry, .3% of the Canadian population (56 470 listed single ancestry and 42 430 listed multiple ancestry). More than 90% of the people of Japanese descent live in 3 provinces: British Columbia (42%), Ontario (35%), and Alberta (14%).
The first wave of Japanese immigrants, called Issei (first generation), arrived between 1877 and 1928. Until 1907 almost all immigrants were young men. In 1907, at Canada's insistence, Japan limited the migration of males to Canada to 400 per year. As a result, most immigrants thereafter were women joining their husbands or unmarried women who were betrothed to men in Canada. In 1928, Canada further restricted Japanese immigration to 150 persons annually, a quota seldom met. In 1940, during the SECOND WORLD WAR, Japanese immigration stopped altogether, and it did not resume until the mid-1960s.
The Issei were usually young and literate; many were from fishing and farming villages on the southern islands of Kyushu and Honshu, however, the Issei also migrated from other parts of Japan. Most settled in or near Vancouver and Victoria, on farms in the Fraser Valley and in fishing villages and pulp-mill towns along the Pacific coast. A few hundred also settled in Alberta, near Lethbridge and Edmonton.
The second wave of Japanese immigration began in 1967 when the Immigration Act was amended to institute a point system, based on specific social and economic characteristics. The point system favoured immigrants from industrialized cities who were educated and knew either the English or French language. Many Japanese immigrants to Canada during this period worked in the service sector and skilled trades.
In the 2006 census, 21 615 Japanese Canadians declared that they were "immigrants"; of these, 14 690 were women, who thus outnumbered male immigrants from Japan.
With almost 100 years' difference between the commencement of the 2 waves of migration, the group known as Japanese-Canadian is in fact historically divided among those whose ancestors immigrated in the pre-Second World War period and those who immigrated in the 1960s and later.
A History of Racism
Japanese Canadians, both Issei immigrants and their Canadian-born children, called Nisei (second generation), have faced prejudice and discrimination. Until the late 1940s, BC politicians pandered to white supremacists and passed a series of laws intended to force Japanese Canadians to leave Canada. All Japanese Canadians were denied the right to vote and laws excluded them from some professions, the civil service and the practice of law. Labour and minimum-wage laws ensured that employers hired Asian Canadians for menial jobs and at lower rates of pay than were accorded to Caucasians.
In the 1920s, the federal government tried to exclude Japanese Canadians from their traditional livelihood of fishing by limiting the number of their fishing licences. During the GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930s, the BC government denied them logging licences and paid Japanese Canadians only a fraction of the social assistance paid to Whites.
Excluded from Canadian society, Japanese Canadians before the Second World War congregated in their own enclaves and developed their own social, religious and economic institutions. On Powell St. in Vancouver, in Steveston, Mission City and other Fraser Valley villages, and in coastal centres such as Powell River, Tofino and Prince Rupert, Japanese Canadians built Christian churches and Buddhist temples, Japanese language schools and community halls, and hospitals staffed by Japanese Canadian doctors and nurses trained in the US and Japan. They formed co-operative associations to market their produce and fish, and community and cultural associations for self-help and social events. By 1941, there were more than 100 clubs and organizations within a tightly knit community of 23 000 individuals, half of whom were children.
In the 1930s, many Japanese Canadians aspired to acquire education and employment in a variety of professions. However, racism prevented even university-educated Nisei from obtaining employment outside the Japanese Canadian enclaves; outside those enclaves they could work only as manual labourers. Some Nisei looked outside their native provinces for employment options; BC-born Thomas K. SHOYAMA, for example, became a prominent civil servant in Saskatchewan, later holding many senior positions in the federal government.
Japanese Canadians also organized to challenge the denial of their right to vote. In 1900, Tomekichi Homma launched a legal case to have his name entered on the voters' list. In 1901, the BC Supreme Court ruled in his favour; however, in 1902 the Privy Council in England overturned the Court's ruling. Although the federal government did not support the enlistment of Issei men during the First World War, some Issei men persisted and in 1916, the first group was sent overseas. Of the 222 men who served, 54 were killed and 13 men received the Military Medal of Bravery. Despite their demonstration of loyalty to Canada, the Issei veterans had to fight another battle on the home front, to win the right to vote. In 1931, the federal government eventually granted the franchise only to the Issei veterans. Another attempt to acquire the vote was launched in 1936 when a delegation of Japanese Canadians went to Ottawa to speak before the Special Committee on Elections and Franchise Acts. Despite their presentation the federal government upheld the denial of the franchise.
Several Nisei men followed in the footsteps of the Issei veterans and fought to enlist before and during the Second World War; however, only 32 Nisei (most of whom lived outside of BC) were allowed to enlist in regular service. In 1945, 119 additional Nisei men, most of whom had been expelled from their homes in BC and whose families were in detention sites, enlisted in the Canadian Intelligence Corps. It was only in 1949 that these Nisei men were given the franchise along with other Japanese Canadians.
Expulsion, Detention, Dispossession, Deportation, and Dispersal
The policies of the federal government during and after the Second World War destroyed the Japanese Canadian community in BC. Twelve weeks after 7 Dec 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and later Hong Kong, the federal government, at the instigation of racist BC politicians, used the WAR MEASURES ACT to order the removal of all Japanese Canadians residing within 160 kilometres of the Pacific coast. At the time the government claimed that Japanese Canadians were being removed for reasons of "national security," despite the fact that the removal order was opposed by Canada's senior military and RCMP officers who stated that Japanese Canadians posed no threat to Canada's security.
In 1942, some 20 881 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry, 75% of whom were Canadian citizens, were removed from their homes. More than 8000 were moved to a temporary detention camp (where women and children were held in a livestock building) at the Pacific National Exhibition Grounds in Vancouver. The detainees were shipped to detention camps in the interior of BC, sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba, road camps in BC and Ontario, or prisoner-of-war camps in Ontario. Between 1943 and 1946, the federal government sold all Japanese-Canadian-owned property - homes, farms, fishing boats, businesses and personal property - and deducted from the proceeds any social assistance received by the owner while confined and unemployed in a detention camp. In 1945, Japanese Canadians were forced to choose between deportation to war-ravaged Japan or dispersal east of the Rocky Mountains. Most chose the latter, moving to Ontario, Québec and the Prairie provinces. In 1946, after the war was over, the government attempted to deport 10 000 Japanese Canadians to Japan but was stopped by a massive public protest from all parts of Canada, supported by the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION. Nevertheless, 4000 Japanese Canadians, more than half of whom were Canadian citizens, were deported to Japan. On 1 Apr 1949, Japanese Canadians were given the franchise and the legal restrictions used to control the movement of Japanese Canadians were removed. With their freedom re-established, some moved back to British Columbia, but due to the hardships suffered, most Japanese Canadians who were expelled from the coast did not return to BC.
In the 1950s, Japanese Canadians struggled to rebuild their lives but, scattered across Canada, could not rebuild their communities. The third generation, the Sansei (San-say), born between the 1940s and 1960s, grew up in families and communities that had been reconstituted in overwhelmingly White-dominated areas. The remnants of the pre-war Japanese Canadian community persisted only in 3 newspapers and a few churches, temples and community clubs in the largest cities. Scattered, without contact during their youth with other Japanese Canadians, many of the Sansei speak English and/or French but little or no Japanese, and have little knowledge of Japanese culture, past or present.
Today Japanese Canadians work in many different occupations, including the service sector, manufacturing, business, teaching, the arts, academia, and other professions. The changes since the Second World War are perhaps best illustrated by the fact that more than 75% of the Sansei have married non-Japanese.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, redress of the wrongs suffered at the hands of politicians during the Second World War was the primary issue that first divided and then unified Japanese Canadians. Armed with published histories of their wartime experiences based on government documents that were finally released after 30 years, the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) sought to persuade the federal government to acknowledge wartime wrongs, to negotiate compensation for those who were wronged and, most importantly, to change Canada's laws to prevent other Canadians from suffering similar wrongs.
The campaign initially divided some Japanese Canadians. A small group, centred in Toronto, considered accepting a group settlement of $6 million, offered in 1984 by the Conservative government. They viewed this settlement as politically realistic and feared retaliation against Japanese Canadians if they demanded more. A second, nationally representative group, led by NAJC president Art Miki, viewed it as a token offer and a continuation of the wartime attitude that Japanese Canadians could be treated as an amorphous group on whom a settlement could be imposed.
To the leaders of the NAJC, a just process of negotiation was as important as achieving redress. They wanted a negotiated, not an imposed, settlement and a monetary acknowledgement that their rights had been abused. Between 1984 and 1988, the NAJC held seminars, house meetings and conferences; lobbied and petitioned the government; worked with First Nations, ethnic, religious and human rights groups; and composed and distributed studies and press materials to educate politicians, Japanese Canadians and the general public. One study revealed that the economic losses from the wartime property confiscation were $443 million in 1986 dollars.
By 1986, polls showed that 63% of Canadians supported redress and 45% favoured individual compensation. In 1988, faced with the groundswell of support for redress, the government agreed to negotiate with the NAJC. In 1988, the War Measures Act was revoked and replaced with the Emergencies Act, which prohibits discriminatory emergency orders, permits Parliament to override the emergency orders of the government, requires an inquiry into the actions of the government after any emergency and provides for payment of compensation to the victims of government actions.
On 22 Sept 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney acknowledged the wartime wrongs and announced compensation of $21 000 for each individual who had been expelled from the coast, was born before 1 April 1949 and was alive at the time of the signing of the agreement. The compensation also provided a community fund to rebuild the infrastructure of the destroyed communities, pardons for those wrongfully convicted of disobeying orders under the War Measures Act, Canadian citizenship for those wrongfully deported to Japan and their descendants and funding for a Canadian Race Relations Foundation. By 1993, almost 18 000 survivors had received individual compensation and a $12 million community fund had been used to build community centres in most major centres between Montréal and Victoria and to fund a variety of cultural and educational and civil rights projects, programs and conferences.
Culture changes over time and through geographical movement. Although immigrants from the first wave practised many traditional Japanese skills such as martial arts, odori, origami and ikebana, racism and the destruction of their communities in the 1940s reduced the practice of these skills, and the use of the Japanese language, by subsequent generations. The language and cultural traditions practised by more recent immigrants reflect changes in Japan, and their children have shared their knowledge of both ancestral cultural skills and contemporary knowledge of the Japanese language and contemporary literature, art, and specific popular art forms such as anime and manga with the descendants of the first wave of migration. Recent immigrants have also supported young Japanese Canadians from both waves of migration to learn ancestral and contemporary arts and crafts from Japan as well as the Japanese language. In the 2006 census, 42 060 people reported Japanese as their mother tongue (first language learned).
Japanese Canadians from the first wave of migration and their descendants have also shared their own cultural traditions and their knowledge of their history of racism in Canada with those of the second wave. Japanese Canadians have developed new and hybrid forms of culture and art. For example, taiko drumming groups are found in many Canadian cities. Canadians of Japanese ancestry are diverse in their cultural practices and histories, and occupy different class positions.
Well-known Japanese Canadians include novelist Joy KOGAWA, scientist David SUZUKI, public servant Thomas Shoyama, architect Raymond MORIYAMA, community leader Art Miki, judoist Mas Takahashi, artists Takao Tanabe and Miyuki Tanobe and agriculturalist Zenichi Shimbashi. In 2004, Bev Oda became the first Japanese Canadian elected to Parliament. Vicky Sunohara, as part of the women's hockey team at the Winter Olympics, won a silver medal in 1998 and gold medals in 2002 and 2006.
Author ANN SUNAHARA Revised: MONA OIKAWA
K. Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians (1978); B. Broadfoot, Years of Sorrow, Years of Shame: The Story of Japanese Canadians in World War II (1977); H. Goto, Chorus of Mushrooms (1994); R. Ito, We Went to War: The Story of the Japanese Canadians Who Served During the First and Second World Wars (1984); J. Kogawa, Obasan (1981); R. Miki, Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice (2004); R.Miki and C. Kobayashi, Justice in Our Time: The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement (1991); Ann Sunahara, The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War (1981).
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Canadian Multiculturalism Day
Canadian Heritage's guide to celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
PASSAGES TO CANADA
Immigrants to Canada from around the world have encountered many hardships, opportunities, and successes as they set out to establish a better life for themselves and their families in their adopted country. Listen to some of their personal stories at the "Passages to Canada" website. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Japanese Canadians Then and Now
This website, designed by the National Association of Japanese Canadians, features an illustrated history of the Japanese community in Canada from its early beginnings to the present. Check out the rest of the site for additional features and information.
This beautifully illustrated site explores the relationship between East and West from earliest times to the present with a focus on the very complex Asian experience in Canada. Search for specific topics and themes. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Meiji: Tradition and Transition
This interactive Virtual Museum website explores Japanese history and culture, with a focus on the Meiji period, religious practices, Samurai warriers, and traditional games.
Japanese Canadian National Museum
The website for the Japanese Canadian National Museum. Offers information about exhibits, archives, and programs relating to Japanese Canadian history from the 1870s through the present.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Moriyama & Teshima Architects
The website for Moriyama & Teshima Architects. Features an overview of their many Canadian and international projects, including the Ontario Science Centre and the Canadian War Museum.
Dramatic views of Sandon, a BC ghost town. Also features a history Sandon as a centre for Japanese-Canadian internment during World War II. From Michael Kluckner's "Vanishing B.C." website.
Vanishing B.C. Japanese Canadian internment sites in the Slocan
Photographs, illustrations, and personal accounts document living conditions in internment camps in BC during the Second World War. From Michael Kluckner's website.
The long journey home
Watch a 1997 CBC Television report about one family's painful memories of internment during the Second World War.
Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet
Read a brief excerpt from the book "Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet: BC’s Japanese Canadian Fishermen." From "The Bulletin," a journal of Japanese Canadian community, history and culture.
Sedai: The Japanese Canadian Legacy Project
This site depicts the unique history and experiences of Canadians of Japanese ancestry using oral histories, text, archival photographs, and related material.
Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada
This website offers Canadian population data (2006) by ethnic origin. Also, find information for individual provinces and territories by clicking the "Select a view" window above the chart. For more information, click on the "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada" link at the top of the page. From the website for Statistics Canada.
The website for explorASIAN, celebrating Asian Heritage Month in Canada.
Vancouver Mokuyokai Society
The Vancouver Mokuyokai Society was established in 1982 for people of all nationalities with a strong professional or personal interest in Japan. Check out their site for local events throughout the year.
Asian Heritage in Canada
References and resources about Asian heritage in Canada. Check out the profiles of prominent Asian Canadians in the arts. From the Ryerson University website.
Play to fete Canadian-Japanese ties
A 2004 news item about events commerating the 75th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between Canada and Japan in 1929. From the Japan Times website.
Virtual Museum of Asian Canadian Cultural Heritage
A wide-ranging online resource about Asian Canadian history and culture. Also features profiles of prominent Asian Canadians. From the Canadian Foundation for Asian Culture (Central Ontario) Inc.
The website for AsiaNetwork Canada, a network that promotes awareness of Asian culture and heritage in Canada. Also sponsors the annual AsiaNetwork Asian of the Year Awards, which recognize extraordinary Canadian citizens of Asian descent.
The website for Canadian Nikkei, a blog site that focuses on Japanese Canadian culture.
The website for the Bulletin, a monthly magazine published by the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association of Greater Vancouver (JCCA).
Japanese Canadian Redress Anniversary 1988-2008
A site that documents the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Redress Agreement. From the National Association of Japanese Canadians and the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association.
Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
An extensive resource about economic, security, political and social issues related to Canada's relations with Asia. Check out the "National Conversation on Asia" to voice your opinions about key Canada-Asia issues.
Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre National Historic Site of Canada
An illustrated history of internment camps established in BC during the Second World War. From Parks Canada.
Tender Research: Field Notes from the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, New Denver, BC
This paper examines the cultural and social significance of gardens at heritage sites such as the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, located in new Denver, BC. From the Canadian Journal of Communication.
Kurimoto Japanese Garden
Information page about the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, named after Dr. Yuichi Kurimoto, the first Japanese national to graduate from the University of Alberta's Faculty of Arts. From the website for the University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden.
B.C. apologizes for 1940s Japanese-Canadian internments
A CBC News story about the Government of British Columbia's formal apology for interning Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...