The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre stands as a monument to the Issei—the pioneers of the community who ventured across the Pacific at the turn of the century to establish roots in Canada. The cultural centre provides a venue for Toronto’s 20,000 Japanese Canadians to express pride in their heritage, and for other Torontonians to experience Japanese cultural traditions, such as ikebana (the art of flower arranging) and martial arts (kendo, judo, karate, and iaido).
Japanese migration to Canada occurred during the first two decades of the 20th century. Early settlers were from Japan’s farming and fishing villages. By 1914, there were 10,000 Japanese in Canada, mostly young men who had settled primarily in Vancouver and Victoria.
A photo of J. Kono, dated 1885, is the earliest evidence of Japanese settlement in Ontario. The first Japanese names to appear in the City of Toronto Directory were Kenji Ishikawa and Shigesaburo Ubukata in 1897. The two partners were silk jobbers who expanded their business into an enterprise with offices across Canada. Today, the Ubukata Bursary, established in 1926, is still available to Japanese-born students at the University of Toronto. Another prominent member of the early Toronto community was Takatsuna Kurata, who became an assistant curator at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Until 1941, the Toronto community consisted of approximately six families. Merchants sold imported Japanese wares, and others worked in hotels and restaurants, or were employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan, the Canadian government ordered the removal of Japanese Canadians from an area within 160 km of the Pacific coast. As the Second World War drew to a close, Japanese Canadians began to move east to other parts of Canada.
By 1947, there were 5,000 Japanese Canadians living in Toronto. The arrival of a Japanese minister under the sponsorship of the United Church marked the beginning of the Japanese Church in Toronto. Early organizations included the Nisei Men & Women’s Committee, established to help with housing and jobs; the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy; and the National Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association, located on Gerrard Street.
In the 1950s and ’60s, more Japanese Canadians arrived from the West, settling in the city and later moving to suburbs such as Scarborough and Etobicoke. As a result of changes to Canada’s immigration laws, new settlers from Japan’s urban middle class arrived in Canada. Called the Shin Issei, they were the first new migrants to arrive from Japan in almost 50 years. The third generation of Japanese Canadians (Sansei) were born during the 1950s and raised in the Canadian community; many speak little or no Japanese, 92% live in either Ontario, British Colombia or Alberta.
Prominent Japanese Canadians that have contributed to the city include the late George Tanaka, a renowned landscape artist and civil rights activist, and the late Ken Adachi, columnist and author of The Enemy That Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians.
NEW YEAR’S DAY on January 1 is celebrated with house parties. On New Year’s Eve many Japanese eat soba (buckwheat noodles) to bring the old year to a happy ending and to welcome the new. The first meal of the new year consists of ozoni—symbolic of realizing dreams—mochi (rice cakes) which are boiled with vegetables such as satoimo (a kind of potato believed to drive away evil spirits), and daikon (a large white radish with strong roots that represents a firm family foundation). Kobu (seaweed) is considered to be a lucky food as its name forms part of the word yorokobu (to be glad).
HINA-MATSURI (DOLLS’ FESTIVAL), is celebrated in March. Traditionally, ceremonial dolls and miniature household articles are arranged on the Hina-Dan (tiered shelves covered with a red cloth). The dolls are bought for the first daughter in a family and become family heirlooms.
HARU MATSURI. In Toronto, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre holds Haru Matsuri (spring festival) on the first weekend of March. Japanese cuisine is served; Hina-Matsuri dolls are displayed; and Japanese dancing, drumming, crafts such as sumi-e, ikebana, shodo, bunka shishu, and martial arts are performed.
TANGO-NU-SEKKU, the traditional Boys’ Festival of Japan, is celebrated on May 5. Also known as Children’s Day, paper streamers in the shape of a carp are hung on a pole in the garden. The carp, with its great power and determination, is an example for young boys.
BIZAAR. On the first Saturday in May, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre holds a bazaar offering Japanese gifts, leather goods, plants, boutique items, dry goods, hardware, and paper flowers for sale. Dining facilities are available for sampling sushi, udon, and tempura dishes.
OBON FESTIVAL, Held sometime between mid-July and mid-August, is a Buddhist festival of lighted lanterns meant to guide the spirits of departed ancestors on their annual visit to the family home. Celebrations are held in honour of the returning spirits. The festival ends with a circular folk dance. On the second Saturday of the month, Buddhist dancers perform at City Hall, and a bell-ringing ceremony takes place on the second Sunday of the month at the site of the Japanese Temple Bell at Ontario Place.
ARIGATO DAY. The Centre holds a Karaoke Concert and Arigato Day to say thank you to its volunteers with a dinner and celebration.
PICNIC. An annual community picnic is held in Caledon, at the JCCC’s recreational area, along with the annual picnics of the Japanese Anglican and Buddhist churches. The grounds have facilities for fishing, swimming, skating, and cross country skiing, and a farm area for growing Japanese vegetables such as daikon and gobo. Small wedding parties, conference, and business groups rent the facilities.
THE YUSUZUMI (SUMMER) DANCE is held in August at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.
ISSEI DAY, in October, honours the first generation of Japanese in Canada with an anniversary dinner and dance for the Nisei-Sansei and friends.
ARTISAN, a show and sale of crafts, is held every November, along with Aki No Uta Matsurl (a song fest).
KOHAKU UTA GASSEN, a song contest, is held for men and women in December. Haru and Aki No Uta Matsuri (Spring and Fall Song Festivals) are musical variety shows of Japanese songs, odori (traditional dances), skits, and kayo drama (comedy plays). The festivals are highlighted by colourful Japanese seasonal backdrops and life-like props.
NEW YEAR’S EVE is celebrated with a dance held at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.
Every year, the Toronto Japanese Garden Club exhibits the art of flower arranging and landscaping with displays of ikebana, bonsai, asagao, and Japanese gardens. These shows are held each year:
ASAGAO at the Prince Hotel in August.
CHRYSANTHEMUM AND FLOWERS at the JCCC in October.
OMNI-TV, CHANNEL 47, (Tel. 416-260-0047, 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W). News from ANN (Tokyo), local community events and announcements. Host: Susan Tsuji.
NIKKEI VOICE, (Tel. 416-516-1779, 382 Harbord St). A monthly publication and national forum for Japanese Canadian community. Publisher: Frank Moritsugu. Editor: Jesse Nishihata.
THE NIKKA TIMES, (Tel. 416-923-2819, 720 Spadina Ave., Suite 420). A weekly newspaper established in 1969; published in Japanese. Publisher-Editor: Nobuo Iromoto.
THE NEW CANADIAN, (Tel. 416-593-1583, 524 Front St, W, 2nd Floor).
BITS MAGAZINE, (Tel. 416-964-2599, 360 Bloor St. W, Suite 207)
JAPANESE CANADIAN CULTURAL CENTRE, (Tel. 416-441-2345, 6 Garamond Ct). President: Marty Kobayashi. At the same address:
THE NEW JAPANESE CANADIAN ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 905-475-7173, Fax 905-261-9384). Assists new immigrants with citizenship and provides social, recreational, and educational information. President: Mr. Keiko Ono, Vice President: Yoshi Nagaishi.
JAPANESE SOCIAL SERVICES, (www.jss.ca) social support service for Japanese speakers.
ASSOCIATION FOR JAPANESE CULTURE. Established in 1978, members of the association teach school children and other interested persons about Japanese culture through demonstrations, videos, and stories. Every year, some 6,000 students from Ontario’s elementary schools attend the centre for an introductory lesson on Japan. The instructors make their presentations wearing kimonos, and lessons include the ritual of the Tea Ceremony, paper-folding, and topics such as trade between Canada and Japan. The program is sponsored by the Japanese Government through the Japanese Consulate General in Toronto.
Arts groups include:
THE AYAME KAI DANCE GROUP, begun in 1964 as the Sansei Choir-Dancers, which performs odori dances.
THE IKENOBO STYLE AND SOGETSU STYLE IKEBANA SOCIETY OF TORONTO, offers classes in flower arrangement.
TORONTO JAPANESE GARDEN CLUB, organized in 1953, practises the art of horticulture and holds several shows each year.
THE KARAOKE CLUB is a singing club made up of enka (popular song) enthusiasts who perform at various functions.
THE SAKURA KAI DANCE GROUP, organized in 1960, which performs the buyo or odori, traditional Japanese dances.
YAKUDO DRUM GROUP has the largest collection of taiko (drums) outside of Japan.
Groups for seniors include:
THE ANNEX SENIORS, a social group whose activities include the making of crafts for sale at bazaars.
HI FUMI STEPPERS (SENIOR) GROUP, which performs line dancing and Japanese folk dancing wearing ukata kimonos and happi coats.
HI-FU-MI (JAPANESE FOR 1-2-3), which signifies all three generations of Japanese Canadians participating in dance groups.
WYNFORD SENIORS’ CLUB MOMIJI KAI, organized in 1969 to assist elderly Issei in enjoying activities together.
MOMIJI SENIORS CENTRE, (Tel. 416-261-6683, www.momiji.com, 3555 Kingston Rd),Executive Director: Brigitte Robertson.
Other groups include: The Women’s Auxiliary, organized in 1960, which has lent support to the community through volunteer work at JCCC’s events and fundraising causes; 3 Pitch League; Kendo Club (The Way of Sword- manship); Student Association; Baseball League; Japanese Canadian Citizens Association; Friday Night Duplicate Bridge Club; Judo Club; Aikido Club; Karate Club; Sunday Niters, a social club that participates in ballroom dancing; Friday Niters, a social club; and Ken Jin Kais, organized in the pre-war days, which are groups made up of people from the same prefecture in Japan.
BUKYO KAI DANCE GROUP, (918 Bathurst St), based at the Toronto Buddhist Church.
CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF JAPANESE AUTOMOBILE DEALERS, (Tel. 416-620-9717, 1 Eva Rd., Suite 101).
JAPAN AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-968-0150, www.jama.ca, 151 Bloor St. W., Suite 460).
THE GREATER TORONTO CHAPTER OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF JAPANESE CANADIANS (NAJC), (Tel. 416-516-1375, 382 Harbord St). Established in 1986, one of 14 chapters under the National Association of Japanese Canadians, the Toronto NAJC was incorporated in 1993, as a not-for-profit community-based organization to strive for equal rights and liberties. President: Tracy Matsuo.
TORONTO JAPANESE ASSOCIATION OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY, (Tel. 416-360-0235, www.torontoshokokai.org, 3244 Yonge St).