A chorus of Nikkei voices on 25 years ahead

August 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm

by Kenji Tokawa

“Nikkei Voice was created to report on the realization of Redress and the effects it had on Nikkei community in Canada. Although it is Toronto-based, it was designed as a vehicle to keep Nikkei across the country in the loop as to what was going on with each other. Yet readership has been steadily declining since the Voice set out in 1987. As the Nikkei Voice seeks new direction after the major change in all editorial staff: Managing/English editor (Mika Fukuma who left the paper in May 2012) and Japanese editor (Yusuke Tanaka who was let go in March 2012), a former volunteer and member of the next generation of Nikkei in Canada provide it with some suggestions from the community.” – editor’s note

A Sansei tells me, “I must confess that I have not always been a faithful reader.” Although Toronto-based and in her 40s, she takes a familiar tone to Sansei and Yonsei of all ages and locations when it comes to the Nikkei Voice. Despite it being the only national Japanese Canadian community publication, Nikkei Voice has trouble attracting and maintaining post-Nisei audiences. I took it on myself  to find out why.

“I have no interest in reading about news based solely upon the fact that I share Japanese ancestry with those involved,” says a Toronto Sansei in her 50s – a familiar sentiment for those growing up Yonsei as well. It begs the question: How do people connect to a cultural publication when they haven’t been exposed to the significance of their cultural identity – why they are linked to each other and how it affects their current realities?

Our culture, heritage, our ability to keep in touch with our community is in danger of disappearing into the mainstream “melting pot.” For an Ontario-based 50-something Sansei, the paper is something that could hold us together.

From Vancouver, a Nisei in her early sixties worries as well. She sees parents neglecting to teach children about their Japanese and Japanese Canadian history, neglecting their children’s need for belonging. “[Parents] don’t want to think about it anymore. But unless you make your kid proud of their roots, they’ll have that insecurity for the rest of their life.”

That’s why for many, an important feature of the paper is its regular historical focus. In Toronto I spoke to a Shin-Ijusha and two Yonsei university students stressing the importance of our collective memory of settlement, internment and racism. A 30-something Ontario-based Sansei confirms that articles of ongoing interest for her in particular are ones that focus on redress and the internment.

A Yonsei U of T student and the Sansei point to using these histories to understand the current world. A 30ish Ontario Sansei wants the paper to reach out to other racialized communities and bridge things like racial profiling of Muslim and South Asian Canadians to what happened with Nikkei. Just how important is this bridging? “That’s something that I’d actually be interested in getting involved with,” she says. It speaks to her experience growing up Sansei and living post-redress.

Inspired by redress history, a 30-something Ontario-based Yonsei wishes to connect with the radical aspects of his heritage. For him, a paper that makes space for his queer identity within mainstream JC communities gets him one step closer to a sense of belonging. If any JC paper can do this, it is the Nikkei Voice. After all, it was born of exciting and radical times.

A Vancouver Sansei in his 60s hopes controversial issues will be tackled by the paper in order to make people take notice. The 30ish Ontario Sansei echoes him, encouraging the discussion of problems within the Nikkei community, such as homophobia. A Japanese student with a Turkic background tells me he would like to see coverage about social issues that Ijusha are facing, problems they never had to deal with in Japan. He wants coverage of Japanese LGBTQs – a whole demographic of immigrants who came here to do things they couldn’t in Japan, like start a family.

When the paper reflects them, Nikkei take interest.  The 30-something Ontario Sansei reads an article in the latest issue because she recognizes a name and family connection. A Toronto Sansei in her 60s suggests a section dedicated to reuniting past friends of by-gone years. Another Toronto Sansei wants more on local happenings, i.e. taiko and events at the different Japanese Canadian churches. As for fostering a sense of belonging, a Yonsei studying at York University requests coverage of community events where she can get involved and come in touch with her heritage.

From BC, another 30ish Sansei stresses the need for diverse forms of journalism via Nikkei talent. She hopes to see Nikkei journalists/writers/contributors and a paper “independently funded with a diverse board of Nikkei directors–youth included.” Something that doesn’t cater to one or the other but reaches across generations. Something bilingual and accessible online. Artistically designed.

“If it’s called Nikkei Voice,” says the Vancouver Nisei, “you gotta voice all the people’s voices. Everyone.”