Report from the Yukon

December 14, 2012 at 5:55 pm

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by Fumi Torigai

When the Japanese Canadian Association of Yukon (JCAY) was officially founded on March 3, 2009 at a general meeting with only 16 people in attendance, perhaps no one, including myself, could predict what was to become of the organization in a few short years. The JCAY is now a well-established non-profit organization of over 60 members that plays a significant role both in the lives of the members and in the wider community of Whitehorse, Yukon.

From the onset, the JCAY strove to introduce to the general public traditional Japanese culture as best we could, which is the first and foremost of our mandates spelled out in the JCAY constitution. Beginning with the first offering of the series in June 2009, the Japanese Film Festival became a regular cultural event in town twice a year, and is eagerly anticipated by film lovers in the city. Since September 2010, JCAY has been fortunate enough to receive financial support from the Japan Foundation and the Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver.

The Great Eastern-Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 occurred just a day before the scheduled night of one of these Japanese Film Festivals. We quickly turned the event into a launching platform for the Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Fund. The entire JCAY membership gathered to stage a much bigger fund-raising event, a “Japanese Village Festival” on April 3. To everyone’s surprise, it drew a huge crowd, young and old. Thanks to the overwhelming support from the community – businesses, artists, and the general public – JCAY was able to send a donation totalling $40,600.38 to the Japanese Red Cross Society in a timely fashion.

Japanese Village Festival also helped to fire up a keen interest among local people in Japanese traditional culture. In view of this fact, Consul Isono of Vancouver was kind enough to make an extra effort to bring more cultural events to a small northern community of less than 30,000, the capital city of the Yukon. On top of usual Japanese Film Festivals, he was instrumental in bringing a Koto-Shakuhachi Duo (Yuriko Nariya & Takeo Yamashiro of Vancouver) in March 2012 as the “Thank-You, Whitehorse!” concert to commemorate the anniversary of the Earthquake. This was followed in May by another enormously successful lecture/demonstration, “Noh Theatre in Canada” a troupe of Noh artists direct from Japan. JCAY is deeply grateful for the financial support from the Japan Foundation. Whitehorse residents are truly fortunate to have such high calibre live performances of Japanese traditional art forms right in this northern city.

JCAY’s Tea Ceremony group meets regularly, and from time to time presents a demonstration for the general public. In June of this year, the group invited Yukiko Sensei from Vancouver to present a lecture/demonstration that was open to public, as well as to give a few lessons to group members.

Besides these cultural activities, JCAY members gather together for many social get-togethers, both as JCAY social events and just as small group gatherings on their own. At these occasions, members exchange information and personal news with each other. Recently, we have seen an influx of young Japanese people to the Yukon, sometimes to study English but more often to find a job as a Yukon Nominee to eventually apply for a permanent residency. Those newcomers benefit considerably from this networking through JCAY.

As president of JCAY, I often give these young people advice and assist them with the application preparation and other procedures. Occasionally I get involved to a degree that I have to try to sort out the entangled red tapes through dealing with the government officials. For this kind of work, living in a small city is a definite advantage since it is quite easy to get to know the officials on a first name basis. I sit on a Yukon government committee on Immigration Strategy. Through attending the meetings, I am able to keep myself well informed on what is going on, as well as to have an opportunity to express any concerns related to immigration matters in the Yukon.

Early this year a group called Yukon Cultures Connect was formed, and I am a member of this committee representing JCAY. Representatives from many ethnic and cultural organizations get together to organize multicultural activities with the purpose of promoting better understanding and cultivating harmony among diverse populations of the city. In view of ever-increasing immigrants, particularly a recent explosion of Filipino population, this northern city needs to look at the issue seriously. Lillian Nakamura Maguire, a JCAY member and NAJC vice president, with the backing of this group and many other organizations, spearheaded the movement to convince the city council to join the Canadian Coalition of Municiplaities Against Racism and Discrimination, and we succeeded. The work has only begun though.

On October 30, JCAY presented a photo exhibit and a screening of a film to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Internment of Japanese Canadians. Nineteen panels of Internment related photos were displayed around the room, and the NFB documentary, Sleeping Tigers – the Asahi Baseball Story was shown to a captive audience of 50. JCAY is planning to follow up with a couple of more events, perhaps next spring, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Redress.

Fumi Torigai is the President of the Japanese Canadian Association of Yukon