TORONTO — Hundreds of guests gathered at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre for the sold-out celebration of the shin-ijusha on Oct. 12. Shin-ijusha, or post-war Japanese immigrants, are the second wave of Japanese immigrants to arrive in Canada.
The evening was a celebration of the new wave of Japanese immigrants who came to Canada, after immigration laws were lifted in 1967. The room was filled with tables of Japanese and Western inspired dinner and desserts. The evening was filled with entertainment, from live traditional and contemporary musical performances, to dancing, book readings and even a magic show.
Newly appointed Consul-General of Japan in Toronto, Takako Ito was one of the honoured guests at the event. She had only been in Canada for three days at the time, and arrived in Canada for her new posting a day earlier than planned so she could attend the event. The celebration was her first public event as Consul-General of Japan in Toronto.
This is the Consul-General’s second appointment to Canada, the first was 26 years ago, when she spent two years in Ottawa for an overseas training program for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her husband is also Canadian, which Ito says has brought her to Canada to visit frequently in the past.
Consul-General Ito was joined by federal MP for Don Valley East, Yasmin Ratansi and a few other honoured guests for the kagamiwari, or the ceremonial sake barrel opening. This entails cracking the barrel of sake opened with wooden mallets and starting off the evening with a toast.
Nearly 400 people were in attendance to celebrate the 50th anniversary, individuals and descendants from both the second and first wave of Japanese immigrants.
The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Canada in 1877, and were mostly men. In 1908, Canada restricted the number of Japanese men allowed to immigrate to Canada to 400 per year. By 1928, further restrictions were placed, allowing only 150 people, regardless of gender, to enter Canada.
By 1940, all immigration from Japan was cut off, as the two countries were on opposing sides during the Second World War. The only exception was for family reunification. It was not until 1962, that Canada ended racial discrimination in its immigration system.
Fifty years ago, in 1967, immigration laws were amended and a points system was put in place. Canada was looking to open its borders again after the war, and take in hard-working and educated immigrants from different countries.
The points system was meant to rank possible new immigrants for eligibility. This new system would not factor in race or nationality and instead look at other factors. These factors included the ability to speak French or English, education level and work skills.
The new amendments to immigration laws brought in many new immigrants, especially from Asia. While Japan was once again allowed to immigrate to Canada, relatively fewer did, in comparison to other Asian countries.From the total population of new immigrants arriving in Canada after 1970, less than half of one per cent were from Japan, and most were women.
The 2011 National Household Survey found that 25,805 people declared themselves immigrants from Japan, and nearly two thirds were women.
Despite this small number, the shin-ijusha have undoubtedly added a distinct flavour to the Canadian identity.