Mata Ashita, the Japanese Canadian writing circle, welcomes Erica Isomura (left) and Megan Wray (right) as new workshop facilitators and program curators for the forthcoming season. Photos courtesy: Mata Ashita.
ONLINE — Mata Ashita is a series of online writing workshops for Japanese Canadian community members of all ages to write, share, and learn from established authors and storytellers. Leanne Toshiko Simpson, Sen Canute, and Nico Koyanagi co-founded this initiative in 2020 to make community conversations about mental health and well-being more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Past seasons have featured guests such as Ruth Ozeki, Hiromi Goto, Tetsuro Shigematsu, and Randall Okita.
This forthcoming season, Mata Ashita welcomes Erica Isomura and Megan Wray as workshop facilitators and program curators. In this issue, Nikkei Voice invited them to share an introductory conversation. To start, tell us a little bit about who you are.
Erica Isomura: My name is Erica Isomura. I’m a Yonsei Japanese and Chinese Canadian writer and artist. I work in non-fiction, poetry, graphic, hybrid, and multidisciplinary mediums. I was born and raised in New Westminster, B.C., and currently reside in Toronto.
On my dad’s side, my Japanese great-grandparents lived in East Vancouver and Prince Rupert/Port Edward/Haysport before the war, when they were interned at Tashme and Greenwood. On my mom’s side, my Chinese great-grandparents immigrated to Canada from Guangdong in Southern China. All these different places and cultures shape who I am today.
Megan Wray: Hello! My name is Megan Wray (she/her), and I’m a queer, mixed-race Japanese Canadian Yonsei writer, poet, and overall creative person. I’m based in Treaty 1 Territory (Winnipeg), where I also manage an independent bookstore called Willow.
My Japanese family lived and worked as sawmill labourers in Royston, B.C., later interned in Tashme, and as farmers in Haney, B.C., then uprooted to Sanford, Man. I’ve always felt disconnected from my culture, but I practice bridging the gap by veganizing my family recipes and creating art that explores my identity.
What are you reading right now?
EI: I just finished reading The Waiting, a graphic novel by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated from Korean to English by Janet Hong. The brush painting is stunning in this book, and it taught me a lot about the Korean War that I didn’t know before, as well as a deeply moving story. I highly recommend it.
MW: I really savoured Ross Gay’s essay collection, Inciting Joy, for a while. I took up gardening this summer, and there’s a few essays on the topic that made me weep. Now that I’ve finished it, I’m diving into Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty by Bahar Orang.
What has your life looked like outside of this work lately?
EI: I’m spending the summer at a floating artist residency on the Fraser River in Steveston, B.C. I’ve been gathering plants from former Japanese Canadian sites and developing a series of cyanotype prints. I’ve also been reading and thinking a lot about my thesis project—I’m currently a Master in Fine Art creative writing student at the University of Guelph.
What does it mean to you to be joining as a facilitator?
MW: Before attending the first Mata Ashita session back in 2020, I remember being consumed by imposter syndrome and fear of not being “Japanese enough” to join. But the more I attended, the more I felt like I belonged to the JC community. Knowing I can (hopefully) help others feel this way as a facilitator warms my heart!
Mata ashita means “see you tomorrow” and is an enduring promise to take care of each other. How do you care for yourself?
EI: I need to eat a lot of snacks throughout the day. Ideally, I also need to move my body regularly (e.g. biking or swimming) and express myself creatively, whether that’s crafting or singing and dancing along to whatever music is playing. Being in or around nature definitely contributes to my well-being, too.
MW: Extending gentleness to myself is an ongoing practice (and struggle) for me. I’m trying to be more intentional with that.
Right now, it looks like spending lots of time in nature, tending to my flower garden, leaning towards community, reading lots, and enjoying creative endeavours for the process—not the result. Also, cooking always.