I first met Art Miki back in the early eighties when Katari Taiko was regularly invited to perform at Folklorama, Winnipeg’s multicultural festival. At the time, Katari Taiko was Canada’s only taiko group and we were receiving invitations to perform across the country, particularly in centres with Japanese Canadian communities. We felt like ambassadors of this art form that was neither wholly Japanese nor wholly Canadian, but rather a unique hybrid. It was a privilege to be invited into people’s homes and communities and as a young man I got a taste of the diversity that marks our community.
I also came to realize that Winnipegers, regardless of their ethnic origins, were undoubtedly tougher then their west coast cousins, simply by virtue of their environment. The summers are hot, the winters freezing (they have to plug in their cars to thaw them for goodness sake!) and the mosquitoes are the size of B-52 bombers, and almost as deadly.
Over time we were invited to not only perform but to teach workshops in the various communities, including Winnipeg. Before long, local taiko groups were springing up across the country and the need for our services greatly diminished.
But back to Art. In the years that we were guests at Folklorama, Art was the “Mayor” of the Japan Pavilion and in that capacity was as gracious a host as one could wish for. I recall being impressed that he would wear a men’s kimono in public without apparent self-consciousness and by his welcoming manner to all.
Within a few years of my first meeting him, Art would take over the helm of the NAJC and embark on a tough four-year battle for Redress for Japanese Canadians. The fight was not only with the federal government but with factions within the community itself and it is a mark of Art’s iron resolve (and those that stood by his side) that he never wavered in his stance or his belief in the righteousness of the cause.
Watching the Redress developments from home in Vancouver it was difficult to reconcile the soft-spoken Mayor of the Japan Pavilion with this tough negotiator who took on five successive Multiculturalism Ministers and the federal government and won. It taught me that toughness comes in different guises and that it is what lies underneath the surface that determines one’s character. I am pleased to feature Art in this month’s issue, in a profile that is long overdue.