by Lorene Oikawa
Happy New Year! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu! [I look forward to our continued relationship in the New Year.]
I confess, as a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese Canadian, I don’t speak the language, and most of what I know is from my grandmother when she came to live with my family, and I was exposed to her excellent cooking and baking, and some traditions, especially for the New Year’s celebration.
For my family, Christmas Day is all about the turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, and New Year’s Day means days of preparation, cooking special food, and presenting the food in special Japanese dishes. Also, our family always eats noodles on New Year’s Eve, which my grandmother said will bring us good luck in the New Year.
Japanese culture is more than just food, but even in the food there is the Japanese esthetic, their respect for art, beauty, quality, honour, and connection to their community. I am just back from a whirlwind trip to Japan, where I enjoyed the delicious food, the dazzling array of sights and sounds, the connection to a larger community, and the Japanese sense of duty, and respect.
The population of the Tokyo metro area is over 13 million which is about seven times the population of Vancouver, and the greater Tokyo area which is spread over 3 prefectures is about 35 million. Imagine the population of Canada in one sprawling city. Tokyo is huge and hectic, but there is a rhythm to the city which has people moving around efficiently, and it feels reassuring. The city has never-ending displays of light, art, and technology to keep your senses buzzing day and night, but there is also an appreciation for tradition, and impeccable manners.
When I visited Japan fifteen years ago, I was also struck by its cleanliness. I remember taxi drivers who would use what looked like long feather dusters brushing the outside of their cars and wearing white gloves. I am happy to report that cleanliness is still a striking feature of the country. No litter on the streets, the vehicles look immaculate, and the professional drivers are still wearing white gloves.
Japan is also safe. Not that I would recommend leaving parcels unattended, but in the Hiroshima train station, our bags were untouched when we had a brief lapse of attention, and I noticed not all the bikes were locked up. Although the last time I was in Japan, none of the bikes were locked up. When I asked about it, I was met with a puzzled look, and asked why the question. I responded that someone would take the bike if it wasn’t locked up, and was asked in turn, “Why would anyone take something that didn’t belong to them?”
It points to a fundamental difference in culture where the interest of the group and obligation to one’s family and honour (i.e., you would not want to bring shame on your family) outweighs the individual and their needs. Sometimes this difference shows up in intergenerational discussions and with those who have emigrated from Japan.
Our Japanese Canadian community comprises recent immigrants from Japan, and the multi-generational (pre- and post-WWII) Japanese Canadians including the youngest generation of Japanese Canadians whose ethnicity is described in fractions, because of multiple inter-racial marriages. Our community is also diversified by geography, because of the forced dispersal from the West Coast during WWII. There is a multiplicity of diversity within our community we must contemplate.
There is much to enjoy in Japan, but I brought back more than just good memories of delicious food, and amazing experiences. I have a deeper understanding of the culture of our ancestors and the strong influence it has had on our Japanese Canadian culture.
On behalf of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association, I wish you and your family a very Happy New Year filled with more quality time with your loved ones, good health, and prosperity. 2016 is the year of the monkey, and the monkey is known as a mediator to the gods, and later as a bit of a mischievous character in Japanese folklore. The monkey represents cleverness and curiosity so my hope for the New Year is greater learning, more new experiences, and a fulfilling year.
Many of you will remember (either from attending or from seeing the photos in The Bulletin) the fun time we had at our First Annual GVJCCA Community Bowl-a-thon Fundraiser in 2015. You can join the fun again at our Second Annual GVJCCA Community Bowl-a-thon Fundraiser on Sunday, February 21, 2016. It’s fun for the whole family and you are supporting the GVJCCA Bulletin. See the ad in this edition of The Bulletin, and you can obtain the registration form on the Bulletin website.jccabulletin-geppo.ca/jcca-community-bowl-a-thon/ Registration deadline is February 1st. Thank you for your continued support.