Yumiko Hoyano: Bridging the gap between ijusha and Canadian-born Nikkei
Yumiko Hoyano came to Canada in 1965 from Sapporo, Japan, where she was born and raised. Having graduated from Hokkaido University with a BSc in Chemistry she was looking for opportunities that would remained out of reach had she stayed in Japan. As she says, “If you were a young Japanese in Japan in the early 1960s you wanted to go overseas to see what it was like. So, when I finished my undergraduate degree at Hokkaido University, I was lucky enough to be offered a position in a research lab to work for a year, and I jumped at the opportunity.”
The research position was at the University of Alberta with a professor who was doing cutting-edge research and also happened to be Japanese. After that first year, because the research project was interesting and needed more time to complete, Yumiko enrolled as a graduate student. She completed her research and course requirements and received a PhD in 1972. By that time she was married to a fellow chemist, Jim Hoyano, a sansei, so settled down in Canada. Says Yumiko, “My degree from a Canadian University would not have been recognized in Japan in those days so it was better for me to stay in North America. Besides, there were not many opportunities for woman scientists with a PhD in Japan.”
Both Yumiko and Jim became heavily involved in the Edmonton Japanese Canadian community, joining the Edmonton Japanese Community Association (EJCA) in 1978. Over the years they have helped raise funds for a community centre and seniors drop-in centre. Both served as editors of Moshi Moshi, the local Nikkei newsletter (Yumiko recently stepped down after thirty years) and have served terms as Presidents of the EJCA.
In 2005, following the donation of a set of hina dolls (Japanese Girls’ Day dolls) to the EJCA, Yumiko wrote a short story, Reiko’s Hina Dolls, that was turned into a film that was released in 2012.
Yukimo Hoyano spoke to The Bulletin by email from her home in Edmonton.
Yumiko Hoyano: in her own words
Although you were born in Japan you’ve put down deep roots in Alberta. Do you feel like a Canadian now or do you still consider yourself Japanese? Do you ever regret leaving?
I feel that I am a nikkei Canadian more than I am Japanese. Some nikkei friends often forget that I am originally from Japan. I do not regret leaving Japan at all.
I’ve been editing The Bulletin for twenty years but you edited the Japanese section of the Moshi Moshi for thirty years. That’s pretty impressive! To what do you attribute your longevity in that role?
I knew I was suited for the position because I was familiar with the nikkei community and with Japan, and wanted to inform our community as someone on the NAJC board who was also familiar with Japan. So I was able to see what was happening in both places. I was able to choose articles from the nikkei viewpoint as well as from the ijusha. 30 years sounds like a long time but in fact it went by rather quickly. My trying to serve the community was the main focus of my longevity.
You served as president of the Edmonton Japanese Community Association for a time as well. What is the community like in Edmonton, is it tight?
One of the things that gratifies me most during the time I was president of EJCA was the efforts made to bring together the Canadian-born nikkei and ijusha (immigrants after the WWII). At the time when I was the president, many cities in Canada had two separate organizations: one for Canadian-born nikkei and another for Japanese from Japan (ijusha). Edmonton’s nikkei population was relatively small so having two separate organizations, and holding overlapping events, etc. was not a productive way to go. It was a struggle at the beginning to bring the two groups together, but now it is like no such problem had existed before. Now the EJCA is growing steadily each year and the membership is a total mix.
I believe that in order to make a nikkei organization such as the EJCA active, its members must enjoy their involvement. When an organization is inactive, people are not attracted to it. So the organizers of these groups must plan many events and activities and keep it up. Yes, it is a lot of work for organizers but it works.
I imagine you’ve seen the community change over the past fifty or so years . . .
I will talk mostly about people from Japan and then about the nikkei community, because ijusha make up a fairly large segment of the community now.
When I arrived in 1965, there were only a small number of Japanese who had come recently, at least in Edmonton, and most were here on student or temporary visas. I did not know that immigration from Japan to Canada was restricted at that time. That changed after 1967 when the Immigration Act was changed to a point system. Before that date, there were very few Asian faces even at the University. From the 1980s to present many Japanese women immigrated to Canada, usually with Canadian spouses. Many of these couples met when the Canadian went to Japan to teach English. Interestingly Japanese male – Canadian female couples are more rare. With the increase in these so-called international marriages there was bound to be problematic cases and I have seen several of these cases even in Edmonton so there must be many more in larger cities like Vancouver and Toronto.
The EJCA membership today is reflective of the changing community, with more than half our membership comprised of people whose heritage is not Japanese, as seen in the present day scenes of ‘Reiko’s Hina Dolls’.
On a national level, you served on the NAJC Executive board for eight years. What were your accomplishments during that time?
While I was on the NAJC executive board I travelled a lot to various centres and I learned many things about the JC community. At first, NAJC had predominantly older Nisei men serving on the board but it changed pretty quickly to sansei men and women. But there were hardly any ijusha visible on the national scene. Since I was on the NAJC board right after Redress the atmosphere of the JC community was very optimistic. We felt we could achieve anything. JC community building was a high priority and so we carried out a number of large conferences such as Kotobuki (Nikkei Senior conference, 1989) and the Homecoming 92 (1992). I was on the organizing committee for both conferences and it was a lot of fun. After that there were some smaller, more specific conferences, workshops, and we even held locally organized training workshops such as for future leaders.
My contribution on serving on the NAJC board was to provide input from the ijusha point of view. Since there is increasing number of ijusha in Canada, a Japanese Canadian organization such as NAJC must be inclusive. I am certain that my presence on the board had a positive effect since there was a continuation of Ijusha on the board after I left. One thing I wanted to do and could not do while on the board was to organize a pool of translators to translate Japanese research papers on nikkei history. There are a couple of research organizations in Japan on Japanese Canadians. Their research papers are written in Japanese and some of them are so rich in their findings and studies, and they are treasures. However, as long as it remains in Japan, it is of no use for some oversea scholars or those interested in JC history, and society. I think either NAJC or someone should organize to have these papers and studies translated into English. It will be worth the effort.
After eight years of serving on the board I stepped down to work in the local JC community.
Your work in the community, both nationally and locally tells me that you value both community and culture. Talk about that.
NAJC is the only national Japanese organization so we must make sure it continues to exist. Nobody else but us can make it grow or wither. Yes, NAJC does not make your everyday life more enjoyable and fun, but it is the organization which represents you! On the local level, it is easy to fragment our society if we are not careful to keep it together. It is easy to be bitter and un-sociable but such behavior would be unproductive. Only when people get together and plan, and carry out, do we begin to see what we can accomplish. We create our own destiny and history as an individual, as an organization, locally or nationally. Each centre and organization has its own culture and history. We see it only when time passes and many older people are no longer with us. Every day, week, month, year we must strive to be great since its accumulation makes your life.
Being born in Japan, do you feel like you have a greater insight into the roots of Japanese Canadian culture? Is it important that keep those ties strong, do you think?
Yes, I see JC culture is deeply rooted in Japanese culture whether you admit it or not, but not in the same form or style as in Japan, but it is more like in its essence. When you are brought up in Canada in an environment where there is nothing Japanese about it is impossible to be 100% Japanese. However though, I feel sorry to see some JCs who totally deny their heritage and act as if he/she is not Japanese. How can you make those who deny their own heritage, to feel more comfortable in your own skin? This is one of the major questions I have had for a long time. Is there ways to achieve this? I do not think it is necessary to have strong ties to Japan but important to have ties to your own heritage, to your own roots so that you can live your life a little more comfortably.
You wrote the film Reiko’s Hina Dolls, which was released in 2012. What provided the impetus for writing the film?
I wrote a very short story to introduce the set of hina dolls when it was donated to EJCA in 2005. Instead of a simple announcement I thought it would be more interesting to do it in story form. I had two facts to base on. There was a set of hina dolls, and the woman who donated the dolls gave me a short answer, “we fled” when I asked her how those dolls survived during the internment period. These two facts gave me enough fodder to make up a story (Komaki wrote the screenplay by expanding the original short story).
Yusuke Tanaka wrote a review of the movie that was published in The Bulletin last April. I thought his review was well written that I wanted English-speaking people to read it. So the review was translated into English and here it is in this issue of The Bulletin. This is the point I wanted to make. When something written in Japanese is not translated into English it is like a “gold coin to a cat.” There’s an old Japanese saying: even a valuable thing like a gold coin is nothing to a cat that does not know its value. So you are missing out on a lot of valuable information.
How did you connect with Komaki Matsui, the director?
Ryan Nakashima, a son of a long time friend in Edmonton, went to Japan to teach English where he met Komaki. After they married, Komaki went to film school in Los Angeles. After graduating from film school, Komaki and Ryan came to Edmonton for a visit, and she was looking for ideas for a movie. So I told her about the hina doll story. She liked the story and she learned a lot about Japanese Canadian history from making the movie
How involved were you in the creation of the film?
I was totally involved! From actor auditions, getting wardrobes, interior set up, sewing curtains, monpe (old style woman’s pants), and gathering everything needed! Driving actors to and from the shooting site. All the actors are amateurs but they did a superb job. This filmmaking was one of the most memorable events in recent years for me.
What has the response been from those who’ve seen the film?
We have shown the film at many places and response has been generally pretty good. This film was listed as one of the finalist at the 2012 NHK Japan Prize in the primary category. This is an international film contest with an educational component. Although we did not get the grand prize we are happy enough to be on the finalist list.
Is the film available in Vancouver?
This film was shown in Vancouver once, I cannot remember when. The DVD is available with English, Japanese and French subtitles. You can order from Komaki (email@example.com)
You paint with watercolours and teach as well . . .
In Japan, painting is on the curriculum even in grade school so I began painting very young. While I was studying and/or working I did not have much time to paint, but after I retired I resumed my painting seriously. I think I must do a good enough job of painting that people began to ask me to teach. So I am teaching as a volunteer instructor at two locations in Edmonton. I exhibit my paintings with the Edmonton Art Club. Surprisingly I sold many paintings and that encourages me to paint more and to improve my skills. www.yumikohoyano.com (incomplete website of my paintings)
Do you have children? Grandchildren?
We have one daughter Dee Hoyano, who lives in Victoria with her family and is a medical health officer with VIHA. She has two daughters ages 5 and 2.5. Interestingly, the oldest, Tomi Rocio, was born on Nikkei Heritage Day (September 22, 2008), and she likes to paint so she might have inherited it from me.