Established by 75 families that mortgaged their own homes to build the facility, the JCCC’s origin story is nothing short of inspirational.
“I find the origin story of the centre to be amazingly humbling and inspiring, and I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the JCCC in my capacity of Board Chair and President,” said Chris Hope, an entertainment lawyer by trade and the volunteer President and Board Chair of the JCCC, who spoke to Bridges about the vibrant not-for-profit organization.
The JCCC continues to run almost entirely on donated funds and through the support of its nearly 1,200 volunteers. While the organization receives occasional government grants for specific projects, it is primarily a community-run, non-profit foundation.
“The original concept was to invite all Canadians into the ‘home’ of the Japanese Canadian community; to build friendships through the sharing of cultural experiences. These range from martial arts and ikenobo instruction to the celebration of seasonal festivals and the sharing of a variety of Japanese food prepared by the Japanese Canadian community, which was especially meaningful at a time when there was only one Japanese food restaurant in Toronto. Kaiseki Yu-Zen Hashimoto, one of our commercial tenants in the JCCC, was among the first 12 restaurants in Canada to receive a Michelin star, last year,” Hope shared.
Discover more about the JCCC’s origins and its mission, in the entirety of the interview.
Can you tell us about the key initiatives and programs implemented by the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre to promote Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian heritage over the past 60 years?
One particularly popular annual event was the nine-day Metro International Caravan, an annual, Toronto-wide multicultural festival that ran from the JCCC’s inception until the early 2000’s. The JCCC served as the “Tokyo Pavilion,” presenting taiko, dance, and martial arts demonstrations and performances, cultural artifacts and arts for display and for sale, and of course wonderful food for the thousands of visitors from all walks of life. People would come in droves, flowing into the center in search of, in many cases, their first contact with any aspect of Japanese culture. I am always amazed at how many volunteers at the JCCC still say that they first encountered the JCCC through Caravan, and they’ve been active with the JCCC ever since.
How has the organization evolved and grown during this time?
The JCCC continues to respect, preserve, and share the history of the Japanese Canadian community. It continues to showcase the unique evolution of historic Japanese culture that lives on among Nikkei families, with roots in the time that their ancestors emigrated from Japan — in some cases over 100 years ago. That includes remembering and sharing the history of the internment of the Japanese Canadian population in Canada during World War 2, when all people of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from their homes and their property was seized by the government, a very unfortunate chapter in Canadian history.
Breaking down the barriers of discrimination through the building of friendship through culture at a local level was a key priority for the founders of the JCCC. The success of the concept has seen the center flourish over the course of its 60-year history.
The center is now poised to succeed for another 60 years with a wider and even more ambitious vision, which is: “To enrich lives globally through the celebration of Japanese Culture and Japanese Canadian heritage.” The JCCC is now connecting with the Nikkei Diaspora — and connecting with it in new, meaningful and interesting ways.
The JCCC continues with its motto of “friendship through culture”, and with its new vision, we hope to show the world what a model cultural center, one that brings large groups of people together in friendship, looks like.
As the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, what are some special events or projects planned to commemorate this milestone? How do these activities align with the organization’s mandate of promoting Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian heritage?
One aspect of the current programming that may be of specific interest to Japanese readers is the exhibition in the Moriyama Nikkei Heritage Centre (the main exhibition area in the center), called Maru: Immigration Stories. Whereas the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum in Yokohama traces more than 100 years of emigration from Japan, the Maru exhibition traces the development of each of the global Nikkei communities that were formed as a result of the immigration of the Nikkei expatriates. The exhibition tells the story of the Nikkei communities that were established in Hawai’i, the United States, Canada, Peru, and Brazil, from their inception to the present day. The exhibition supports the global vision for the JCCC and is available worldwide through Google Arts and Culture.
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the JCCC, a new exhibit was opened. Entitled 60 Years of Friendship Through Culture. The exhibit traces the history of different key elements of life at the JCCC, such as major events, clubs, programming, and awards. The exhibit clearly documents the key role the JCCC has played as a central hub for generations — for both the Nikkei community and the broader community in the Toronto area.
Also on its 60th anniversary, the center was proud to launch in its gallery an ambitious show by world-renowned Japanese Canadian photographic artist, Shin Sugino. Entitled Déjà Vu: Split Perception as One, the launch attracted significant national press coverage in Canada, and is also available globally through Google Arts and Culture.
Both of the latter exhibits were the subject of features that ran in The Globe and Mail.
How does the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre engage with the local community to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian heritage? Can you provide specific examples of community outreach initiatives or collaborations that have been successful in achieving this goal?
Since its inception the JCCC has offered cultural classes and activities. Currently these include martial arts, Japanese language instruction, Sumi-e, Ikebana, and many more.
From an outreach perspective, the JCCC is also home to many clubs and workshops, including the Active Seniors Cooking Workshop. This workshop assists seniors — many of whom are new to cooking in their later years — to prepare balanced meals, with Japanese and western ingredients.
The JCCC also provides an ongoing, topnotch event programming that consistently attracts new audiences; it is our hope that these new audiences return to the center to participate in other activities.
Recent examples include hosting the Ontario debut concert by concert pianist SoritaKyohei, and the final in-person keynote from world-acclaimed scientist, environmentalist, and broadcaster, Dr. David Suzuki, who spoke about how his incredible career has been informed by his upbringing as a Sansei. Both of those events were completely sold out. Sorita-san received a ten-minute standing ovation and obliged the audience with three encores, and the Suzuki keynote was recorded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for national broadcast on the acclaimed radio program Ideas in early June. The talk will also be available internationally as a CBC podcast.
The JCCC is also home to the Toronto Japanese Film Festival (TJFF), which has evolved into the most attended Japanese language film festival outside of Japan since it was founded in 2011. The festival features many North American red carpet premieres and even, occasionally, world premieres of major studio films. Our guests on the red carpet have included, to name just a few, directors Yamazaki Takashi, Sono Sion, and YaguchiShinobu, as well as industry celebrities Odagiri Jo, Saito Takumi, Tabe Mikako, and Miyoshi Ayaka. People travel from long distances to attend the TJFF, and most screenings sell out quickly.
In what ways does the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre preserve and showcase the unique heritage and history of Japanese Canadians? Are there any specific exhibits, archives, or educational programs that highlight the experiences and contributions of Japanese Canadians throughout Canada’s history?
The Moriyama Nikkei Heritage Centre (MNHC), the main exhibition space within the center that is currently home to the Maru exhibit, was designed as a permanent home for exhibitions that present the unique story of the Japanese Canadian experience to JCCC visitors. The Maru exhibit includes an in-depth history of the community as the “Canada” portion of the global presentation, and the MNHC also features permanent exhibits of artifacts from the community, with stories to accompany them. This includes an interactive display, constructed to allow school-aged children to open glass-topped drawers to “discover” aspects of Japanese Canadian history.
The MNHC is also home to installations by Japanese Canadians that the JCCC commissions from time to time to enrich the telling of the community story. A recent example is the Kintsugi audio/visual exhibit that was launched in October, which, again, attracted national media attention. The exhibit featured some fantastic original music that you can hear at the end of the radio piece. I am hopeful that it may be released on an album soon, which the JCCC will proudly support if it does.
How does the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre support the next generation of Japanese Canadians in connecting with their heritage and cultural roots? Are there any youth-focused programs or initiatives that encourage participation and involvement in the organization’s activities?
In Ontario, high school-aged kids are required to fulfill a minimum number of volunteer hours with community organizations. JCCC involvement is accredited to help kids to meet those requirements. Every community event involves a large number of young, first-time volunteers. It is quite fantastic to see large groups — from the martial arts programs as an example, where students will be joined by their senseis and parents as volunteers — helping out with JCCC seasonal festivals and other events.
The JCCC’s “next generation” reach extends far beyond just those with Japanese Canadian heritage. The JC community is very small and highly intermarried by my generation — the Yonsei. The center is actively sharing JC heritage and cultural roots with all Canadians; from Yonsei and Gosei, to Shin Nikkei, to anyone that would like to join the community in celebrating Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian heritage. As the JCCC was established with the motto “friendship through culture,” it is the friendships developed across communities that will keep the centre vibrant for generations to come.