Japanese in Canada, with mixed feelings

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Kyoto University research in Japanese diaspora in Canada finds ambivalence to multiculturalism policy

Kyoto, Japan -- Canada’s policies on multiculturalism are often seen as a model for a more inclusive and diverse world. They were designed with the assumption that multiculturalism is good for minorities, and were therefore supported by these groups.

However, in a study published in the journal OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society , Japanese-Canadians show ambivalence to multiculturalism due to past experiences of incarceration during the Second World War.

Since the 1960s, Japanese-Canadians have been showcased as a ‘model minority’ due to their high levels of education, professional success, and English language proficiency. They have settled throughout Canada, and have married almost exclusively outside of their communities.

So why the ambivalence towards multiculturalism?

“Younger generations of Japanese-Canadians are supportive of it, but some argue that it is only enacted in superficial ways,” explains Lyle De Souza of Kyoto University's Institute for Research in Humanities, who led the study.

“But there is lingering trauma from early racism and incarceration.”

To study how this trauma distorts the effect of multiculturalism on Japanese-Canadians, De Souza spent several months in Canada conducting interviews with academics, writers, and Japanese-Canadians.

One well-known interviewee featured in the study is animator and filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns, whose works include the documentary One Big Hapa Family .

Partly as a result of multiculturalism, Japanese-Canadians are more likely to showcase their ethnicity rather than to hide it. According to Chiba Stearns, “As Canada becomes more multicultural, what makes you unique — like your ethnicity — is something you want to have stand out.”

These data highlight the value of considering factors such as immigrant identity, voice, political conditions, social environments, and political economy when assessing multiculturalism. Governments must make an effort to tailor policies to specific minority groups along with state-level initiatives.

De Souza says that these results can help other countries that may need to embrace expanded immigration in order to alleviate declining populations, such as Japan.

“There is much to learn from the experience of Canada,” he concludes. “Japan already has many minorities, so it is a mistake to lump them all together as ‘non-Japanese’ and thereby prevent their unique qualities from enriching the culture.”

Paper information

【DOI】 https://doi.org/10.14431/omnes.2018.

Lyle De Souza (2018). The Ambivalent Model Minority : Japanese-Canadians and Canadian Multiculturalism. OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society, 8(3), 1-29.