Nikkei Memory Capture Project seeking citizens to contribute to post-war history of Japanese Canadians

Southern Alberta citizens are invited to contribute to a new transnational oral history collaboration exploring the stories of Japanese Canadians after the Second World War.

The Nikkei Memory Capture Project is a joint study involving the University of Lethbridge and the United Kingdom’s Plymouth University, with support from the Galt Museum & Archives, Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden and the Nikkei Cultural Society of Lethbridge and Area. Analyzing the cultural and social history of Canadian Nikkei (people of Japanese descent) in the second half of the 20th century, the project seeks to capture a portion of history that has been severely underrepresented.

“That whole story of the post-war era, the way history has been written and heritage has been commemorated, so much of it has been about the victimization of the Canadians of Japanese descent and the recovery after that – the trauma,” says Dr. Darren Aoki (BA ’90), a southern Alberta-born Nikkei who is currently an assistant professor in world history at the University of Plymouth and adjunct associate professor in the Department of History at the U of L.

“While that story is fundamental, it gets so much attention that other stories are not coming forward. A lot of history glosses over this post-war time and jumps straight to Japanese Canadians being in a good place now, point A to point B, sad to happy. We’re looking for a better understanding of how that happened and if it’s really true.”

Aoki first started collecting oral histories from the local Japanese Canadian society in 2011, trying to discern what the Japanese projection of identity and culture was during the post-war era. He eventually approached the U of L and the Centre for Oral History and Tradition and began collaborating with Dr. Carly Adams when the full scope of the project began to take shape.

He describes how southern Alberta’s position as a key cultural centre for Japanese Canadians is largely ignored by history.

“This is one of the most important centres right across North America if not the Americas in terms of the movement of Japanese people during and after the war,” says Aoki. “We want some recognition of the importance of this area, an understanding if this centre had not prospered in the way it has, I think the way Japanese Canadian society has developed across Canada might be different. The experience of Japanese Canadians also offers a timely reminder of what it means to be Canadian and how we define who can and cannot be a citizen.”

Aoki, Adams and their research team are seeking to understand how, despite the Canadian government’s attempts to racially neutralize and culturally cleanse the Nikkei presence, Nikkei cultural heritage, enduring and adapting, generated civic value and cultural creativity. To do this, they want to hear the everyday stories of southern Albertans in that post-war era, articulating what Nikkei identity was – before the stories of this aging generation are lost forever.

As it is Canada’s 150th birthday, as well as the 50th birthdays for both the University of Lethbridge and Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens, the timing was perfect for such a project to be undertaken as it speaks to multiculturalism locally, provincially and nationally. A trio of July events offer opportunities for southern Albertans to engage in this process.

“One of our goals with this project is to facilitate community partnerships and we’ve been really fortunate to collaborate with the Galt Museum, Nikka Yuko and the Nikkei Cultural Society,” says Adams. “We’re not just looking for Japanese Canadians to participate either, we’re interested in talking to everyone who was in the Lethbridge community during the 1950 to 1970 period. Everyone’s perspective is welcome.”

Galt Museum & Archives

Stop the Presses! Japanese-Canadians in 20th century Southern Alberta newspapers, July 1 to Sept. 30

The southern Alberta press regularly reported on Japanese Canadians across the 20th century. Shaped by what was happening locally, nationally and internationally, the way that Japanese Canadians were represented is a barometer of our social, cultural and moral attitudes. This interactive installation (developed with our student research team: Shannon Ingram, Simon Poulin Markle, Shelby Simpson, and Elaine Toth) presents a selection of headlines, articles and images from two of our region’s most important newspapers: The Lethbridge Herald and Raymond Recorder.

A launch for this three-month exhibition takes place July 9 from 1 to 5 p.m. and includes a keynote talk about the exhibit, a special address by Mr. Tosh Kanashiro (Japanese Garden 1967 Committee, City of Lethbridge), and a sake tasting hosted by Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens. This exciting afternoon is presented in partnership with the Centre for Oral History and Tradition (University of Lethbridge) and Plymouth University (UK). Free admission.

Nikka Yuko Garden Dinner Series, July 13 & 18, 6 to 9 p.m. each night

Each evening, guests will enjoy a set menu (Koko Japanese Restaurant) followed by a panel discussion with local experts who will share their ideas, stories and memories about how food/sports contributed to the postwar histories of Japanese Canadians in southern Alberta.

Guests include Ken Nakagama (Nakagama Shoten), Totsy Nishimura (Raymond Buddhist Church Kobai), Pat Sassa (Buddhist Temple of Southern Alberta), Hisae Price (small farming), (Wayne Kwan (Hiroba – U of L), Taka Kinjo (karate), Hollis Pickrell (curling), Greg Senda (judo), Mas Shigehiro (golf). Dr. Carly Adams will moderate both evenings. To book tickets please contact the Nikka Yuko Gardens at 403-328-3511 or

Nikka Yuko Japanese-Canadian Friendship Gardens 50th Anniversary Festivities, July 14 & 15

The project will host the Nikkei Memory History Centre, including a Memory Capture Booth run by the student research team where visitors can share memories and stories. This is a very special year of celebration that provides an invaluable research opportunity to collect data for the project. The Golden Anniversary of the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden not only celebrates the establishment of this venerable cultural heritage site, it illuminates a moment at the centre of Nikkei, southern Albertan, Canadian, and trans-Pacific postwar history. Through the cultural and historical awareness that 2017 sparks, the project explores the Nikkei inheritance and how this can shape aspirations for the future. This Centre will be located in the Asian Market on July 14 from 12 to 5 p.m. and July 15 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.