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WATARI DORI: A Bird of Passage
Immigration History

Watari Dori, A Bird of Passage chronicles Irene Tsuyuki's journey as a second generation Japanese Canadian. Tsuyuki's father had come to Canada between 1907 and 1910. After WWII he chose to take his family and go back to his native Japan. In 1949 Irene returned to Canada, determined to live the better life that her father set out to find years before.

Tsuyuki's father was among the first wave of Japanese Canadians who arrived in Canada between 1877 and 1928. This first group of Japanese Canadian immigrants are called the Issei, By 1914, 10,000 Japanese had settled permanently in Canada. The Issei were usually young and literate and came from the overcrowded fishing and farming villages on the southern Japanese islands of Kyush and Honshu(1).

Not long after Tsuyuki's father settled in Canada, he sent for a picture bride, also known as a mail-order bride. Up until 1907 almost all Japanese immigrants had been young men. In 1907, however, Canada insisted that Japan limit the migration of males to Canada to 400 per year. As a result, most immigrants from then on were women coming to join their husbands. In 1928 Canada further restricted Japanese immigration to 150 persons annually. In 1940 Japanese immigration stopped completely and did not begin again until 1967(2).

Like almost all of the first wave Japanese immigrants, the Tsuyukis put down roots in British Columbia. Irene's father started a retail repair shoe store on Powell Street, the heart of the Japanese Canadian community in Vancouver. Before WWII, Japanese Canadians were not welcomed into mainstream Canadian society. They congregated in their own enclaves such as Powell Street, and in the Fraser Valley villages such as Steveston and Mission City. Japanese Canadians developed their own social, religious and economic institutions, built Christian churches and Buddhist and Shinto temples, Japanese language schools, community halls, and hospitals staffed by Japanese doctors and nurses. And they formed co-operative associations to market their produce and fish, and community and cultural associations for self-help and social events. By 1941, there were more than 100 clubs and organizations within a tightly knit community of 23,000 individuals, half of whom were children(3).

The second wave of Japanese immigrants began arriving years later, in 1967. Their culture was very different from the pre-WWI peasant culture brought by the Issei. These new immigrants were products of Japan's industrialized and urban middle class. The culture of the recent immigrants also included many traditional Japanese skills that had been lost to the descendants of the Issei. This new injection of Japanese culture made it possible for young Japanese Canadians to learn their ancestral language and skills such as martial arts, taiko, odori, origami and ikebana(4).

Endnotes:

1-4 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

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