The Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Center is located in Burnaby, Canada, just outside Vancouver. British Columbia has a long history of Japanese immigrants dating back to 1877 when Manzo Nagano first arrived. As in the United States, Nikkei residing in the military exclusion zone of western Canada during World War II were forced to evacuate to interior locations. But there were differences, too. Before the war, the Japanese in Canada could own land, could marry Caucasians and could become naturalized citizens, though they were not allowed to vote. The government records were also very different in Canada compared to the US.
Funded in part by redress money, the center serves the entire Nikkei community, from new immigrants and Japanese ex-pats to yonsei, gosei and so on. There is an attached Japanese market and senior housing. There are language classes, judo and kendo classes, a small museum and gift shop, a research room and archival holdings. Best of all, there are Nikkei Family History Workshops led by research archivist, Linda Kawamoto Reid. A former nurse turned archivist, Linda was kind enough to give me a personal tour of the resource area and also time to do some personal research before the class.
Though I have a good working knowledge of records available for Japanese American research, I was at a loss as to how to search Japanese Canadian records. The pre-World War II Nikkei population in Canada was only about 22,000, as compared to approximately 120,000 in the western US. Racism was rampant in both countries. Ms. Reid explained to the group how to find their records in BC, at the Canadian National Archives and in Japan. She described the 1940 National Registration for all Canadians, the 1941 Enemy Alien Registration, lists of incarcerated individuals by camp, and the case files for those who owned property, businesses, boats and the like. She showed us books of family histories, and lists of residents created in 1920 and 1929 which included names, towns, prefectures of origin, and family members, all in both English and Kanji. I haven’t found anything quite like that in the US. Beyond the local and national records, Linda also taught the class how to access their koseki in Japan.
The class was organized and well planned. The instructor presented a wealth of examples for us to review after the presentation. She explained complex laws and cultural nuances, immigration records, and the plethora of Nikkei documentation unique to Canada. The handouts were invaluable. I am so glad to have attended this class and to have met another researcher interested in Nikkei records.