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Steveston Salmon Festival shows off Japanese Heritage3 min read

3 July, 2010 1 comment

Ricepaper is happy to have Jenny Uechi as a guest blogger. Jenny is the infamous Jenny of long-time Ricepaper column JennyPop. She recently escaped her capsule apartment in Tokyo and is now a Vancouver-based writer and sometime cartoonist. She is happy to be back in Vancouver, where green grass is abundant and Chinese food tastes real – and to go to salmon-gorging unique cultural heritage-discovering events like the Canada Day Steveston Salmon Festival.

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“Is that part of our cultural heritage?” my brother asked, pointing at the crooked squiggle drawing taped onto the wall of the Steveston Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

“Uh, no,” I say, “I think that’s further inside.”

We’re at the Steveston Salmon Festival on Canada Day, which we saw as a unique opportunity to  gorge on fresh succulent salmon rediscover our unique cultural heritage. It’s a dreary, rainy day outside and the parade is drawing to an end, so we go to see the displays inside the traditional Japanese building.

Once we enter the room, our eyes are treated to a visual feast of beautiful flower arrangements, created by local Japanese Canadians. Although most of the creators are Canadian-born Japanese and longtime immigrants, the display bears the name of a famous Japanese style, “Sogetsu” (grass and moon), known for its innovative and modern forms.

As we walked through the hushed room, a group of women in kimonos entered the room with gliding steps and stepped onto the demonstration stage — they were here to show us a tea ceremony demonstration, kneeling stoically as they prepared to pour the tea. Adults turned to the stage and observed with hands folded, while a tiny blonde girl looked on open-mouthed, mesmerized by the unfolding ceremony.

In the adjacent room was the highlight of the day — several rooms packed with a crowd of miniature Japanese paper dolls, made with colourful patterned paper. The dolls were mostly of girls, but some men, wearing traditional kimonos and hairstyles of times long past. Most of the dolls were made by women of the Japanese community, but I was surprised to see some of the creations attributed to Caucasian women who studied doll-making under the same sensei.

The small, quietly proud display in Steveston revealed the deep roots that Japanese Canadians held in the city, despite the despite the wartime displacement and internment. The Japanese in B.C. were renown as boat builders, and prior to 1944, Japanese men made up the majority of Steveston’s workers.  While merchants and businessmen gravitated toward Powell Street, the region’s boatbuilders, cannery workers and fishermen made their home here at the ocean’s edge, as close as they could be to the homeland they had left behind. 75% of them had Canadian citizenship status, and led quiet lives  lives until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, which irrevocably changed life for the Steveston residents and blew apart their community as a result.

The displays in Steveston that day, though, showed that the community was still strong and vibrant, and had not lost touch with its roots.

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