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Reviewed by:
  • Hiroshima Immigrants in Canada, 1891-1941
  • Laurel Sefton Macdowell (bio)
Michiko Midge Ayukawa . Hiroshima Immigrants in Canada, 1891-1941. UBC Press. xxii, 186. $24.95

The word Hiroshima evokes visions of the mushroom-shaped cloud that was created by the atomic bomb dropped on this Japanese city. But this monograph is about Japanese citizens from that community who came [End Page 586] to Canada years earlier. One of the book's strengths lies in the specific details about these people, their names, marriages and divorces, families, their reasons for leaving Japan and goals in their new country, their work, and their adjustment to Canada.

The first ones to arrive were men who worked in the resources industries, particularly mining. Later some Japanese settled in urban communities, and wherever they did, small merchants set up shop. The author particularly discusses Powell Street in Vancouver around which a Japantown area emerged. More settled immigrants began to purchase land and develop farms, often supplying the market with many kinds of berries.

Japanese women came to Canada to join their husbands or to marry. The 'picture brides' often were selected carefully by the men's families back home, as partners. Their motives for coming to Canada differed. Some were divorced and starting over. Some were older and needed to marry, as that remained a requirement of being a Japanese woman. Some were adventurous or straining at the strictures Japanese society. In Canada they worked hard on farms, in canneries, cooked and washed in camps, worked as domestics, and managed their households and families. They had large families, often in isolated circumstances where only their husbands could assist at the births.

Japanese immigrants to Canada faced discrimination in law and from non-Asian Canadians every day, but though it is mentioned, the book focuses on the lives of these people. Another strength of the book is the author's thorough research; she has interviewed people and found old documents such as diaries from the period, but she also knows the language and understands the culture and therefore the outlook of those who are the subject of her writing. As a result, they come alive as individuals and provide the reader with interesting accounts of their work and home experiences, as they raise their children, educate them, seek to maintain their culture and think of returning to their home country. Sometimes the author is repetitive and not as analytical as she might be. Also with her in-depth knowledge, one wonders why she concentrated only on the people arriving from the Hiroshima district. But this book's strengths outweigh these weaknesses.

The content of the monograph is sandwiched between a delightful prologue, in which the author explains how she came to write the book, and a conclusion. Originally she was in search of her own roots as her grandfather and later her father came to Canada, and, like many from the Hiroshima district, stayed. She herself travelled to Japan to do research and conduct interviews, driven by her own curiosity. In her conclusion, she repeats that substantive social and economic problems in Japan motivated these hardy souls to emigrate. They formed communities in Canada and helped each other, but within their neighbourhoods were [End Page 587] also disagreements between Japanese 'bosses' and workers. Within Canadian society, they were not docile in the face of discrimination. They preserved their culture, and as their children became 'Canadian' they taught them pride in their Japanese culture. Sadly this prewar society was destroyed by the internment of Japanese during the Second World War and they had to rebuild their communities in the postwar period, which was a long process assisted by the government apology in 1988. As most Japanese Canadians marry persons from other backgrounds, the new Japanese community is very different from the one depicted here, and thus the book has contributed to Canadian history by describing early Japanese society in Canada. [End Page 588]

Laurel Sefton Macdowell

Laurel Sefton MacDowell, Department of Historical Studies, University of Toronto at Mississauga



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pp. 586-588
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