Reflections from the 2023 Japanese Canadian Youth Cohort

2023 JC Youth Cohort Reflection
The cohort from left to right: Boomba Nishikawa, Noah Haruki Richardson, Sean Chen.

This past summer, Powell Street Festival Society welcomed our second Japanese Canadian Youth Cohort to Vancouver. This program for Japanese Canadian youth ages 19-29 aims to create an embodied experience of Japanese Canadian identity as vibrant and vital. Beginning with online training, education, intergenerational relationship building, and skills development, this program culminated in a 10-day Production Residency in Vancouver, where the Cohort traveled to sites of Japanese Canadian cultural interest and gained hands-on experience as members of the festival production team. 

The program brings people of Japanese Canadian identity who were raised outside of British Columbia to connect with their furusato (hometown) in Vancouver. This year, we invited Noah Haruki Richardson from Calgary, Alberta, Sean Chen from Toronto, Ontario, and Boomba Nishikawa, who grew up in the US and is now living in Toronto, Ontario.  

I was really interested when I heard about it from another member of the Calgary Japanese Community Association because it was an opportunity to kind of come back to Vancouver, where I had lots of family members living at one time, to kind of find those roots of my Japanese Canadian identity.

The first month of weekly online JC Youth Cohort meetings in May centred around the themes of “Getting to Know Each Other & Tools for Communication, Decolonising, and Team Building,” followed by “Getting to Know Community and the Festival” in the first part of June. These sessions strengthened skills in cross-cultural communication, understanding systems of power, working across differences, stress identification and management, and asking powerful questions. Guest speakers and community members joined online meetings with the Cohort for intergenerational relationship building and opportunities for Indigenous knowledge sharing. Following the 6 weeks of online meetings, the cohort members took a couple of weeks off before traveling for their Production Residency. 

I think we all came to this experience looking for something; for me, I had so many unanswered curiosities about my own Japanese Canadian heritage. To share that journey of discovery with other people that I could relate to on many levels was really something special.

For me, [the most memorable online Cohort experience] was the conversation about ancestors. I had never really interrogated what my JC ancestors meant to me, let alone who they were. [...] To question if ancestors have to be blood-related really shifted my paradigm.

Having a space where we could be with other JC youth and talk specifically about what being Japanese Canadian means to us was very rare and special.

After weeks of online sessions and conversation, the Cohort finally came to Vancouver in late July for a 10-day Production Residency built around the 47th Annual Powell Street Festival. During this residency, members of the cohort attended a BBQ hosted by the Powell Street Festival Society board and joined our volunteer force during the Festival’s pre- and post- production periods.

These experiences were reinforced by additional visits to culturally significant landmarks of Japanese Canadian community in the Lower Mainland, including Steveston, the Nikkei Mational Museum, and Cultural Centre in Burnaby. On the trip to Steveston, the Cohort visited the Britannia Historic Shipyards—pictured above—and several outbuildings, the Nikkei Fishermen’s Memorial, Maples Residence Plaza, the Steveston Nikkei Memorial, Steveston Museum and Japanese Gardens, as well as other sites of Japanese Canadian legacy in the village. Another highlight of the trip was the intergenerational conversation circles (with tea and snacks) that were held at Nikkei Home and Sakura So seniors’ homes, alongside Radio Taiso exercises, supported by the Japanese Canadian Survivors Health & Wellness Fund. Finally, the Cohort was introduced to the neighborhoods of Paueru Gai and the Downtown Eastside, as they became further acquainted with the history and roles of our communities within these spaces.

My most memorable in-person experience was getting to know and work with the Downtown East side community. [...] I felt very privileged to be part of the festival production not only to participate in the Japanese Community but also to harmonize with the community in Oppenheimer Park.

For me, what I found most impactful was being apart of such a tight-knit community. [...] As a mixed-JC, I often feel disconnected from the community due to my appearance or lack of language. There were so many people at the festival who had shared feelings that I felt, for lack of better words, safe and included.

It was inspiring to see the whole team at PSF in action, because everyone had the same vision, and was working tirelessly out of love.

Thank you to those who were a part of the 2023 JC Youth Cohort! We hope this post helps paint a picture of the experience and what to expect. When available, the application process for next year’s JC Youth Cohort will be announced on our website and social media. 

Read more about the Japanese Canadian Youth Cohort Program here