A universal, though simplified, account of Nikkei immigration


By N. Rochelle Yamagishi (VICTORIA, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing,
2010. 112 pp., $12.95, paperback)

N. Rochelle Yamagishi has produced a simple, short, accessible, and celebratory story of the Japanese Canadian experience by introducing the story of Ryutaro Nakagama, who left Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan and arrived as an 18-year-old in Victoria, British Columbia in 1924. He settled like thousands of others in Steveston, British Columbia, an enclave that groups from Wakayama, Kagoshima and other parts of Southern Japan established.

Nakagama’s experiences in Canada mirror many others who immigrated not only to Canada but to America as well. Racial hostilities, need for cheap labor, beginning families through the picture bride process, forced incarceration of Japanese Canadians during World War II (in some ways much harsher than in the U.S.) are all familiar themes that infuse Nakagama’s life and thousands of other Japanese in North America.

The narrative of Nakagama life as told through recollections of his grown children makes this an interesting read. The work is less successful when the author attempts to create a coherent historical context of the Japanese Canadian experience especially with lack of footnotes or endnotes. Finally, the author resorts to the well-worn explanation of successful acceptance of Japanese Canadians post-war attributed to selective traditional Japanese values as well as their “model minority” behavior. But true racial acceptance, equality, and respect of a racial minority are much more complex and dynamic than relying on simplistic traditional Japanese values and “model minority” behavior as an explanation.

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