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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Overlapping lives : cultural sharing among five groups of Japanese Canadian (Nikkei) women Shibata, Yuko


The year 2002 marks the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the first recorded arrival of Japanese immigrants in 1877. Since then the Japanese Canadian population has grown to over 65,000 people living in various parts of Canada. This dissertation concentrates on Nikkei (Japanese Canadian) women, specifically on five different generational groups of these women. The focus is on the relationships between prewar and postwar immigrant women as well as between the generations within these two groups. Special attention is paid to how memories are fashioned, experiences related and interpreted, and ultimately how the cultural knowledge developed in these relationships has come to affect contemporary Japanese Canadian communities. This dissertation documents the shifting interpretations of immigrant status, of gender performance, of ethnic identity, and of the nature of Japanese Canadian culture in Canada. The thesis addresses five groups of Nikkei women: 1) the Issei, or prewar immigrants who migrated from Japan in the 1920s; 2) the Nisei, or daughters of the Issei; 3) the Sansei, the granddaughters of the Issei; 4) the Shin-Issei, or postwar immigrants who immigrated in the late 1950s to mid- 1970s; and 5) the Shin-Nisei, or daughters of the Shin-Issei. It shows a culture of socially organized diversity within its bounds and a display of Japanese Canadian-ness to the outside world. The cultural knowledge which emerges is viewed as a creative interactional process. The research informing the dissertation is longitudinally based over twenty-five years, spanning the years between the mid-1970s, when the first data were collected, to the beginning of 2000. It is based on the life histories and the narratives constructed by each generation of women to explore their past, their relationships with their relatives and friends of both genders, and their perspectives on being Japanese within a Canadian context. These women evaluate the experiences and understandings of their mothers and grandmothers, or alternately their daughters and granddaughters. The narratives provide ethnographic sketches of each group and the cultural and interactional issues that reflect upon their experiences in both the Japanese Canadian and in the Canadian communities. These narratives are posited against my own experiences as a Japanese Canadian woman of the Shin-Issei generation. They are presented as intersecting experiences organized by pre-defined stages of the women's life-cycles, namely reasons for coming to Canada, early days as an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants, the years of war, postwar years, and their lives in the present. A constant theme is the reflection on the past as well as their ongoing experiences and on the continual shaping of their Japanese Canadian identity. The narratives demonstrate how gender, racialized identity, the status of being immigrants and the descendants of immigrants, language and cultural competency affected the lives of Nikkei women in Canada. They offer us a glimpse into the dynamic interaction between the restraints of social structure and the power of the individual, and in so doing, illustrate the strategies these women used to overcome conflict and to construct a distinct Nikkei culture in Canada. Nikkei women's narratives reflect their active resistance within a gendered and racialized world, how they balance their autonomy and the traditional connectedness to their cross-generational relationships and how they deal with conflicting values in order to incorporate their lives into local as well as mainstream Canadian society.

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