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Kibou · Hope

View of Mount Fuji horizon through a haze of red mist, textured with a pattern of dotted diamonds.

Carried by the Kuroshio

After centuries of enforced isolation, Meiji Japan opens itself to the world. A people once held firmly within the bounds of the coastline dream of opportunities beyond the horizon.

For thousands of years the Kuroshio, or Black Current, carried travellers to and from the shores of Japan. In 1868, when Meiji rule ends 200 years of isolation, the Kuroshio becomes Japan’s conduit to the rest of the world. Beginning in the 1890s, the first wave of Japanese Canadian immigrants – the Issei – cross the Pacific. The voyage by steamship, from Yokohama to Vancouver, takes at least 20 days at this time.

Montage of a Japanese-style drawing of a man and musical instrument, imposed on an image of a boat and the moon at night.

“On clear days, they came on deck and stared into the vastness of sea and sky. On moonlit nights, they sang songs of their birthplaces.”

– Kafu Nagai
A sepia historical image of a street in Japan lined with wood and brick buildings with tiled roofs.

Reasons for Departure

In Japan in 1868, land is scarce, job prospects are few, and famine is real. Young men are the first to look to North America as a new place to call home.

Two young persons of Japanese descent stand holding colourful bundles of fabric.

The Meiji era begins in Japan in 1868, after 200 years of extreme isolation and a strictly limiting feudal economy. Japan enters a global economy dominated by the colonial powers of the industrialized west. This transition brings upheaval, scarcity, and uncertainty. Young men are the first to leave their ancestral homes in search of new opportunities. They leave behind all they know and put their trust in a land they’ve never seen.

Weathered suitcase, with wooden handle and metal clasps. 'S. KOBAYASHI' is faded, but legible near the handle. Old leather suitcase with ornate handle and metal clasps. The name 'M.ODAMURA' is legible near the handle.
Archival images of Japanese men and luggage, and one contemporary image, imposed in a boat's steerage space.

Old Shores, New Opportunities

Early immigrants settle in British Columbia, equipped with courage and perseverance. Now the real journey begins.

Photo montage of a ship imposed onto the shore of an illustration of a village.
Images of jumping fish, imposed on an illustration of waves.

“Fish are jumping into boats. Come and join me.”

– Letter from Gihei Kuno to his fellow villagers in Mio, Wakayama-ken

The Issei arrive in Canada, a land that is much like Japan, but vast. Home to aboriginal peoples since time immemorial, it has teeming rivers, towering forests, and fertile land. Under the recently imposed British colonial government, Japanese arrivals begin the work of making a home here.

A dry, grassy field with a large leafless tree at centre. Another tree is next to a wood shed, and a line of trees behind.
A Japanese Canadian woman and young girl in traditional Japanese clothing. The woman is holding a blanket.

[A Japanese woodblock print shows a fishing boat near the shores of a mountain lake. The image morphs into the real-life vista, with a forested valley beyond giving way to a rocky, mountain glacier.]

Welcome to this land that has been our home for over ten thousand years. Where we have hunted, fished and had the freedom to practice our laws and our culture. Things have changed. We are now under the British rule of law.

[A view from above : fine, grey clouds are suspended over the tops of a dense, evergreen forest. In a view looking directly down on the trees, the evergreens stand, silently clustered together.]