Visiting Japantown’s past - Metro US

Visiting Japantown’s past

It might be hard to imagine now, but 70 years ago, the neighbourhood around Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside was a booming hub of Japanese culture.

At the turn of the century, several thousand Japanese immigrants settled in the area around Powell and Alexander streets — as well as in Steveston —where they worked in the fishing and lumber industries.

“There’d be tofu-making shops and confectionary shops. It was the hub (of the Japanese community),” said Linda Kawamoto Reid, assistant archivist at the Japanese Canadian National Museum in Burnaby.

On Monday, the Emperor and Empress of Japan will take a visit to the museum.

Reid said Japantown — also known as Nihonmachi — thrived until late 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

“People were very afraid of the Japanese Imperial Army and (by late 1941) that fear really … got out of control,” she said.

The government set up the B.C. Security Commission, which shipped around 22,000 Japanese Canadians to internment camps in the Interior and auctioned off their properties.

When the war ended, the families were told they could go to Japan or move east of the Rockies.

“In the end, there was a large amount that went to Toronto … Some went back to fishing communities,” Reid said. “Nobody ever went back to Nihonmachi.”

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