Japanese Community in Toronto

Canada’s popularity as a welcoming place for minorities is soaring. In the wake of this popularity, it is interesting to note the vast communities of people from all over the world that have taken up residence. Many different Asian cultures have, for decades, come to play a valued role in the broad and rich culture of Canada. In particular, it can be noted how the Japanese community has deeply taken root in the district of Toronto. Although the Japanese community is not as as populous as other Asian communities in the country, like the Chinese, they have certainly shared their culture fruitfully.

The growth of this community is quite stunning. Back in the 1930s, there were only six Japanese families in Toronto. Today, there are tens of thousands, a large majority of whom are Canadian born. Over the years, many generations of Japanese families have worked towards building a space for their community, their cuisine, and their culture in Toronto. They continue to share the fruits of their labour quite generously today.

Community Centers

With so many Japanese living in and migrating to Canada, a handful of community and cultural centers have flourished. These centers not only help generations of Canadian-born Japanese stay in touch with their roots, but they also help to provide an insight for non-Japanese.

The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC), for instance, has been around since the 60s, and today features a rich heritage program. For over fifty years, this centre has hosted cultural programs, traditional and contemporary performances, martial arts, film screenings, and festivals. The Gendai gallery caters exclusively to art from the Japanese perspective. Children and adults can take various classes here, varying from entertainment to educational to business training. A rich library contains a plethora of resource materials for the community.

The Canadian Japanese Cultural Centre of Hamilton provides several types of membership, and offers classes for various martial arts, cooking, language, and yoga, among other things. The Japan Foundation, Toronto, does much the same. It also organises events, has exhibition and auditorium space, and a public library. The Foundation even offers certain grants. The Japanese Information Centre also plays a role in the community. The centre works closely with the JCCC and the Japan Foundation to organise exchanges, cultural events, cross-cultural education, and scholarships.

Although the Japanese community in Toronto is scattered, certain suburban areas saw an influx of Japanese quite early on. Areas like Scarborough and Etobicoke saw the majority of this influx. Today, downtown areas like Bay Street have flourished with Japanese stores and restaurants, earning colloquial nicknames like Little Tokyo and Little Japan.

Restaurants and Stores

Some of the Japanese restaurants and stores you’ll find in Toronto have been around for decades. Some restaurants cater to exclusively Japanese cuisine, with house staples like sake and sushi. Others, like Blowfish, offer fusion dishes of all kinds. Miku will serve up some of the best seafood you can find, while Guu in Parkdale has some delicious Japanese snack foods. Late-night wanderers on Dundas West can revel in the cocktails and snacks at Imanishi. For a completely traditional Japanese cuisine experience, Zen is one of the top spots.

Those looking for Japanese arts and crafts would love the Harbord Avenue store, “Things Japanese”. This is a shop that is ideal for finding all kinds of products, from teas to chopsticks. People looking for cards, stationery, and origami supplies are drawn to the Paper Place, over on Queen Street. There are several grocery stores that provide Japanese food items and various kitchen staples, such as Sanko, also on Queen Street. These are popular spots for the Japanese and non-Japanese communities alike to experience the culture and cuisine of the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Japanese community has certainly set down some deep roots in Toronto, and they have come to share their culture quite generously.

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Japanese Cinema

Japanese art form is something that is closely followed by millions of individuals from around the world. This spans numerous sectors including food, fashion, and certainly cinema. One of the reason that Japanese cinema is popular within the country and worldwide, is the poignant concepts behind some of the more popular films. Themes involving samurai, the Yakuza, and even anti-war reached out to gain the interests of cinephiles everywhere. Of course, equally as famous were the Japanese moviemakers’ tendency towards extreme violence and other graphic viewing material. Let’s take a look at some of the individuals and movies that have shaped Japanese cinema over the years:

Famous Movies

There are some movies that have been received more warmly than others and will continue to stand the test of time with movie audiences. Topping this list is The Seven Samurai, released in 1953. It involves a down and out samurai who must heed the call of a victimized village. The samurai gather six other villagers to help him defend the residents against the bandits. One of the most impressive aspects of this film is the fight sequence that takes place between the soldiers and the bandits. Even decades later, it is still hailed as one of the most stunning cinematography elements.

For those looking for a more poignant tale about life, loss, and the gap between generations, you may want to turn to Tokyo Story. Released in the same year as The Seven Samurai, this story deals with a different plot line. Perhaps what is truly so memorable about this film is that even half a century later, it holds truths that every audience member can relate to. Finding the balance between work and family as well as the distractions that life has to offer are just a few of the themes explored. It really is a movie for the ages.

Famous Directors

Of course, great movies cannot be made without great directors at the helm. Japan has produced some of the finest directors, whose work is still being mimicked today. One of these phenomenal individuals was none other than Kenji Mizoguchi. He was known for productions such as Ugetsu and The Life of Oharu. One of the hallmarks of Mizoguchi’s works was a harsh and unrelenting look at Japanese culture and his criticisms of some of its failings. In addition to his masterful creations, Mizoguchi was also quite revolutionary. He took on the plight of Japanese women quite early on, creating movies that showcased the tribulations that many women of that time faced.

Yasujiro Ozu, director of Tokyo Story, also deserves his credit. This is not just because he created a masterpiece that continues to be relevant even so many decades later. It is also because of his ability to create visuals that were quite different from other directors. He used techniques that elevated his characters and their scenes to new heights. In addition to bringing common themes to light, he also lent them a powerful, ethereal glow as well.

It would be remiss to not have Akira Kurosawa on this list. Kurosawa had many triumphs including Rashomon and The Seven Samurai. He was certainly no stranger to producing beautifully choreographed scenes. One of the greatest measures of Kurosawa’s talents, however, was his ability to reach audiences worldwide. He is one of the Japanese directors that is credited with the prevalence of Japanese movies in the Western world.

Famous Actors

The final but no less important piece of the puzzle is the actors and actresses who helped to create some of the most memorable Japanese movies. Due to the considerable span of the Japanese movie history, of course, there are numerous thespians that have left their mark in cinema. Of the actors, some that have been noted for exceptional performances are Toshiro Mifune, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Takeshi Kitano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ken Watanabe, and Hiroshi Abe. Actresses have achieved just as much accolades and fame as their male counterparts. These performers include Kou Shibasaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kimiko Yo, and Rinko Kikuchi.

This is just a brief glimpse into the vast world of Japanese cinema. It has a rich and beautiful history that still resounds today.