A Community Assailed by Racism

During the first decades after their arrival, the Japanese continued to build their communities amid racism and discrimination.

Some Canadians accused the Japanese and Chinese of stealing their jobs. Others blamed them for causing trouble at work because the Japanese employed in sawmills and mines seemed to work harder for lower wages than other workers. In this way, they unwittingly became the scapegoats for social unease.

In 1907, Canadians who wanted to end Asian immigration and force all Chinese and Japanese immigrants to leave British Columbia, organized a demonstration that escalated into a riot and mob violence against the Chinese and Japanese districts along Powell Street, nicknamed Little Tokyo. White rioters smashed in storefronts, windows and doors and terrorized the Powell Street residents.

The following year, the Japanese and Canadian governments reached an agreement to reduce the number of Japanese immigrants into Canada. Unlike Chinese immigrants, no entry tax was imposed upon the Japanese. But after 1908, the number of new male immigrants was limited to 400 per year. On the other hand, an unlimited number of women and children were accepted. Despite these new constraints, the Japanese Canadian community, who enjoyed a lot of solidarity, continued to grow until they were 10,000 strong in 1914.

In 1928, the federal government further decreased the number of Japanese men allowed to come into Canada to 150 per year. During this period, unions and white businessmen were pressuring the governments of Canada and British Columbia to put an end to any immigration from Asia.

From 1920 to 1930, a number of regulations and racist control measures against the Japanese took shape. During the 1920’s, British Columbia reduced the number of fishing permits available to non-Whites, especially the Japanese for whom fishing was a major source of their livelihood.

In 1931, the right to vote was granted to surviving soldiers but denied to other Japanese Canadians. Not only was their right to vote denied, they were not allowed to become teachers or civil servants outside of their communities, despite their fine command of English and their reputation for being good students as well as indefatigable workers.

The Japanese, including those born in Canada, were usually paid less than white workers for the same task. Until the 1950s, discrimination would prevent even Canadian-born Japanese (Nissei, the second generation) from finding work outside of their community.

During the 1930s, the government of British Columbia revoked their logging permits and when they required social assistance, they received less of it than Whites.

Despite their status as second class citizens and the discrimination they experienced on a daily basis, the Japanese nevertheless still managed to thrive both socially and economically. They built community centers, associations and hospitals, hiring Japanese doctors and nurses trained in the United States and Japan. They built Buddhist and Shinto temples, Christian churches, baseball teams and newspapers.