April 12th, 2024

Nikkei history project shortlisted for Governor General award

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on October 14, 2023.

Education and program manager Rhys Winder says the Nikkei Memory Capture Project has helped visitors to the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden engage with Japanese Canadian history. Herald photo by Ian Martens

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

A project by the University of Lethbridge in partnership with the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden and the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, that shares the histories of Japanese Canadians in the post-war era has been shortlisted for a Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming.

The Nikkei Memory Capture Project (NMCP) showcases Japanese Canadian histories in southern Alberta through a time map, an audio journey, and a memory booth located at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens Bunka Centre.

Launched in 2017, the NCMP is a transnational oral history collaboration exploring the stories of Japanese Canadians after the Second World War. The study sought to analyze the cultural and social history of Canadian Nikkei (people of Japanese descent) in the second half of the 20th century.

Co-lead of the NCMP and associate professor of World History and Oral History at the University of Plymouth, Darren Aoki who is a Lethbridge-born third generation Nikkei spoke to the Herald recently about the project and said the project is important to him as it is a way to reconnect with his southern Alberta roots and his Japanese Canadian culture while living in the UK.

“My role actually dates back to the founding of a pilot project of oral histories with Japanese Canadians in southern Alberta and it actually proved to be quite a success, so I thought maybe we actually have some momentum to develop this into another much bigger project.”

Aoki says it was at that point in 2017 when he reached out to the University of Lethbridge’s co-director of the Centre for Oral History and Tradition Carly Adams to create the NCMP that is now located at the Bunka Centre.

 “We had really been focusing mainly on an older generation of Japanese Canadians and what they went through after the Second World War, how they got on with their lives, their aspirations, their hopes and what they try to create based on that,” said Aoki.

 He said they realized there was a bigger scope to look at, from an academic focus, as southern Alberta was the third largest community of Japanese Canadians at that time and at one point they were coming through this area and contributed to a mix of backgrounds and new ideas.

 “Based on that, we started looking at other topics like interracial marriage. Carly brings her expertise on sports history and leisure, and I worked on the food side of things. We’ve been interested in digital storytelling so all these different things started to open up a way for us to do it.”

Aoki said so far he has met with more than 100 people and has collected hundreds of hours of information through interviews.

Adams told the Herald that the project consists of a time map exhibit that features the stories of the waves of migration of Japanese Canadians into Alberta, digital audio journeys that weave in oral histories, and an immersive memory booth where visitors can contribute to the collection of stories with their own memories and experiences.

“For the audio journey we’ve talked to over 100 people in the community, probably closer to 150, and it incorporates their voice into these histories,” said Adams.

 She said there are two versions to the audio journey, with one being a shorter version of it where people can stand in front of the time map at the Bunka Centre and listen to excerpts between two and five minutes long that provide snapshots into the histories of Japanese Canadian experiences in southern Alberta through their mobile devices. The other one is a longer version that has entries of up to 10 minutes in length, and people can take the opportunity to learn more and dive deeper into those histories.

 When it comes to gathering the data collected at the memory booth, Adams said they work with a software developer in the UK and are able to access it as soon as it is recorded.

 “We’re also continually working on different digital storytelling films. We have 11 in the booth now from different initiatives that we’ve been working on, and we hope to have between 10 and 20 additional films added over the next two years.”

 Adams says the project is constantly evolving and there will be new and exciting updates in the future. She added they have a contract with the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden until 2026 to have their project showcased at the Bunka Centre but she hopes that can be expanded.

Education and program manager for Nikka Yuko, Rhys Winder told the Herald the NCMP has helped them expand the ability to help visitors engage with Japanese Canadian history and they are very happy to be part of the project.

“Every day when we’re open people come in, whether it’s to get a drink at the cafe or to buy tickets for the garden, they stop and take a moment to read the time map, or listen to the audio journeys that are stored there, and sometimes engage with the volunteer asking questions about the project,” said Winder.

He said they have received great feedback about the project and continually received questions about expanding it to include more audio and film.

“We want to congratulate the project leads doctors Carly Adams and Darren Aoki, it’s been a pleasure working with them and we look forward to continuing that collaboration for many years to come,” said Winder.

Sponsored by the National History Society, the Governor’s General award honours two recipients, one French and one English, for innovation in community programming. The winners will be revealed later this fall with each winning organization receiving a prize of $2,500 and a trip to Ottawa to receive the award.

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