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North Island College students learn about culture and connection in Japan

NIC students travel to Japan, learning about Mio’s culture and surprising connections to Canada
NIC student Sebastian Charlie with Takae Mio (from the Canada Museum in Mio, Japan). Charlie gifted a drum with stand to the museum which was put on display.

North Island College students explored topics like Indigenous sovereignty, trans-Pacific migration and reconciliation on a recent 10-day trip to Japan.

The students were part of NIC's field school: "Fishing, Indigeneity and the Asia Pacific," and began their trip in Yokohama and Tokyo. After exploring museums i the larger cities, the group travelled by train to Osaka and Kyoto on the second day.

“Getting to know the students was a real plus. When we went to Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, the professor spoke in Japanese, and the boys [NIC students] answered in Japanese, and we all looked at each other, they surprised us. A couple of the boys had been studying Japanese on their own. They were full of surprises,” said June Johnson, Elder, Indigenous Education.

After Kyoto, the group travelled to Mio, a small town in the Wakauama District. Students learned about local fishing practices and experienced the hospitality, delicious food and culture of the close-knit village.

“I actually have Japanese heritage, and I was able to trace my family roots in Mio. I got to visit family properties and go to the grave sites of my great-great grandparents. People hadn't been there in probably between 30 to 40 years, so we cleaned them up. It was like honouring a part of me that I never really got to know before,” said NIC student Trinity Clark.

Mio also has a historical relationship with Canada. Over the past 130 years, a significant amount of emigration has occurred between Mio and Steveston Village, in the city of Richmond. During their trip, students discussed the circumstances, conditions and motivations that drove Japanese migration to Canada within the context of immigration and Indigenous rights today.

“The Indigenous people of Japan [the Ainu], their story is very similar to the story of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada,” said Ryan Blaak, Field School Instructor and Department Chair, Faculty, Humanities & Social Sciences. “In Mio, this little fishing village, the link to Canada was very clear. That was really profound to me and it was impactful to see the connection for a lot of students as well. None of us will forget how we were treated in Japan, and particularly in Mio. You can’t put a price tag on this type of opportunity."

The Japan Field School was made possible through support from NIC President and CEO Lisa Domae, and Romana Pasca and Renae Leboe from the college’s Office of Global Engagement. In addition, the students received scholarships from the Global Skills Opportunity Fund, UMAP (University Mobility Asia Pacific) Fund and One World BC Scholarship Society.

“For everybody to have had this life experience is huge, and to get a different perspective of a different place in the world, it’s important. It’s a huge reason why I would recommend field schools to students for sure,” said Clark.

Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Black press in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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