Japan in Vancouver

Photo by Major J.S. Matthews from the City of Vancouver Archives website

Photo by Major J.S. Matthews from the City of Vancouver Archives website

With eyes gazing up towards the azure sky, you sink your feet deep into the grass as a fine film of pink petals cascade over you like a delicate Japanese blanket. With nearly 40,000 cherry trees throughout the city, Vancouver transforms into a rose-coloured wonderland as a full spectrum of pink blossoms emerge from their wintery slumber. Further to this, a taste of Japan can also be found in an impressive selection of dining venues, cultural events and annual festivals that simutaneously serve as both transportive experiences while also paying tribute to a culture that helped to shape the city.

Starting in the mid 1800s, Japanese workers began to arrive in Vancouver in order to secure work in fishing, farming and forestry. This community flourished and an area known as Japantown served as both the home and unifying element for this group until 1942. Click here to read more about Japanese history in the city on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation website.

While the Japanese community is smaller than what it was in the earlier days, there was a boom of Japanese dining establishments in the 1980s, and an astonishing selection can be found in present day. This rich Japanese history speaks with a clear voice, and evidence of these times can be found throughout the city.

Photo by Ehren Seeland

Photo by Ehren Seeland

Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival
5251 Oak Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone: (604) 257-8120

This annual celebration marks the reawakening of local communities as blossoms emerge in every corner of the city. The organization exists as a non-profit that was founded in 2005 and is led by a dedicated board of directors. Every year, the festival inspires participants to express their love of cherry trees through music, photography, art, design, craft, cuisine and poetry, including the Haiku Invitational.

Events and celebrations can be found across the city, and the blossoms can be explored via the extensive Vancouver bike lane system, along with guided walking tours and other activities. In order to get a lay of the land, check this map to find the best venues in the city for cherry blossom sightings. Sakura Days Japan Fair is also incorporated into these celebrations.

Photo by George Draskóy from the Flickr website

Photo by George Draskóy from the Flickr website

Nitobe Memorial Garden
UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research
6804 SW Marine Drive
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone: (604) 822-3928

Standing as a destination for reflection and appreciation year-round, this destination includes a koi pond, soothing streams and waterfalls, stone lanterns and a traditional teahouse. Created by architects and gardeners that were recommended by the government of Japan, these gardens occupy a full hectare of pristine land that is meant to honour Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933), who maintained a focus on bridging across the Pacific.

For those who wish to take part in the formal preparation of tea and visit as guests of Ichibō-an, the ceremonial teahouse that is located on the grounds, click here for a full list of available dates.

Photo by Roland Tanglao from the Flickr website

Photo by Roland Tanglao from the Flickr website

Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall
475 and 487 Alexander Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone: (604) 254-2551

Founded in 1906 in the heart of Japantown, this wooden structure originally existed to offer instruction in Japanese language, along with other subjects like math, history and science. Many Japanese children participated in classes in local Vancouver public schools during the day, and then went for further studies after their regular school day at this establishment.

The centre now offers language courses, with the ultimate goal of strengthening inter-cultural communication and understanding, and also to pay tribute to the history of the Nikkei community (first generation Japanese in the city). This heritage building also saw rejuvenation through provincial and city funding. Programs include Japanese language for all ages and levels, a culture program that covers calligraphy and the martial arts, along with continuing education and options for young children that include the opportunity for daycare and preschool.

Photo from the Powell Street Festival Society website

Photo from the Powell Street Festival Society website

Powell Street Festival Society
Suite 410 – 111 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone: (604) 739-9388

The mission of the non-profit Powell Street Festival Society (PSFS) is to celebrate and cultivate Japanese Canadian and Asian Canadian arts and culture, to encourage Asian Canadians to take a leadership role in the development of the Canadian art scene, and to support development and growth around the Downtown Eastside area in Vancouver.

The festival is the largest event of its kind in Canada and is the longest running community arts festival in the Lower Mainland, which will see the 39th consecutive year of events in 2015. Annual activities include a multitude of artists, venues, craft and food booths, a tent for children, and participation by related local community groups.

Photo by Lys from the Flickr website

Photo by Lys from the Flickr website

Tojo’s
1133 West Broadway
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone: (604) 872-8050

Vancouver can ruin you for sushi, in that the city not only boasts some of the finest Japanese dining in the world, but also maintains steady access to beautifully fresh seafood, along with a range of organic produce for quality dining at decent prices.

One of the most celebrated locations in the city is Tojo’s, which was developed in 1988 by Hidekazu Tojo, a chef who apprenticed with culinary masters in Japan and who maintains an encyclopaedic repertoire of some 2000 traditional Japanese recipes that he draws on from memory.

Being that Tojo was at the forefront of Japanese cuisine in the city, he developed the universally loved California Roll in order to ease locals into a gradual comfort zone of eating raw fish. For those who are not familiar with it, this roll consists of cooked crabmeat and avocado, which are rolled inside out to hide the seaweed wrapper. Now a staple on menus across the world, Tojo helped to found this culinary classic, and currently offers an extensive menu including tuna sashimi with sesame and wasabi sauce, baked sablefish, a variety of innovative rolls, along with an exclusive sake bar.

Photo by Justin Chan from the Flickr website

Photo by Justin Chan from the Flickr website

Hapa Izakaya
1516 Yew Street,
Vancouver, British Columbia
Phone: (604) 738-4272

Owners Lea and Justin Ault first introduced Hapa to the city in 2003, and with this, set the bar high for an explosion of izakaya venues throughout the city. These establishments are rooted in traditional drinking houses that boast a selection of small menu items for snacking. The four locations of this Japanese street food outpost have proven to be so popular that further incarnations have been launched in Calgary, Alberta and two locations Toronto, Ontario.

While you can find their appealing menu of sushi rolls, short ribs in apple-soy marinade, and pork belly lettuce wraps at all four locations, a perennial favourite is the Kits Beach location on Yew, given the relaxed vibe and proximity to the Pacific ocean. After a shared meal of shochu, ebi mayo, a spicy pork rice bowl and sashimi salad with citrus-soy and organic greens, head down to Kits beach for a stroll around the water and catch the evening sunset. パーフェクト

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2 Responses to Japan in Vancouver

  1. MoogsC

    There’ll be a Japanese summer festival at Nikkei Place Aug 30 & 31, if anyone’s interested: there’ll be traditional dance, food, crafts, activities plus a talent contest. Looks interesting: http://nikkeimatsuri.nikkeiplace.org/

    • Ehren Seeland

      Thank you for the heads up on the upcoming event!

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