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Who Was The First Japanese Immigrant to Canada?


April 14, 2024 - April 28, 2024

Japanese began settling in Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century. Earlier, some had visited as sailors on sealing ships, as shipwrecked sailors picked up at sea, or as short-time sojourners—all returning to Japan. In 1880 an Imperial Japanese Naval training ship brought over 300 cadets to Esquimalt Harbour for a week’s visit. But who was the first Japanese to come and stay? Manzo Nagano’s name is the most well-known of the early immigrants, but was he really the first? This series will examine three candidates—Manzo Nagano, Tomekichi Homma, and Kisuke Mikuni; judge for yourself.



Stories from this series

Thumbnail for Kisuke Mikuni—The First Documented Immigrant
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Kisuke Mikuni—The First Documented Immigrant

April 28, 2024 • Ann-Lee Switzer , Gordon Switzer

When Sumio Ishidate wrote about early Victoria in 1909, he had claimed, “In the autumn of the 17th year of Meiji (1884), several Japanese landed at Victoria . . . Kisuke Mikuni and Tomekichi Homma who live in Vancouver district are people who came during that period.” Like Homma, Mikuni never claimed in his lifetime that he was the first immigrant. Of course, as we have seen, neither did Nagano. Of the two men Ishidate named as arriving in Victoria …

Thumbnail for Tomekichi Homma (Part 2) — Early Activist
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Tomekichi Homma (Part 2) — Early Activist

April 22, 2024 • Ann-Lee Switzer , Gordon Switzer

Read Part 1 (Tomekichi Homma) >> What did the village of Steveston look like in the 1880s when the first Japanese fishermen arrived? The village that became Steveston took its name from Manoah Stevens who brought his family from New Brunswick around 1878. In 1880 his son received a large crown land grant, part of which he subdivided into 237 small lots on a grid pattern. Over the next ten years he also sold larger lots for industrial use near …

Thumbnail for Tomekichi Homma (Part 1) — Early Activist
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Tomekichi Homma (Part 1) — Early Activist

April 21, 2024 • Ann-Lee Switzer , Gordon Switzer

If Nagano did not arrive in 1877, who might have been the first immigrant from Japan to put down roots and leave his bones in Canada? Sumio Ishidate quoted above, had written in 1909 that “in 1884 several Japanese landed at Victoria . . . among them Kisuke Mikuni and Tomekichi Homma.” Most documents circulating today mention Homma as arriving in 1883 in Steveston, where he later joined other Japanese to fish for salmon. Nobody has made the claim he was …

Thumbnail for Manzo Nagano (Part 2) — Did He Come in 1877?
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Manzo Nagano (Part 2) — Did He Come in 1877?

April 15, 2024 • Ann-Lee Switzer , Gordon Switzer

Read Part 1 >> In Nagano’s hometown, Kuchinotsu (near Nagasaki), the local museum has a prominent display case devoted to “Nagano, First Japanese Immigrant to Canada.” However, the museum has no documents about any of Nagano’s early life abroad before the time he moved to Victoria in 1892. There is one document displayed behind glass that indicates Nagano must have been in Yokohama after 1887.1  It is an official form showing that Nagano transferred his permanent domicile to Yokohama in 1887.1 …

Thumbnail for Manzo Nagano (Part 1) — Did He Come in 1877?
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Manzo Nagano (Part 1) — Did He Come in 1877?

April 14, 2024 • Gordon Switzer , Ann-Lee Switzer

Reconciling Conflicting Claims Japanese began settling in Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century. Earlier, some had visited as sailors on sealing ships, as shipwrecked sailors picked up at sea, or as short-time sojourners—all returning to Japan. In 1880 an Imperial Japanese Naval training ship brought over 300 cadets to Esquimalt Harbour for a week’s visit. But who was the first Japanese to come and stay? Manzo Nagano’s name is the most well-known of the early immigrants, but …

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Authors in This Series

Ann-Lee Switzer is a historian and writer with an interest in the Japanese Canadian experience; as well she has a long-standing affection for Emily Carr. In 2013 she and her husband Gordon received Second Prize from the B.C. Historical Society for Gateway to Promise: Canadas First Japanese Community. A regular writer for the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society's NikkeiForum, she has also contributed articles to Nikkei Images, Nikkei Voice and B.C. History. She and Gordon Switzer produced a booklet, Gathering Our Heritage (about seaweed harvest) in 2006. They live in Victoria, British Columbia.

Updated April 2024

 


Gordon Switzer is a historian, writer and editor who grew up in Japan from the age of three. He returned to North America after a year at I.C.U. in Tokyo. A long-time student of Zen Buddhism, he recently published Zen Within the Tao Te Ching. He and his wife Ann-Lee have been members of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society since 2001. Their most recent work is Sakura in Stone: Victoria's Japanese Legacy. A few years ago they travelled to Japan to visit Kuchinotsu, Manzo Nagano's home town in Nagasaki prefecture, in search of early documents.

Updated April 2024

 

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