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.

NIC’s field school, ‘Fishing, Indigeneity and the Asia Pacific,’ provided the opportunity for students to explore the important topics of Indigenous sovereignty, trans-Pacific migration and reconciliation.

The students began their 10-day trip in Yokohama and Tokyo. After exploring museums in the larger cities, the group then traveled by train to Osaka and Kyoto the next 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.

From Kyoto, the group journeyed to the small town of Mio, in the Wakayama District where the 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.

There were not only personal connections, but the village itself also has a significant relationship to Canada through the 130 years of Japanese emigration to Steveston in the city of Richmond.

“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.

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.

“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,” said Blaak.

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.

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