Community Feedback Session 

Q1. Will VJLS be reborn as a community center instead of a language school?

A1. VJLS-JH has for many years been more than just a school. Alongside its wonderful language programs, it has provided cultural experience programs, a daycare, rental spaces, and a place for community to gather for programs, events, and celebration. The last time it was only a language school was 1928. Since then, the organization has grown in many different ways and expanded who it included within the community it serves. VJLS-JH is not being reborn into anything that it is not already, it is simply taking another step in a direction it has been taking for nearly 100 years.

Q2. I feel that you are downplaying the role of the language school.

A2. The Language School is 100% an important part of our organization and will continue to be going forward. We are investing in new materials, better curriculum, additional training and support for our teachers, planning new classes, and we have plans for growing the school. So, why are we not talking about this more?

It’s because our tuition fees can’t cover all of these costs – including maintaining our building – and we don’t want to increase the cost for parents any further. If we tried to do these things first, we couldn’t grow the community of learners fast enough to support the investment. What the Interpretive Centre project does is allows us to bring in new people who are interested in learning about Japanese language, culture, and history; growing the number of students we can teach. It also allows us to develop creative new ways of using our existing building to bring in money that will fund our new text books, our new curriculum, and our new programs.

The Interpretive Centre is a way for us to make better use of our space so that our school can shine brighter while remaining affordable and accessible to as many Japanese Canadian families as possible.

We understand that language is the key to understanding and being a part of a culture and becoming immersed in it. By bringing in people who are interested in diving into that culture, we will bring in more students who wish to learn the language and who will spread it and support it.

Q3. What is your plan to grow the school? How do you plan to enrich our children’s education?

A3. As mentioned in the previous answer, our plan to grow the school will come from making our organization open and welcoming to people interested in Japanese culture and history and giving them the tools they need to dive deeper and learn more. With more students we will be able to offer additional classes that cover new topics and subjects which can enhance each student’s appreciation of and participation in the Japanese Canadian community.

We have hired Mark Batt to lead VJLS as he has extensive experience developing language programs and increasing the quality of content and structure of curriculum. Under his leadership, we aspire to develop a strong framework for learning that will allow our language programs to be accredited by other educational institutions and support their continued learning and usage of the Japanese language.

Additionally, we hope to create new structures for learning that will support teachers to work more efficiently, so they can bring more of their personality and expertise into the classroom, and allow students to better understand their progress through their classes.

Q4. How would promoting and teaching Japanese Canadian history increase revenue?

A4. VJLS-JH has already begun to bring in revenue through Historical walking tours that promote the history of the Japanese Canadian community and has attracted individuals to connect or reconnect with our organization. Additionally, we have run a Japanese Cultural Exchange Program (JCEP) for many decades that is popular with schools and we would be able to offer similar educational opportunities around Japanese Canadian History. This program charges a small fee per student and we believe we could bring in significant revenue through this stream as it grows in popularity.

Q5. The unique thing about VJLS is that it teaches culture and language. Learning Japanese at VJLS is unique because it stands on the history and effort by the teachers, community, and students. Is the new facility trying to position the Japanese school is only as a cram (juku) school?

A5. We recognize that VJLS is more than just a school and that our community values having a place to come together and experience and share Japanese Canadian culture. That is why we have planned upgrades to our facility as part of this project that will allow us to organize more events and gatherings that celebrate Japanese Canadian culture. This could be a film screening, or an interactive exhibit, or cultural activity or a festival – there are no limits to the creative ways that we can maintain this important part of our school and organization.

These changes to the building will not be at the expense of student learning and we will ensure that the classrooms and learning spaces will be maintained in a way that does not interfere with our education programs. We have had significant consultation with our staff and they have given us terrific ideas on how we can accomplish this as part of the project.

Q6. I am interested in how we are planning to work with library committee.

A6. We are currently in the planning phase of the project and this is where we can implement people’s ideas and feedback before we start making changes. Working with volunteers and community members, we will determine the criteria for what books to keep and which books to donate – considering community feedback as part of this discussion.

This will be informed by our understanding of who the library is for (i.e. children, young adults, parents, researchers) and what books would be of interest and relevance to them. Additionally, the quality of the books and their relevance (i.e. are there newer and better books on the shelves) would also be considered.

We would hold these meetings as a committee and go deliberately through each shelf and discuss the books. Once we feel confident working together, we would perhaps have the trust needed to work faster and with less checking of each book.

Q7. How can you judge the value of the Japanese books?

A7. With the help and support of library volunteers and passionate members of the community. If you are interested in volunteering, please apply using this form.

Q8. I’d like to learn more about the partnership with ‘University of Victoria’ that was mentioned in the slide. 

A8. VJLS-JH has been one of many Japanese Canadian organizations to work with universities like the University of Victoria on a project called Landscapes of Injustice. This project has digitized the records of Japanese Canadians who were displaced during WWII and would be available for students and visitors to view in the archives area of the Library.

This is a historically important project that would allow students to view records about their ancestors and would allow them to connect with what life would have been like in BC at that time. Access to these types of records are unheard of and there are many other groups in BC, including Indigenous and Black communities, who do not have the same access to understanding their past.

Q9. Is the grant from the City of Vancouver ($250,000) a one time grant?

A9. Yes, this is a one-time grant. We have however received additional support from the City of Vancouver through other grant streams. The purpose of these funds are to support the “establishing a Japanese Interpretive Centre and as a part of the City’s redress actions for the Japanese Canadian Community.” [Quote taken directly from Council minutes]

Q10. Why do you put so much importance on “open to community” and “Japanese Canadian history” and not “to promote and foster the study of the Japanese language and culture” that is clearly stated in the Constitution of VJLS?

A10. VJLS-JH is an organization that has for many decades aspired to be open and welcoming to the broader community. Examples of this can be seen through our Adult Weekday Language programs and our Fundamentals Japanese Language program which are intended for individuals who are new to learning the Japanese language. Additionally, our Hall has been rented to a broad range of community groups.

Our organization has played an important role within the Japanese Canadian community for over 114 years and by honouring this history, we ensure that it is not forgotten and that future generations can learn from it. By interpreting the present through the past, we can appreciate how this organization allowed a community to grow before WWII, and how it allowed the community to hold on to and preserve what was important to them, and how this has ensured that we can continue to share and promote Japanese language and culture. If the community does not preserve this history, its truth, it will forget what made it strong and resilient through difficult times and has allowed it to grow and flourish and great times. Additionally, VJLS-JH has been recognized Municipally, Provincially, and Federally as a historic site.

As mentioned, VJLS-JH does have a constitution which is a legal document that outlines the purpose of the organization and the work that it does. Our current constitution has the following five purposes:

  1. To promote and foster the study of the Japanese language and culture;
  2. To provide adequate physical facilities and academic instruction for the study and understanding of the Japanese language and culture;
  3. To advance multi-cultural and multilingual understanding;
  4. To assist interested persons or groups in encouraging all of the above;
  5. To pursue any other objective that may be incidental to any of the above.

By being open to community and telling the history of the Japanese Canadian community, we are fulfilling parts c), d), and e).

Q11. Why do we have to cater to the neighboring community when they get so much service and funds from the government already?

A11. VJLS-JH serves a broad community that includes individuals, groups, and organizations in the DTES. As a good neighbour, we believe in partnering with and supporting this community as they in turn act as good neighbours to us. Who receives what or how much from the government is not our concern. Instead, our concern is in building important relationships that will help support our neighbourhood to be a safe, inclusive, and welcoming one for all of its residents, visitors, and guests.

Q12. How do you define – your objectives – justice – where do you expect to find the resources to do what – we are not a centre for truth and reconciliation.

A12. All Canadians, no matter their occupation or background, are Settlers on the unceded (stolen) lands of Indigenous peoples and we therefore have an obligation to support Truth and Reconciliation when and were we can. We each relate to this topic in different ways, whether as a 1st generation immigrant or a 5th generation settler, but that does not change our relationship to the land or the people who stewarded this land.

Both the Japanese Canadian and Indigenous communities have experienced racism and the trauma of displacement – being removed from your land and forcibly placed on new and unfamiliar pieces of territory. This shared experience and understanding is one of the reasons it is important that when we honour the history of our community, we also honour that of other groups that have experienced the same. We owe an additional debt of gratitude to Indigenous peoples and their communities as it was their lands that Japanese Canadians were placed on during the internment and who supported the generations that experienced this during WWII.

To support Indigenous partners and communities, we will share our Hall with them, we will build relationships with them, and we will lend our voices to support their causes. This does not take extensive resources, but it will take time, commitment, and courage.

Q13.  The Japanese language school parents are feeling a lack of communication of the “Huge” change of the usage of the facility. For example. we were very surprised the usage of “cooling station” and the extent of the usage without informing the parents of Children’s World.

A13. We recognize the importance of clear and open communication and are committed to ensuring that we provide parents with timely and relevant information. To ensure this, we are developing a Parents Advisory Committee which will allow representatives to gather and share information from VJLS-JH with parents as well as sharing their ideas and concerns with staff. You can find a draft version of the committee’s terms of reference here and you are welcome to send your feedback (in English or Japanese) to executivedirector@vjls-jh.com.

VJLS-JH has rented out its Hall to community groups, local organizations, and individuals for decades and the process for doing so is managed by staff. With the support of the Executive Director, the Facilities Manager reviews each rental carefully and ensures that health and safety protocols and guidelines are in place and followed by renters. As this is a standard operational process and all safety and security protocols are followed, we do not feel that it is practical to inform parents of every rental group.

The Cooling Station followed all of our protocols and we see no reason to treat it any differently than how we treat other renters. After consultation with preschool parents, however, we have decided to post a list of upcoming events so that people coming into the building can see the availability of the Hall.

One of the benefits of the Interpretive Centre is that we will be installing partition doors in the Hall so that children can play safely on one side and the Hall can be rented on the other side.