The Powell Street Festival celebrates Japanese Canadian culture and community through in-person and online events

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      (This story is sponsored by the .)

      After 45 years and a lengthy pandemic, Vancouver's has proven to be as irrepressible as two of the communities it serves.

      Let's start with Japanese Canadians, whose legacy of resilience stands as an example to the entire country. After being ordered from their homes and their assets seized during the Second World War, they were forced to live in crowded internment camps far away from the Pacific Coast.

      They were subjected to unspeakable racism during and after the war, but that didn't discourage them from starting anew. And within a generation, Japanese Canadians were thriving like never before—in arts and culture, the professions, business, and education and other public services. Oh yes, and the environment—as the country's most famous detainee, David Suzuki, has so masterfully demonstrated. The community's postwar revival and its successful struggle for justice have inspired Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

      Then there's the Downtown Eastside, which the Powell Street Festival has called home from the beginning. Despite the challenges of homelessness, addiction, and poverty, residents—with the continued support of the festival—repeatedly lift themselves up and strive for a better world.

      This year's Powell Street Festival will continue the 45-year tradition of providing Japanese Canadians and Downtown Eastside residents with a strong sense of pride in their history, culture, and contributions to the community.

      Organizers have curated plenty of opportunities for people to come together through dance classes, origami workshops, art installations, and other events throughout July. 

      “Our priority this year was to keep the community connected despite the unpredictability of the pandemic,” says Emiko Morita, executive director of the Powell Street Festival. “There are more intimate opportunities to connect with people but it’s a much different approach than the usual large gathering in the historic neighbourhood.”

      The festival’s website is the hub for all of its free programming, culminating in a critical mass of activity during the B.C. Day long weekend from July 31 to August 1.

      Because of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, this year’s festival will be delivered in a hybrid format, with a mix of online and in-person events and exhibits. 

      Za Daikon
      Powell Street Festival Society

      Folks can enjoy the celebrations from their computer screen or join the activities hosted at Oppenheimer Park in the historic Japanese neighbourhood, today known as the Downtown Eastside.  Attendees can also order delicious food in advance from Japanese Canadian community groups or Japanese crafts and merchandise that can be picked up at the festival’s depot on July 31 and August 1. There’s something that will appeal to everyone. 

      People all over Canada are also encouraged to learn the , video themselves performing the routine, and submit it to the Powell Street Festival. The team will create a video with the submissions that will premiere at the festival. Those living in Vancouver are invited to participate in the flash mob taking place at Oppenheimer Park.

      The festival is also hosting a lottery with all proceeds going to the nonprofit organization to help ensure its resilience. There are more than 20 prizes to be won. To purchase tickets, .  

      “While the Powell Street Festival is important to Japanese Canadians in Vancouver and across the country, it’s equally vital to Vancouver’s independent art and cultural scene,” Morita says. “We are respected as a grassroots event that has never commercialized and is a unique and welcoming space for everyone, like members of the Downtown Eastside and BIPOC community.”

      For those interested in embracing Japanese Canadian culture, these five events can’t be missed.

      The 360 Riot Walk

      This guided walking tour gives festivalgoers insights into the anti-Asian protest that took place in front of Vancouver's City Hall in 1907.

      “We aim to present diverse perspectives and to challenge what people think it means to be Japanese Canadian,” says Morita. “The 360 Riot Walk is also paired with a facilitated discussion that allows people to gain a deeper understanding of discrimination across a range of minority groups affected by the 1907 anti-Asian riots. Unfortunately, this is very relevant right now as there’s been an increase in hate crimes against Asian Canadians since the start of the pandemic.”

      The 360 Riot Walk will be offered in Japanese, Cantonese, Punjabi, and English.

      The Book of Distance virtual reality experience

      Experience Randall Okita’s immersive virtual reality film Book of Distance at the Vancouver Japanese Language School (487 Alexander Street). Okita shares the story of his grandfather’s life through the penetrating film. People are able to book viewings at the language school from July 28 to August 1.

      Okita will also be giving an in-person Artist Talk on August 1.

      The taiko drumming heard along Powell Street

      Taiko means “drum” in Japanese and the large percussion instruments have been used throughout history for communication, military action, entertainment, and religious purposes. From the corner of Powell Street and Jackson Avenue, listen to the sounds of durational taiko drumming emanating from the rooftop of the Vancouver Japanese Language School. Stop at a nearby café for an iced coffee and then find a spot to listen to the powerful performance.

      The DIY sumo origami

      Those who are missing the festival’s annual sumo tournament can participate in something similar from the comfort of their home. Follow the origami tutorial video on the Powell Street Festival’s to create your own mini sumo wrestlers out of paper.

      On-demand performances

      At your own leisure, enjoy on-demand pieces from artists including Denise Sherwood, Sawagi Taiko, Onibana Taiko, Adrian Sherwood, Don Chow, Kazuma Glen Motomura and Sammy Chien, Jody Okabe, Rupe Singh, Katari Taiko, Aya Garcia, Shion Skye Carter and Kiysuu, Rita Wong, Emily Riddle, Sacha Ouellet, E. Hiroko Isomura, and more released throughout July. All of these exceptional performances can be accessed on the Powell Street Festival’s website.

      For more information on the festival’s programs and presentations and to reserve a spot for the in-person events, visit