Experiencing Diversity in Toronto: Daily Reflections of RESPECT Program by Osaka University Students

The following are selections from the daily report of the Osaka University students’ experiences in the 9-day intensive program written by 3 Master’s students, Nagisa Matsumoto (philosophy), Takaya Hayashi (cultural linguistics), and Yiqiong Wang (cultural linguistics). It was written originally in Japanese as a means of sharing their experiences with their fellow students in Japan, but since it is a good representation of the thoughts and discussions provoked by the program, we have decided to reproduce the report here in English.

Translated by Stephen Choi (MA Program, EAS), Asako Masubuchi (PhD Program, EAS), and Vincent Tu (4th year B.Com, Rotman Commerce)

DAY 1: Shifting Gears into a Different Mode of “Diversity”

On our flight to Toronto, we were sitting in groups of 2 or 3 in various parts of the cabin. One by one, we began to engage in conversation with adjacent travelers. I could hear excited echoes of Okinawan dialect, lively voices of smooth flowing English, and someone discussing life issues with a Canadian person who happened to be sitting in the next seat.

Then the Japanese lady sitting beside me and I started a conversation. “Oh, you’re studying diversity. My friend teaches diversity at a graduate school in the U.S., but I thought Japan was behind in that sense and students in Japan didn’t study that.” Her life, she said, comprised of traveling the different countries of the world as her heart desired and was now headed to Cuba.

Seeds of conversation arose from the word “kyōsei (multicultural coexistence)” and she talked about her impressions of Isreal (religion was life itself), Chernobyl (thought of 3.11 in Japan), Macedonia (socialism remained in the city and it was beautiful), Kosovo, Jordan, Palestine, etc. “Toronto sounds great in that way. I’m jealous. Please do some good learning there for the future of Japan, since you’re so young.”

For those of us in the RESPECT program, the Toronto trip corresponds with the time when we all need to give shape to our own proposed research projects, so the topic of our own conversations was limited to each person’s research, and although our bodies were headed toward Toronto, there was an odd feeling of disconnect as our minds lingered on the research we left in Japan.

But arriving at Toronto and seeing the streets lined with various restaurants serving food from many different countries, we were able to slowly shift gears to being in the multicultural city, Toronto.

(Matsumoto, April 27, 2017)

DAY 2: Where Japanese and English Intersect

“You will be making a lot of comparisons in the next several days. Comparison is fundamental to the ethnographic method. I’d like you to remember its significance,” Professor Shiho Satsuka taught us in the beginning of today’s orientation.

Two tips:

1. Reflect on the frameworks you are using when you are making comparisons. Be critical about the measure you and others are using and be careful not to use simple stereotypes.
2. Your body is the tool for analysis. What you observe and feel in the interaction are the data for ethnographic analysis. Do not ignore your own body. The things you feel with your body are very important.

“Stay healthy and active. Analysis begins from there.”

In Japanese, we use the word, “kyōsei (coexistence or cohabitance)” when exploring issues of diversity, which is not quite the same as the English word “multiculturalism.” During the student orientation meeting, Masters and PhD students at UofT introduced their research using the word “multiculturalism.” In exchange, we introduced ourselves and explained our research using the word “kyōsei.” The juxtaposition of these terms triggered discussions about differences in the meaning and understanding of the notion of kyōsei.

“Kyōsei” concerns
• Seeing the inter-relationship among multiple people.
• Supporting the ability for non-native speakers to participate in society.
• Respecting racial minorities linguistically and politically.
• Raising awareness of various backgrounds of children (such as foreign citizenship, disability, and single-parent household) in the field of education.

Various different views on kyōsei were introduced. Sejong believes that grade school teachers should acquire better understanding of LGBT, and that an educational environment without competition is necessary for a kyōsei society. Chiori thinks maybe kyōsei begins with families, among each of the family members. Hiro suggests that thinking about the concepts suitable to the specific situation and historical context in Japan itself is kyōsei, as the Western concepts (such as multiculturalism) may not necessarily fit Japanese society. Also, the idea of kyōsei with natural disaster” was introduced. (Does it mean coexistence between natural disaster and human beings or human coexistence under natural disasters?)

I was surprised to realize that, even among us, each person’s way of thinking about “kyōsei” is different. But the questions raised by the UofT students will help us to see things we were unaware of before.

When we use the word “kyōsei” in Japan, we tend to assume we share an understanding of its concept. But when we try to explain it in English to people who don’t share the understanding, can our assumed understanding be sustained? How can we express our instinctive understanding of kyōsei here in Toronto? I am sure our understanding of multiculturalism will deepen as we try to explain “kyōsei.”

We will have our first class in 8 hours. We also have fieldwork. I’ll go to bed to “stay healthy and active.”

(Matsumoto, April 28, 2017)

DAY 3: Time, Distance, and the Indigenous Way of Life

Today, we took a trip to meet with indigenous people. The holy place was quite easily accessible, only 30 minutes by subway, then a 5-minute walk. When we arrived, we met our guide for the day, Alan.

Mihiro muttered a naive question, “Maybe because we are from another country, it is hard for us to identify who is indigenous just from their appearance. I’m wondering if it is also the case for people who live here. What would it be like to live and identify yourself as indigenous in such a circumstance?”

We stood in a circle around a cloth with a medicine wheel consisting of red, yellow, black, and white on which water, leaves, horns, and feathers were placed and listened to Alan’s way of life. He said water has its own role. Its duty is to flow. Everything has a role, and should coexist in the world.

Bun commented that it’s like a ceremony, but Allan replied it is rather a part of daily life. He explained, if that is a ceremony, then the sunlight that shines at the moment when a new leaf emerges on a tree branch is also a ceremony.

The way he spoke made me realize his strong sense of connection with nature and his ancestors. Takaya reflected that this experience made him think about “religion.” When he is in Japan, he would feel the desire to visit the moss-covered temples or a nearby shrine. It might not be the case in foreign countries, but when he goes to a church in Japan and listens to stories about Jerusalem, it makes him feel like it’s a far away place from him.

I wasn’t aware how tired I was until I returned to the hotel room and saw the bed...It’s already midnight...

(Matsumoto, April 29, 2017)

DAY 4: Will You Live in Toronto Someday Too?

This morning, Sejong was asked, “how’s Toronto? Do you like it?” He answered that he likes it a lot because the air is clean and the sky is high. Then he was asked, “would you like to live in Toronto someday?”

This led to a discussion about the Canadian citizenship exam. We wondered what score we could get if we applied. In Professor McElhinny’s case, she grew up in the U.S. speaking English and also speaks French, so she’s cleared the language requirements. But her age may be a deduction factor.

The score can be deducted or added for various conditions. We might get higher on the age points than Professor McElhinny for our youth. Hiro and I agreed that our points will be high because of our potential to build families, even though there is no guarantee that we will get married and have children.

In the afternoon, we met Rasha, a graduate student who moved from Syria. She introduced us to a group called NMC-CESI, which holds language and culture workshops for young people from Syria and volunteers from the University of Toronto. When we got to the lounge “The Cat’s Eye” in Victoria College, there were already two or three members of the group sitting in a circle working on reading and writing English. We joined the casual atmosphere of talking over coffee and snacks. We studied English together with people from Syria, learned Arabic from them, and taught Japanese in exchange. After the session, we hung out with them listening to Syrian music, eating Middle-Eastern food, dancing, and playing pool, ping pong, and Dance Dance Revolution.

The following tutorial and dinner became a time for each of us to express the passion that we built up during the day. Manami, who has always believed in the importance of learning from one another, felt that the NMC-CESI was a good example of a space of mutual learning in which the interaction goes both directions, not one side teaching and the other being taught.

“Enough work done for the day! Yeh!”

We had heated discussions during the tutorial and dinner about what to make out of the experience. The night falls as we talk.

(Matsumoto, April 30, 2017)

DAY 5: Singing and Dancing—Joining in a Moment of Joy

At 2 am, I cleaned my sneakers. In the past five days, we walked a lot in the dirt, grass, and rain.

On Sunday, we went to a church service. The old school bus shook us like being on horseback. It took thirty minutes on the highway. We were heading for the Church of Pentecost, where people who feel a connection to Ghana gather together.

As we entered, we saw a mother and her daughter. My eyes met with the child, who must have been three or four. To them I must have been a foreigner with a different skin colour, but we smiled at each other as if it was the most natural thing to do. Perhaps it was because we could see that it was a true smile from the heart, that there was no unpleasantness, said Siyuan and Wang. But, Mihiro shared that she couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable because she did not know how to behave in the church.

A woman wearing a fur coat over a dress. Vivid colours in setup suits. Men looked sharp in their suits. Soon, the band began to play. Everyone was in the groove. We were surprised by the level of high spirits people expressed. A chain of handshakes began. But my body was stiff being perplexed as to what to do. I stayed in my seat and simply smiled back and shook hands with those who came by.

It was like a scene in a movie. Seeing people singing and praying while encouraging others to join was like watching a kind of performance. The fact that they were not singing only for themselves made me feel I was part of it simply because I was there. So I felt tears in my eyes when they had me join in.

As I tried to imitate their singing, a woman was signaling to me with her eyes, which seemed to say, “come on, come on.” When I took one step forward, the woman led me to the center to dance. Their bodies seemed to express happiness as they sung their prayer. I was starting to enjoy myself. But when I looked around and saw many smiling faces, I felt embarrassed. I could feel my face turning red. When we finished dancing, the woman patted my back with a big smile.

On the way back, I realized there was another room downstairs. In that room, the prayer was conducted in their native language. I realized that the vivid setup suits were Ghanaian traditional clothes. The sense of intimacy was vibrant in that space.

(Matsumoto, May 1, 2017)

DAY 6: “What is Home to You?”

On my first morning in Toronto, I went to Tim Hortons. I was not expecting much difficulty ordering from a fast food restaurant. However, even though all I asked for was a cup of coffee and an English muffin (and I said everything correctly), I could not understand what the attendant was asking me after I gave her my order.

Although I have been studying English as a second language in my university, it turned out to be difficult to communicate in an actual setting because this is my first time visiting an English speaking country. Feeling frustrated, I went to the same Tim Hortons with my friends every day to try to understand what the attendant was saying. Eventually the attendant remembered us and greeted us with a smile. The smile naturally stimulated us to smile back.

We explored the city before and after classes. It became my daily routine to go to Chinatown after the class. Although it is called Chinatown, it has Korean and Vietnamese restaurants as well. I rarely eat Western food in Japan so I felt very relaxed surrounded by so much Asian food.

When I was there, a strange feeling overtook me. Something in the scent of the spices used or the taste the soup made me feel nostalgic and I felt like I wanted to go back home. Since the food was far from Japanese, I was not sure where I really wanted to go back to.

Suddenly, I came to the realization that I had completely forgotten I was in Canada, a foreign country.

This is how I feel in Canada. The strange mixture of feeling at home and in a foreign place is perhaps because I have always been with the same group of people from Osaka, or maybe it is because of the diversity encompassed in Central Toronto. Even though the workers in the various shops were all speaking English, I did not feel that I was in the “West.” It is not only English that was spoken here. When I entered a restaurant or store, I heard Chinese, Vietnamese, and all kinds of different languages. I realized that I, too, was one of the people within such a vibrant diversity.

In Professor Daswani’s class today, we started with a discussion of what comes to mind when one hears the word “home.” Everyone came up with a variety of ideas: “birth place,” “a comfortable place,” “behaving freely (close company),” “freedom to make mistakes,” “somewhere where your family gathers,” “a place where you feel loved,” “a place where you built a relationship with people who share your hope,” “a place where you belong to,” and on and on.

Mihiro said “Somewhere you can eat well and sleep well.” Professor Daswani asked, “What do you mean by ‘eat well’?” Mihiro replied, “eat rice, or a mother’s homemade cooking.” Hearing this conversation, I thought this is similar to what I felt in Chinatown, but I am not sure if Toronto’s Chinatown is “home” to me.

After the tutorial ended at 7 pm, Allan, one of the research assistants at the University of Toronto guided us to a delicious restaurant in Kensington Market. I would not have enough courage to enter the place by myself, but having a guide made it unexpectedly comfortable. In the end, although I was still not sure if this was “home” or not, I felt that maybe “home” was something that could be passed on from person to person, by passing on one’s own feeling of comfort.

(Hayashi, May 2, 2017)

DAY 7: “Multiculturalism” and Different Languages

Seven days had passed in Toronto like a blink of an eye. To my surprise, I became feeling familiar with Toronto very quickly. A morning coffee at Tim Hortons. Asian cuisine in Chinatown. Cheap fruits in the supermarket. I was simply accepting the novelty of living in Toronto. Being caught up in the fresh odors of life, I felt something that cannot be described through words.

When I am shopping and talking to the locals, sometimes I become embarrassed by my awkward English. However, at the same time, I felt puzzled by my own feelings. Being able to speak English is considered to be a prerequisite to living in Canada. I might also be assuming that it is natural to be able to speak English.

In Toronto, while multiculturalism is strongly emphasized, I wonder if the issue of language is overlooked. Language is strongly related to culture. Canadian people proudly explained to us that both English and French are respected as two official languages of Canada. But I wonder about the existence of other languages. We were fortunate to have opportunities to visit organizations such as international churches, refugee and homeless support organizations within a week. What was striking to me was that, every organization has “English Classes” for newcomers and homeless people in the activity schedule.

Practically, it is extremely helpful to have “English Classes.” But I wonder how it could be reconciled with the history of “English Imperialism” and the realization of the ideal of “multiculturalism.”

“Multiculturalism” and Kensington Market

Kensington Market is considered a symbol of Canada’s multiculturalism. So I went for a walk there in order to better understand “multiculturalism,” guided by RAs from the University of Toronto. On the hippie-styled streets, I passed by homeless people and fashionable people alike. While expensive cafes and fancy shops selling foreign goods were tightly packed together, there were also cheap local shops filling the gaps in between. I felt the sense of class difference in this small area. This is a quite intriguing place.

I was walking around Kensington Market with two other female students absorbing the feeling of its unique atmosphere. A white young man wearing a necklace walked toward us from the opposite direction. When we passed each other, he said with a distorted expression, “Fxxx you, get out of here.” We were shocked. “Why did he say that?” “Did we do something wrong?” “Or maybe...is it just because we’re Asians?”

I do not know how this young man felt when he yelled at us, but my own feelings of bewilderment left a strong impression on me. Subjects discussed in the lectures, such as economic disparity and racial stereotypes, all rushed into my head, but in the end, the only sensation that remained was just the mere feeling of shock. I didn’t expect to encounter such behaviour in Canada, considered to be a leader of multiculturalism, especially in Kensington Market which is advertised as a representation of multiculturalism.

Even in Canada, where multiculturalism has been achieved as a policy, the issues of language and discrimination seem to still exist. There may still be a very long way to go to achieve “multicultural coexistence” in its true sense.

(Wang, May 3, 2017)

DAY 8: Rainbow, and Colorful Kensington

The reports in the past two days were written by guest writers. Every day, I feel influenced by differences among our own group in the way we feel, experience, and write.

Today, we did field research from morning in Kensington Market. We visited Jimmy’s Coffee, which holds a rainbow flag in front of the café. The rainbow flag indicates that the store is LGBT friendly, but it does not necessarily mean that the café is exclusively for the use of LGBT people. Fashionable young folks were working with their laptops at the café. We also had a chat together over morning coffee with scones and muffins, looking back on what we had experienced so far. Manami said that people do not stare at us in Kensington Market, because all kinds of people are around. Meanwhile, Wang, Bun, and Siyuan who had encountered the rude comment the day before, felt that it is still not an “earthly paradise” as we may have imagined.

Ryu almost came to tears when he saw a kindergarten in the Kensington district. He felt the foundation of “kyōsei” when he saw kids with different skin colors playing together cheerfully. Although we are not sure how those children will grow up, perhaps someday they would think, “It is natural that we live together. Why should we live separately?”
Bun wondered if “you can be yourself” means that we truly respect and understand the person.

What exactly is the challenge of achieving kyōsei in Japan? Does the challenge arise when we try too hard to understand each other? Or actualizing kyōsei is difficult because we cannot understand others? Or is it because somehow we seek for homogeneity...in the name of equality?

We headed for Korea Town for dinner. China Town, Little Italy, Greek Town... We wondered why there is not a “Japan Town” in Toronto. Ryu shared with us the historical background that he had learned from Steve. Before the World War II, Japanese-Canadians had formed a community and lived together very closely. The war forced the Japanese-Canadian population to leave the community. Many of them were forcibly taken to internment camps. After the war, [even after the Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to British Columbia], many did not return to the community. They started to live dispersedly across Canada. The absence of a Japan Town might reflect a legacy of this history.

“Soon Tohu” was delicious. As the night fell, we passed a variety of people on the street¬—drunk people lying on the ground, a man in a woman’s dress yelling out, and also police officers. We sipped wine and went back to the hotel.

(Matsumoto, May 4, 2017)

Day 9: Marginalized by Multiculturalism

When I hear the word “presentation,” Steve Jobs comes to my mind. Steve [our English instructor] told us not to rely on the manuscript, but ‘act’ like an artist in a live concert. But I wonder if this style of presentation is based on Westernized standards.

According to Wikipedia, presentations usually require the process of explaining intangible objects in simple and clear language, conveying the information accurately. We would like to convey as clearly as possible the intangible idea of “kyōsei,” along with what we have learned from multicultural coexistence in Canada.

Having set the presentation title, “Marginalized by Multiculturalism,” our group decided to focus on indigenous people and Syrian refugees, as it seems to us that these groups are on the edge of multiculturalism in Canada. Alan, the indigenous guide we met on the second day, leads his life closely connected with nature. He reminds me of the people we met in the Tōhoku area, fishermen, ama (woman shell divers), and farmers, who all live with nature.

Perhaps in Japan where natural disasters such as earthquake, tsunami, and typhoon are so frequent, we could not help but adjust to live in accordance to natural disasters, even after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

In NMC-CESI, where we had a learning exchange session on the second day, a 19-year-old Syrian girl said, “Canada is my second home.” I think that this relates to the “befriending” service for people with mental health issues that we learned in our study trip to Okinawa. Befriending gives meaning to the patients’ lives and also gives trainee nurses a chance to change their stereotypes towards mentally ill people.

Our group came to various conclusions through contemplating the gaps between theories we had learned in class and actual stories in the field, as well as the structures of inclusion and exclusion, some of which are visible while others are not.

I kept rehearsing for my presentation in the bathtub, in front of a mirror, or while walking up and down the room, hoping to present our experience of our 10-day summer school in a manner attractive and meaningful to the audience.

(Matsumoto, May 5, 2017)

Two Months After: The Past, Present and Future

It is two months since we returned from Toronto. In the words of the great tanka1 writer Machi Tawara, today (July 6th) is a “salad anniversary” [an anniversary to celebrate refreshing happy moments in everyday life].

On the last day of our Summer School in Toronto we participated in a workshop on the theme of “BRIDGING STRANGERS WITHIN: Reflections on Indigeneity, Diversity and Multiculturalism”. We divided into three groups and gave presentations from our experience in field work in Toronto related to this theme. The following were the three groups:

1. Marginalized by Multiculturalism looked at Canadian society that has marginalized the Native Canadian. It also considered Syrian refugees trying to adapt to this society.

2. Crossing Borders: “Migration”, “Religion” and “Making a Home outside of the Home investigated the role the Pentecostal church plays in providing a cultural identity for immigrants, particularly those from Ghana and the Caribbean.

3. Diversity in Kensington Market recognized that Toronto exercises diversity though its policy of multiculturalism but the diverse economic situation often excludes the poorest in the community.

We compared multiculturalism in Canada with the approach of “kyosei” in Japan and were influenced by the presentations of the graduate students from the university of Toronto. A lively discussion took place among the presenters, the course instructors and attendees.

Prof. Satsuka, the main coordinator of the course, emphasized on the first day that “comparison” was important. When comparing multiculturalism and “kyosei” it is necessary to consider the differences in both the Canadian and Japanese societies. For example, when considering the role of the Christian churches in Canada, sometimes it might be better to compare it to Buddhist temples in Japan. This way, we can understand the role of major religious institutions in each society. We understood that in Canada multiculturalism is a policy but “kyosei” is not a policy in Japan. Therefore, it proved difficult to make meaningful comparisons if we ignore the different social contexts.

People often use nationality to identify themselves, such as Canadian, American, British and Japanese. The Canadian Government identifies each citizen as a Canadian and promotes its people as “Canadians”. However, in establishing the Canadian state the indigenous people have been marginalized and separated from their land. On the third day we learned that to our surprise, the holy place for indigenous people was quite easily accessible, as all the land is a holy place. The land is important for the indigenous people. We recognized that one can achieve the power when one is feeling “at home”. We observed the indigenous people’s efforts to recover the sense of home in their own land. We need to reflect carefully on this and move towards new actions of empowerment.

“Kyosei” means to live together with someone. It is important to understand diversity and to take on the difficulties inherent in living together. Do not distract your eyes from specific problems. Look at the differences, admit them, engage in relationships. Change policy. We want to keep thinking how to act here in Japan having been inspired by the examples of diversity we observed in Toronto, despite the challenges they still face.

(Matsumoto, Wang, Hayashi, July 6, 2017)

1. Tanka, literary means “short song”, is a genre of classic Japanese poetry consisting of five lines, the total of 31 syllables (5,7,5,7,7 syllables).