Every year at Nikkei Place’s Community Awards + Fundraising Dinner we honour people or organizations with awards for their immense contributions in building a strong and vibrant Nikkei community for all. They are our community leaders that help shape our ever changing community. This year, we honour four awardees — Dr. Akira Horii with the Presidents’ Award, Takeo Yamashiro with the Outstanding Community Service Award, Yoko Matsuno with the Japanese Culture Award, and John Endo Greenaway with the Japanese Canadian History Preservation & Education Award.
Meet Takeo Yamashiro:
- Co-founder of Tonari Gumi
- Executive Director of Tonari-Gumi for almost 30 years
- Hiroshima survivor of Atomic bombing
- Master Shakuhachi (Japanese flute) player
- Educated public on shakuhachi and traditional Japanese music all over North
Takeo Yamashiro was born in July of 1943 and is a registered survivor of the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945. He began playing the shakuhachi in Kyoto, while in University. He was the last uchi deshi (live-in disciple) of master Kikusui Koku at the Shakado Temple, Kyoto where he received his shihan certificate and shakuhachi name “RENPU,” Lotus Wind.
Takeo came to Vancouver, Canada as a tourist in June 1972, by an invitation of his musical students from Canada. He then became a landed immigrant in the following year as a ‘Musician Instrumentalist’ (for the shakuhachi). Of this time, he reflects that “my language skills were very limited, but the shakuhachi worked as a language, really, as a way of communicating with people.” He has performed in concert and toured as a solo artist as well as with Themba Tana, Uzume Taiko and Kokoro Dance.
He achieved landed immigrancy in 1972. Along with Jun Hamada and Michiko Sakata, Takeo Yamashiro founded the Tonari Gumi Japanese social services organization. In the fall of 1973, Jun (Samuel) Hamada received a federal employment creation grant under project named “Japanese Community Volunteers”. This initial five-month-trial operation of the Issei support program, run between January and May in 1974, came into the hands of Jun and Takeo, as one of the four original employees. The Japanese name “Tonari-Gumi” was born before the termination of the project.
The initial five months gave them time for quick on-site need study in the Issei community. In June, Jun and Takeo visited Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) and negotiated with Bruce Eriksen to secure a office space. Bruce sympathized with the Issei’s situation in the old “Nihonmachi” area and decided to let them use a small room shared with their Chinese Community Worker. By the end of same month, June 1974, the DERA hired Takeo as their Japanese Community Worker. Jun meanwhile had to make trips back and forth to the Vancouver General Hospital for dialysis—kidney failure. In April 1976, they were able to obtain more stable funding from the provincial government and from the City of Vancouver and opened a drop-in centre at 573 East Hastings. It was during this time that many of the current programs and services were developed. For over 30 years, he served as the Executive Director until his retirement in July 2004.
After retirement from Tonari-Gumi, he has focused on playing his shakuhachi daily. He has a Canada Council CD project pending and continues to teach a handful of serious students. Throughout his life, he has educated and inspired many people all over Canada about the magic and beauty of the shakuhachi flute. Takeo was featured as part of the Verdant Stones Project at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. He has also performed at the Mariposa Folk Music Festival, the Powell Street Festival, Bumbershoot, Katari Taiko’s 15th Anniversary Concert at the Vancouver Playhouse and in concerts at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
He has served as a judge for the 1994 and 1995 Juno awards, performed on two solo albums and created more than 10 film scores that include 6 National Film Board productions such as “Obaachan’s Garden.” Takeo’s community work earned him a Minister of Foreign Affairs Award in 2003. His recordings include NYO (1998, Lotus Wind Records) and Takeo Yamashiro: Shakuhachi (1988, Aural Tradition).
In an interview he was asked what his hopes were for the Canadian Nikkei Community. His answer:
Today, we have the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre (in Burnaby, B.C.) where they are busy working on research and collections of historical artifacts and archival materials through the exhibits under their developmental projects. Their collections only get richer as they dig further into our preceding generations and their lives in Canada. Accordingly, it gets easier for our upcoming generations to access resources for our ancestral history of immigration and their lives through the building and development of the JC community.
As our community in future will be changing in its racial makeup and cultural values, I feel personally an urgent need of re-examination/re-evaluation on our future community needs and set a direction as to where to and how we are going. It seems to be a big challenge but we really should be talking about a multilingual and multicultural community within the JC community after all—bravo!
We all live as equal members in Canada’s cultural mosaic. Hopefully, this is when one may want to seek his/her identity with their conscious effort by going through to their ancestral roots. It will add much deeper and meaningful respect and confidence to his/her own dignity as a person. It may also give one an opportunity to appreciate their cultural heritage which they can then pass on to future generations.