Fostering the Foundations of Culture – Hapa Style

Justin and Lea Ault, owners of Hapa Izakaya, spent an afternoon talking to John Greenaway, Editor of The Bulletin, about the challenges of balancing life and work and the joys and challenges of raising two young daughters, Hana and Mio, while expanding their business to three restaurants to include Robson Street, Kitsilano and Yaletown.

(full version of this article available in September 2010 Bulletin).

Is it a challenge, having kids in Japanese pre-school, given that you don’t speak Japanese at home?
(Lea) We use Japanese sitters to bolster the Japanese language thing. We’ve been lucky about finding people who speak Japanese and are great with the kids…otherwise they’d be at a real disadvantage…We try to do this at least four days a week…I only had English, English, English through my childhood, and for me, acquiring a second language is impossible. I have a lot of Japanese vocabulary, and I’ve got a certain amount of French vocabulary too. I can speak more French than I can Japanese, but it’s still something that’s a real struggle for me and I really wanted them to have that advantage.

Do you think having kids has changed your view of community and what it means to be Japanese Canadian, what it means to be part of the community?
(Justin)
My mom sent an e-mail about two weeks ago saying it’s been 17 years since Nana, her mother, passed away. I hadn’t thought about that at all, but I wrote to her and I said it would have been really nice if she had lived—she’d be 95—and for her to see her granddaughters and great-granddaughters, and to have a conversation in Japanese with them that her own daughter couldn’t have with her. It’s like honouring your grandparents and great-grandparents, and the struggles they went through in some small way, whether it’s being involved in the Nikkei Centre or the language . . .

(Lea) Justin and I foster our interest in our culture and heritage in each other. I think it brings me closer to my mother and grandmother and with the children involved in Japanese school and language, it’s a real multi-generational thing now.

Justin, you recently joined the board of the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre. I was wondering if that was sort of an inevitable move for you, if you feel some responsibility towards the community
(Justin)
So far it’s been interesting and fun…You’ve got some people in that room who have been involved in the community for 30, 40 years—guys who were presidents of companies—and then normal guys like me. So you don’t want to say a lot at first, you just kind of watch what’s going on and then slowly start feeling confident about giving your views and opinions. I guess that’s one of the reasons they want someone like me there, a guy who’s almost 40 and has a different view.


This dynamic couple have made quite an impact and have become local celebrities given the success of ‘Hapa” and we are fortunate to have young leaders like them who share such a strong vision of cultural development and community leadership as members of the Nikkei community.

Programs and activities offered at Nikkei Place provide opportunities for Japanese language development at Gladstone Language School, education on Japanese Canadian history and Japanese cultural learning opportunities at the Japanese Canadian National Museum, Seniors programs at Nikkei Home and New Sakura-so, Martial Arts at NNMHC, and many more.

For anyone with an interest in Japanese Canadian and Japanese culture, Nikkei Place was built with you in mind. In the spirit of building strong and vibrant community at Nikkei Place, we encourage you to come join us for the next 10 years of exciting community building through volunteerism, programming, or as a donor. Please contact Josh Coward at Nikkei Place Foundation at 604.777.2122 for more information. Thank you.

Posted in Arts + Culture, In the Community.