A couple of months ago I signed my son up for Judo. I knew exactly where to go: Mikado. In fact, over the years I have purchased Judo, Karate, Taekwondo and Aikido uniforms from them. As I walk through the National Nikkei Museum & Cultural Centre there is almost always some type of martial arts program running with parents watching from the sidelines – myself included. During these times I cannot help but think how important martial arts are in building a strong and vibrant Nikkei Community for all Canadians to enjoy. And in some way, Mikado has been there all along, providing a valuable community service.
I had a chance to speak with Brandon Riley. He is the youngest of the employees at Mikado. Of the Natsuhara family, he is the fourth generation of family employees. In fact, all but one of the 11 employees are family members.
It all began when the Natsuhara family established a noodle factory on the 500 block of Powell Street before the War. In 1942, they were interned outside of Vernon. They returned to Vancouver in 1950, and in 1952 they opened up Mikado store at 200 block Hastings, doing imports along with a small restaurant. In 1971 the family constructed their current building at 701 E Hastings.
Mikado was a Japanese import business – everything from dishes to ornaments, dolls, calligraphy, baseball, fishing and sporting goods (including martial arts equipment). In the late 1970s the third generation of the family joined the team. With the growth in the popularity of martial arts in Vancouver – Karate and Judo in particular – Mikado evolved into what it is today: THE place to go to for martial arts supplies.
When I asked Brandon what his family is most proud of, he told me that it was the fact that Mikado has been able to create long-lasting relationships with their customers – some of whom they have known for over 40 years. It is a great feeling to hear positive feedback about how the uniforms, belts and gear have helped martial arts schools grow.
“We are also very proud of how our company has been able to evolve and adapt with our changing community” says Brandon. “This area was once Japantown, but as Hastings and Powell Streets evolved, many of the Japanese people and stores moved out of the area. We are one of the few shops that have survived the changes in our neighbourhood.”
Most importantly, they feel a great deal of satisfaction operating a successful business as a family. Brandon comments that, “I am the 4th generation here at Mikado and on a daily basis I have the honour of working with my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They are the most dedicated and hard-working people.”
Brandon feels that there would be no Mikado if there wasn’t a Japanese community here in Vancouver. From selling noodles and dishes to martial arts supples, the store has been successful by being able to service the Japanese community. He says, “My grandparents’ generation definitely has strong ties to the community and we do what we can to stay active in the community. “My aunt enrolled my cousins, along with my brother and I, in Chibi Taiko drumming back in 1998. I was with the group for 10 years and we even toured Japan, and my brother is currently one of the group’s directors.”
When asked about the future of the Nikkei community in 100 years, Brandon comments, “I am most interested in looking at the Hapa community. It is a rapidly growing population that is currently too new and too small to really have its own identity, but is definitely searching for its sense of self. We are part of that new generation that isn’t as traditional as the Isei and Nissei, and I am curious as to what elements of Japanese culture we will continue to hold on to.”
We want to thank Mikado for their years of service. If you have any martial arts needs, please call Brandon Riley at Mikado Martial Arts at 604.253.7168, or check out their website at www.mikadomartialarts.com