Philanthropist pledges $1M to Nikkei museum

Yoshiko Karasawa remembers feeling “free” when she immigrated to Canada nearly 45 years ago.

The West Vancouver resident left Japan at the age of 22 in hopes of a new life, one that didn’t include a class system or judgment from her peers about her lack of education.

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That’s exactly what she found.

“I felt Canada was really something special,” she said, noting she initially intended to become a hairdresser.

“I decided to come to Vancouver. I thought it was fantastic. People were very big-minded; people were generous. It was very easy to find a job.”

Since then, Karasawa, now 68, has been a big proponent of giving back to her community, which is why she recently donated $1 million to the Nikkei Place Foundation.

The $1 million will go towards expanding the Burnaby-based Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, ensuring that Japanese culture, history, arts and exhibits continue to be promoted, according to a press release.

“She’s always been a strong supporter of arts and culture in Greater Vancouver and a very strong supporter of the Japanese-Canadian community, so we’re really ecstatic that she donated this generous gift to us,” said Robert Banno, the foundation’s president.

Banno added the expansion is still in the “early stages” of planning and staff hope to have architectural renderings soon. The newly expanded museum is expected to open in 2018, which marks the 140th year of a Japanese presence in Canada.

The West Vancouver philanthropist has also contributed her time and expertise to the arts in Vancouver, specifically on the board of the Vancouver Opera, where she focused on introducing opera to the Asian community.

The museum offers Japanese and exhibits and flea markets, as well as events such as the summertime Internment Bus Tour, which takes visitors to various sites in British Columbia where Japanese Canadians were interned during the Second World War.

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