This website tells the story of a remarkable faith community — the Japanese United Church in Vancouver. It is a story of the power of faith. It is also the story of the struggle to build and sustain a faith community in the face of prejudice and grave injustice. In this way, it is an important story not just for Vancouver and British Columbia, but for all of Canada.
Japanese immigrants began arriving in Vancouver from Japan in the late 1800s. Like all immigrants, they came looking for a better and brighter future. Some of the immigrants were inspired to embrace Christianity by clergy who were part of the Japanese Methodist Mission that was established in 1896. The Powell Street Church – in the heart of Vancouver’s Japanese community – not only provided spiritual support to the community but also important social supports. With church union in 1925, the Japanese Methodist Mission became the Japanese United Church.
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During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Spanish influenza of 1918 and the devastating internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, prejudice increased the challenges for Japanese Canadians — but working together to support one another, they persevered with love, dignity and hope. Many in the United Church, who saw the injustices, were determined to help them – notably members of the Woman’s Missionary Society, who were crucial in supporting Japanese Canadian families in the dark years of internment.
But this is not just a story of struggle, injustice and inspiring individuals who stepped up to help a community in need. It is also a story of healing and reconciliation. Both the Canadian government and The United Church of Canada at times failed Japanese Canadians, but both made formal apologies and redress.
Through it all, the Vancouver Japanese United Church is still here today, honouring the vision of those who came before and uplifting the faithful.
Our Elders Remember
“It's important people know this history. The early Japanese immigrants had Buddhism and Shintoism as their religion. To embrace Christianity was a historic milestone. Japanese Canadians go way back to the era of the Methodist Church, long before it helped form The United Church of Canada in 1925. The Board of Home Missions and the Woman's Missionary Society were our allies; the missionaries came to our aid, especially during the dark internment years.”
- Jean Kamimura