“Tonari Gumi” means neighbourhood organization in Japanese and historically, neighbourhood organizations played a wider social role of involving all generations and members in the support and improvement of the community. During the Japanese Canadian internment during WWII, neighbourhood organizations were formed in the work camps to assist members in the community.
“Home is a place where you make the family yourself. There are a lot of lonely people out there. When I first started volunteering, we delivered lunches once a week. I have to remember to sit down because I’m not a volunteer anymore. It’s funny.” – Nancy Morishita
Origins of Tonari Gumi
by Tamio Wakayama
Established in 1974, Tonari Gumi was a place where all generations and all representatives of our community met and functioned and had joy and had this creative outburst.
There were the issei, there were the nisei, there were the sansei and there were the new immigrants. For the first time, all these diverse elements of our community gathered together and created this wonderful institution called Tonari Gumi.
Tonari Gumi was set up to provide services for the first generation issei who had returned after the war thinking there would be some semblance of their robust prewar community.
When they came back there was hardly anything left there so they were at a disadvantage because they still had language problems, they still had problems of acculturation, and so there was this co-mingling of these people.
It was like the salmon returning to their original spawning beds and the epicentre of that particular activity was Tonari Gumi.
The people who volunteered their time to help our issei are now in need of help themselves. A new generation of Japanese Canadians and new immigrants must now carry the torch of caring and hope. We need to take care of our own.
Today, we are dedicated to providing social, recreational, and educational programs and services for the betterment of the Japanese Canadians and new immigrants in our community and Canadian society.
Our name carries a reminder of the past and hope for the future as volunteers, young and old, work together for the betterment of the community.