Exploring the Experiences of Community-Dwelling Japanese-Speaking Seniors in Metro Vancouver

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Tonari Gumi - Japanese Community Volunteers Association
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During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Tonari Gumi - Japanese Community Volunteers Association has become increasingly aware of the isolation and disconnect experienced by the Japanese Canadian seniors living in Metro Vancouver. This awareness led to growing concerns about the potentially heightened needs of Japanese-speaking community-dwelling seniors living alone, who did not seem to be well connected to existing social or health services. In 2021, in cooperation with researchers from the University of Toronto and Simon Fraser University, and funded by the Vancouver Foundation, a community-led qualitative research study was conducted to explore Japanese-speaking seniors’ life experiences, perceptions towards community involvement and aging, and service needs. Researchers conducted fifteen semi-structured interviews with Japanese-speaking seniors focused on their narratives and life stories.

The interviews revealed research participants’ diverse community involvement and use of services and the difficulties and struggles of their daily lives before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, research participants’ narratives revealed four key findings (see full report for more details):

  1. Relationships matter: The importance of personal connections to access services.
  2. Fear of overburdening staff and misunderstandings about how social services operate in Canada create
    a disconnect between the organization and seniors.
  3. Learning from “I wish...”: Seniors wish for support preparing for aging earlier in life.
  4. Systemic discrimination, traumatic experiences, and shame hinder involvement in the Japanese
    Canadian community.

The research illustrates the need for Tonari Gumi to engage Japanese-speaking individuals as early as possible before they begin needing significant support services. This will enable a smooth transition and support when changes occur over the life course. The research also indicated the possibility of community organizations such as Tonari Gumi becoming hubs in their community where people can connect not only to use services, but also to participate in diverse ways according to their preferences. These connections will make it easier for people to maintain physical and mental wellness and to access services when support is needed in later life. In addition, by getting to know Tonari Gumi and participating in its activities, the spirit of mutual aid practiced by non-profit organizations can be more easily be understood by Japanese Canadians, leading to the building and sustaining of a mutually supportive community.

[Japanese translation of  the summary is also available on the Tonari Gumi website]

Niki, I., Ichikawa, V., Sakamoto, I., Funahashi, K. & Kadowaki, L. (2021). Exploring the Experiences of Community-Dwelling Japanese-Speaking Seniors in Metro Vancouver: Research Report. Vancouver: Tonari Gumi – Japanese Community Volunteer Association.

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