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Field Reports of Toronto 2018: KISS Group

Students of the Respect program have many chances to go abroad for study trips. From April 25th to May 7th of 2018, students went to Toronto to study multiculturalism of Canada. In the field, students were assigned three research groups: KISS Group; Group Mosaic; Group Saku Karzu. The following is a report of KISS group.

Our report on Toronto-What is true diversity?

Introduction of Kensington Market

[Pic. 1]Graffiti art at Kensington Market.

The Toronto training course on multiculturalism made us rethink what diversity is like. We conducted our research by focusing on Kensington Market. Kensington Market is one of Toronto’s most distinctive neighborhoods, well known for its former and current history of a multi-ethnic demographic, its wide variety of market and boutique shopping, unique architecture, counter-culture and activism. Walking in Kensington Market, you can see that the streets are filled with various kinds of people occupying public spaces. Once you have gotten used to this situation, you might feel it is strange when you return to Japan to be surrounded by people seemingly belonging to just one ethnic group.

The gap between Canada & Japan

However, is it really true that there is only one ethnicity in Japan? We take the stereotype for granted, excluding Koreans living in Japan, called “Zainichi Koreans”. This means we blindly ignore the actual diversity in Japanese society because of the similar appearance between both Zainichi Koreans and Japanese. Moreover, we continue to do so without noticing this fact. For this reason, our group decided to discuss this theme and compare Kensington Market with Korea town.


Our research question was, “What is diversity?” This research question was divided into two parts: “What is our assumption about diversity?” and “What is diversity in Kensington Market?”

With regard to the first question, there is one thing we noticed when we visited Toronto. That is, it can be considered impolite to ask, “Where are you from?” We, Japanese don’t realize there are many people who have dual nationalities or whose background is different from where they were born. So, without understanding these cultural contexts, some people might get offended by our question. Unconsciously, we tend to judge people by the context of only their appearance or language. Diversity also includes other factors: economic situations, gender, age, physically challenged and so on. This is our starting point when discussing ‘diversity.’

We assumed that Canada must also take the other diversities into consideration. However, the situation in Canada was largely different from our assumption. This was made clear in Kensington Market, the fieldwork area we visited. Kensington Market is famous as a symbol of multiculturalism and we expected we could find a Canadian model of multiculturalism. But, Kensington Market is also an area where gentrification has taken root.

By gentrification we mean the transforming of a “working‐class or vacant area of a city into middle‐class residential and/or commercial use” according to Tom Slater. This means that poor people have to leave as the value of the land becomes higher and middle and upper class people take up residence in the vacated areas.

Our Fieldwork in Kensington Market

[Pic. 2]Latin American grocery in Kensington Market.

We confirmed the gentrification in Kensington Market throughout our fieldwork. We visited several ethnic shops and had a conversation with the staff working in those shops. For example, a clerk working in a Latin American grocery store told us that there used to be many grocery stores in the past but now most of them had been replaced by cafes. This could be an example of the typical result of gentrification. Moreover, what surprised us was there was no connection between the shops.

Based on the fieldwork, we assumed that gentrification causes a loss or decrease in some aspects of diversity, especially economic diversity. Kensington Market is well known for gentrification: there are some skyscrapers around Kensington Market and high-grade real estate that are under construction. That is why residents gathered together and tried to organize movements in order to resist this phenomenon. One of these movements is called “Pedestrian Sundays”. This allows pedestrians to enjoy the sights and sounds of the eclectic neighborhood, without worrying about traffic and parking. Musicians, artists, and performers also provide entertainment on the streets.

As a result, though more and more artists and young people gathered, low-income and elderly people seemed to be excluded. Resisting the development by gentrification, diversity has been lost in terms of economics and age regardless of the intention, which was originally a response against gentrification. Paradoxically, even those who advocated against gentrification unconsciously promoted it.

Comparison with the historical example of gentrification in Osaka, Japan

After visiting Kensington Market, our group thought about gentrification in Japan, especially focusing on Osaka. At first, the word reminded us of the Nishinari district, which is a kind of slum area. Recently, the Nishinari district has been developing and a luxury hotel, which is called the Hoshino-resort will be built in this area. Nishinari is becoming gentrified.

We also examined Korea Town in “Tsuruhashi” as a historically gentrified area. Originally, Korea Town was an “unsafe” area like Kensington Market but since 2002, when the World Cup was held, Korean pop culture (K-POP and Korean dramas), known as the “Hanryu boom” (Korean Wave), became popular, especially among young women. At the same time, the number of grocery shops decreased as the number of art spaces, music venues, cafés and restaurants increased.

We also discovered that there is a hierarchy in diversity. Our hypothesis about gentrification is that it causes a loss or decrease in some aspects of diversity. But when we try to judge whether diversity decreases or increases, the measurement we have is different and the things we value are also different. So when we think about diversity, there may be a hierarchy in ourselves. These days we are too swayed by external things such as appearance or languages. It is necessary to take a wider perspective on diversity into consideration.

(September 20, 2018, KISS Group)

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