December 2012

Our Treasure: the Nikkei National Museum

Quite by happy chance, I met Beth Carter, Director/Curator of the Nikkei National Museum, in Toronto recently. Beth was attending to a family matter and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. Always the consummate promoter, Beth proceeded to update me on the current exhibits and programs at the Burnaby-based Museum. During the course of our discussion, I became more appreciative of the important role played by our only national museum and the on-going financial challenges that it faces.

The Nikkei National Heritage Centre received $3 million from the Redress Foundation to purchase the property upon which sits the Cultural Centre, Museum, Seniors Residence and Seniors Home. The size of the grant reflects the importance of these services to our community. Given the current economic environment coupled with our small community, this is not the time to undertake large capital projects; we must consolidate and strengthen existing institutions that are providing valuable service. The Nikkei National Museum’s innovative programming and successful track record shows that they deserve our support. A collection of artifacts inside display cases does not constitute a museum – it is simply a display case full of artifacts. A few years ago, I was given a personal tour of the Museum and I came to appreciate the enormous list of challenges that must be considered in the operation of a museum. Here is a partial list:

1. A controlled and stable environment which will slow or stop the rate of deterioration of organic and inorganic artifacts;
2. Preservation and conservation of artifacts;
3. Proper handling of artifacts by trained professionals;
4. Creation of a proper environment with consideration of: fluorescent and incandescent lights, temperature and relative humidity, air pollutants, control or eradication of pests;
5. Proper storage facilities;
6. Museum-quality display cases;
7. Security;
8. Record keeping and Documentation;
9. Ease of public access to the museum – is there enough traffic to justify a museum?;
10. Educational outreach programs.

A museum is a repository of our past and holds precious artifacts that must be preserved, stored and displayed under the highest of standards. A museum is a major financial undertaking and requires a guaranteed annual budget and a host of qualified full time staff led by an inspired curator. Volunteers – no matter how dedicated – do not have the skill or the knowledge base to run a museum properly. Given the current level of technology, groups contemplating a museum are well advised to consider creating a virtual museum instead.

The placement of the Museum, Cultural Centre and seniors residences on the same property was a stroke of genius. These entities create a synergy which draws the wider community to this part of Burnaby. Rather than living in isolation, Nikkei seniors can participate in the life of the community. The complex is anchored by the affordable and generous food served by the staff at Hi Genki Restaurant. The restaurant is an operation of the Fujiya chain and is open to the public – they also provide food to the senior residences of New Sakura-so and Nikkei Home. Inside the brightly lit and ‘homey’ restaurant, our treasured elders are given the opportunity to mingle with the public. The serving portions are generous, well presented and very affordable. The food is not pretentious and of high quality – I enjoyed my grilled saba lunch at my last visit. As my father says, ‘What good is a Japanese restaurant when you go in hungry and come out hungry?’

The Nikkei National Museum sets the benchmark of how a museum should be organized. I can guarantee to members of our community that their beloved family treasures will be well cared for by trained professionals here. They are trusted custodians of our history and help to educate our youth and the larger community of the contributions made by Japanese Canadians to the development of this country.

As we begin preparations for Christmas and New Years, I would like to wish you and your family the warmest of best wishes on behalf of the NAJC and its member organizations. Let us do what we can to ensure the continued survival of our precious community.

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