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Becoming a model minority: the depiction of Japanese Canadians in the Globe and Mail, 1946-2000.


This paper examines the questions of whether the portrayal of Japanese Canadians in the media has changed over time and what accounts for the change or the lack thereof. These questions were addressed by conducting a content analysis of the portrayal of Japanese Canadians in the Globe and Mail from 1946 to 2000. Using frame analysis, this paper shows that the frames used to portray Japanese Canadians changed from the Unthreatening Community Frame, 1946-1980, to the Justified Victims Frame, 1981-1990, to the Model Minority Frame, 1991-2000. The findings indicate that the frames are not just imposed on Japanese Canadians by the media, but that they reflect the interaction of the changing norms of the Globe and Mail, as well as the changing Japanese Canadian experience. However, all the frames overlook the complex nature of the Japanese Canadian community and minimize past and current discrimination.


Dans cet article, nous examinons si le portrait des Canadiens japonais a change dans les media avec le temps et ce qui explique cette evolution ou ce statu quo. Pour traiter de ces questions, nous avons analyse comment le journal le Globe and Mail les a depeints de 1946 a l'an 2000. A partir d'une analyse du cadrage de Goffman, nous demontrons que celui servant a representer les Nippo-Canadiens a change du temps du << cadrage d'une communaute non-menacante >> (1946 1980), au << cadrage des victimes justifiees >> (1981-1990) et au << cadrage d'une minorite modele >> (1991-2000). Les resultats indiquent que ces cadrages ne sont pas simplement imposes a ces derniers par les media, mais qu'ils refletent l'interaction des changements normatifs du Globe and Mati autant qu'une mutation de l'experience des Canadiens japonais. Pourtant, aucun ne tient compte de la complexite qui regne au sein de la communaute nippo- canadienne, et tous minimisent la discrimination passee et actuelle.


Numbering 85,230, Japanese Canadians made up less than 0.3% of the total Canadian population in 2001 (National Association of Japanese Canadians 2005). Perhaps partly because of this numerical insignificance, Japanese Canadians rarely make the news. However, Japanese Canadians are a unique ethnic group. Due to their long history in Canada, 64.7% of Japanese Canadians are Canadian born (Statistics Canada 2003b). This is the highest proportion of native-born members of any racialized group in Canada. They also exhibit the highest intermarriage rate of any Canadian racialized group. Almost 50% of Japanese Canadians are intermarried (Lee and Boyd, 12). As a result, in 2001, 37.5% of Japanese Canadians were of mixed origins (National Association of Japanese Canadians 2005). Overall, Japanese Canadians are remarkably well educated, economically successful, and integrated into Canadian society (Makabe 1998). This phenomena is quite astonishing, considering their historical experience of discrimination in Canada. During World War II, they were interned in camps and dispersed across the country. During the 1980s they successfully negotiated reparations for internment. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, this community has integrated so well it may disappear as a distinct ethnic group in the foreseeable future (Mullins 1984).

The limited post-1945 academic literature on Japanese Canadians shows that the Japanese Canadian community has experienced dramatic changes since the end of World War II. While recent literature traces changes in Japanese Canadian experiences, one wonders if the depiction of Japanese Canadians in mainstream Canadian media has also changed. Some scholars have studied the portrayal of racialized minorities in Canadian newspapers generally (Fleras and Kunz 2001; Millet 1997), but few analyze the depiction of Japanese Canadians in mainstream Canadian newspapers.

This paper addresses two main research questions: has the portrayal of Japanese Canadians in the media changed over time? and what accounts for the change or lack thereof? These questions were addressed through a content analysis of the depiction of Japanese Canadians in the Globe and Mail between 1946 and 2000.


The first known Japanese migrant to Canada, Manzo Nagano, settled in British Columbia as early as 1877. In 1901, 97% of the recorded 4,738 Japanese immigrants lived in British Columbia (Adachi 1991). They clustered together for mutual support against discrimination by European Canadians. While British Columbia employers welcomed Japanese immigrants as a source of cheap labour, workers eyed them as competitive threats to their jobs (Roy et al. 1990). Combined with Japan's imperial success overseas, Japanese Canadians came to be viewed as the Yellow Peril.

Residents of British Columbia continually agitated for the federal government to limit Asian immigration and legal rights. In 1895 British Columbia passed a law denying the vote to all residents of Asian descent, including those born in Canada. The anti-Japanese sentiment came to a head in a 1907 riot in Vancouver. To appease British Columbians, in 1908 Canada and Japan agreed to a Gentlemen's Agreement that restricted immigration to 400 labourers and domestic servants (ibid.).

Anti-Japanese sentiment in the 1930s, aggravated by the Great Depression, provided a fertile ground for Japanese internment during the Second World War. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, Canada declared war on Japan. By the end of October 1942, 22,000 Japanese residents (75% of them citizens) were forcibly uprooted from the Pacific coast and placed in internment camps. On January 23, 1943, an Order in Council granted the Custodians of Enemy Alien Property the right to sell Japanese property without the owners' consent.

Most Japanese did not resist evacuation and internment. Many Nisei (second- generation Japanese Canadians) in particular thought they could prove their loyalty to Canada by cooperating with the authorities (Adachi 1991). On August 4, 1944, MacKenzie King declared that Japanese Canadians should be dispersed across Canada or repatriated to Japan. This was regarded as a final solution to the Japanese problem, lightening the load in British Columbia and facilitating Japanese assimilation into Canadian society after the end of the war (ibid.).

After Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, all internment camps in Canada, except New Denver (which was shut down in 1957), were ordered dosed. However, the repatriation of Japanese residents continued until 1947. In the end, 3,964 individuals moved to Japan. By January 1947, the Japanese population in British Columbia was reduced to 6,776 people (two-thirds of the pre-war number) (ibid.). It was not until March 31, 1949, that the wartime restrictions were fully lifted and the vote was give to all Japanese Canadian citizens.

In 1950 Justice Henry Bird awarded approximately $1.2 million in damages to Japanese Canadians for economic losses. A Price Waterhouse study later estimated the real property damage at $50 million and the total economic loss at $443 million (ibid.). The 1977 celebration of the settlement of the first Japanese Canadian witnessed a resurgence of pride among Japanese Canadians, and served as an impetus for the Japanese Canadian redress movement (Miki and Kobayashi 1991). On September 17, 1988, the United States government offered redress to Japanese Americans, and on September 22, 1988, the Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement was signed. Individual compensation for the 16,000 survivors was set at $21,000.


The published academic literature pertaining to Japanese Canadians post-1945 is limited. In this section, two sets of literature are presented. The first set on Japanese Canadians examines various aspects of the Issei (first generation), Nisei (second generation), and Sansei (third generation) experiences of identity and integration in Canada. The second set reviews scholarly work on the media representation of North American ethnic minorities. Few studies on media representations of Japanese Canadians, let alone newspaper depictions of Japanese Canadians, exist. Furthermore, the literature largely ignores the potential agency social groups exercise in influencing how Japanese Canadians are depicted.

Japanese Canadian Identity and Integration

The rapid and successful integration of Japanese Canadians is echoed repeatedly in the literature. When questioned about their relocation during the Second World War, 37% of Japanese Canadians viewed their relocation as almost completely good, compared to 32% of Japanese Canadians who perceived it as almost completely bad (Henry 1965). While this may seem puzzling, Sugiman (2004) points out that memory is a social act that combines past experience with present interpretation. These memories can be perceived as a political act of defiance designed to erase or deny the past (Spitzer 1999, cited in Sugiman 2004, 376). In Sugiman's study, the women emphasized their "Canadianness" in contrast to the alien label they were marked with during the Second World War. They refused to see themselves as victims. Instead, their stories reflected their endurance and self-determination (ibid. 382).

Some scholars link the rapid integration of Japanese Canadians to organizational and cultural factors. After the War, ethnic organizations were replaced with more acculturated organizations. For example, minority Buddhist and Christian churches acted as adaptive organizations that paralleled the acculturation of members and did not work to maintain ethnic distinctiveness (Mullins 1984). Most Japanese at the time were more concerned about keeping a low profile and rebuilding their lives than lobbying for recognition of their human rights (Kobayashi 1992, 3). In the 1970s the majority of Nisei did not acknowledge any effect the evacuation might have had on Japanese Canadian identity (Makabe 1980, 120). The Sansei children of the Nisei reported that their parents seldom discussed the issue. Sansei children were socialized by their parents to work hard and blend in (Makabe 1998). In short, for the sake of survival the Nisei chose to remain territorially dispersed and to concentrate on making a living (Makabe 1980, 122).

Merely one generation after the internment, Japanese Canadians achieved incomes and educational levels well above the national average (National Association of Japanese Canadians 2005). A common characteristic of the Sansei is their lack of ties to other Japanese Canadians and Japanese Canadian organizations (Makabe 1998). Of the 50% of intermarried Japanese Canadians, the majority marry White Canadians; intermarriage with other minorities is rare (Lee and Boyd 2005, 9). This suggests that Japanese Canadians are integrating into the majority White population. In recent years, the high rate of intermarriage among Japanese Canadians has resulted in a community that is 37% multiracial (Makabe 2005).

Media Representations of North American Asians

Research suggests that mainstream Canadian newspapers misrepresent or overlook minorities (Fleras and Kunz 2001; Miller 1997). The subtle bias of the mainstream news media is manifested in actions such as ignoring stories about minorities or silencing minority voices. When racialized minorities make the news, they are often presented as outsiders or as social problems (Fleras and Kunz 2001). In a study of the depiction of racialized minorities in five Canadian newspapers (the Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Winnipeg Free Press, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette), Miller (1997) found that minorities in news stories were portrayed negatively 49% of the time, compared to positively 42% of the time.

One current exception to the negative portrayal of racialized minorities in the media may be the model minority image of East Asian Americans (Paek and Shah 2003, 226), although whether Asian Canadians are similarly framed is unknown. This stereotype attributes to Asians positive qualities such as a superior work ethic, conformity to social norms, and technological skill. Taking a longer historical perspective, scholars have identified two major historical frames: the Yellow Peril/Madame Butterfly narratives and the Charlie Chan/Model Minority stories (Xing 1998, 55).

"Yellow Peril" is a historically rooted term signifying the menace Asians pose to American society. Especially prevalent before and during the Second World War, slanted eyes and exaggerated accents became markers of foreignness. In contrast to Asian men, Asian women are often depicted in film as exotic, sexual objects, like Madame Butterfly in the opera. Asian women are routinely portrayed as objects of war and conquest, sexual desire, or mail-order brides (ibid. 59). In advertisements, women are portrayed as professionally successful but subservient and exotic (Paek and Shah 2003, 226).

Diverging from the Yellow Peril schema, the Good Charlie servant theme emerged in films as early as the 1930s (Xing 1998, 63). Male Asians were depicted as the physically and sexually weak, politically unthreatening minority. In the 1960s a reworking of the Charlie Chan tradition emerged. The model minority image depicted Asian Americans as economically successful, all-American success stories. One content analysis of advertisements in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report in 2000 showed that Asians were most likely to be portrayed in dominant roles as professionals, technicians, and business people for business, computer, and Internet ads (Paek and Shah 2003). Although this is partly reflected in reality by empirical evidence of Asian American success, it ignores economic inequality among Asians, as well as the glass ceiling Asians face in higher levels of management (ibid. 238).


Framing Theory

The general concept of framing is frequently used by social movement research. In 1976 Tuchman introduced framing to media analysis, showing that there is not always a correspondence between a news event and a news story (cited in Benford 1997, 411). She drew from Goffman (1975), who characterized frames as the "principles of organization which govern events--at least social ones--and our subjective involvement in them" (cited in Tuchman 1976). News is a social institution which shapes and is shaped by the social world. Journalistic norms define what events are newsworthy. Often, these stories are categorized into frames. Framing directs people's attention to a narrow range of attributes. Although frames give a sense of order and coherency to the world, they may miss or distort reality (Gitlin 1980). At the same time, frames are not just developed, generated, and elaborated on; they are also discursive, strategic, and contested (Benford 1997, 424). Social groups have a hand in shaping their own representation. Studies indicate that the frames that constrict images of minorities change over time, are increasingly more positive, and convey mixed messages (Fleras and Kunz 2001).


Based on the academic literature and the framing theory, I propose two hypotheses:

H1. Japanese Canadians will be portrayed in four shifting frames: the Yellow Peril Frame immediately following the Second World War; the Unthreatening Community Frame in the decades after the War as Japanese Canadians actively promoted integration; the Justified Victims Frame surrounding the social movement for redress of wartime internment; and the Model Minority Frame after the redress agreement in the late 1980s, reflecting Japanese Canadians' successful integration and unthreatening numbers.

H2. The portrayal of Japanese Canadians will grow increasingly positive over time. As Japanese Canadians become more socially and economically assimilated, as the stereotype of Japanese Canadians as enemies during World War II is left further behind, and as Canadian society and the media becomes generally more tolerant of racial minorities, it would be expected that the Globe and Mail would portray Japanese Canadians increasingly more positively.



Using newspapers as a source of data can be problematic because they do not necessarily reflect events accurately. Matching newspapers with framing theory that considers that news stories do not necessarily reflect news events accounts for possible weaknesses in validity. Furthermore, since Toronto is the centre of the largest Japanese Canadian population in Canada, the Toronto based Globe and Mail seemed like the best possible source for examining the portrayal of Japanese Canadians in the media. The Globe and Mail has been published since 1844 and is arguably the most influential daily newspaper in Canada (Hayes 1992).

Although the Globe and Mail started out as a Toronto newspaper, it declared itself a national newspaper at the beginning of the twentieth century, long before it actually became a major national newspaper in the 1980s (Cobb 2004). Eighty-five percent of the newspaper is owned by the Woodbridge Company (a Thomson family holding firm that controls Thomson Reuters), while 15% is held by Bell Globemedia Corporation, which also owns the Canadian television network CTV. Ideologically, the Globe and Mail is often cited as being at the center of the political spectrum, in contrast to its rival national daily, the National Post, which is conservative. Like any other institution, however, it is not static. The Globe and Mail has long been considered the voice of the Canadian business and intellectual elite, but it fluctuated between supporting the Liberal Party and the former Progressive Conservative Party (now the Conservative Party), and it has supported liberal social policies since the 1980s (Hayes 1992).

Population Sample

The population for this study consists of all articles referencing Japanese Canadians or Japanese Canadian issues in the Globe and Mail from January 1, 1946 to December 31, 2000. This lengthy time period was chosen because, although the Second World War was an exceptionally difficult time for Japanese Canadians, it was certainly not a typical one. The focus of the paper is on the changing portrayal of Japanese Canadians in times of relative peace.

The LexisNexis newspaper database keyword search was used to locate all articles that referenced the words Japanese-Canadian or Japanese-Canadians. Of the 297 relevant articles found using this method, 69 articles were not included in the final analysis because they did not refer to Japanese Canadians, but relations between Japan and Canada. (For example, Japanese-Canadian trade relations). The final population sample was comprised of 228 articles: 66% (150) of articles were found in the news section, while 25% (58) of the articles were found in the entertainment section. Only ten articles in sports (4%), five in family (2%), three in business (1%), and two in classifieds (1%) were found. The representation of articles from different sections was similar for all the frames, although the Justified Victim Frame included a higher proportion of articles in the news section.

Content Analysis

Content analysis is a technique for gathering and analyzing the content of a text (Neuman 2000). Combining manifest content analysis (elements physically available and countable) and latent content analysis (elements interpretively viewable) allows researchers to attain the most comprehensive and insightful picture (Berg 2004). Counting content determines the frequency of each category, while interpreting the meaning of the content deepens the understanding of each category. Texts are coded and interpreted in a clearly operationalized manner so the assignment to categories can be identified and repeated by other researchers. Although content analysis is susceptible to researcher bias, it is not limited by participant bias because the method is unobtrusive and nonreactive. Content analysis is especially useful in examining a large volume of text, when the topic being studied is historically or geographically distant, and when messages in text are difficult to observe casually (Neuman 2000; Berg 2004). This makes content analysis ideal for studying the portrayal of Japanese Canadians from 1946-2000.


Testing for intercoder reliability is ideal, although time constraints and limited resources made this test impossible for this paper. However, I double checked my findings for reliability. To gain the most complete view of the portrayal of Japanese Canadians, I counted the frequency of each category identified by the hypotheses by assessing both latent and manifest content. I coded and counted articles in eleven five-year intervals.

I counted the number of articles that used key words, concepts, and imagery associated with any of the four frames. Determining the frame into which each article was coded resulted from an evaluation of the language in the headline and body of the text. Each article was identified with a single frame for the sake of numeracy. Articles not corresponding to any of the frames were labeled as Other.

The Yellow Peril Frame predicts that Japanese Canadians will be viewed as a threat to Canadian safety and economic well-being. This view stems from the fact that they are not considered Canadians at all, but outsiders. They will be seen as sneaky and competitive, as well as alien outsiders who are disloyal to Canada and dangerous to Canadians.

The Unthreatening Community Frame predicts that Japanese Canadians, as a whole, will be described as reliable, hard-working citizens who pose no threat to society. Words like "content," "loyal, "harmless," and "community" will evoke images of Japanese Canadians being happy Canadian citizens who do not endanger Canadian society.

The Justified Victim Frame predicts that the treatment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War will be painted as a shameful blot on Canada's otherwise peaceful history. Hence, Japanese Canadians' redress efforts will, overall, be depicted as justified lobbying for human rights. Concepts like "injustice," "Canadian citizens," "multiculturalism" "human rights," and "democracy" will be involved.

The Model Minority Frame predicts that Japanese Canadians will be presented as uniformly economically successful and socially integrated citizens. They will be depicted in successful roles like engineers and academic overachievers, and contrasted to other minority groups like Indigenous Canadians as supposed evidence that discrimination does not exist in Canada. Words like "successful, "hard- working," "uncomplaining" and "ambitious" will be frequently used.

In addition to analyzing frames, I identified the number of articles in each interval that were positive, neutral, or negative. I considered how Japanese Canadian individuals, the community, or general issues were depicted by examining the tone of the articles and the legitimacy given to Japanese Canadians.


A content analysis of the depiction of Japanese Canadians in the Globe and Mail from 1946 to 2000 uncovered three shifting frames used to characterize Japanese Canadians. The Yellow Peril Frame was not round; the Globe and Mail was quick to frame Japanese Canadians in a positive light after the War. The Unthreatening Community Frame, the Justified Victims Frame, and the Model Minority Frame were all reflected in the analysis. As Japanese Canadians integrated, their portrayal shifted from unthreatening minorities to model minorities. Japanese Canadians were given an active, respected voice. Somewhat supporting the second hypothesis, the articles grew more qualitatively glowing over time, but the proportion of positive frames somewhat unevenly decreased quantitatively over time. Table 2 indicates that 79.1% of articles were positive in Frame One (Unthreatening Community Frame), 65.1% in Frame Two (Justified Victims Frame), and 75% in Frame Three (Model Minority Frame). This illustrates the importance of assessing content quantitatively and qualitatively. Overall, the articles were overwhelmingly positive across all time frames. Table 2 shows that 71% of all articles were positive, 25% neutral, and 4% negative. However, Japanese Canadians were not cited often--only 228 times for the entire 1946 to 2000 period. In the first frame, Japanese Canadians were mentioned in only about two articles per year, nine times in the redress years, and about rive times in the last frame.

Absence of the Yellow Peril Frame

Contrary to expectations, Japanese Canadians were not depicted as a threatening, Yellow Peril in the years following the end of the Second World War. Although they were often referred to as "laps,' neither Japanese involvement in the war as an enemy of Canada nor their perceived economic threat in British Columbia in the years before the War were held against them. In fact, when the Japanese were mentioned in the context of the War, they were usually alluded to as loyal Canadian-born residents who served in the War, or as a group that was unjustly interned and expatriated to Japan. In one news story, a Liberal member of parliament was quoted as expressing his opposition to the deportation of Japanese Canadians as inhuman, unCanadian, and illegal. The chair of the Japanese-Canadian committee for democracy also pleaded for equality of opportunity for Japanese Canadians, who only needed to become Canadian citizens to help in "their own rehabilitation" ("Federal Position on Jap Citizens Held Indefensible" 1946, 5).

The Unthreatening Community Frame: 1946-1980

In the years following the end of the War and for the succeeding decades, 57.1% of frames from 1946-1980 depicted Japanese Canadians as harmless members of Canadian society. The Globe and Mail reported that relocated Japanese Canadian residents of Ontario were content, happy, and admired. Employers were cited as admiring the Japanese work ethic and their nonthreatening natures. "They know what's to be done and they do it. I was a little doubtful about trying them at first, but I'm certainly convinced now. They're very reliable and they seem to be quite happy" (West 1947, 15). Japanese Canadians were largely described, by both the editors of the Globe and Mail, and by other sources, as harmless, loyal, industrious, and law- abiding.

Japanese Canadians were depicted in diverse roles such as athletes, university student leaders, lawyers, mechanics, and artists. Although these positive portrayals somewhat minimize the scars of internment and relocation and the hardship Japanese Canadians experienced in Ontario without their property and belongings that were confiscated in British Columbia, considerable attention was also paid to the injustice of internment. In 1946-50 almost as many articles (7) framed Japanese Canadians as victims of the internment as articles (9) that framed Japanese Canadians as happy and hard-working members of society.

The Japanese Canadian community at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre was portrayed numerous times as an active but politically neutral social group engaging in culturally relevant activities like flower arranging. Some articles explicitly noted that, although the Japanese honoured their traditions, they did this discreetly. "It often expressed itself in a sense of being outwardly Canadian, and only discreetly Japanese" (Godfrey 1977, 38). The Japanese- Canadian Citizens Association was often mentioned during this time period. George Imai, president of the Association in 1963, was cited as saying that Japanese Canadians encountered few problems with discrimination and that they were "trying to get lost in the crowd" ("Discrimination Often Hidden, Human Rights Meeting Is Told" 1963, 5).

The Justified Victims Frame: 1981-1990

The Justified Victim of unjust Second World War policies was the most common sort of frame across all time intervals, at 37%. However, the dominant representation of Japanese Canadians as an assimilable group shifted noticeably around 1977 to the Justified Victims frame. As table 1 shows, from 1981 to 1990, 54.1% of articles conformed to this frame. Furthermore, more articles were found in the news section than in the other frames. This is not surprising, considering that the redress is the type of issue considered by mainstream news as newsworthy. The reason why the lowest proportion of positive articles was round in the redress period is probably linked to the fact that this was a contentious political issue. From 1981 to 1985, four negative articles or letters to the editor were published, justifying wartime internment of Japanese Canadians. Yet, 28 positive articles and 21 neutral news stories were published--remarkably supportive for such a contentious issue.

In the Justified Victims frame, Japanese Canadians were framed as justified, politically active victims of past racist policies. The internment of Japanese Canadians during the War was framed as a general human rights issue that tainted Canada's image as a nation promoting civil liberties and multiculturalism (Simpson 1987). Japanese Canadian redress seekers were given a medium in which to air their grievances, and reports showing public support for an official government apology and compensation were published. When one Japanese Canadian letter carrier, George Hayashi, committed suicide, a New Democratic Party member of parliament was cited as attributing his suicide to the terrible ordeal he suffered as an internee (Ferry 1979). Opponents were sometimes even criticized for being racist. One editorial lambasted the government for dragging its feet on compensation, in an article tellingly titled, "Still Unenlightened" (1984). Often cited concepts included racism, innocent Canadian citizens, human rights, democratic society, and injustice.

The Model Minority Frame: 1991-2000

After the redress settlement in 1988, Japanese Canadians dropped off the face of the news section. Although Japanese Canadians continued to be presented as justified victims, a new dominant frame surface& From 1991 to 2000, 51.8% of the articles depicted Japanese Canadians as a model minority, as indicated in table 1. Overall, the Japanese Canadians were framed as historically oppressed individuals who succeeded despite their negative experiences and held a forgiving attitude towards the past (Mickleburgh 2000). In this frame, their status as successfully integrated Canadians appears to have been set. Educational, artistic, and occupational success was attributed to Japanese Canadians.

Unlike American studies of the portrayal of Asian Americans in the media, Japanese Canadians were not framed as technological experts or academic over achievers. What is unique in this Canadian model minority imagery is that Japanese Canadians were depicted as economically and academically successful members of Canadian society in general. More emphasis was put on social integration than in the American media. Perhaps this reflects the slightly less individualistic nature of Canadian society compared to the United States. What is similar in the American and Canadian model minority frames is the emphasis on individual hard work and economic success, lack of Asian complaints about racism, and the implicit suggestion that Asian success proves that discrimination does not exist.

Unlike the first Unthreatening Community Frame, most attention was paid to individual Japanese Canadians, not to the Japanese Canadian community. In one article, hockey player Paul Kariya was represented as a humble, successful all- Canadian, not inhibited by past racism against Japanese Canadians (Farber 1998). This pattern was repeated in other depictions of Japanese Canadians. Successful Japanese Canadians like author Joy Kogawa, architect Raymond Moriyama, and scientist David Suzuki were interviewed. They were depicted as humble, ambitious, and normal.

Although Japanese Canadians were depicted as the most integrated and successful of any of the frames, as determined by examining the tone and depictions of Japanese Canadians, 7% of the articles painted Japanese Canadians in a negative light. Japanese Canadians were judged negatively when they did not conform to the model minority role. One reviewer of a Japanese Canadian dance play harshly criticized the choreographer of a play that highlighted racism in Canadian history (Kelly 1995). "Hirabashi's parents triumphed over prejudice and societal pressures, but their son, sadly, on the other hand, has interpreted their experience with unmitigated blackness and misery" (ibid.).


The frames used to describe Japanese Canadians in the Globe and Mail largely parallel the history of the Japanese Canadian community, as well as the changing norms of society and the media. The first frame portrays Japanese Canadians in an overly optimistic way, but in a way that acknowledges the injustice of internment. Japanese Canadians themselves directly influenced the second frame. The third Model Minority Frame is the most positive portrayal on a surface level, but it obscures discrimination in Canada and diversity within the Japanese Canadian population.

Absence of the Yellow Peril Frame

Although I hypothesized that Japanese Canadians would be seen as the Yellow Peril, the absence of this frame makes sense if one considers the social context within which the Globe and Mail operates. Although it has been a nationally distributed newspaper since the 1980s, it is located in Toronto and principally reflects the views of Toronto residents. In the decades following the Second World War, it was, in fact, an Ontario newspaper. As history shows, Japanese Canadians were viewed as a threat in British Columbia in the years before the Second World War because of their geographical concentration and large numbers. However, other provinces did not view them in this light (Adachi 1991).

After the 1940s, when Japanese Canadians were relocated to Ontario, they were too small a group and too dispersed to constitute a threat. Before 1941 no more than 300 Japanese Canadians lived in Ontario (Makabe 1979, 136). Due to the redistribution of this community during the Second World War, the Japanese population in Toronto numbered 4,600 in 1951. By 1971 the Toronto Japanese population had risen to 11,600. Yet, continuing the government-imposed resettlement policy of dispersal, Japanese families avoided living in close proximity to each other. No census area in Toronto contained a Japanese Canadian cluster of over 2%. To the relief of politicians and the Issei and Nisei themselves, the movement of Japanese Canadians into Toronto was not met with hostility (Takata 1983). However, it is important to note that if the analysis extended to the period before and during the Second World War or to British Columbia newspapers, the Yellow Peril frame might very well have been found.

The Unthreatening Community Frame: 1946-1980

The expansion of the postwar economy and the decreased visibility of the community enabled Japanese Canadians to become upwardly mobile economically, a right denied to them by law in British Columbia before the war (Makabe 1979, 137). This was paralleled by Japan becoming one of the most powerful nations in the world, which may have helped Japanese Canadians become more accepted in Canada. By the early 1970s, the majority of Japanese Canadians had achieved middle-class status and an even higher than average educational level than the general Toronto population (ibid. 139).

The government policy of dispersing Japanese Canadians across Canada was intended to weaken them as an economic and social threat by cutting their ties to the Japanese Canadian community and forcing them to integrate into mainstream Canadian society. The dispersal of Japanese Canadians acted as the structural impetus for integration. At first glance, it may not seem surprising that Japanese Canadians integrated so completely into Canadian society. However, their rapid integration was not a pattern forced upon Japanese Canadians. Many Nisei rejected Japanese ties and tradition (Takata 1983). Japanese Canadian churches and ethnic organizations actively tried to frame themselves to other Canadians and the media as assimilable, normal Canadians. This is reflected clearly in the Globe and Mail As the community gained economic success, the orientation of the postwar ethnic associations shifted from one of welfare, education, and language services to social, cultural, and human rights issues (Sunahara 1979, 13).

The Justified Victims Frame: 1981-1990

The Japanese Canadians' successful effort to gain an apology and financial compensation for their internment from the Canadian government is a striking example of the success of the Japanese Canadians in framing themselves. As social movement scholars have stated, a new and legitimate story can result in positive attention by the mass media (Howard-Hassmann 2004, 829). This publicity will help the movement gain members and legitimize the movement. Combined with political pressure, the possibility of political elites picking up the cause increases (ibid.). In 1984 the National Association of Japanese Canadians passed a resolution to seek redress for injustices they experienced during the Second World War. Japanese Canadian activists received widespread support from religious, political, and social groups, including the Globe and Mail. Key to the success of the movement was the quantity and degree of positive press coverage in Canada, in comparison to the United States (Omatsu 1992).

In January 1985, in the first and most important meeting of activists with the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, Roger Obata, Don Rosenbloom, and Maryka Omatsu met with the editorial staff of the newspapers. The staff was supportive, and for the next four years, both newspapers continued to sympathetically cover the issue (ibid.). During this time, although the Globe and Mail supported Brian Mulroney's economically conservative policies, it supported liberal social policies like gay rights and decriminalizing drugs (Hayes 1992). Thus, supporting the redress movement came at a time when the newspaper generally supported policies of multiculturalism and equity.

The Model Minority Frame: 1991-2000

After the redress settlement, the Globe and Mail switched to a different frame to characterize Japanese Canadians. The model minority stereotype focuses on a narrow range of characteristics and attributes them to the whole group. Although the Model Minority Frame appears similar to the Unthreatening Community Frame, the Model Minority Frame differs in the narrowly hyper-successful way Asians are portrayed. Japanese Canadians are characterized as brilliant, highly educated, hardworking, all-Canadian minority success stories. The frame wrongly assumes that all Japanese Canadians have a superior work ethic and high socioeconomic status (Paek and Shah 2003, 239).

The common portrayal of Japanese Canadians as authors and writers in the newspaper contradicts previous American findings about the depiction of Asian Americans in the media as business and science geeks (ibid. 234), but it does not reflect the reality of the Japanese Canadian community (Statistics 2003a). According to 2001 census data, only 5.3% of employed Japanese Canadians are in occupations relating to art, culture, recreation and sport. Fully 24.3% are in sales and service occupations and 19.0% are in business, finance, and administration.

Furthermore, focusing on "model" minorities implicitly contrasts Japanese Canadians to "problem" minorities, to prove that discrimination can be overcome with diligence, or that discrimination does not exist at all. The Globe and Mail took pains to present Japanese Canadians as survivors of past racist practices who had overcome the past to become fully integrated members of society. Although the newspaper articles applauded the redress agreement, they presented the redress settlement as fair compensation for past discrimination, overlooking current racial inequality. When Japanese Canadians persisted in highlighting past or present discrimination they were condemned as being ungrateful and unjustifiably angry (Kelly 1995).


The history of Japanese Canadians from 1946-2000 is the story of a community that strove to become 150% Canadian in order to overcome historical prejudice and discrimination (Omatsu 1992). Using frame analysis, this paper shows that the frames used to portray Japanese Canadians changed over time, from the Unthreatening Community, to the Justified Victims, to the Model Minority. Although the frames grew slightly more positive over time qualitatively, the portrayal of Japanese Canadians was generally positive. The frames largely reflected the reality of Japanese Canadian experiences and activism, as well as the norms within the Globe and Mail itself. However, all the frames, especially the Model Minority Frame, overlooked complexity within the Japanese Canadian community and the existence of past and current discrimination.

While this exploratory study of the portrayal of Japanese-Canadians in the Globe and Mail is a first step, more research in this area is needed. Contrasting the portrayal of Japanese Canadians in different newspapers, especially in British Columbia where a large number of Japanese Canadians live, might yield interesting results. The Yellow Peril Frame may very well be present in Western newspapers. Comparing the portrayal of Japanese Canadian men and women, focusing more carefully on just one event or on a narrower time period like the Second World War or redress period, and comparing Japanese Canadians with other ethnic groups would also strengthen the literature. Finally, scholarly research on Japanese Canadians generally would benefit from a consideration of gender and class inequality among Japanese Canadians.


The author wishes to thank Art Budros for his invaluable guidance and Pamela Sugiman for her encouragement, as well as the anonymous reviewers of the paper for their comments and suggestions.


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NAOKO HAWKINS is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto, specializing in the sociology of work, health, and immigration. Her dissertation is entitled "Immigrant Status and the Relationship between Education and Health: Exploring the Role of Economic and Psychosocial Resources."
TABLE 1. Type of Portrayal, 1945-2000

Interval            Frame            Peril    Unthreatening

1946-1950             1                0            9
1951-1955             1                0            3
1956-1960             1                0            5
1961-1965             1                0           10
1966-1970             1                0            5
1971-1975             1                0            4

              Total Number (63)        0           36
            Total Percent (27.6%)      0%          57.1%

1976-1980             2                0            4
1981-1985             2                0            4
1986-1990             2                0            5

              Total Number (109)       0%          13
            Total Percent (47.8%)      0%          11.9%

1991-1995             3                0            3
1996-2000             3                0            3

              Total Number (56)        0            6
             Total Percent (24.6)      0%          10.7%

             Overall Number (228)      0           55
            Overall Percent (100%)     0           24%

Interval            Frame            Victims   Model    Other

1946-1950             1                 7        0        3
1951-1955             1                 1        0        2
1956-1960             1                 2        0        0
1961-1965             1                 2        4        1
1966-1970             1                 1        0        1
1971-1975             1                 1        1        1

              Total Number (63)        14        5        8
            Total Percent (27.6%)      22.2%     7.9%    12.7%

1976-1980             2                 4        2        0
1981-1985             2                31        4       14
1986-1990             2                24       10        7

              Total Number (109)       59       16       21
            Total Percent (47.8%)      54.1%    14.7%    19.3%

1991-1995             3                 6       13        5
1996-2000             3                 5       16        5

              Total Number (56)        11       29       10
             Total Percent (24.6)      19.6%    51.8%   179%

             Overall Number (228)      84       50       39
            Overall Percent (100%)     37%      21%      17%

TABLE 2. Direction of Portrayal, 1945-2000

Interval            Frame            Positive   Neutral   Negative

1946-1950             1                15          3         1
1951-1955             1                 4          2         0
1956-1960             1                 5          2         0
1961-1965             1                15          2         0
1966-1970             1                 6          1         0
1971-1975             1                 5          2         0

              Total Number (63)        50         12         1
            Total Percent (27.6%)      79.4%      19.0%      1.6%

1976-1980             2                 9          1         0
1981-1985             2                28         21         4
1986-1990             2                34         12         0

              Total Number (109)       71         34         4
            Total Percent (47.8%)      65.1%      31.2%      3.7%

1991-1995             3                20          5         2
1996-2000             3                22          5         2

              Total Number (56)        42         10         4
             Total Percent (24.6)      75.0%      17.9%      7.1%

             Overall Number (228)     163         56         9
            Overall Percent (100%)     71%        25%        4%
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Author:Hawkins, Naoko
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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