Japan: A festival accused of cultural appropriation by the Japanese

Entrepreneurs of Japanese origin boycotted this weekend a festival in Old Montreal that would have denigrated their culture, in addition to committing cultural appropriation by organizing this event without members of their community.

“You know that this new festival is organized by non-Japanese who have never visited Japan. In addition to having no organizer or consultant of Japanese origin, they ignored the discussions with certain members of our community and showed little respect for others”, denounces Marilou Yoshimura-Gagnon, owner of Kyoto Fleurs à Montréal .


Festival Japan - Polemique

She is part of a group of merchants of Japanese origin in Greater Montreal who have categorically refused to participate in the “Festival Japan” denouncing the cultural appropriation of which they are victims. The event, whose logo is Mount Fuji, is supposed to bring together “the lovers of Japan and Asian culture”.

“We find it very regrettable that people who do not have a good understanding of Japanese culture, and who have not established relations with the Japanese community, use Japanese content superficially for their own benefit”, denounces Norio Tomita , osteopath and Japanese researcher installed in Montreal.


Festival Japan - Polemique

Hot dogs and French pâtisseries

The representative Journal s’est d’ailleurs rendu au Marché Bonsecours to participate in the festival that ended on Sunday. The three organizers confirmed that no Japanese or specialist in this culture was part of the organization of the event.

Only two kiosks on the 20 exhibitors belonged to people of Japanese origin, according to our observations. Several products sold were not necessarily linked to Asia or Japan, including a hot-dog counter and another offering French pastries.


Festival Japan - Polemique

M. Tomita adds that the purpose of his community is not to prevent the “non-Japanese” from making a profit with his culture.

“In fact, we, Japanese, are ready and willing to contribute to the promotion of Japanese culture. But this must be based on a good human interaction and a good communication”, he said.

Even the famous festival Yatai MTL, which aims to advance Japan and its street cuisine, also denounced the event that took place this weekend on the social networks.

“We encourage events on Japan, but they must show a base of respect and understanding of Japan. Ce qui n’est malheuremente pas le cas pour le festival Japania», he could read on their Facebook page.

Question évitée

Stéphanie Chau, one of the three organizers of the event, affirms ne faire aucun profit sur le dos de la culture japonaise.

“It is a non-profit organization and it is open to the whole world and all Asian cultures. On n’est pas ici pour faire de l’argent”, she mentioned. Note that you must pay $17.50 per adult to enter the first edition of Festival Japan, organized by the company “Projet 970”.


Festival Japan - Polemique

Facebook / Screenshot

But ont-ils fait de l’appropriation culturelle en créant ce festival around de la culture nippone sans l’aide de spécialists ou de Japonais?

«Il n’y aura pas de débat sur ça. On est là pour rassembler tout le monde et partager. There was no discussion”, answered Aniss Birouk, one of the co-organizers who refused to answer our question.


Two of the three organizers of the Japan Festival: À gauche, Aniss Birouk.  À droite, Stéphanie Chau.

Francis Pilon / JdeM

Two of the three organizers of the Japan Festival: À gauche, Aniss Birouk. À droite, Stéphanie Chau.

According to our information, several Japanese entrepreneurs have met the organizers of the Japan Festival before the event. These meetings would be poorly run since the young people at the head of the event “had no knowledge of Japan and respect for their traditions”.

Questionnés à ce sujet, the owners of “Project 970” refused to comment on their stormy meetings with the Japanese community.

“Our door remains open”, assures M. Birouk, who hopes to be able to create a second edition of his festival in 2023.

What is cultural appropriation?

Use, by a person or a group of people, of cultural elements belonging to another culture, generally minority, in a manner that is deemed offensive, abusive or inappropriate.

Source: OQLF

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