Japanese Canadians

Historical advisory

In your research, you may encounter historical language referring to Japanese Canadians that is considered offensive today. Please read the notice about historical language in LAC’s collection.

We wish to advise survivors and their families that they may encounter archival sources related to wartime and postwar actions which could potentially cause psychological harm from their content, the use of words such as "enemy" or "deportees". Please consult archival research in the Basics section of our website.

Find resources for researching the genealogy and family history of Japanese Canadians

The first recorded Japanese person in Canada was Manzo Nagano, a 22-year-old sailor who landed in New Westminster, B.C., in May 1877. Japanese immigration to Canada is generally broken down into two waves – the first from 1877 to 1928 and the second from 1967 onwards. The experiences of Japanese Canadians have been shaped by racism and exclusion, particularly in terms of interment, postwar deportations and other rights violations, as well as immigration laws.

On this page

Before you start

Gather information such as:

  • name(s)
  • approximate year of birth
  • approximate year of arrival
  • place of residence in Canada

Places to look

There are many resources for researching Japanese Canadian history.

Census records

Canadian censuses often recorded the ethnicity of individuals and their place of origin. For example, the 1911 Census recorded ethnic origin and the country or province of birth. Starting with the 1901 census, census enumerators asked people who were not born in Canada to provide their year of immigration.

LAC holds the records for all official Canadian censuses.

You can search for your ancestor by name.

  • Select your census of choice
  • Enter your name term in the Surname and/or Given name(s) fields.

Birth, marriage and death records

Provincial and territorial government offices record births, marriages and deaths. These are also known as civil registration records. Those offices regularly transfer older records to the provincial or territorial archives.

You can find more information about the records in researching your ancestors in birth, marriage and death records.

Military and wartime records

Despite opposition, Japanese Canadians have a history of service in Canada’s military, in both the First and Second World Wars.

To find military records relating to Japanese Canadians, please consult:

First World War

Second World War

For Second World War files of those who survived the war, submit an application through the Access to Information and Privacy Act.

Immigration and citizenship records

Immigration and citizenship records often had information about ethnicity and place of birth. For more information, see:

Employment records

Barred from professions such as law and pharmacy because they could not vote, Japanese Canadians became farmers, fishers, canners, loggers, miners, sawmill workers, contract gardeners, proprietors of cleaners, lodging houses, grocery stores and restaurants, as well as medical doctors, dentists, merchants, boat builders and teachers.

You might find information about Japanese Canadian businesses in city directories in your local libraries.

Community organizations

Japanese communities established community organizations and mutual aid societies. To find these records at LAC, go to Collection Search and try keywords such as Japanese and

  • Society
  • Organization
  • Association

Here are some examples at LAC:


There were several Japanese Canadian newspapers. You can search Aurora to find these community newspapers by using key terms like “Japanese” plus “newspaper.” LAC holds some collections of Japanese Canadian community newspapers, including:

Published histories and genealogies

Some Japanese Canadian historical societies and communities have published their own histories. These publications can include stories that might help you better understand the experiences of your ancestors. They may also include information about specific individuals. You can search Aurora to find these publications. Try keywords like: Japanese, Issei, Nisei, genealogy, biographies.

We've prepared a list of examples from our Aurora catalogue to give you an idea of the types of books you might find. Each title in this list includes the author and the LAC call number.

  • Click on a title in the list to open the full catalogue entry. If you scroll down, you'll see a list of other libraries that hold copies. You can also check your local library’s online catalogue.
  • If the call number includes the word genealogy, the book is in the genealogy room at our Ottawa location.

Example of a call number: Genealogy Ref. - CS88 A2 A38 2003

Terminology and abbreviations

All people of Japanese ancestry, regardless of birthplace or citizenship
First generation Japanese immigrants born in Japan prior to the Second World War
Shin-issei, Shin-Ijusha
Japanese immigrants who arrived after 1967
Second generation Japanese Canadians born in Canada, the children of the Issei
Kika Nisei
Prior to the Second World War, Canadian-born Nisei who, as children, lived in Japan for lengthy periods of time, were educated there, but returned to Canada as older children or adults
Third generation Japanese Canadians
Fourth generation Japanese Canadians
Fifth generation Japanese Canadians

Search tips

  • Consider major events and locations connected with specific ethno-cultural groups.
    • For example, there may be certain records relating to the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians which may assist research about Japanese Canadian families.
    • Between May and December 1946, 3,964 Japanese Canadians were deported to Japan.
    • During the First and Second World Wars, despite opposition Japanese Canadians served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Canadian Army.
  • Consider neighbourhoods and communities. You may be able to find your ancestors by looking geographically. Prior to the Second World War, Japanese Canadians settled principally in Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver areas, along the west coast of British Columbia and on Vancouver Island. By 1949, the many internees had been forcibly dispersed to cities east of the Rockies: e.g., Toronto, Winnipeg.
  • Spelling was not standardized, and the same names might be written in many different ways. For example: Miyasawa for Miyazawa.

Access the records

Digitized records

If you find a record of interest, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Others, particularly digitized microforms, are available through Héritage.

Non-digitized records

References to government records in Collection Search show if a record is open (access code 90) or restricted (access code 32). To find the access code in an item description, click on Ordering and Viewing Options, then Conditions of access.

If the item is restricted, use the ATIP forms to request a copy.

For records that are not digitized and not restricted, you'll need to see them in person. If you can't visit us in person, you can order copies or hire a researcher.