By: Amir Khan, Communications Assistant
What began as a vacation to Vancouver in 2019 soon became a place to call home for Eri and Hana.
The now-married couple, from Japan became enamoured with Canadian culture, its diversity and the friendliness of Canadians during their visit, leaving Eri and Hana convinced about Canada becoming a place to call home. However, their plans were put on hold as the COVID-19 pandemic halted global travel and movement across the world. Still, the pandemic left the couple determined to return in the Summer of 2021.
“I felt free,” says Hana as she recalls the couple’s arrival in Vancouver. “Because of the many restrictions in Japan and discrimination against the LGBTQ people, I [finally] felt free.”
“I was surprised by the kindness of the people we met, and it makes me feel comfortable,” adds Eri.
According to the World Economic Forum 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, Japan is ranked 116th out of 146 countries with an achievement index of 65 per cent. Lesbian couples such as Eri and Hana are underrepresented, and even feel restricted by largely conservative Japanese societal norms. Japan is the only G7 country that doesn’t accept same-sex marriage, leaving Hana and Eri with limited options, especially when looking for housing. According to Hana, Japanese landlords often refrain from renting property to same-sex couples, which forced them to pose as relatives to rent a place to live.
Eri says the couple had never met another Japanese lesbian couple in Japan or in Vancouver, which she feels was part of the difficulty in their settlement journey in Canada. This, along with a lack of English, initially opened the way for misunderstandings amidst a lack of information, until a Google search led them to MOSAIC.
“I couldn’t speak English at all four years ago,” Hana says. “We learned English at school for over six years in Japan, so we can read English better than speaking. We searched the internet with keywords like ‘LGBTQ’ and MOSAIC’s I Belong program [appeared in the search], and we connected with the coordinator.”
“The MOSAIC staff member gave us emotional support even though we spoke very little English and that’s one of the reasons why we feel safe,” Eri says
Eri said the language barrier prevented herself and Hana from fully participating in the I Belong program, as they were unable to receive sufficient support in Japanese. However, they were referred to MOSAIC’s Social and Civic Opportunities: Pathways to Equity (SCOPE) program. The program connected with the couple and shared resources on improving English and getting involved with their newfound community in Vancouver.
The SCOPE program supports newcomers to help provide a positive impact in their communities by engaging in civic and social initiatives, such as boards and committees.
“That learning was essential for us, who came from a country with a completely different culture and I feel that we need to continue learning,” Eri says.
According to Hana, boards and committees are largely unheard of to the Japanese public, as such members are only chosen among elite circles.
“If I didn’t attend the SCOPE project, I wouldn’t know how to live here, or how to interact with [Canadian] society. I believe the SCOPE project is necessary for newcomers,” adds Hana, who has since become a committee member of the Vancouver Local Immigration Partnership.
While Eri continues to volunteer for MOSAIC, among other local organizations, her credential as a pharmacist in Japan isn’t recognized in Canada, an issue that plagues many skilled newcomers who struggle to find skills-commensurate employment.
When thinking of her future employment goal, Eri wishes to earn an education in social work and become a MOSAIC staff member. The treatment she received by MOSAIC staff inspires her to serve other newcomers who are looking for a place of acceptance and belonging.
“All the people I met at MOSAIC are heartwarming and kind, and I want to be able to help people in the future,” Eri says.
As a former writer and researcher in Japan, Hana wishes to be able to continue her work as a writer in Canada, while she continues to learn English.
May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a day to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ rights violations and LGBTQ+ work worldwide. MOSAIC welcomes all members of the community to find a safe space for their settlement needs. Learn more about our I Belong program.