Anyone who visits the City of Vancouver website can find a list of 22 official neighbourhoods. The same website also identifies 60 areas of the city. But nowhere on either list is the name Paueru Gai.
However, prior to the Second World War, it was a thriving district of Vancouver. East of Gastown and north of Chinatown, it was buzzing with Japanese Canadians.
In Paueru Gai, people could pick up three Japanese daily papers, visit three Buddhist temples, and watch a superb baseball team of Japanese Canadians in Oppenheimer Park. Moreover, Japanese Canadians owned a multitude of hotels, restaurants, and other businesses in the neighbourhood.
Tragically, Paueru Gai—the Japanese translation of Powell Street—had the life sucked out of it when Japanese Canadians were sent to internment camps in 1942. These residents, many of whom were born in Canada, weren’t allowed to return to within 50 miles of the Pacific Coast until April 1, 1949. This was long after the Second World War had ended.
The internment, triggered by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and cheered on by local xenophobes, sent the Downtown Eastside into a downward spiral.
Nevertheless, for the past 46 years, the Powell Street Festival has been rekindling the spirit of Paueru Gai. It does this with impressive arts events—now programmed year-round—that celebrate the culture of Japanese Canadians. The festival has also offered historical education at various locations, as well as culinary treats in Oppenheimer Park.
Over the years, the Powell Street Festival has shown sensitivity to Downtown Eastside dwellers. It’s delivered meals to the marginalized, respected protests in Oppenheimer Park, and hired local residents in the past to provide overnight security.
J-pop comes to Paueru Gai
For the 47th annual festival on the upcoming B.C. Day weekend (August 5 and 6), organizers have planned more than 35 events on three festival stages.
One of the attractions will be Daikagura. It’s a 1,000-year-old art form featuring ceremony and juggling, which will be performed by Michiyo Kagami.
The Powell Street Festival lineup also includes EPITHYMiA. This rising J-pop group from Japan is embarking on its first tour of North America.
Meanwhile, dance lovers can take in tzumonookuni, by Aretha Aoki and Ryan MacDonald. According to the festival, this will depict the “the resurrection of Okuni, the 17th-century cis-female founder of kabuki, reimagined as a punk/synthwave/glam-goth figure”.
All of this will be supplemented by other events that festivalgoers have loved over the years. They include sumo wrestling, heaps of Japanese food, workshops, walking tours, martial arts demonstrations, and children’s activities.
Also returning to this year’s festival is the joyful Paueru Mashup Dance, launched in 2020. It’s a very public and collective line dance inspired by Radio Taiso morning exercises and Tanko Bushi traditional moves. Onibana Taiko composed the music and movements were developed by Company 605.
Anyone who wants to participate in the Paueru Mashup at the festival can take free lessons in Oppenheimer Park on Tuesdays, starting in July.
Watch this instructional video for the Paueru Mashup Dance.