Shinkichi Tamura pioneered Japan–Canada trade and ties

By Tim Hornyak

In 2025, Osaka will welcome people from around the world to a big party when it hosts a World Expo, and Canada is likely to play a prominent part. Discussions are already underway between planners and Canadian lumber officials, who put together a large wooden structure for Osaka’s last expo, in 1970. But it was in 1903 that an international exhibition in Osaka put trade ties between Canada and Japan on firm footing, due in great part to a local entrepreneur who made it big in Vancouver.

Born in 1863, Shinkichi Tamura was one of the most successful Japanese to emigrate to Canada. He began his career at age 13, as an apprentice at an Osaka textile retailer, and before he was 26 he had moved to Victoria and found work at a sawmill and then a sulphur company. After working as a purchasing agent for the latter in Hokkaido, he moved to Vancouver and set up a trading company, Tamura Shokai. At first importing Japanese silk, produce and consumer products, the company began exporting salmon to Japan. When a shipment was lost at sea, Tamura received an insurance payout of C$150,000, allowing him to grow the business.

The 1903 expo was the largest of its kind to be held in Japan, lasting 153 days, drawing more than 4.3 million people and showcasing Japan’s might as a rising industrial power.

But Tamura’s ship really came in when theCanadian government asked him for help with its pavilion at Japan’s Fifth National Industrial Exhibition, held in Osaka in 1903. The expo was the largest of its kind to be held in Japan, lasting 153 days, drawing more than 4.3 million people and showcasing Japan’s might as a rising industrial power. There were pavilions dedicated to machinery, fisheries, forestry, agriculture, transportation, education and, in a Japan first, foreign goods.

In the Foreign Samples building, Canada showed off everything from canned fish andmaple syrup to furniture, bicycles and a model of the Canadian Pacific ocean liner Empress of Japan. “The pièce de résistance was the bakery,” writes Anne Shannon in Finding Japan: Early Canadian Encounters with Asia. “Several times a day, a cook demonstrated breadmaking with Canadian flour and equipment as hundreds of Japanese spectators, most of whom had never seen bread, let alone watched it rise and come out of the oven, looked on in fasci­nation. The results were eagerly sampled, and bread became a popular item on the menus of Osaka restaurants.”

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