The first Japanese immigrant to Canada arrived in 1877, but it was not until ca 1885 that his countrymen followed his example in any numbers - in the form of a colony of fishermen who worked off the west coast. By 1900, however, more than 4000 farmers, fishermen, and labourers had settled in British Columbia; by 1986 there were some 54,500 Japanese or Japanese-Canadians in Canada.

Most of the many forms of Japanese traditional music cannot exist outside Japan; they are too much a part of a homogeneous culture. The small amount of Japanese music perpetuated in Canada (and elsewhere outside the home country) has survived due to the zeal of a few ardent practitioners. Prior to World War II musical activities in the Japanese communities along the west coast were few, save for the efforts of the Utai and Shi-gin societies, the former concerned with the singing of Noh drama music, the latter with the chanting of poetry in the classical Chinese style. The existence of such societies depended on the presence of teachers well versed in the art and able to pass it along to others in the traditional aural way.

The removal of the Japanese from their west-coast homes in 1941 and their internment during World War II dealt their musical culture, along with many other survivals of homeland custom, a grievous blow. The inland re-settlements after the war, however, augmented by post-war immigration, resulted in important Japanese communities in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario; and those families who returned to the Vancouver area have shown particular interest in a revival of musical traditions.

The Koto Ensemble of Greater Vancouver (formerly the Vancouver-Steveston Koto-no-kai), an association of 30 women, was established in the late 1950s under the direction of Miyoko Kobayashi, who also taught koto (a 13-string oriental zither) 1967-8 at the University of British Columbia. The Koto Ensemble toured eastern Canada in 1975, and has performed regularly in the western provinces. Courses in Japanese music have continued at the university. Also active in Vancouver during the 1970s were Teresa Kobayashi and Wendy Stuart (koto) and Takeo Yamashiro and Elliot Weisgarber (shakuhachi, a reed flute). The Vancouver-based drum ensemble Uzume Taiko, founded in Vancouver in 1988, uses traditional Japanese instruments and rhythmic patterns to develop new repertoire. The ensemble has toured in France, Germany, Holland, and the USA.

By the 1970s Toronto boasted the largest Japanese community in Canada; and a Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, which served as a focus for the activities of nisei (second-generation Japanese-Canadians), sponsored the Sansei Choir formed in 1964 by Harry Kumano and presented concerts by visiting Japanese artists (eg, the Ensemble Nipponia, under the composer-performer Ninoru Miki, in 1976 and 1978). The centre also has supported a local dance troupe and, from time to time, teachers of the koto and the shakuhachi. There is a Japanese Cultural Centre in Hamilton, Ont.

At the University of Toronto, David B. Waterhouse began teaching courses in the history of Japanese music in 1968. Kenneth L. Richard of the university and Steven Otto of York University are accomplished performers on the koto. A Montreal Japanese Choir of 32 mixed voices, founded in 1977 and directed by Takashi Imaizumi, has given several concerts at the Japanese Cultural Centre and in Montreal churches.

Other prominent Japanese musicians in Canada have included: Kazuyoshi Akiyama, who was conductor 1972-85 of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, the Manchurian-born Japanese who was conductor 1965-9 of the TSO; Tokyo-born and Berlin-trained Kazuhiro Koizumi, who was conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra 1983-9; the violinist Hidetaro Suzuki; and the cellist Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi. Yoko Wong, though born in Manchuria, was raised in Japan, where she was trained by Shinichi Suzuki (himself a visitor to Canada more than once); she became an important exponent of the Suzuki teaching method in Canada after her arrival in 1965. Canadian-born musicians include the saxophonist Nobuo Kubota, the trombonist Jiro 'Butch' Watanabe, and the pianists Jon Kimura and Jamie Parker.

The Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu has enjoyed a special relationship with the TS, through Seiji Ozawa, and several of his works were recorded by the orchestra. The flutist Robert Aitken, principal flute of the TS during those years, was influenced by the playing of the shakuhachi player Katsuya Yokoyama, who played as a soloist at TS concerts. Aitken's playing developed a subtler inflection and wider tonal range as a result. He has recorded flute solos by the Japanese composer Kazuo Fukushima. The TS percussionist John Wyre made his solo debut with the Japan Philharmonic under Ozawa, performing his own Bells, dedicated to the conductor and to Takemitsu; the latter was commissioned by Carnegie Hall to write a work for Nexus, which it premiered with the Boston SO under Ozawa in 1990..

R. Murray Schafer was commissioned in 1985 by the Kyoto bank to write Listen to the Incense, which was premiered by Ozawa in Japan. The work was performed again, with the incense ceremony from which it is derived, by the Winnpeg SO in 1988.

The TS itself toured Japan under Ozawa in 1969, under Andrew Davis in 1978 with Maureen Forrester and Louis Lortie as soloists, and under Herbig in 1990 with Jon Kimura Parker as soloist. Ethel Stark visited Japan in 1960 and is said to be the first woman to conduct the Tokyo Asahi SO and the Nippon Hoso Kyokai. The Montreal Bach Choir under George Little gave six concerts in Japan in 1961. The cast of Anne of Green Gables, Edith Butler, Chilliwack, and the MSO with Maureen Forrester and Ronald Turini all performed at Expo 70 in Osaka; the MSO returned to Japan in 1989. The Vancouver SO toured in Japan in 1974 and returned in 1985 with Jon Kimura Parker as soloist; both tours were under Akiyama. The cellist Ofra Harnoy has enjoyed enormous success in Japan.

Among other Canadians who have performed in Japan are Paul Bley, Bruce Cockburn and Murray McLauchlan, Hugh McLean, Anne Murray, the Nylons, Oscar Peterson, René Simard, Don (W.) Thompson and Terry Clarke accompanying the US guitarist Jim Hall, and the Windsor, Ont, rock band Teaze. The Canadian-born jazz saxophonist Georgie Auld had toured there eight times by 1973. Dorothy Swetnam Hare taught piano 1934-8 and in 1940 at the Canadian Academy in Kobe.

Arnold Walter gave lectures in Japan in 1961. Victor Feldbrill (who had been awarded the City of Tokyo medal in 1978 for his work with youth) conducted and lectured 1979-87 at Tokyo National University of Art and Music, and has guest conducted orchestras throughout Japan. Roy Cox, Clifford Evens, and Wilson Swift are among the Canadian conductors who have studied with Ozawa's and Akiyama's teacher, Hideo Saito, and Alex Pauk has also studied conducting in Japan. Freedman's Tokaido (1964), which uses Japanese poems as its text, was inspired by a visit to Japan.

Japanese musicians and groups who have performed in Canada include Tamaki Miura (said to be the first Japanese to sing Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly), who sang with the San Carlo Opera in Montreal in 1922; Viscount Hidemaro Konoye, founder-conductor of the Tokyo SO and a guest conductor of the CSM (MSO) in 1937; the Fujiwara Opera (Toronto, Montreal 1956); the avant-garde composer and pianist Toshi Ichiyanagi (Montreal International Week of Today's Music, 1961); the koto player Kimio Eto (Toronto 1961, 1962, 1966); the Little Singers of Tokyo (1964, 1978); the Japan Philharmonic conducted by Akeo Watanabe (PDA 1964; Watanabe also was guest conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic in 1975); the Kwansei Gakuin Symphony Band (Toronto 1964); the pianist Kyoko Edo-Ozawa (TSO 1964).

The shakuhachi player Katsuya Yokoyama and the biwa player Kinshi Tsuruta performed and recorded with the TS in 1968 and played with the Vancouver SO in 1978; the composer-pianist Yuji Takahashi played with the TS (1969) and performed his composition Chrom amorphe II with the SMCQ in 1969; and the violinist Masuko Ushioda performed in Toronto in 1969 and 1972, in Vancouver in 1971, 1975, 1976, and 1978, and with the pianist Minoru Nojima in Toronto in 1977. Nojima also played with the Vancouver SO in 1974, as did the violinists Teiko Maehashi (1972, 1973, 1974, 1977) and Tsugio Tokunaga (1972).

Hiroyuki Iwaki has conducted the TS in 1973 and 1979 and the MSO in 1976; the pianist Takashi Hironake and the violinist Yasushi Abe were soloists with the Vancouver SO (1975). The Tokyo String Quartet has performed frequently in Canada beginning in 1976, and Toronto-born violinist Peter Oundjian joined the group as first violin in 1981. The group Ondekoza has performed several times at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto beginning in 1976. The cellist Ko Iwasaki played with the Vancouver SO in 1973, the pianist Etsuko Tazaki with the TS in 1976, and the violinist Hamao Fujiwara with the TS in 1977 and 1978, and the Vancouver SO in 1977. Makoto Shinohara was a visiting composer at the University of Montreal in 1977. The Tokyo SO and the Vancouver SO were televised by the CBC in a massed concert in 1978. The trumpeter Toshinori Kondo performed and recorded in Toronto in 1979. Composer Joji Yuasa visited Toronto as a guest of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto in 1981. The soprano Yoko Watanabe sang Cio-Cio-San in the COC's 1985 and 1990 productions of Madama Butterfly, and the violinist Midori has been a frequent visitor to Canada. Drummer Eitetsu Hayashi and other musicians visited Toronto in 1990 as part of the performing arts festival Close-up of Japan. The drum ensemble Wasabi Daiko performed in Ottawa in 1991.

The Japan-Canada Fund was created in 1988 through a gift of almost $1 million from the government of Japan to the Canada Council to reinforce ties between the arts communities of the two countries. The fund sponsors all forms of art, and its musical projects have included sponsoring tours in Canada by Japanese performers, exchanges involving individual Japanese and Canadian artists, and funding for special projects. The fund assisted visits to Canada by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Japan in 1990 and 1991, by pop musician Tenko Ueno to participate in the Montréal Musiques Actuelles/New Music America 1990 festival, and by composer Ushio Torikai to perform at the Music Gallery in 1991. Canadian musicians receiving assistance from the fund to visit Japan have included Halifax composer Sandy Moore and Toronto multidisciplinary artist Peter Chin.

On the occasion of the opening of a new Canadian embassy in Tokyo in July 1991, a two-week festival titled Great Canada '91 was held, which featured more than 160 artists and 76 performances of music, film, and dance; it was the largest cultural exchange between Japan and Canada to that date. Among the musical attractions in the festival were the Calgary Boys' Choir, the Charlottetown Festival production of Anne of Green Gables, Ofra Harnoy, Louis Lortie, the Orford String Quartet, and the Vancouver SO. The festival was followed in September by an display of the National Library of Canada's 'Glenn Gould 1988' exhibition.