By David Ikeda

The GTA’s Japanese speaking community in a manner of speaking is not so different from any other.   All of us go through hardship and as much as we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient some of us need a little help to get through.  Divorce, depression alcoholism, loss of employment or having children with learning disabilities are but some of the challenges that we like many other Canadians face.

Japanese Social Services is a Toronto based agency that provides professional counseling and advocacy for those in our community who may find themselves a little overwhelmed.  The vast majority of JSS’s client population in the GTA speak Japanese as either their sole or primary language.  And of that population the majority are female.

According to JSS’s statistics compiled by its counselor Takanori Kuge most of our clients have one or more of three main issues.  In descending order:  Mental Health, Relationship problems or divorce,  and legal or criminal issues.  He also notes an increase in the number of child clients this year.

The organization is currently staffed by one full-time counselor, one part time counselor and one office staff.   Unfortunately due to financial constraint, JSS cannot afford another full-time counselor although one is desperately needed.  At certain times during any year when cases pile up or require another social worker, we have had to rely on volunteer counselors with social work degrees to help out.  Currently JSS has two certified counselors with Master’s degrees to serve as volunteer supervisors.  The organization is also overseen by a hardworking volunteer board of directors.

The arrangement is hardly ideal for an organization providing a professional service.  However we make do with what we can given the limited resources.  Indeed, many of our programs and seminars outside of counseling are staffed by volunteers as well.  JSS offers courses in Canadian conversational English and a variety of programs for new mothers.  The latter are staffed by a volunteer social working apprentice and an army of childcare volunteers who look after the kids while the mothers meet.  One of the most popular programs is Hot Lunch whereby volunteers prepare and serve low cost yet authentic Japanese food to mostly nisei seniors twice a month.

Similarly our seminars have touched on how to deal with depression which featured a presentation in Japanese by a New York City based psychiatrist who came courtesy of the Consulate General of Japan.   One of the most popular seminars last year was a seminar on childhood learning disabilities whereby parents were given information and children were invited with permission of their parents to be assessed.  In 2012, JSS served more than 3000 clients. Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers and the program chairperson Mr. Kiyoshi Dembo, participation has been increasing every year.

The increase in JSS’s profile and number of participants is very gratifying.  The population of nikkei even in the GTA is small.  The sub-population of Japanese speaking nikkei or new immigrants is even smaller.  However the needs are still the same.  JSS is doing valuable work in our community.  The increase in the numbers of clients and participants in the programs we offer are a testament to the good work we are doing.  If you can, please support JSS in any way possible.  You can visit us on our website at or on Facebook  (search under Japanese Social Services).

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