In 1941 and 1942, Japanese Canadians and Americans were forced to vacate their homes and pack their lives into a limited amount of baggage. To where, for how long and whether or not they would remain with family was unknown. Today, generations descended from those who were interned or incarcerated will not have endured the same history, but will remain affected by it in various ways.

The Suitcase Project explores this narrative, with artist Kayla Isomura asking Yonsei and Gosei (4th and 5th gen. Japanese Canadians and Americans) what would they pack if uprooted from their homes with only a moment’s notice?

A photo-feature series with multimedia components, The Suitcase Project will be on exhibit at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in Burnaby, B.C., Canada from June to September 2018.

call for participants

Interested in participating in this series of photos?

     •  Folks of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to participate
     •  No prior knowledge of your family’s internment story is required
     •  Photos to be taken in your home*

*Ideal participants will live in the following areas and be available to participate between January and February 2018:

     •  Greater Vancouver, B.C. region
     •  South/Central Vancouver Island, B.C. regions
     •  Seattle, Washington region
     •  Kamloops/Kelowna, B.C. region

If you are interested in participating, please sign up above. Any questions can be sent to projects [at] kaylaisomura [dot] com.

*Interested in participating but reside outside of the following regions? I’d like to know! If it’s possible for me to access your location, I’d like to try and make it happen or know for future possibilities of expanding this work.

project background


On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, USA. The United States declared war on Japan and Canada followed. Folks of Japanese descent were targeted in both countries and declared “enemy aliens.” Approximately 23,000 Japanese Canadians and more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes. Citizens and residents in both countries were ordered to pack their lives into a limited amount of baggage and leave their homes to road camps, sugar beet farms, shacks in ghost towns and more.

The Suitcase Project will explore this narrative through the eyes of Yonsei and Gosei (4th and 5th gen. Japanese Canadians and Americans) through a series of photo, audio and text.

Participants will be photographed in their homes with what they’ve chosen to pack for a journey unknown. A final gallery of images will be exhibited in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the redress movement. The Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement was signed on Sept. 22, 1988.

The Suitcase Project will allow participants and viewers to reflect on the realities of Japanese Canadian internment and how it carries forward to the world today. It will display the struggle and significance of packing a life into a single bag for survival and sentiment.

With funding made possible in part by the Young Leaders Fund, provided by the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) and support provided by the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre.

about the artist

Kayla Isomura is a Yonsei and fourth generation Chinese Canadian living in Vancouver, B.C. In 2014, she graduated with a Diploma in Journalism from Langara College, sparking her interest in storytelling and digital photography. As a journalist, she has lived and worked in High River, Alta., and written for Metro News Vancouver, Megaphone Magazine and the Nikkei Voice. The Suitcase Project will be her first major photography project, with her current body of work centred around people and places. In October 2017, Kayla began an internship at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre as a Museum Curatorial Assistant. She is actively involved with Kikiai Collaborative and Japanese Canadian Young Leaders, among other organizations within the Japanese Canadian community.