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Assembling "Japantown"? A critical toponymy of urban dispossession in Vancouver, Canada

Wideman, Trevor James; Masuda, Jeffery R.


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Geographic scholarship in critical toponymy has highlighted the importance of place naming as a form of discursive power within processes of urbanization. This paper builds on such literature and advances a novel theory of toponymic assemblage to interpret findings from a participatory research project in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Canada. We foreground neighborhood history in the form of a Japanese Canadian enclave and its wartime uprooting and dispossession, and trace the historical antecedents of a resurrected toponymy of “Japantown” that has appropriated and renarrated Japanese Canadian history to facilitate further rounds of dispossession. Using a genealogical method, we highlight three “moments” of Japanese Canadian uprooting, return, presence, and activism, demonstrating how toponymies are assembled in place in heterogeneous and historically contiguous ways. This approach expands on current research in critical toponymy, offering a novel methodology for exploring the enrolment of toponymy, discourse, and materiality in the formation of place.