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  • Asahi: Multiethnic Japan in LA’s Little Tokyo

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 30th, 2009

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar

    Hi Blog.  Here’s a tidy little survey of how multiculturalism can happen in a (formerly-) Japanese-dominated community:  LA’s Little Tokyo.  What’s interesting is that not only is the uniqueness been diluted (as the area is no longer the the exclusive province of, say, Japanese food), but also people with different (and amalgamated) ethnic backgrounds have moved in.  

    Which to me demonstrates that Japanese are not in themselves culturally xenophobic — it’s more the enforcement of exclusivity on the part of the Japanese government (including elite xenophobic politicians, who simply can’t envision a multicultural Japan), which actively create policies (including short-term revolving-door work visas and perpetual contract work, barriers to accessing credit, unequal registration procedures, lack of protections under the law or from law enforcement, and other things necessary for stable lifestyles) that discourage NJ from either staying too long in Japan or getting too comfortable.  Remove the GOJ from the equation, and I think you see what would happen below.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    =================================

    Multiethnic flavor permeates Little Tokyo in L.A.
    BY TAKASHI HORIUCHI, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
    IHT/Asahi: April 20,2009  Courtesy of Dave Spector

    http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200904200051.html

    LOS ANGELES–The smell of Korean barbecue sauce wafts through the air as Chinese and Thai conversations add flavor to the street buzz.

    Although the signs of many shops and restaurants remain in Japanese, this bustling downtown area called Little Tokyo for most of the past century is certainly not what it used to be.

    Little Tokyo, a strip of land 700 meters east-west and 500 meters north-south, has become more “international,” or rather, multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural.

    The town has seen a sharp rise in the Korean population in recent years, while young Japanese-Americans are leaving the area.

    Symbolic of the town’s “ethnic crucible” today is a food stall that opens on Thursday evenings near the Japanese American National Museum.

    Mark Manguera, a Filipino-American, operates the stall that sells tacos with Korean-style barbecued meat filling.

    Enticed by the sauce’s sweet smell, people form a long line, many of them Filipinos, Thais, Koreans and other Asian immigrants. Three tacos cost $5.

    On the streets, Chinese and Korean, among many other languages, can be heard along with Japanese and English.

    At Miyako Hotel in the town’s center, eight of 10 guests used to be Japanese. Now, seven in 10 are Americans.

    In recent years, redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles attracted more young residents, including students, to apartment complexes with reasonable rents. Little Tokyo soon became a popular hangout of those people.

    The town’s transformation from a Japanese to multiethnic community reflects changes in the Nikkeijin (Japanese-American) community in the United States.

    Japanese emigration to the United States began in the late 19th century. Around that time, a Japanese fisherman opened a Japanese restaurant where Little Tokyo now stands.

    The moniker was given to the town around 1905.

    But the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, which virtually banned immigration from Asia, dampened the Japanese inflow. And after Nikkeijin were sent to internment camps during World War II, the town was briefly called Bronzeville because of the many black residents there.

    After the war, Japanese returned to the town. And during Japan’s bubble era of the 1980s, many Japanese businesses set up shop.

    The current Nikkeijin society comprises mainly descendants of early immigrants. Most were born as Americans and educated in the United States.

    The younger Nikkei people do not need Little Tokyo, said Yukikazu Nagashima, who had long served as editor for the Japanese section of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper.

    He said those pursuing professional careers as doctors and lawyers believe they cannot succeed if they rely solely on the Nikkeijin society.

    The town has also lost its significance as a place to support the Japanese community. For example, Japanese foods that were available only in Little Tokyo can now be found throughout the city.

    Meanwhile, the Korean presence has gained weight.

    Last year, Korean investors bought the Little Tokyo Shopping Center, which housed Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa Marketplace. The center is now called Little Tokyo Marketplace and the store Little Tokyo Galleria Market.

    The Japanese and Koreans form the largest groups of residents in Little Tokyo, at roughly the same size.

    The ratio of Korean residents is especially high at homes for seniors, including the 300-unit Little Tokyo Towers, where the number of Korean households rose more than threefold over seven years from 30 in 2000.

    And 74 Koreans make up the largest group of people living at the 100-unit Miyako Gardens.

    Korean immigration sharply increased first in the mid-1950s, when Korean women married to American soldiers after the Korean War crossed the Pacific.

    The second wave started after 1965, when the national-origin quotas on immigrants were lifted.

    In the past decade, more than 16,000 Koreans obtained U.S. citizenship annually, compared with about 2,000 Japanese.

    Koreatown, about 7 kilometers west of Little Tokyo, continues to expand. But residences for seniors are short in supply there.

    So when Japanese leave Little Tokyo, Koreans move in.

    Pastor Hong Sun Kim, born in South Korea and raised in Japan, promotes exchanges between Japanese and Koreans.

    Kim, 39, works at the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), a social welfare organization, and is in charge of care for Korean residents.

    In January 2008, he set up the Little Tokyo Korean and Japanese Better Relations Committee with residents from both sides.

    The committee held a Japan-Korea friendship concert in August, with the profits used to produce bilingual publicity bulletins.

    Kim admits that Japanese-Korean friction has also crossed the Pacific.

    Koreans told him once that someone snipped off the buds of the shrubby althaea, South Korea’s national flower, that they had planted.

    Japanese have asked why a Korean like him works at the center for Japanese residents.

    Back in Japan, Kim was known as a “zainichi” Korean resident. During his military service in South Korea, he was labeled with a derogatory term meaning “half-Japanese.”

    Kim’s work for Japan-Korea exchanges is part of his effort to pursue his own identity.

    “To bring down prejudice, there is no way but to eliminate misunderstandings through dialogue,” Kim said.

    Meanwhile, there are also efforts to revive Little Tokyo as a Japanese community.

    “We don’t want to say they (non-Japanese) are not welcome,” said LTSC Executive Director Bill Watanabe, a third-generation Japanese-American. “We want to tell them to keep Japan-ness, and just respect our history.”

    Watanabe, 65, who was born in a wartime internment camp, has high expectations for a new Budokan sports facility to be built in the town at the cost of $15 million.

    Besides a martial arts hall, it will have a multipurpose gym that can hold four separate basketball games.

    When completed in five years, it could be used to hold the annual Los Angeles Nikkeijin basketball tournament, Watanabe said.

    “It can bring young Nikkei back to L.T. (Little Tokyo),” he said. “We want young Japanese-American families to use it. Parents can tell their kids about their roots in L.T.”

    A plan to build a Nikkei Center, a residence-office-shopping complex, is also under way to attract Japanese businesses.

    “We would like to make it a showcase of Japan’s state-of-the-art technology by employing energy-saving technology and other features in the building,” said Junichi Ihara, the Japanese consul-general in Los Angeles.(IHT/Asahi: April 20,2009)
    ENDS

    23 Responses to “Asahi: Multiethnic Japan in LA’s Little Tokyo”

    1. David Says:

      “Remove the GOJ from the equation, and I think you see what would happen below.”

      Looks like what happens is the gradual erosion of Japanese influence, and Koreanization of the area. Is this what everyone wants?

      The article also fails to mention that there is a unifying American culture that exists in LA. In Japan, the unifying culture is Japanese. Multiethnic, multiracial futures will likely come to most nations. The nations that will survive are the ones that keep their unique culture and teach it to the newcomers. America has been quite good at bringing in immigrants and demanding that they get used to central, unifying American culture. Japan’s culture is definitely unique, and deserves to be taught properly to any who want to be part of it.

    2. Hitoshura Says:

      Something similar happened, here in Brazil. Koreans now are the most proeminent ethnic group in the Liberdade neighborhood of São Paulo city (our “Little Japan”). Of course, most stores still sell Japanese products, obey a Japanese fashion, architecture, culture, etc, but most store owners and inhabitants are now Koreans. Not that Liberdade has always been a 99% Japanese neighborhood, ethnically speaking, since no neighborhood in Brazil is defined/separated by ethnic group. It became our “Little Japan” because most Japanese immigrants chose to inhabit that neighborhood (it was originally a “normal” neighborhood, its name, “Freedom”, deriving from the fate slaves had in that neighborhood, death by hanging, “freedom”).

      Why this happens is beyond me. (I’m not talking in the sense “Oh, those Koreans invaded the neighborhood! Dai-Nippon banzai!”, but rather “Why the Japanese seem to move off the neighborhood and then/when Koreans come in to fill the space?”)

      Also, I’m aware that the case in the US is different, just commenting.

    3. carl Says:

      “Japan’s culture is definitely unique, and deserves to be taught properly to any who want to be part of it.”

      I’m all for teaching a new culture to those who wish to adopt it as their own, but can anyone tell me why Japan’s culture is always described (usually by close-minded Japanese or NJ apologists) as “unique?” What in the world is so damn “unique” about it? I didn’t see anything in Japan that I haven’t seen in China or Korea.

    4. HO Says:

      Carl, cannot we just agree that every culture is unique? What is so wrong about saying Japan has its own unique culture.

      Surely, you do not see hiragana or katakana in China or in Korea. How about sushi and traditional Japanese sweets? How about Shinto shrines and Japanese gardens? You do not see much of them outside Japan, do you?

      – Oh brother. If things keep going in this vein, this discussion is going to get messy.

      Word to everyone: If this blog entry starts to devolve into one-line rhetorical questions and one-sentence zingers (as in the throwaway comments above), provoking instead of offering well-thought intelligent insight on this very important (but hard to quantify) subject, I’m just not going to let the comments through. Speak in paragraphs and mini-essays please, not in sound bites. Capiche?

    5. Jerry Says:

      HO, I assume you haven’t spent much time outside of Japan because sushi and “traditional” Japanese sweets are everywhere in Korea, not uncommon in China, and sushi at least is very popular in the US and Europe.

      Shinto shrines? There are a number of Shinto shrines outside Japan. And “Japanese” style garden is also very popular in Korea, China, and the US (I haven’t spent enough time in Europe to say whether they are popular there or not).

      But you’ll have to forgive me – how is other countries adopting Japanese culture relevant to Japan to adopting other countries culture?

      For example – McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, Dennys, and to a lesser extent Circle K, Wendys, and Subway – all distinctly US and EVERYWHERE in Japan. Costco and other big box stores – again a US shopping cultural adoption and again very successful in Japan (although Walmart has not been as successful). And the US stores that have altered their menus to fit Japanese tastes like Pizza Hut or 7-11 (again everywhere in Japan)?

      As for hiragana and katakana – those are written language not “cultural”.

    6. Bob Says:

      ‘Oh brother. If things keep going in this vein, this discussion is going to get messy.

      Sorry Debito,
      Carl’s comment has equal validity to your initial comments about this ‘LA experience’ showing that there is a possibility for multiracial thinking and living in Japan.

      Under this ‘Japan is unique’ banner, that Carl criticzes, a lot of racist and apologist BS is passed of unnoticed at best and excused at worst. Please let us not forget our good friend Mr. Clarke!

      As to your initial burst of optimism concerning this example. Sorry, in the international dinner parties of multiracial ‘get togethers’, the Japanese make great guests but – and not just the elites – horrendous hosts.

      Keep up the fight.

      Respects

    7. HO Says:

      Jerry, I actually do not understand your point. Do you want to say Japanese culture is not unique? I think every culture is unique.

      Some part of Japanese culture may be adopted into other cultures. But that is rather a proof of its uniqueness. If a culture is not unique, it will not influence other cultures. Sushi made its way into the world because it is unique. Think of it. If Japan had “Japanese bread and butter” which is very similar to its western counterpart, it would have no chance going global.

      Coca cola is well accepted in Japan because it is unique. The same goes with other American junk foods. Thank you for providing so many unique American cultures.

      I cannot make out your point, but I can safely say Japanese culture is unique just as any other culture is.

      – As I said, this discussion is getting messy. And a bit hackneyed. Agree to disagree. Or give us a thoughtful essay. Not just a scatterplot of random examples. (This comment is not just directed at you, HO, sorry.)

    8. mameha Says:

      “…the Japanese government (including elite xenophobic politicians, who simply can’t envision a multicultural Japan), which actively create policies (including short-term revolving-door work visas and perpetual contract work, barriers to accessing credit, unequal registration procedures, lack of protections under the law or from law enforcement, and other things necessary for stable lifestyles) that discourage NJ from either staying too long in Japan or getting too comfortable. ”

      Don’t forget the Pension Refund system that only allows you to claim a maximum of 3 years refund of your pension payments. This is currently seriously making me consider moving back to the UK because I am now throwing away several 10,000 of yen a month.

    9. Allan Says:

      Mameha,

      There certainly are some less ideal aspects of the Japanese pension system. However, if you are planning on living and working in Japan for 25+ years, then by getting permanent residency you can one day collect in full.

      Debito has a detailed writeup on the subject here: http://www.debito.org/karakikan.htm

    10. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Allan, you can actually collect in full whether you have PR or not, if you’ve contributed for the full 25 years. What PR helps you to do is take advantage of the “karakikan” system and have time spent working abroad factored into the 25 years of payments.

      (Of particular note is the following situation: Accordingly, a foreigner who first comes to Japan at the age of 30 and is granted Japanese nationality or permanent residency before turning 65 years of age will have the 10-year period from age 20 counted as a period of foreign residency in the total eligible period. Any periods spent in a foreign country thereafter will be factored into the total eligible period.)

      The people who get taken advantage of the most are the people who work in Japan for a period of 4 to 24 years but never become eligible for PR. If they obtained PR, they could move back to their countries of birth (or wherever), visit Japan regularly to keep the re-entry permit valid, and then collect their pensions in their old age.

    11. john k Says:

      “…The younger Nikkei people do not need Little Tokyo, said Yukikazu Nagashima, who had long served as editor for the Japanese section of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper….He said those pursuing professional careers as doctors and lawyers believe they cannot succeed if they rely solely on the Nikkeijin society..”

      Sounds familiar??…So where do Japanese, as individuals, succeed inside of Japan? I suspect the same “lack of willingness to integrate – indoctrination” by the Nikkeijin ‘forced’ them out as being ‘un-pure’ or being traitors to their “unique culture”…and in the US, they can go elsewhere, where narrow minded attitudes when out with the ark (well kind of)…but here in Japan, they can’t!

      I’ve been travelling to Cebu for more than 10 years on business. It had a very large (relatively speaking) Japanese community. Many shops, restaurants schools etc. As noted above too, this is all being taken over by the vastly increasing Korean population. So much so, they greatly outnumber the Japanese in Cebu.

      Is there some kind of symbiotic link between the Japanese and Koreans which they don’t know about or unwilling to discuss?

      Mameha

      You can get your UK pension here
      http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/cnr/osc.htm
      http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/pdfs/ca3638.pdf

      by top-ups…providing you have a sufficient number of years already paid for.

    12. Tornadoes28 Says:

      It’s not all perfect. Another recent article (I don’t recall if LA Times or some other paper) had a story about a large retirement building in Little Tokyo that for many years was 100% retired Japanese-Americans. Recently many Korean-Americans have been moving in and the article reported that there had been conflicts and disagreements. Many of the long-time Japanese residents were not happy about the newer residents. However, the article did state that many of the residents of the Little Tokyo Tower, as its called, were trying to work together with the newer Korean residents to understand each other and participate together in activities. By the way, I work in Downtown LA and I take lunchtime walks around Little Tokyo all the time and it is definitely changing. Recently, the large Japanese market called Mitsuwa was replaced by a Korean market.

    13. KG Says:

      As David (post#1) rightly notes you are talking about America. A country built on immigration where the Japanese are just another immigrant group. Foreign communities were where folk settled together; Spanish Harlem, Coney Island, Chinatown and Little Tokyo.

      The last time I visited Little Tokyo (probably 5 years ago) it was badly run down and prime for a makeover… akin to the white folks buying up the brownstones in Harlem or a gradual gentrification of any similar area – Students and artists attracted then the designers and yuppies then to the ubiquitous Starbucks and High Street homogenization.

      Regarding the Koreans moving in they probably just saw an opportunity as the Japanese community moved out/on. As the article states the new generation of Nikkei do not need the crutch of Japanese society that their parents used to (for now thankfully defunct reasons ie language/social/cultural/let alone stigma and internment there).

      Assimilation and acceptance meant Little Tokyo becoming redundant in a way…

      However back in Japan not that long ago Ikebukuro wanted to promote a Chinatown-esque area as the majority of the stores were Asian but the local (Japanese) store keepers protested for all the expected reasons…

      You probably have already blogged this but in this example I think relevant so the original Asahi link (now expired) courtesy of Japan Probe http://www.japanprobe.com/?p=6244

      and

      Courtesy of http://theblackship.com/news/lifestyle/focus/1226-idea-for-chinatown-in-ikebukuro-draws-negative-reaction.html

      Ikebukuro Chinatown ideas draw negative reaction
      Japan Focus › 17 November, 2008 11:27

      TOKYO – A plan by some Chinese store and restaurant owners to create a community named ”Tokyo Chinatown Ikebukuro” to promote interaction with their local Japanese neighbors is getting a negative reaction.

      About 60 Chinese responded to a call by 46-year-old Hu Yifei and joined the newly established ”Sokushinkai,” a group to develop contacts with their Japanese counterparts in Ikebukuro, one of Tokyo’s most popular districts.

      Hu said the group does not intend to set up a Chinese community in one area like those seen in Yokohama and Kobe but is designed to bring Chinese owners of eateries and stores in Ikebukuro together to hold such events as Chinese cooking and language classes, and open a website to showcase Chinese restaurants.

      Mitsuru Miyake, leader of an association of 20 shopkeepers on the western side of Ikebukuro railway station, said he is baffled by the name ”Tokyo Chinatown Ikebukuro,” and that some Japanese may be led to think Ikebukuro is a Chinese community.

      Chinese students began living in apartments in places around Ikebukuro in Toshima Ward in the 1980s because rents were relatively low and a number of Japanese language schools were in the vicinity.

      The increase in the number of student residents opened the way for the establishment of Chinese restaurants offering them food with real home cooked flavor, supermarkets selling Chinese foods, Chinese video rental stores and bookstores. Ikebukuro now has about 200 Chinese shops.

      Hu, who came to Japan about 20 years ago and has worked for an advertising company, said there is no other area in Japan except for Ikebukuro with so many Chinese stores and restaurants. He launched a preparatory committee in April last year for the creation of the community to mingle with Japanese shopkeepers.

      There has been trouble between Japanese and Chinese businesspeople over problems such as garbage disposal due to differences in lifestyle and language. Since the establishment of the preparatory committee, Chinese managers voluntarily collected waste material on several occasions around Ikebukuro railway station.

      The possibility of criminal groups including the Chinese mafia coming to Ikebukuro is a source of concern for some Japanese.

      The committee and the local shopkeepers association have had two meetings thus far.
      Miyake, 63, said, ”We have no intention of excluding them by any means but they should first of all try to establish a mutual relationship of trust.”

      ”The bulk of shopkeepers are decent people,” Hu said. ”It will take time for Japanese to understand them. We’d like to talk to them without haste.”
      © 2008 Kyodo World News Service

    14. KG Says:

      Oh and having just re-read the article I suggest reading the conclusion independently … from “Meanwhile, there are also efforts to revive Little Tokyo as a Japanese community…

    15. bea Says:

      You say that Japanese are not culturally xenophopic because you want to force a point about the Japanese Government that doesn’t really fit. There were many conflicts in Tokyo Towers [apartment complex] which are only now being resolved.

      http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-me-korjapan23-2009feb23,0,2896395.story

      – So you’re saying Japanese ARE culturally xenophobic?

      My point is that what the GOJ does does not help assimilation of NJ. In fact it hinders it. Remove GOJ policy from the equation and things gravitate towards resolution, because people are working things out interpersonally, not being officially told that intercultural resolution is impossible because foreigners are foreigners and Japanese are Japanese. The LA Times article you cite also seems to support that conclusion.

    16. carl Says:

      “Do you want to say Japanese culture is not unique? I think every culture is unique.”

      Every culture, I think, has unique aspects, but I don’t think any culture is totally or specifically “unique.” Much of Japan’s culture is actually Chinese or was introduced by way of China: kanji, the idea of Confucian morals (check out TR Reid’s book “Confucius Lives Next Door” for more about that), etc. That’s hardly unique.

      Anyway, my point was: why is Japanese culture always referred to as specifically being “unique?” I disagree with that. It certainly has some unique aspects, but I don’t think that it in and of itself is specifically “unique.” When was the last time someone described Canadian or British culture as “unique?”

      And yes, let’s not forget: all too often the so-called “uniqueness” of Japanese culture is only a tool used to exclude NJs.

      – I think it would be productive here to talk more about the political dimension behind claims of “uniqueness”. In other words, rather than dispute whether Japan has unique aspects or not, how about discussing the intention behind claiming something is unique and therefore needs to be protected/preserved by whatever means necessary?

    17. Maria Says:

      I grew in Pasadena and often went to the Mituwa market in Little Tokyo (Im sad if it isnt there anymore)…but really that’s all that was there…Little Tokyo is kind of a sad place as is(was?) all of downtown LA…The reason other people could easily move there and make it more culturally mixed is that as Japanese rise in economic status less and less people wanted to live in downtown…cos it’s a dump…behind Little Tokyo is skid row and whenever people visit from Japan you cant take them there because it’s kind of embarassing…

      …compare little tokyo to places in Torrance (like all of Torrance) or Sawtelle next to UCLA and you’ll find that Japanese places are still really Japanese…although there are a lot of asians in general who go there to get delicious japanese foods or other things, pretty much people assume youre Japanese too

    18. Mina K. Says:

      The shrinking of the Japanese community and the expansion of the Korean community in the U.S. reflect the very interesting difference between how the two peoples handle their new life in a new country.

      The Japanese community in the U.S. is not very tight. Generally speaking, Japanese immigrants (including those with work visas and permanent resident cards, and those who have naturalized) try to assimilate into mainstream American society (for many Japanese people it means white American society). Of course they have Japanese friends, occasionally eat Japanese food, and read Japanese books. But they try to lose their “Japanese-ness” as much as possible and act carefully not to be labeled as “Asian.” No Japanese immigrants hung out in Little Tokyo and that place was dead until a few years ago when the downtown L.A. re-developers decided to market Little Tokyo and the nearby Art District in one package.

      In contrast, the Korean immigrant community (and the Chinese immigrant community as well) is much tighter. They stick together and help each other out as they settle in an unfamiliar country. They are very proud of their culture and language. They do not try to assimilate into mainstream U.S. society, and instead, they work hard to promote Korean culture in the U.S. (They have successfully lobbied the California legislature to enact a bill that allows restaurants to serve soju with only a beer-and-wine license.) If you visit Koreatown near downtown L.A., you will be overwhelmed by the energy of the town. Koreatown expanding to Little Tokyo – I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone. It’s good for the Korean community, good for Little Tokyo that still needs economic boosters, and of course good for L.A.’s economy.

    19. carl Says:

      “They do not try to assimilate into mainstream U.S. society, and instead, they work hard to promote Korean culture in the U.S.”

      A question I just thought of:

      Does anyone think it would be hypocritical/a conflict of interest/a double standard for immigrants to assimilate into a new society but still try to promote their own culture? I’m sure there would probably be at least a few people in the hypothetical immigrant community of which we speak that would view something like that as a “sell-out” or whatever, the whole “he’s-trying-to-promote-Korean-culture-but-he-already-became-an-American” kind of thing. Opinions?

      And, Debito-san, despite your being a Japanese now and having assimilated and being totally enveloped in Japanese culture, I’m sure your original culture still influences you, correct? Do you ever try to promote American culture in Japan or do you think that would be counter-productive to your ultimate goals? And, to that end, what are your views on immigrants who have assimilated keeping in touch with their original cultures? How much of the original culture do you think should be kept and how much jettisoned?

      – Me? I’m not the type of person who pays all that much attention to “culture”, however defined. One reason because defining it is like nailing the proverbial jelly to the wall. One person’s culture is another person’s kitsch or esoteric kaboodle, right? So who decides what is and what isn’t?

      Likewise, I also see “culture” (like organized religion) as a means of enforcing not only behavioral but also ideological conformity, which I fervently disavow. Those “inside” the culture can use the “outsider”s’ ignorance to force them to shut up or comply. There’s a serious political dimension to “culture”, and I see it every day over here since not a few people simply say what I’m doing is wrong because it goes against their personal interpretation of “culture” (to which I respond, I’ve been here more than twenty years now and have been granted citizenship, so I think I have the right to say how I’m going to live my life, and have my own opinions about which normative behaviors I’m going to comply with, thank you very much).

      I also see “culture” as a means of intellectual laziness. It beats having to find rational reasons for behavior — just throw whatever you don’t understand into the “culture” category.

      So no, I never promote “culture”. I simply promote good ideas that will benefit society as it is and should be for the benefit of everyone. Find “cultural” threads within those ideas if you like, but I am a rationalist first and foremost. If something “cultural” doesn’t make sense or it doesn’t have an ideologically-sound basis or a clear social benefit, then I for one am not necessarily going to follow or swallow it. Sorry.

      If we didn’t do this sort of thing and defy what is claimed to be “culture”, saying the Emperor has no clothes when necessary, the most important parts of a society’s development, including money, a written language, universal suffrage, equal rights and protections, etc. would never have been possible because they would go against whatever “culture” was currently holding sway.

      So belay the “cultural” arguments. Just give me a good reason.

      ———————

      PS: To answer one other question you raised, I don’t mind if people cling to their cultural ideals and behaviors as long as they don’t concretely negatively impact upon others. And that includes immigrants to Japan. If it’s a good idea, it will catch on. But it won’t if elements within Japan keep saying that foreign ideas cannot and will never square with Japanese “culture”. As history shows, with Japan’s adaptive society, that’s a flat-out lie.

    20. Anonymous Says:

      You should find this ironic, Debito…

      http://killkorea.iza.ne.jp/blog/entry/888317

      The site’s name pretty much gives away what its content is.

      – Ah yes, the Sushi Police are out in force.

    21. Asterisk Says:

      I think it’s all in where you slice it.

      Only a set number of multi-ethnic communities in the world will develop as in America, because America presupposes a lot about the universality of mankind. So these themes underlie the whole community, the civic nation.

      Even where the beliefs aren’t really well practiced (the whole lingering race issue), many people still agree that there is a certain equality and certain dignity to differences among the people. E pluribus, unum.

      This is a very American trait. Sure, you will find it elsewhere. But it turns up a lot in America.

      As to pan-Asian harmony: it is a bit of stretch to feel that the same notions can be easily transplanted to places where people have traditionally seen things differently. We would like to think that everyone would adopt these sugary notions of the universality of mankind, but in many parts of the world, tribe weighs heavy.

      This is why you see Sikhs, Pakistanis and Hindu Indians getting along so well in the New York metro area, but at each others’ throats on the Subcontinent.

      In Little Tokyo of LA, probably much like Flushing, Queens, one Asian group displaces another after a time. New immigrants find it best to settle in a place that is “like” the region of the world they left. And assimilated immigrants no longer feel the need to confine themselves to an immigrant neighborhood.

      So there is this flux. And none of it is planned. But most observers on the outside see it, and decide it is an occasion to “relish diversity”. Really, it is just American assimilation at work, as it has gone with few exceptions for 300 years or more.

      Will Koreans and Japanese, or Chinese and Japanese, hang out and live together more as brothers than as skeptical residents of the same neighborhoods? Yes, probably. But it should be no surprise that things that happen in Los Angeles, New York or Sydney, don’t automatically happen in Tokyo. Or does that surprise you?

      There is value and merit in everyone’s cultures. There are always things worth celebrating. It is simply where the emphasis goes.

      My own observations of Japan, there is a thin line between admiration for ancient culture and a certain chauvinism that seems mixed with a survivalist ethic as the losers of World War II. And when that translates to Korea, it seems to say that they Koreans are inferior and deserved to be colonized after all.

      The irony is that all the latest and best scientific evidence points to the Yayoi people as the main influencers of the group that became the Japanese. And their origins in the villages of the south of Korea about 1,600-2,000 years ago.

      So it starts to look like a fight between distant cousins. A family affair.

      I don’t think that people can easily be persuaded to accept similarities rather than differences. And I appreciate what the preservers in any given community are seeking to do, despite what history gives them for odds.

      It would be nice, though, if people ratcheted up the discussion to what we observe about people in general. Rather than spend it on bickering about which groups merit and who is a threat or disruption to who.

    22. Julien Says:

      Though I read debito.org often this is the first time I will contribute.

      In reference to what Mina K. mentionned

      “The Japanese community in the U.S. is not very tight. Generally speaking, Japanese immigrants (including those with work visas and permanent resident cards, and those who have naturalized) try to assimilate into mainstream American society (for many Japanese people it means white American society). Of course they have Japanese friends, occasionally eat Japanese food, and read Japanese books. But they try to lose their “Japanese-ness” as much as possible and act carefully not to be labeled as “Asian.” No Japanese immigrants hung out in Little Tokyo and that place was dead until a few years ago when the downtown L.A. re-developers decided to market Little Tokyo and the nearby Art District in one package”

      I asked a similar question when I went to my local Japanese community centre. It seems that in North America the Japanese community did in fact group together and held on to their Japanese-ness up until the Second World War. After which it was perceived to be more beneficial to scatter about, try to integrate.

    23. Maria Says:

      on the mina line

      …I did Kendo in LA since middle school…the kendo community in LA is very close and we all pretty much know each other even though it is pretty sizeable…I wouldnt say that Nikkei loose or abandon their Japanese culture, only that we are able to be both assimulated at appropriate times and cultural at other times

      …people still go to little tokyo for Nissei wk or Nikkei games but people dont live there because it’s dirty and sad and in a bad area…who wants to live in such a place? no one…I dont know if it’s better now and that’s why new people are moving in (because I havent been there in a couple of years), but other places like torrance and Sawtelle are very “Japanesie” without being dirty and gross so people would rather go to those places instead…you maybe just have to know where such places are.

      people moved out of downtown because their economic situation improved enough that they could move easily…perhaps the economic situation improved because Japanese people chose to assimilate, but there are still many of places of culture, such as me and my friends were able to rent kimono for our seijinshiki easily (even though there is no Jinja around we went to a Japanese garden in Huntington gardens) and there are many small places where there is only Japanese spoken.

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