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
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)