Asahi Shinbun on how some NJ are assimilating by joining neighborhood associations


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Hi Blog.  Here’s a happy tale–about how a local approached a newcomer, broke the ice, and brought more newcomers on board in the local neighborhood association and helped everyone get along.  Well done.  Here’s hoping it happens more often.  Arudou Debito


A life less complex as foreigners join local board


Courtesy Dave Spector


Yorio Kuramata, center, with Indian residents in Tokyo’s Koto Ward (SHOHEI KAMATA/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)

Three Indian nationals have been appointed to the board of the community association at the Ojima 6-chome public apartment complex in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, in a rare move among such buildings.

With Japanese companies recruiting more and more technology experts from India, the number of Indians living in the complex has steadily increased to 80.

The apartment building in Tokyo’s old residential district accommodates nearly 3,000 households.

Locals hope that the trio, who are also IT engineers, will help promote dialogue between Indian and Japanese residents for mutual understanding, and create a harmonious multicultural environment at the complex.

During an annual summer festival in late July organized by residents of the complex, three of 80 food stands sold Indian cuisine, including Indian burgers.

Among the vendors at the booths were the three new board members: Hemant Visal, 34; Naren Desai, 35; and Yogesh Punde, 35, who were appointed in spring 2008.

“Working as a board member of a residents’ association here is a fresh experience, and I do not feel bothered at all,” said Yogesh, although the three are busy working at IT companies in Tokyo.

The three joined the residents’ association after veteran board member Yorio Kuramata approached one of their compatriots in an attempt to open a dialogue with Indian residents during the same festival two years ago.

Kuramata, 74, said he had gone to say “hello” to Sankar Narasimhan, the trio’s friend, believing there was an urgent need for the residents’ association to improve understanding between Japanese and Indian residents.

At the time, Japanese residents were increasingly complaining that Indian residents were unaware of the rules of the complex.

With the building complex located close to an Indian school, the number of Indian residents has increased in the past few years. Of 2,900 households, 55 are Indian, with a total of 80 members.

Residents’ complaints included that some Indian residents talked loudly on cellphones on balconies at night, or that they hosted noisy house parties on weekends, Kuramata said.

Aside from cultural differences, there apparently were lifestyle differences between the relatively young Indian immigrants and aging Japanese residents at the complex, he added.

Sankar, for his part, had trouble finding opportunities to talk with Japanese residents.

“Because Japanese residents seemed to like living quietly, I thought they would feel bothered if I talked to them,” he said.

Once they started talking, Kuramata taught Sankar about the roles played by the local community and its residents’ association in locals’ daily lives and emergencies. For instance, he learned that Japanese communities stock water and emergency foods to help each other in case of a major disaster, Sankar recalled.

While working for the residents’ association, Sankar brought some of his countrymen, including Hemant and Naren, in to the association’s activities.

One of their primary roles was to translate community news on matters such as residents’ events and utility maintenance works into English, to notify Indian and other foreign residents of such information via e-mail.

“It has made it easier for foreign households who do not have Japanese-speaking members to join community life,” Hemant said.

Thanks to their activities, an unprecedented number of Indian participants joined activities at this year’s spring koinobori festival to hang carp-shaped pennants to pray for healthy growing children.

According to the nationwide council of residents’ associations at apartment complexes built by the former Housing and Urban Development Corp., it is quite rare for residents’ associations at public apartment complexes to appoint several foreign residents to a board.

And although residents had asked Sankar to become a board member, he moved to another complex with more spacious rooms this spring so he could invite his mother to live with him.

Despite the move, Sankar said he plans to join residents’ association activities at his new home.

He also said he will introduce himself to his new neighbors, like Kuramata did for him, to establish a dialogue and friendship.

“It is because I want to be part of the community with my neighbors,” Sankar said.(IHT/Asahi: August 19,2008)

2 comments on “Asahi Shinbun on how some NJ are assimilating by joining neighborhood associations

  • During my first year living in a small town in Nagano, I was appointed as our neighborhood’s member of the town’s big summer festival organizing committee. It’s a high-profile position, and the people here saw me busting my (white) ass for the town’s sake. I basically gave up an entire month of my life for the town. However, thanks to that, I’ve been accepted as ‘one of us’.
    Contrast that to another Westerner who had moved to our town prior to me, got fed up with not even his neighbors talking to him, and moved away. Needless to say, he never volunteered to be on the festival committee.
    Like the old saying goes, you get out of it what you put into it.
    Anyways, I applaud Sankar and company.


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