New Chinatown caters to a new generation of immigrants
This is part of a series on the growing influence of China in bilateral relations as well as Chinese communities in Japan.
Tokyo's Ikebukuro district has no colorful arches or lanterns like the ones that adorn the established Chinatowns in Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki.
But once you step out of JR Ikebukuro Station from the north exit, you are assailed by the unmistakable sounds, sights and aromas of a new Chinatown in the making.
The bright yellow and red signs of food retailers Zhiyin (FriendVoice) and Yangguangcheng (Sunshine Group) vie for people's attention.
Chinese conversation can be heard everywhere, on the street or inside stores, from early in the morning until late at night.
The nation's three traditional Chinatowns, which date back to the late 19th century, have thrived primarily as tourist destinations. Most of the visitors are Japanese holidaymakers.
Ikebukuro by contrast is a hive of recent Chinese immigrants who have come to Japan since the mid-1980s, led by students at Japanese-language schools in the neighborhood.
Kiyomi Yamashita, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Tsukuba's graduate school, said many Chinese prefer Tokyo's urban lifestyle, and Ikebukuro offered cheap wood-and-mortar apartments for students.
Yamashita, who has been following the development of Ikebukuro's Chinese community for years, compiled a leaflet, "Ikebukuro Chinatown Guide," in March with professors at Rikkyo University.
Toshima Ward, which includes Ikebukuro, has one of the largest Chinese populations among Tokyo's 23 wards.
About 8,500 Chinese were registered as of the end of August, up from about 6,700 a decade ago, and accounted for more than half of the ward's 15,600 foreign residents.
Chinese are engaged in a wide range of jobs, from skilled professionals to workers at nighttime entertainment establishments.
The influx of Chinese has attracted restaurants, retailers and other businesses that cater to their everyday needs.
An estimated 100 stores have been set up in and around Ikebukuro, including groceries, bookstores, travel agencies, barbers, photo studios and even a driving school.
Ikebukuro has also become a hotspot for Chinese media.
About 15 Chinese-language newspapers and magazines are based in and around Ikebukuro, while about 50 print media operate in Japan, according to The Duan Press, a publisher of books on China-Japan relations.
"Weekly Digest," a free newspaper launched in 1993, moved its editorial office to Ikebukuro from Tokyo's Kanda district in 2005.
Li Rui, editor in chief, said Ikebukuro, with its growing Chinese population, is an ideal place both to gather information and circulate a newspaper.
Arirang is a restaurant specializing in dishes from northeastern China, from which a growing number of immigrants are coming to Ikebukuro.
Like other Chinese restaurants in Ikebukuro, Arirang mainly serves Chinese residents but attracts many Japanese customers as well.
"China and Japan have had some misunderstandings over history, but I think we can understand each other through cuisine," said Zhang Zhiquan, the manager and chef. "I want to offer genuine Chinese food to (Japanese) customers to promote mutual understanding."
Some residents are wary of the growing presence of Chinese.
A middle-aged woman working at a family restaurant said Chinese are disturbing order, saying a nearby Chinese restaurant has repeatedly ignored rules on where to put out the garbage.
"I'm concerned about deteriorating public safety, and I don't think we can live side by side with Chinese," said the woman, who spoke on condition that she not be named. "Some people are worried that Chinese might take over this town."
Takeshi Kato, who heads the Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-chome neighborhood association, said Chinese residents are blending in.
He often chats with a Chinese acquaintance during a walk. In recent years, Chinese students have carried a portable shrine with other foreign residents at Ikebukuro's annual Fukuro Matsuri festival.
"We are in the age of globalization, and Ikebukuro is a cosmopolitan city," Kato said. "We can work together to boost the local economy."
Duan Yuezhong, editor in chief at The Duan Press, launched a project in August to promote exchanges between Chinese and Japanese in Ikebukuro.
An open-air salon, held every Sunday at a park near JR Ikebukuro Station, provides a forum for anybody interested in Chinese language and culture to socialize with Chinese and practice language skills.
Duan, who has been putting out a newsletter for Chinese residents since 1996, said the free program is modeled on popular conversation salons organized at parks in Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.
Typically, a selected speaker, Chinese or Japanese, makes a presentation on a specific theme and talks with other participants.
At a session held on one muggy afternoon in August, Chinese students described their one-year experience at the University of Tsukuba and the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies before they left Japan.
Japanese guests included a university student, a freelance translator and a researcher.
"I want to help Ikebukuro develop as the center for Chinese and Japanese to communicate with each other," Duan said.(IHT/Asahi: October 1,2007)