Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Transnational Restaurants

by Corey

            Signs of migration seem to riddle the Japanese landscape, ranging from mainstream marketing campaigns to long term restaurant owners.  My misadventures through Kobe opened my eyes to the increasing diversity amidst a seemingly rather homogeneous society.  As depicted in Takeyuki Tsuda’s article entitled “No Place to Call Home,” the trials and tribulations of being caught between nations can present an array of challenges.  Tsuda's outlining of the challenges of returning to Japan after a generation raised in Brazil, leads me to believe that Japan is a more accepting nation of immigrants than most would suspect.
           Two of my dinner excursions resulted in conversation surrounding migration patterns and networks.  Our first night in Japan we wandered high into the hills near the tree line and stumbled across a small jazz village.  Here an array of bronze statues immortalizes the African American jazz movement as the musical movement infiltrates the countryside.  Mere steps away rests the Weathercock House, a remnant of historical trade networks and the prominence of German merchants in Japanese affairs.  This monument embodies the willingness of many foreign born traders to relocate to Japan.  Our dinner directed us toward some of the best Sri Lankan food ever to grace my taste buds.  Authentic curry dishes complemented the dynamic conversation struck up in this cozy Indian nook.  Like many foreigners to Japan, this family rotates extended family members from Sri Lanka to Japan in six month cycles, and has been doing so for decades.  The restaurant chain began in Sri Lanka, immigrated with the original owner and expanded to over seventeen locations between the two countries.  After selling off all but three locations, the entrepreneurial willingness to venture overseas has apparently resulted in a small fortune and extensive travels for this particular family.
            Later that same evening we wandered into a posh jazz club recommended by our newfound friends.  This jazz den was the bi-nightly home to Sabrina and Jade, the soulful musical duo that captured our attention for the next five hours.  Sabrina, a native of Decatur, Georgia USA – mere minutes from my suburban hometown in Marietta, Georgia – moved to Japan after high school and has raised her 17 year old son in Japan for a number of years.  She recently remarried a Japanese man and her son has returned to the States to finish high school with his father.  Jade, a brilliant piano player, made his way from the
Philippines years ago and has been traveling the world with his music.  This duo has been performing together for two years, singing American pop and soul.
            The next evening we ventured to Coca Cabana, the only Brazilian Samba club to make an appearance in Kobe.  We entered the basement to find a Shakira-inspired owner, dressed to impress.  Amazed that Americans could actually muster a little Portuguese, Brazilian staff and crew soon surrounded our tiny caparinha-filled table.  We danced the night away and sang American and Brazilian karaoke with out newfound friends.  These Brazilians too rotated in six month shifts, and have been doing so for ten years.
            Corporate outposts such as Wendy’s locations, Starbucks shops, 7 Eleven stores, McDonalds restaurants were amplified by the presence of Tower Records, Lineup Board Co., DHL, and Century 21.  Products in circulation include Coca Cola, Pepsi, Nescafe, Heineken, Kit Kat, Jack Daniels, and Marlboro.  The automobile market is saturated with Mercedes, Volkswagen, Saab, Mini, and Ford in a nation known for its auto production.
            Japan is a transient place more so than the Japanese people may like to admit.  Foreign families have historically infiltrated the homogenous society and will surely continue this tradition in the years to come.  A few scattered meals in the nooks and crannies of Japan will support the notion that Japan is in fact an immigrant receiving nation, whether it likes it or not.

Return to Course home