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Cultural Influences in Japan

By Julia Hursh

Japan is a country of little human diversity. As I traveled through different cities I looked for signs of migrations and it was a very difficult task to find people of different ethnicity. I did, however, see signs of western influence frequently throughout my travels.

Tokyo reminded me of an Asian version of New York City. It is very populated and fast moving; there are skyscrapers and trendy stores. I felt as if I was on Fifth Ave when I was shopping in Harajuku because all of the stores are the same. Prada, Gucci, and Gap are just a few that I noticed. When I decided to stop for food my choices were also the same as in America. McDonalds and Starbucks are located on every street corner. This was an interesting sight to see, especially because as I entered the stores, I saw that they were run by Japanese people (as expected) but none of whom spoke English. The language barrier made it very difficult to communicate. It was exciting to be in a land that at first looks familiar, but then is culturally different and difficult to explore.

Another sign of migration that I noticed was on my way to Kyoto. I ate at a restaurant in the Tokyo train station and I ordered a noodle dish, but was given silverware to eat it with. As I looked around the restaurant everyone was using silverware, not just us Americans. I speculated that this is because a train station is a high traffic area with many foreigners, so the restaurant was catering to our needs. 

The only human migrations signs that I truly noticed was that of the Koreans. I saw quite a few Korean restaurants in Tokyo, in the train stations and Kyoto. It makes sense that this would be the most common group of people to come across other than Japanese. According to the Port-to-Port guide for global studies class, Japan’s ethnicity is made up of 99% Japanese and 1% other (mostly Korean). The article titled “Dys-appearing Tongues and Bodily Memories: The Aging of First Generation Resident Koreans in Japan” by Sandra Soo-Jin Lee suggests that ‘Korean food played a critical role in the practice of Korean identity in Japan.’ As Koreans are the largest minority group in Japan, it is understandable that I would have seen a few signs of their migration. At the same time I thought I would have seen more signs of Korean migration.

Japan didn’t have many migrations of foreigners to observe, but it is a country very rich in its own culture. The beauty and cleanliness throughout the entire country is something to be admired by all and from which other countries, including the U.S., could really learn from. They have obviously been influenced by our culture in their country and we should do the same in ours.

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