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Japanese Convergence of Migration

By Rip Ritchie

     Migration signs in Japan are less accessible than in other areas around the globe, but they are still present and vibrant.  Cultural signs of migration are easy to see throughout the country.  Western products and ideas are prevalent.  Coca-Cola products and advertising to fashion and design such as Gucci are smattered throughout the modern cities.  Coke products dominate the sodas in the vending machines and McDonalds dominates the face of the fast food industry.  These signs of product migration were available in every part of Japan that I visited; even the most remote areas that I observed while traveling on the train.
   Observing migrant human populations was slightly more difficult.  They are not as visible, but they are still there.  I was able to have a conversation with a migrant worker and learned brazilian friendsa lot about the situation of migrants in Japan.  This man was from Morocco and had been living in Japan for 11 years; since he was 18 years old.  He came over here for work, and was working in the computer industry.  There were several other foreign immigrants with him, who were also working in the technology industry.  They were mainly from France, Morocco and Italy.  The most striking thing about these migrants was how vastly intelligent they were.  They were able to speak multiple languages in order to communicate, and were laboring in fields that demand high mental capacities.  This man from Morocco told me that when you are a foreigner in Japan, you are always a foreigner.  People always look at you strangely and immediately know that you are an outsider.  It does not matter how good your Japanese gets, they will still know.  He said that Japan is an extremely lonely place for foreigners.  You can feel alone and constantly segregated.  This shows in the fact that he was only hanging out with foreigners.  He told me that he has not made any Japanese friends in the entire time that he has been there.  Japanese people are not friendly like other people are around the world.  He said, in Morocco (as in the United States), guy friends come up and pat each other on the back and say “How’s it going man…” etc.  This is not how it is in Japan.  He said that relationships between men are very business-like and it always seems like they are trying to get something out of the relationship.  He also told me that it is very hard to meet any Japanese women.  There are a few bars you can go to where the women like foreigners, but in general, this is not something that they seek out very much.  To me, it sounds like it is not easy being a foreign immigrant in Japan.  It is difficult to assimilate and you are always considered an outsider.  The foreigners are there, but not extremely visible, and that is probably how the Japanese like it.     

   One night while I was in Japan, I went to a Brazilian restaurant.  I speak Portuguese so I was excited to be able to communicate with some people and ask them about their experiences.  I had read the article “No Place to Call Home” by Takeyuki Tsuda, and had a distinct impression about Brazilians in Japan.  Many Japanese left Brazil in the early 1900’s in search of a better life; primarily the prosperous coffee plantations of Brazil.  They began to return in the 80’s and were seen as foreigners, just as they had been seen in Brazil.  They are a crossbreed with no concrete place to attach their identity.  They now constitute one of the largest minority groups in Japan and have opened the cultural door.  The people that I talked to at the restaurant are not Japanese Brazilians, but just Brazilians from the Sao Paulo area.  They work on six-month visas and then return to Brazil for the remaining six months of the year.  Because the Japanese-Brazilians have returned to Brazil, there are cultural ties that enable these Brazilians to migrate to Japan and start businesses.  If there were not these links, it seems very unlikely that these people would come to Japan to work.  The Japanese-Brazilians may have “no place to call home” but their struggles have made it possible for Brazilians to call Japan a home.  The combination of these different people has brought the Brazilian culture, with all of its vibrancy and social openness, to Japan.  These migrants are surely having an effect on the pre-existing cultural traditions in Japan. 

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