Homogeneity is often associated with Japanese society, rightly so with ethnic Japanese making up 99% of the population and the cultural tendency to embrace collectivism rather than individuality. However, just as more and more youth strive to stand out rather than fit in, that non-native 1% works to make their adopted land comfortable for them instead of forcing themselves to assimilate. You will find many foreign dining establishments manned by people of that extraction, many of them halal, and hear any number of tongues mixing in with Japanese, their speakers sometimes switching between the two. In terms of representation (not accommodation, that’s entirely different), English speakers are a minority, dwarfed by Chinese, Korean, and many others. A classmate even told me that housing agencies frequently place members of the same ethnicity in the same area of Tokyo, generalizing and sticking all foreigners together the secondary method followed by dropping them off in all-Japanese neighborhoods. This classmate was surprised when she arrived in her first apartment to a slew of welcome notes written in Chinese and a stand on the corner selling dumplings she termed “the only decent ones in this entire country.” Of course tensions between natives, permanent residents, and tourists (especially tourists), but exchange generally has more pros than cons. See: Crepes from France! Curry from India! K-pop from Korea that in turn spawned J-pop while remaining popular itself! And many more imports I’ve enjoyed thus far. One example the outside making a place for itself inside Japan permanently is Yokohama Chinatown.
I was lucky enough to be able to make the trip out to Chinatown, in the far reaches of Tokyo’s neighboring prefecture of Kanagawa but still accessible by the same metro line I commute on, during the Lunar New Year celebrations. Torrents of people traversed a network of shop-lined, lantern-strung streets, with the occasional taxi struggling to cut through.
A street view.
Caroline at the gates.
Off the main drag was where the real spectacle occurred. Having survived many a parade in my day (baton twirling, no, not the cool kind with fire), I have to give major kudos to the pre-teens at the heart of the procession. Commemorating the New Year and welcoming good fortune in Chinatown involves lots of drumming and firecrackers to accompany the movements of a massive dragon puppet. The dragon puppet and its posse make their way up and down every commercial street, entering every business for at least ten minutes as tray-bearing waiters and harried shoppers swerve to avoid it.
A less active dragon overhead.
The dragon is manned in shifts, each pilot emerging just as sweaty as the last and shivering in the cold air. After three or four stops, the drumming was too much and it was time to move on.
Dinner was of course dim-sum and we lucked out in terms of cultural exposure in that the staff at the restaurant we ended up in spoke Chinese. (As well as Japanese and English; feel inadequate? I do.)
Close up and the big picture, minus dessert.
Our multi-course meal involved congee (a savory rice pudding), various dumplings, nikuman, eggroll, and a gelatinous raspberry concoction for dinner. The soy sauce was truly amazing, the richest I’ve experienced.
We lapped the main street a few more time, taking in a few alleys as well. The dragon procession was still in full swing when we finally left, right after I made a new friend!
The pose was his idea.
A nice break from the usual! I’ll definitely be heading back when it’s a little warmer and a little less deafening.