Japan: Indian restaurants and Immigration trends
The spread of ethnic restaurants can tell us much about a country and immigration. Looking at Japan, we can see Indian restaurants run by Indians spreading across the country. The Japanese are torn between wanting immigrants to work in Japan and wanting to keep their "homogenous" society. The Indian restaurants may be a hint that Japan will one day be a vibrant and energized multi-ethnic country.
Most people are frightened by change. Growing up in San Francisco, my grandmother was concerned about Chinese moving out of Chinatown: "They are buying up the neighborhood." A working-class friend when I was a teenager had similar views: "When I was a little kid, this entire neighborhood was white." I was always unsure how to respond to such fear of change with undertones of racism.
Ethnic restaurants help us to unscientifically track trends in immigration. Mexican food aficionados who traveled around the United States in the 1960 and 1970s could find delectable Mexican food in California and from Texas across through the Southwest. Naturally, Mexican food was available in major cities, but you could not find Mexican food everywhere the way you could find Italian food. Chinese food was spreading across the United States in the 1960s and 1970s as Chinese immigration continued and the immigrants moved outside areas where Chinese immigrants had traditionally lived. Fast forward to 2009 and you can find Mexican food almost everywhere in the United States.
Move across the globe to Japan and you will find Indian restaurants, run by Indians, starting to pop up in medium size cities across Japan. Given that India and Japan do not share a land border, the Indian presence and number of Indian restaurants in Japan will probably not rival the Mexican presence and number of restaurants in the United States. Still, using our unscientific ethnic restaurant information, we can see that Indian immigration to Japan is increasing, showing us what the future holds.
Most Japanese speaking of immigration are caught between what they think they need and what they think they want. Japanese think they need immigrants to replace the Japanese babies who are not being born. They think they need immigrants to manufacture products in the factories and in health care to help care for the aged. Japan, with an area approximately the size of California, has about 120 million people. Japan has greatly underused human resources in the form of senior citizens and women who are unemployed or underemployed because the system does not recognize their value. Were Japan to better utilize the current human resources, Japan might not need immigrants.
Many Japanese think that they do not want immigrants. Many Japanese would like to keep their "homogenous" society. Yet Japan is stagnating, stuck in the same rut since the bubble burst in the 1980s. Some fresh blood may be what Japan needs to become reinvigorated. Whenever I drive past a new Indian restaurant, I see the future coming. When we look back in 20 or 30 years, we will see changes. Maybe new immigrants will make Japan a more vibrant and open society. Or we may see a Japan of haves and have-nots with an ever-growing underclass of Japanese and immigrants left behind to grow poorer and more hostile. I hope we see the latter - a new open Japan - with a landscape of Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Brazilian and Chinese restaurants. For ethnic restaurants show us the path to the future.
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At Aaron Language Services (http://www.aaronlanguage.com/), we provide English to Japanese translation, English editing, and online English coaching to a primarily Japanese client base.