One of the special treats available to foreign residents and visitors to Japan is the opportunity to experience other cultures, including Chinese, Brazilian, Indian, Korean and Thai.
There are three designated “China Towns” in Japan: one in Yokohama, one in Kobe and one in Nagasaki — all of which originated as residential areas for Chinese merchants.
The Nagasaki China Town (known as Shinchi Chinatown) was the first one to develop, beginning early the Tokugawa Shogunate era (1603-1868), when Nagasaki was the only major port in Japan that remained open to foreign traders — limited for more than 200 years to Chinese and Dutch traders, the latter confined to a tiny man-made islet a few hundred yards offshore that was guarded 24-7 by samurai warriors.
Yokohama Chinatown dates from1859, just five years after the Tokugawa Shogunate signed a treaty with the U.S. that resulted in Yokohama being opened for foreign trade and foreign residents. (For the first several years they too were confined to a wall-off area guarded by samurai warriors.)
Yokohama Chinatown remains the largest Chinese community in Japan, with dozens of restaurants and hundreds of grocery stores and shops, and a number of temples. It is thronged with residents and travelers in the evenings, on weekends and holidays.
Kobe was opened to international trade in 1868 and was soon the home of Chinese merchants and their families. Kobe Chinatown is now the second largest Chinese community in Japan, and is known as Nankin Machi (Nahn-keen Mah-chee) or Nanjing Town.
Nankin Machi, south of Motomachi Station adjacent to a Daimaru Department Store, is packed with over 100 Chinese restaurants, shops, and a Chinese temple. It is widely considered as the most colorful and foreign-looking China town in Japan.
In Tokyo there is a miniature China town near the north exit of Ikebukuro Station on the Yamanote commuter train line, and there are individual Chinese restaurants in many other sections of Tokyo that have been well-known and well-patronized for over a century.
There are more ethnic Koreans in Japan than any other foreign nationality. Between 1910 and 1945 when Japan ruled Korea some 2.4 million Koreans emigrated to Japan to get better jobs. During World War II thousands of Koreans were brought to Japan as laborers. Many of these returned to Korea after Japan’s defeat. There are now some 625,000 Korean-Japanese residents in Japan.
The largest enclaves of Koreans in Japan are in Osaka — over 90,000 in Tsuruhashi in Ikuno Ward and some 60,000 in the Imazato-Shinchi district. Tsuruhashi is the most famous Korean town in Japan.
There is also a small Korean town in the Gion geisha district of Kyoto, and a Korean town (Green Mall) popularly called “Little Pusan” in Shimonoseki — because it adjoins the dock of the Kanpu Ferry that goes to Pusan.
Some 80,000 ethnic Koreans live in Tokyo. There is a large Korea town in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district on the Yamanote train line that circles central Tokyo. Korean restaurants and shops line the main street going east from Shin-Okubo Station.
Several of the restaurants stage special events featuring Korean pop stars who are celebrities in Japan. Coffee Prince, near the station, features handsome young Korean men as waiters who attract hordes ofJapanese girls and women. (Streets west of the station are lined with Thai restaurants and shops.)
Both sides of Ueno Station in central Tokyo have small Korean towns. There is also a Korea town surrounding Mikawashima Station north of Tokyo on the Joban Line.
In Oizumi in Gumma Prefecture 90 minutes north of Tokyo via the Tobu Koizumi Line there is a “Little Brazil,” where ethnic Portuguese Brazilians and ethic Japanese-Brazilians live and operate a variety of businesses, including some outstanding restaurants. Busty Samba dancers, dressed in skimpy bikinis and pasties, put on rousing performances at the all-you-can-eat Primavera Restaurant.
There are organized tours to Little Brazil from Tokyo.
Editor's note: Boyé Lafayette De Mente (1928-2017) first came to Japan in 1949 as a member of the occupation forces. He held a degree in economics and Japanese from Tokyo's Sophia University, and a BFT from the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Arizona.
He was best known as the author of a highly successful series of books on social and business customs in Japan, China, Korea and Mexico. As a journalist with the Japan Times, and later on as editor of 'The Importer Magazine,' he witnessed at close hand the rapid growth of Asia's 'tiger' economies. His guidelines to westerners wishing to do business in the new post-war Japan were widely recognized as ground-breaking.
I am indebted to Mr. De Mente for sending the above article to republish here in Japan Perspectives.