Staff and Advisors
Research Proposal Abstract
The presence of foreign immigrants and ethnic minorities became visible in Kobe, Japan after the unprecedented damage caused by the 1995 Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. It was only after the earthquake that many Japanese, including Kobe citizens, learned of a Latin American Nikkei community in Higashinada, one of the hardest-hit by the quake. Dr. Takezawa's study will explore the interethnic relationships of this little-known community. In 1995, there were 500 Brazilians and 170 Peruvians registered as residents in Kobe City. Catholic churches served as the core among the network of various service centers run by local governments and NGOs which provided consulting, legal advice, and other information services to foreigners. Some of the most common problems faced by immigrants for which they sought counseling and advice involved visa status, housing, marriage and divorce, and work conditions. Public schools have also started multicultural programs targeting the Latin American students. Despite these efforts, their relationships with the Japanese and other ethnic groups appear to be limited. Dr. Takezawa's study will explore the ways and domains in which the Latin American Nikkei of Kobe interact with the dominant Japanese society which will shed light on the two-way processes of transformation involving Nikkei in Japan.
The Nikkei and Their Relationship with the Japanese: Kobe as a Case Study
Four years have passed since the great earthquake in Kobe, and there is widespread recognition in Kobe that the disaster was a significant turning point in terms of the relationship between the dominant Japanese and immigrants or ethnic minorities. One notable drastic change involved an emerging consciousness of tabunka kyosei, or multicultural coexistence, a term that describes the new concept of a society consisting of both foreigners and Japanese as equal partners, not as guests and hosts.
The wave of globalization that has swept other parts of Japan has certainly reached Kobe. A significant portion of newcomers today consist of Nikkei workers from Brazil, Peru, and other parts of Latin America who provide unskilled labor mostly to small- or mid-sized factories. In this age of globalization, Kobes society is certainly changing significantly. It is the sudden increase of these newcomers who have little understanding of Japanese language and culture that has had an impact on Japanese society as a whole and local governments throughout Japan.
At the local community level in Kobe, the Japanese, permanent residents, and other foreigners, through their interactions and efforts to rebuild the community after the earthquake, have been generating a creolized and hybrid culture. In the case of Kobe, although there are concentrations of ethnic populations in certain areas, their housing is integrated with the Japanese without forming ethnic enclaves. According to Komai, since newcomers provide the labor force for small- or mid-sized businesses, what is called the double-split labor market has not come to existence.
Of course, Kobe is still far from becoming a type of society where different ethnic groups coexist as equal partners in a real sense, as there is overt or covert discrimination in employment, housing, and other domains of social structure. However, what we have seen in Kobe is that local communities are the central arenas of interaction, friction, negotiations, and co-planning for local residents, both Japanese and foreign. Thus, after synthesizing and transforming themselves, local communities have started producing a hybrid and creolized culture.
As we have seen, the integration of the Nikkei into Japanese society in a real sense is still limited to the superficial level. However, lessons from the earthquake tell us that such integration depends on how much the Nikkei and the Japanese establish mutual rapport and interactions in a local community level. It seems to be essential for the Nikkei to develop a sense or identity as local residents, if not as Japanese residents.