by Linx Selby
Shin-Ōkubo, otherwise known as Tokyo’s “Korean Town” is an area of contention. Originally a lower-income area and a destination for Korean immigrants, the area rose in local popularity with the rise of interest in Hallyu culture (Korean pop culture i.e. K Pop music, girl/boy bands, other cultural exports). Lately, however, Shin-Ōkubo has been the site of terse racial conflicts and the airing of pent-up hatred towards Korean immigrants. With hate speech allowed and legal in Japan, blatant racial slurs and insults is one of the most common and main forms of ammunition. According to the Japan Times, some local Korean vendors have stopped selling products with Hangul (Korean alphabet) labels. Tensions towards Korean (and Chinese) immigrants in Japan stem from Japan’s imperial history and their failure to acknowledge atrocities such as use of Korean comfort women. This post-war tension has grown into an unsolicited anger.
Clara and I spoke to many locals about their feelings towards Koreans and Chinese immigrants and while none were hostile, none would be willing to make close friends with or marry them. Even a family friend’s 14 year old son who attends boarding school in the United States was clear on the fact that he would never want to be too close to Koreans or Chinese classmates because, as he put it, they are continually rude. The relationship between locals and Chinese immigrants and visitors is equally convoluted and tense. Many local businesses prosper off of the nouveau riche who come from economically-flourishing China to shop and buy luxury goods in Japan yet there is a distinct cultural distaste towards their “aggressive” and loud behavior.
Going to Shin-Ōkubo I was excited to see a distinct Korean culture (nostalgia for the three days in Bupyeong I spent before coming to Tokyo) but when I arrived I found it to be more integrated and hidden than I had expected. There were only a few signs in the Korean alphabet and although many stores seemed to copy a Korean style, nothing was distinguished as anything other than Japanese. The Izakaya restaurant that we ate at was run by a Korean owner but the menu and everything about the restaurant was marketed as Japanese. Whether this was all incidental or not, the lack of cultural cohesion is understandable in light of the context of discrimination.
Personally, I really enjoyed Shin-Ōkubo, especially the Korean prices (see below images of $1 clothing store).
© Linx Selby all rights reserved.