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Foreigners' Home Sweet 'Homi' greeted by local cold shoulder

Tucked in a corner of the Aichi Prefecture city of Toyota, the Homi Danchi housing estate most famous for its racial problems, may offer a vision of the Japan of the future, according to Spa! (12/4).

The estate opened in 1975 and, like many public housing complexes at the time, was then a highly desirable residence for many families.

But an influx of Japanese-Brazilian immigrants from the start of the 1990s saw the housing estate split along racial lines as Japanese residents complained fiercely about loud Latino music, cars parked illegally and rubbish dumped everywhere.

Three decades after it opened, Homi Danchi was no longer so homey. The housing estate had turned into a slum divided between its Japanese inhabitants and the descendants of other Japanese who had earlier left the country for greener pastures overseas.

The brawl between Japanese and Japanese-Brazilians saw its roots in 1990 changes to the Immigration Law that allowed any descendants of Japanese who had previously left this country to come into the country without any other visa restrictions, ironically in the belief that such a move would smooth over perceived cultural gaps brought by other foreigners lacking the blood of Yamato flowing through their veins.

Homi's racial battle began when rules about public housing were relaxed a decade ago to allow foreigners to live there without restrictions, opening the floodgates to a swarm of non-Japanese moving in to the housing estate a short trip from the Toyota Motor Co. factories where many of the immigrants work.

"They literally popped up everywhere in no time at all," a Japanese resident of the housing estate for over 20 years tells Spa! "Before you knew it, you would never see Japanese in the housing estate anymore."

Many of the gripes Japanese residents had about their Brazilian "brethren" seem trivial, such as the propensity for partying and loud Latin music, but others point to the old adage of being in Rome and doing as the Romans do, urging the immigrants to lead a quieter lifestyle along the lines of the inhabitants who had been there longer.

But the Brazilian-Japanese were not going to take things lying down. When confronted by a group of right-wing thugs driving a loudspeaker screaming out messages along the lines of "Foreigner Go Home," the foreigners took on the harassers in a very non-Japanese way: they firebombed the soundtruck.

Homi's battle lines had been drawn and threatened to flare, but the government intervened, brokering a peace deal between the Japanese and Japanese-Brazilians. Now, the housing estate is a peaceful place, but Spa! notes that doesn't mean the two groups get along, with the Japanese sticking to themselves and the foreigners clustering among their own, with each group ignoring the other.

Foreigners blame the Japanese for the uneasy stand-off.

"All the Japanese ever do is complain about us," a Japanese-Brazilian resident of the housing estate tells Spa! "They don't accept us at all. We try to greet them and they just ignore us. They don't want to have anything to do with us."

And here's where Homi can serve as a harbinger. Danchi housing estates across Japan are losing their inhabitants as the country's population shrinks. Japan's current population of 126 million is estimated to drop below 100 million by 2050 unless something is done. More than likely, foreigners are going to be needed to make up for the lost 20-odd million. More and more public housing estates are going to become like Homi, where over half the current 8,000 inhabitants are non-Japanese.

With Homi's Japanese and Japanese-Brazilians agreeing to mutually ignore each other, the weekly notes it's not possible to say the problems between the two groups have been solved. But, to its credit, the magazine argues that the issue needs to be cleared.

"This is an issue that should be of prime importance," Spa! says, "For Japanese, for foreigners, for governments and for businesses." (By Ryann Connell)

(Mainichi Japan) December 11, 2007


WaiWai stories are transcriptions of articles that originally appeared in Japanese language publications. The Mainichi Daily News cannot be held responsible for the contents of the original articles, nor does it guarantee their accuracy. Views expressed in the WaiWai column are not necessarily those held by the Mainichi Daily News or the Mainichi Newspapers Co. WaiWai © Mainichi Newspapers Co. 1989-2007.

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