The sprawling Icho Danchi in Yokohama's Izumi Ward, which borders on Yamato City, is a huge public housing tract consisting of 79 buildings with a total of 3,600 units. Most of the buildings are five stories in height, reflecting their age of around 40 years. But this is no ordinary Japanese bed town. As an indication of its large foreign population, signs with traffic regulations and instructions for separating rubbish are posted in Japanese, Khmer, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese Spanish and English.
In a five-page story with photos, Shukan Post (Aug 9) reports that in the public playgrounds, teams of happy children of a variety of skin hues can be seen playing volleyball. Shops in the neighborhood offer exotic tropical fruits for sale, as well as various grilled tidbits on a skewer. Over 20 nationalities are represented here, making it one of Japan's most diverse ethnic neighborhoods.
Rent in Icho, which means ginko tree, is cheap, particularly considering the 1-hour commuting time into central Tokyo. A 2K (two rooms plus kitchen) apartment of 34.55 square meters is just 21,300 yen per month; a 3DK (three rooms plus dinette-kitchen) rents for 37,400 yen.
Initially nearly all of Icho's inhabitants were Japanese; but as its population aged, more vacant units opened up, and foreigners began moving in. Currently, about 30% of the danchi's units are occupied by non-Japanese.
"Many of the Japanese residents are elderly, and a lot of the households here are made up of either singles or elderly couples," says Masayuki Kurihara, the chairman of the tract's local self-governing organization. "On the other hand, the people in many of the foreign households here are still working, and also have children. I'd say that in terms of numbers, close to half the people in Icho have foreign backgrounds. This is a microcosm of the Japan of the future."
And a colorful microcosm it is: One of the businesses that have sprung up in the neighborhood is the Vang Phuoc grocery store, operated by a Vietnamese woman, who smiles for the camera as she brandishes a freshly roasted duck, which retails in her shop for 4,000 yen. Near her, atop a cardboard box, is a large durian. On the facing page of the magazine, the Chinese owner of the Hailong (sea dragon) restaurant holds up a pair of chicken claws he's grilling over a charcoal brazier.
Shukan Post notes that from 1.28 million foreign residents in Japan in 1992, the figure nearly doubled to 2.03 million by 2012. Many of these have opted for public housing, where the foreign population occupied 43,853 units in 2011, and the magazine acknowledges that their increasing presence is helping to keep some public housing tracts from deteriorating into ghost towns.
Icho is represented by over 20 nationalities, among which China, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Peru are well represented. A prime reason for this is the nearby presence of the Residents' Promotion Center, set up in neighboring Yamato city in 1980. Before closing in 1998, the center had processed about 11,000 so-called "boat people" and other mostly southeast Asian refugees who were admitted to Japan. Administrative bodies supported their relocation to the Icho Danchi.
A young Cambodian man, currently employed as a welder, was born while his parents, political refugees, were residing in Icho. He married a Vietnamese woman and the couple now have a 3-year-old child.
"Three generations of us are living here now," he tells the magazine in fluent Japanese. "This danchi is my homeland."
Of the student body of 161 at the Icho public primary school, 122 are non-Japanese.
"About 90% of our foreign students were born in Japan," says Hideto Tanaka, the principal. "We have 58 Vietnamese alone. As Japanese are in the minority, the kids don't pay much attention to things like nationality."
"We make friends with who we want, and nationality doesn't matter," a Japanese girl in the school's 4th grade confirms to the reporter.
Life in this suburban housing tract may portend a future in which Japanese and foreigners coexist.© Japan Today