Japan: A booming 'Koreatown'

Takehiko Kambayashi
Osaka's Koreatown, once an alienated community, is now thriving as Japanese recognize similarities between the two cultures.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

OSAKA, JAPAN – A once-isolated community in a drab quarter of this city seems to be one of the few vibrant places in a shrinking economy.

Since the 2002 soccer World Cup was cohosted by South Korea and Japan, Osaka’s Koreatown has grown in popularity among Japanese enchanted by Korean food, music, and the community itself.

An increasing number of Japanese stroll the quarter-mile-long narrow street lined with about 120 shops, including Korean restaurants, butchers, barbecue eateries, and seaweed and kimchi stores. Half are owned by Koreans. Some come to study how Koreans and Japanese coexist in light of the two nations’ history of ill feelings.

“This area used to be so alienated, very few Japanese would bother to come,” says Eiichi Shiroyama, a third-generation Korean who owns a traditional clothing shop. “Coming here, they learn there’s not much difference between us.”

Issei Shibayama agrees. He’s a city council member in Inuyama, in central Japan, who travels to the area with 40 other members of a Korean language class.

When he visited South Korea 26 years ago, he recalls that he “was totally shocked, as if I had met [my] twin brother for the first time in life.... The country with similar culture exists next to Japan.... I wondered why our generation had grown up without knowing it.”

Schoolchildren come here on field trips. Joo Hyou-ja, who runs a kimchi shop, lets every child try her products.

“I want Japanese children to taste the Korean specialty,” she says.

“Many children say they feel something familiar to Korean culture,” says Kazuhiro Kimura, director at Korea Japan Center. “That is what we are aiming for.”

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