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Indian community thriving in east Tokyo

by Biju Paul on 2/17/2005 | Comments | Viewed 9492 time(s) | Full Page View
These young Indian computer engineers live in the same apartment complex in Tokyo Nakano Ward.
These young Indian computer engineers live in the same apartment complex in Tokyo Nakano Ward. They have created a computer network linking the entire building.

This news was originally published in Asahi.com

On a recent Saturday morning, Gali Muralikrishna Chakrapani was shopping at a market in the middle of the massive danchi condo complex where he lives near the Nishi-Kasai subway station in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward.

Burdened with two plastic bags brimming with groceries, he hopped on his bicycle and pedaled back to his wife and two children waiting at home.

``We moved here from Nakano after a friend recommended the area,'' said the senior systems analyst at Satyam Computer Services Ltd., an Indian software company.

Chakrapani and his family moved to Japan in 2002 and have enjoyed their life in the new neighborhood so far.

``There are so many Indians here. If we have a problem, we call a friend who speaks Japanese. Japanese neighbors also help us out,'' he said.

A cashier at an outdoor vegetable market near Chakrapani's danchi confirmed the trend. ``We began seeing a lot more Indian customers about a year ago,'' he said. ``You see them everywhere in town.''

Local vendors have become accustomed to their Indian customers and their purchasing habits. One of the vendors said: ``They usually buy onions, potatoes, cauliflowers. Oh, and don't forget the coriander.''

The area in Edogawa Ward, eastern Tokyo, has become home to a new generation of Indian expatriates. The Indian population in Tokyo rose from 1,628 on Jan. 1, 1995 to 5,883 on Jan. 1, 2005, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government.

In addition to previously established Indian enclaves in Nakano Ward and elsewhere, the fastest growth can be found in the eastern part of the city.

The number of Indian residents in Edogawa Ward rose from 203 in 2000 to more than 603 as of November 2004. More than 70 percent of the new arrivals live in Nishi-Kasai.

The area-built on landfill-runs seamlessly into the other gray danchiville stops on the Tozai Line.

``This is definitely the largest Indian community in Tokyo,'' says Jagmohan Chandrani, who operates a tea trading firm and an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood. When he moved from Calcutta to Nishi-Kasai in 1978, there was hardly anyone there from his home country.

But the latest Indian migration, mostly IT engineers in their late 20s and 30s, motivated Chandrani to establish the Edogawa Indian Association in 2000.

The organization, started out with only four families but membership has grown to include about 300 households. Members exchange all sorts of information, from how to find a Japanese-language class to invitations to join Indian cooking circles.

In November, they hosted a party for Diwali-one of the biggest Hindu celebrations in India-at a local community center. Around 300 Indians from the neighborhood got together to feast on home-country cooking.

``If you have fellow Indians nearby, they can advise you where to get help, where to find a local health center or get vaccinations for children,'' said Chandrani.

Prakash Kannan, a systems engineer from Bangalore in southern India, also moved to Nishi-Kasai from Nakano Ward recently. His company, Tata Consultancy Services, a major Indian IT firm, rents an apartment for Kannan and his colleague Saroj Kumar Dhal.

The two single men cheerfully admit they are not exactly accomplished cooks. So over the weekends, they get together for cooking as ``an experiment'' with friends in the neighborhood.

``We cook whatever's on the table. It's very dynamic,'' Kannan said.

Behind the influx of the newcomers is the rise of the south Asian nation as an IT giant that is more than happy to fill shortages of computer programmers and engineers whenever and wherever they crop up worldwide.

As a former British colony, many of India's best and brightest once headed almost exclusively for the United Kingdom for both education and employment.

But those days passed, and the United States and its massive economy became a bigger draw. Beginning in the 1980s, and especially during the dot-com boom, many Indians migrated to work in the U.S. software industry.

After the U.S. IT bubble burst, Indian firms looked elsewhere.

``Now they see Japan as a good market and are putting more people in,'' said Kannan, who has also worked in the United States. Kannan is now engaged in a project at J.P. Morgan, while his roommate works for Toshiba.

According to Chandrani, the migration of Indians can be classified into three phases.

The first wave of Indians arrived when Yokohama opened up to international trade in the 19th century. Making use of the thriving textile industry at home, the traders-mostly from Sind and Gujarat-settled in the port city. After the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, most relocated to Kobe.

The second phase came in the 1970s and '80s, as Japan pulled itself into the upper tier of world economies. With greater wealth came greater interest in overseas cultures, especially ethnic cuisine. Chefs, often from the Bengal and Punjab regions came to work in or open restaurants in Japan.

The third and most recent influx began when the computer software industry blossomed worldwide and continues unabated.

Many of today's arriving Indians are from Bangalore, the fifth largest city in the country and home to numerous software companies.

Rajiv Nayan, a visiting research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, believes Japan has enormous potential for Indian IT companies. If this potential is realized, the Indian community here would expand proportionately.

At the same time, he says there are more disadvantages newcomers face in Japan than in other countries, such as the United States, which has a long history of using immigrants to take up shortfalls in manpower.

``Japan has strict immigration laws. It makes foreigners wonder whether you are really welcome or not,'' Nayan said, pointing to the complicated naturalization process as one example.

``Then, there are factors of language inhibitions and the cultural gap.''

While dissatisfied with the anemic welcome officialdom offers, Indians praise the law-abiding nature of the Japanese and the resultant safety.

``We call Japan `Ram Rajya,' or world of heaven,'' said Nayan.

Unlike older immigrants who settled in local communities, the recent Indian newcomers are uncertain about their future. The engineers are hired on a project basis and the duration of their stay depends on their clients, varying from somewhere between three months to several years.

Many arrive with little Japanese-language ability, though a few companies provide language lessons prior to departure from India. The biggest problem, however, may be one shared by systems engineers around the world-mercilessly long working hours.

While Chakrapani is busy helping out with household chores on the weekends, his weekdays are essentially consumed by computers. At his last project he worked 12-hour shifts starting at 9:30 in the morning.

Add together extremely busy fathers, cultural barriers and a language gap, and it is no surprise the Indian community has yet to be assimilated into the huge Nishi-Kasai apartment complex, where human ties tend to be loose even for Japanese.

Away from the dehumanizing danchi, the Indians are slowly settling in through daily contact with Japanese in parks, health centers and community halls. Shoko Toyama, a public health nurse at a health support center in Nishi-Kasai, said the center has created English brochures for childbirth and vaccinations.

``It has given me an opportunity to consider my job from a different perspective,'' she said, referring to her contact with Indian patients. She added that she has become friends with an Indian family who had a premature baby. ``I realized how much anxiety is involved in raising a child in a foreign country and that giving birth to the next generation has no borders.''(IHT/Asahi: February 12,2005)