Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Push or Pull?

My Finnish neighbor here in Osaka has a most interesting blog which I follow and read daily.

This morning she wrote a post about how we met and how it is probably not by chance that we ended up in the same building in the same neighborhood of the largest city in the Kansai region of Japan. Here is a link to her post:

Coincidence?  I don't think so.

There are not a lot of foreigners in Osaka.  Most gaijin in the area settle in Kobe or Kyoto.  So a reasonable question to ask is:  Are foreigners pushed to live in Kobe/Kyoto (instead of Osaka) or are they pulled?

Not long after we arrived in Japan a long-term foreign resident told me a story which may or may not be true but supports the Push theory.  He said that for many years foreigners were  actively discouraged from living in Osaka and instead were gently herded down the coast to Kobe.  But in recent times that changed (he had no idea why) and Osaka gradually became more foreigner-friendly - though most still settle in Kobe, which has more services for foreigners and even an International Center, and in Kyoto.  The nearest US consulate, in fact, is located in Kobe, as is the American Club.  The nearest French consulate is in Kyoto.

On the Pull side note that the US military had a presence in Kobe up until the mid to late 1970's.  I met a man in Paris last year who, when he heard I was moving to the Kansai, reminisced about the time he spent recuperating in a military hospital in the Osaka area after he was badly wounded in Vietnam in the 1960's.

So it could be that Kobe was and still is a magnet for foreigners because there was an existing foreigner-friendly infrastructure already in place (the military left and the civilians took over what remained) and the local Japanese population had decades to get used to foreigners and their odd ways.  New arrivals may have been attracted to that city because there already was a foreign population and infrastructure there which made it easier to form networks, make friends, find compatriots (or other "internationals") and ease into life in Japan.

My sense is that there is both Push and Pull operating here with the scales tilting toward Pull.  Osaka is not the most attractive city in the Kansai (though it is the largest), and much of it was destroyed during WW II and rebuilt so there is very little that is old and charming.  Kobe and Kyoto are a mere 20 minutes away from Osaka via fast train so it's not unusual for families to live outside the city while the salaryman commutes morning and evening. In addition to being more foreigner-friendly, I'd say both cities are more family-friendly.

I'm sure there are other factors that I am unaware of and this is just a rough sketch based on what I have learned so far.  What I am sure of based on my migration experience elsewhere is that wherever I land, I am inserted into a moving river.  To understand the temperature of the water and the strength of the current that pushes and pulls in different directions, I must look to what and who came before me.

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And just for fun, and because I am riffing off a post written by my neighbor in Japan, here is an old Flophouse post that talks about The Neighbors I have Known in France.