Discussing Intercultural Cities in Tokyo

 

Japan, though it may be considered outside as ethnologically monolithic, has in fact a long history of accepting immigrants from abroad. In the past several decades, immigration to Japan has accelerated at least partly due to the government decision to loosen its immigration regulation in order to make up for the shrinking labour force.

 

In order to facilitate peaceful co-existence between indigenous and foreign inhabitants in communities, a variety of policies are being carried out with the slogan of "multicultural symbiosis" (Tabunka-kyosei). Some of these policies present strong parallel cases with those of the intercultural cities, where diversity is regarded as strength and participation in community activities are encouraged all across the ethnic landscape. However, these initiatives towards integration at regional and community levels in Europe and Japan have not been fully introduced to each other, let alone studied comparatively.

 

Mr. Taichiro Nishikawa, mayor of Arakawa City (Tokyo), Prof. Keizo Yamawaki (Meiji University) along with journalists and practitioners in the field of multicultural symbiosis visited intercultural cities (Reggio Emilia, Italy and Neuchatel, Swiss) last October in the context of the Intercultural cities joint action of the Council of Europe and the European Union, with support from the Japan Foundation.

 

Upon their return to Japan, the Japan Foundation organised a seminar to discuss the similarities and differences of policies in intercultural cities and multicultural symbiosis. Moderated by Prof. Yamawaki and keynote speech by Mr. Nishikawa, Ms. Hiroko Nakayama, mayor of Shinjuku City (Tokyo) and Mr. Takashi Noda, vice mayor of Ota City (Tokyo) joined the panel discussion.

 

The Shinjuku City, having the largest percentage of foreigners in Tokyo (close to 11%), and the Ota City, housing Haneda International Airport, are the two frontrunners in the field of "multicultural symbiosis" in Tokyo, while citizens in Arakawa-city has long enjoyed the co-existence with "old-comers".

 

It was the first time for these mayors to give public speeches together on this issue. The panelist confirmed the importance of regarding diversity as a source of positive change, rather than burden nor a threat.

 

More than 150 people attended the seminar in the morning of a freezing January day and joined the lively discussion, which demonstrated the keen interest in the field by the general public.

 

We are hoping to enhance the networking of cities within Japan and across continents, to learn from and to inspire the citizens in different cities.

 

Photo: Prof. Keizo Yamawaki (Meiji University) Mr. Taichiro Nishikawa, mayor of Arakawa City (Tokyo)