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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.

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.


Ellen Lebelle said...

You point out the push and pull to certain cities and your neighbor points to the push to certain buildings. It's a bit like ghettoization -- the foreigners are bunched together, first by being pushed together and then, since they are where they are and the services are there, the newcomers are drawn in rather naturally.
Blatent discrimination is frowned upon in France, so you won't find buildings almost reserved for foreign tenants and others off limits. However, something similar to the push-pull was the situation in France for English speaking families, at least, 40 years ago and more. They lived in the west of Paris and the western suburbs because that's where the bilingual schools were. Or did the schools offer the bilingual programs because that's where the families were? I don't know, but I remember how few of us lived east, how little connection we had to the bilingual schools and the rest. Now, prices in the Paris area have pushed more people, including affluent immigrants like us, eastward. And the bilingual schools, etc. have come, too.

Tim said...

Overall from a US perspective the entire Kansai region has pretty poor transportation connectivity to the US. San Francisco is the only US city to have nonstop flights to the region which is actually more significant than it seems as transferring between Domestic Japanese flights and international flights is quite a pain in Japan(not the least of which is the Narita Haneda split).

Also to add to Ellen's point the western suburbs and neighborhoods of Paris tend to be more convenient to areas such as La Defense(as hideous as it may be) and Issy-Les-Moulineuax where a lot of "professional" class immigrants and foreigners tend to work. A similar situation exits in London too with its own western suburbs. The difference in London is the economic draw of western suburbs tends to be centered around the proximity to Heathrow Airport.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Ellen, Just for fun I looked up the origin of the International School in St. Germain. And it appears that there is a military link at work here. The school was founded in 1952 asas a school for the children of international personnel working at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in nearby Rocquencourt..." NATO was out of France in the late 60's and the school turned to "the support of "economic expatriates" to replace those of the original military community."

That's just what I managed to glean from Wikipedia and I am sure there is much more to the story. But it's a good example of military infrastructure left behind and converted to a civilian purpose. As for American living in the western suburbs and arrondissements, it was the business community that settled there (I think) in the 19th century and was responsible for the churches and the hospital and many other institutions that make Paris a very friendly place for Americans. And, I would say, keeps it at the top of destinations for Americans even today. Japan has a different settlement pattern and one that follows (I think) the military presence here. I wonder if we can find a similar pattern in Germany that also has had a military presence.

Tim, Very interesting. Note that there are quite a few flights to Europe in and out of Osaka. We take the KLM flight which is direct and I think daily.

Tim said...


I will also add the Western part of Paris continues to be home to the OECD, UNESCO, and a large regional office of ICAO(ICAO the International Civil Aviation Organization is based in Montreal since 1945 but its League of Nations era predecessor was HQed in Neuilly Sur Seine thus ICAO has continued to have a large presence in Paris).

There is an argument that kicking out SHAPE and NATO HQ out of France and up the road to Belgium was beneficial for France in more ways than one. SHAPE relocated to Mons in the francophone section of Belgium which is/was in poor economic shape no pun intended economically. NATO relocating to francophone Belgium it could argued maintained some sense of economic equality between French and Dutch speaking Belgiums. International organizations in Brussels such as the EU and NATO HQ has also driven the Dutch language out of the city to the benefit of French speakers(One might argue though English is the true language of Brussels).

As to your question about the US military presence in Germany it MOST DEFINATELY had an impact. The reason Frankfurt is such an economically important city is almost entirely due to the fact it was the HQ of the US military during the occupation(and Berlin was split in half). While Bonn was the official capital pre reunification Frankfurt was the main airport(also a US military base) and home to the Bundesbank(and now ECB) created under US military supervision.

The western part of Tokyo STILL has a large US military presence at Yokota Air Force base thus areas such as Roppongi are still very much seen as foreigner friendly.