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Copyright © James Farrer ー All Rights Reserved.

A Chinese Restaurant Mirrors a Generation of Immigrants

In the 1980s tens of thousands of young Chinese came to Japan, both to study and to earn money in the booming Japanese economy. Many stayed on to become an immigrant generation known as the "New Overseas Chinese." The owner of Jyokasa, Ms. Xu Jingzhong was one of them. When she first came to Tokyo from Shanghai, she worked part-time at a Chinese restaurant in Shinjuku while studying. “The restaurant I worked for really was not all that tasty," said Xu. "Maybe because it was at a very good location, it was really popular. So, I thought, if I can open a restaurant with actual good food, it will definitely appeal to customers. I was not planning on making piles of money. All I wanted was to be able to work for myself and provide for family.”

 

So, ten years later, in 1998 she opened her own restaurant in Nishiogi, borrowing the name Jyokasa from a storied Shanghai restaurant (pronounced Qiao Jia Shan in Chinese).

 

“When I first came to Japan, back in 1988, I thought China was way too underdeveloped. It could not even compare to Japan. But look at Shanghai now, it is so different. So many Japanese visit Shanghai now, and Chinese people have become extremely rich, too.” Xu explained why she chose to stay in Japan despite the rapid and tremendous growth happening now in China. “No one knew China would develop so quickly. But honestly speaking, I do not think I can go back to China now. Everything is expensive in China, I will just become a pauper if I go back and live there. I cannot afford to buy houses and send my son to good schools in China. Everyone competes with everyone else, and I will not be able to keep abreast of the times if I go back. It is just way too tiring living there. I think my life here in Japan is simple and wonderful. I do not need to compete with anyone. I am free. And there is no air pollution either.”

 

Most customers coming to Jyogasa are Japanese rather than Chinese. It is largely supported by the locals in Nishiogi. “I realised that Japanese are truly nice people after I opened my restaurant, especially the local residents in Nishiogi, I am really grateful to them. I feel that I am a member of the Nishiogi community, I feel I am a member of Japanese society as well. They supported me greatly when I first opened this restaurant. They did a lot of word-of-mouth advertising for me, and they were always understanding and supportive. I do not think I could have done the same thing and succeeded in China.” She added, “Well, I do believe people who choose Chinese food and come to a Chinese restaurant have a favorable impression of China. Otherwise they will not come in the first place.”

 

Xu also employs a professional chef and a waitress to help her. Both are Chinese. “The girls who have worked for me were all pretty good. They all worked quite hard. I thought they came from poor families, but not really. Most Chinese studying in Japan now are somewhat well-off. Even though they get money from their family they still want to earn on their own. That is really good.”

 

Xu’s son is now working at a major Japanese company after graduating from Sophia University. Meanwhile, her daughter-in-law and her daughter-in-law’s parents are running the restaurant together with Xu. “This is good enough for me,” Ms.Xu says, “I have had my peak with this restaurant already, and it is on the decline now. But everything is stable, my son has graduated and married. My life is stable, and that is all I want.”

 

Memorabilia of a life between countries and close connections with Nishiogi line the walls of Jyokasa. The restaurant exemplifies a generation of Chinese immigrants who came to Japan just as the country’s rapid growth was ending, and just before the economic boom in China began. As they reach middle age, they often find themselves bemused by their life choices and in-between status, an identity shadowed by an imagined life in China but grounded in the real life they have made in a local community in Japan (Tong Liu, James Farrer, Nov. 25, 2016).