For Japanese and Koreans immigrating to America, containing cultural conflicts has been difficult. Their motherlands are burdened with a long history of conflict stemming from territorial disputes and historical grievances related to Japan's colonization of Korea in the early 20th century.
As Korean residents and shop owners have increased their presence in Little Tokyo, the historic heart of Southern California's Japanese American community, the multicultural melding hasn't always been harmonious.
When the number of Koreans began multiplying in Little Tokyo Towers a few years ago, complaints about them from Japanese residents quickly began to surface. The Japanese immigrants said of the Koreans: "They smell of garlic." "They don't follow the rules." "They're going to take over." Then, from the Koreans: "The Japanese are snooty." "They don't greet you in the elevator." "They disdain Korean culture." "They're trying to push us out."
Today, however, the tone in the towers -- a 300-unit senior housing facility on 3rd Street -- is strikingly different. A Korean resident whose relatives were jailed for protesting Japan's colonization of his motherland is teaching his native language to a dozen of his Japanese neighbors. "Ga, gya, go, gyo," they intently repeated on a recent night, mimicking the sounds of the Korean alphabet as teacher Simon Yoon pointed them out on a whiteboard. Residents recently held a New Year's party and debuted a Korean-Japanese bilingual newsletter called "Bridges" to share their cultures. On other nights, they belt out songs in both languages using a karaoke machine purchased by Korean residents -- who took care to include 2,500 Japanese songs. And in August, they attended a groundbreaking "harmony concert" featuring Japanese and Korean music and dance.
The turnabout in Little Tokyo proves ethnic harmony is possible, the residents say. "We want to show that in Little Tokyo, there are people who want to be good neighbors to each other regardless of the past and all of the conflicts we've experienced. If reconciliation can happen in Little Tokyo, then it could be a model for the city and for Japan and South Korea."