Nepali Times
State Of The State
Outside looking in


TOKYO-Everything you've heard about this teeming city is true. It is meticulously planned, runs like clockwork and is the most automated city on earth. Over three million passengers pass through Shinjuku, the trainhead on the city's western edge. The railways are laid out over several layers deep underground. Millions of people walk through, seldom bumping into each other. Deep apologies are offered to a jumpy foreigner who accidentally brushes against fellow-commuters.

One western myth about Japan is that its rigid rules of etiquette and civility make it an alien place. For us Asians, though, this is how we'd like our homes to be: with clean, safe streets, a belief in community, respect for the elderly, consideration for others, and honouring guests.

No wonder so many Nepalis choose to stay on in this city long after their student or visitor visas expire. At Narita's immigration desk every newcomer from Nepal is a potential illegal immigrant. But there is no gruff interrogation, just courteous carefulness. No one has an exact count of the size of Nepali community here, not even the embassy.

But even in Nippon the Nepalis are fragmented by political, ethnic or other cleavages. Thakalis, Tamangs, Gurungs, and Sherpas have their own platforms to socialise.

The Newa International Forum Japan celebrated Mha Puja and Nepal New Year 1127 at the Community Centre in Kasai over the weekend. Flags of Japan and Nepal greeted visitors at the venue. Paras Ghimire, the officiating Nepali managed to deliver a scholarly speech. Thereafter, the aila and awamori started flowing and even participating bahuns were inspired to dance to the tune of Rajamati.

But life in Japan isn't as smooth as it seems. Wherever they may choose to work and live, Nepalis have similar affinities, fears and hopes. Gone are the days of lifetime job security in Japan. In a desperate bid to cut costs, reduce the deficit, and decrease public debt, the government has begun to privatise, outsource and trim the flab. The private sector is trying hard to compete with new entrants to the global marketplace like China, Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan. The legendary Japanese labour force is being told that if it doesn't become even more innovative Samsung, Acer and Lenovo will take away jobs.

Japan's gastarbeiters have to work doubly hard to be tolerated, but the country is also aging fast and new workers are needed. But their position in this close-knit society is always precarious. Japan has a homogeneous culture with relatively little religious, linguistic or ethnic diversity.

Dinesh Manandhar, a researcher in satellite communications, grew marigolds in a local community park for Mha Puja. The Japanese don't cultivate it, but Nepali families need it for tihar. The flowers were watered by the municipality and looked after by his community.

This year the Nepalis didn't have to ration the flowers.

To survive in a world of inescapable interdependence and conformity, Nepalis must adapt, like others. Some children of Nepalis here have started kindergarten, and speak to their parents in Japanese. Newars originally from Patan, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Dharan, and Baglung were striking a balance at Kasai this week: recording Mha Puja in their digital cameras as documentary evidence that they are clinging to their roots.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)