Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


Transformation of Restaurants and Shops in Redeveloped Chinatown: Taking Kobe’s Nankinmachi as a Case Study

BIAN Qingyin

Department of Comparative Studies
School of Cultural and Social Studies
SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)

Key words:

Chinatown, Chinese representation, movement, business strategy, social space, Japan

Recently, the transformation of Chinatowns over the world has become a major topic in Chinese migration studies. From the 1970s on, Kobe’s Chinatown has been redeveloped into a tourist destination, characterized as a shopping district where restaurants and shops are concentrated.

This paper focuses on those restaurants and shops in Kobe’s Chinatown, attempting to clarify how they changed during the process of making originality influenced by the redevelopment of Chinatown.

This paper deals with three examples of restaurants and shops: a Hong Kong-style tea restaurant and a street food shop selling Taiwanese-style Xiaolongbao, both run by families originally from China; and a shop selling Chinese-style gifts, run by a Japanese couple. Drawing on business relationships formed decades ago, the tea restaurant recreates the popular food culture of Hong Kong, while the Xiaolongbao shop has been able to incorporate the latest mass-production technology from Taiwan by collaborating with a food factory, and develop their business through the franchise model.

Unlike those Chinese migrants, the Japanese shopkeeper in the third case study has no natural ties with Hong Kong, Taiwan or mainland China. Instead, he started importing merchandise from China through Japanese trading companies, to get order-made commodities from mainland China directly. By employing the Chinese staff, he is establishing new relationships with China which enable him to do business more smoothly in Chinatown.

This paper discusses the strategies used by those shopkeepers and employees in choosing Chinese-style goods and information in order to develop originality for their shops. Historically, the redevelopment of Kobe’s Chinatown constitutes a major change for the area, which has transformed it into a tourist shopping district. The practices of local people, including both Chinese migrants and Japanese residents, who want to make use of this change to create successful business, do all they can to draw on the area’s “Chinese feeling”. This paper examines their daily activities and concludes that the transformation of the restaurants and shops consists in the process of converting the abstract concept of “Chineseness” into concrete practices. Furthermore, this paper argues this process carried out by restaurants and shops in Chinatown constitutes a new form of Chinese representation.