National | AT A GLANCE

Little Myanmar thrives in Tokyo as more residents arrive

by Yoshiaki Miura

Staff Photographer

In the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s Takadanobaba district there exists what might be termed Little Yangon, with a number of restaurants and shops catering to the growing community of residents from Myanmar.

Although not as big or as well-known as Chinatown in Yokohama and Koreatown in Shin-Okubo, Little Yangon is becoming recognized thanks in part to increased coverage of Myanmar-related news around that nation’s recent, historic general election.

On the north side of JR Takadanobaba Station, scattered among the eateries, bars and entertainment venues are shops and restaurants with signs written in the script used in Myanmar.

One outlet is Bagan Myanmar Store, located on the eighth floor of Tak 11 building, a three-minute walk from the station.

“Please come in,” a shopkeeper says in Japanese. Inside the narrow, dimly lit store, a range of food items are for sale.

Shinjuku Ward resident registration figures show that 1,663 people from Myanmar lived in the ward as of Nov. 1, up from 1,042 three years ago.

These residents are the store’s regular customers, seeking out tastes from back home. The most popular item is a packet of dried shrimp, beans and tea leaves — ingredients for salads. It sells for ¥350.

Along the crowded Sakae-dori street, the Swe Myanmar restaurant stands out, with a young Japanese man selling ethnic bento boxed lunches outside.

“This place is the best around here,” said Tomoaki Inui, a student helping out at the restaurant.

Inside, a painting and a calendar showing pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi hang on the wall, making the restaurant’s national origins unmistakable.

The most popular dish is dan pouk, a type of chicken rice, according to Than Than Kyaing, who runs the restaurant with her husband.

Stewed chicken on steamed rice is not hot to taste. It is a typical home cuisine beloved of people from Myanmar, Kyaing said. She smiled gently as she spoke, using fluent Japanese.

“The Japanese people are very kind, and streets are clean,” she said of her first impression of Japan when she came 25 years ago.

She said the differences between Japan and Myanmar include the lack of a health insurance system in Myanmar, so it is hard for poor people when they get sick.

“I want to go back to Myanmar some day, but I want my son to stay in Japan and work,” she said, referring to 11-year-old Thet Lin Swe.

“And I want to come and go freely between Myanmar and Japan,” she said, adding that the meaning of the restaurant’s name, Swe, is “friends.”

This section, appearing in the first week of each month, offers a snapshot of areas that may interest tourists.

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