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Multicultural Materialities in Japan as a Lens onto Chinese Migrant Belonging

Tue, June 23, 9:00 to 10:55am, South Building, Floor: 9th Floor, S904


Chinese migrants have grown to become the largest group of non-Japanese nationals in Japan, with a variety of practices, identities, and life-paths. These ‘New Overseas Chinese’ (xin huaqiao/shin kakkyo), despite being one of the newest and fastest growing minorities, tend to remain in Japan establishing new lifestyles and forms of belonging whose impacts are only just starting to be realised in Japan today. Extant literature on multiculturalism and migration in Japan has emphasised the practices and identities of minority groups and the ways in which these activities form local communities and influence migrant subjectivity. Much of this research is based on predominantly linguistic analyses, relying on textual, interview based or narrative descriptions stemming from participant observation. This paper discusses how visual methodologies, coupled with existing practices, allow us to look beyond the linguistic terrain of belonging and multiculturalism, to explore a wider phenomenology of migrant living in Japan. Documented both visually and through interviews, I demonstrate how Chinese migrant belonging and identity is made tangible through a wide variety of objects, consumables and media. These materialities allow Chinese migrants to recreate feelings of home within their lives, while also negotiating the hybrid nature of the migrant condition in Japan. At the same time, they create potential sites of communication that move beyond debates surrounding language, community and identity. Such an approach allows us to emphasise the actual existing nature of multiculturalism in Japan, where new meanings inevitably emerge from migrants’ materially constituted everyday lives.