Bangladesh has rarely been in the headlines more in Japan than in the past week or so, since nine Japanese nationals were killed in the horrific attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. Those killed from Japan were primarily associated with their government aid body, a further testament to the cruelty of the attacks.
This has had a significant impact on the relatively small community of Bangladeshis living in Japan, primarily in Tokyo. Atiqur Rahman lives in the outer suburbs of Tokyo and runs a small business. Posting in the Facebook group Bangladeshis in Japan, he wrote of the outpouring and distress felt by locals of Bangladeshi origin who were traumatised that Japanese nationals could be murdered so viciously in their ancestral land.
At an Eid prayer at a Tokyo mosque, there were posters titled “ISIS does not represent Bangladesh” and messages of apologies to the Japanese people. I was travelling through the country at the time with my family.
"It (Japan) is regarded as a more prestigious location than the Middle East due to better working conditions and higher wages"
In such an ethnically homogenous country like Japan other migrant groups are not so visible. This presents a demographic challenge for the population is aging, the birth rate is low and large scale immigration would dramatically alter the character of the nation. Many Bangladeshis have preferred to settle in Korea where rules for foreigners are not so stringent. For example, in Japan even after marrying a local Japanese woman a person has to wait over a decade to receive citizenship. The language is also very difficult and the proportion of people speaking English relatively low. It is not an easily accessible culture.
But there are still several thousand living in Tokyo, most working in low skilled jobs despite often being educated themselves. It is regarded as a more prestigious location than the Middle East due to better working conditions and higher wages.
Monjurul Huq is the Tokyo correspondent for the Bangladeshi newspaper Prothom Alo. He married a Japanese woman and has lived in Japan for over 20 years. He says Japan is critical as an aid contributor to Bangladesh but also notes the relationship has changed in recent years to one involving greater corporate investment. He notes there are over 300 Japanese companies operating out of Bangladesh now and the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a visit there last year. Mr Huq also speaks glowingly of Japan’s support for Bangladesh after the independence war as one of the first nations to recognise the country’s independence.
Japan is making attempts to open itself towards the world. Much like Germany, it is re-emerging as a major economic power after the shame of World War II defeat. As someone of Bangladeshi descent, I was particularly impressed by the fact the Japanese could hold on to traditional Asian values such as a strong respect for authority and family but still be so modern, innovative and, most of all, punctual and efficient. This is not the most common combination when travelling through Asia.
Another interesting fact I learned about Bangladeshis and Japan is that one of the most prominent models in the country, Rola, has Bangladeshi heritage. You can see her face on billboards everywhere and she has unusually large brown eyes for a Japanese model. I looked her up wondering what her background was and voila, her father was from Bangladesh. It is unlikely she identifies much with Bangladesh, but her clues to her ancestry are unmistakable.