“Unseeing” Chinese Students in Japan: Understanding Educationally Channelled Migrant Experiences

Jamie Coates


Chinese migrants are currently the largest group of non-Japanese nationals living in Japan. This growth is largely the result of educational migration, positioning many Chinese in Japan as student-migrants. Based on 20 months’ ethnographic fieldwork in Ikebukuro, Tokyo’s unofficial Chinatown, this paper explores the ways in which the phenomenology of the city informs the desire for integration amongst young Chinese living in Japan. Discussions of migrant integration and representation often argue for greater recognition of marginalised groups. However, recognition can also intensify vulnerability for the marginalised. Chinese student-migrants’ relationship to Ikebukuro’s streets shows how young mobile Chinese in Tokyo come to learn to want to be “unseen.” Largely a response to the visual dynamics of the city, constituted by economic inequality, spectacle, and surveillance, the experiences of young Chinese students complicate the ways we understand migrants’ desires for recognition and integration.

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