City sees big increase in Sri Lankan residents
Posted on September 22nd, 2018

The Yomiuri Shimbun Courtesy The Japan News

Umesh Rajapaksha, left, and other Sri Lankans serve homemade curry at an event at Bannaji temple in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, on July 15.

The Yomiuri ShimbunASHIKAGA, Tochigi — The number of Sri Lankan residents of Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, has increased rapidly recently, surpassing the Chinese as the largest contingent of foreign residents in the city.

As of August, there were 704 Sri Lankans living in Ashikaga, many of whom moved there because someone from their hometown who had previously emigrated told them it was a great place to live.

Opportunities for exchanges between this little Sri Lanka” community and the city’s Japanese residents have begun to expand.

I want the people of Ashikaga to understand what’s good about Sri Lanka,” said Umesh Rajapaksha, 35, a Sri Lankan resident of the city’s Aioicho district, at an event where people could sample traditional dishes from his hometown.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Rajapaksha and about 10 friends and others from the same town in Sri Lanka who live in Ashikaga organized the event, which was held July 15 at Bannaji, a temple in the city’s Ietomicho district, which is famous for its connection to the Ashikaga clan.

The day before the event, they cooked enough curry, pol sambola — a Sri Lankan topping for rice — and other dishes to feed about 100 people.

Building trusting relationships

Rajapaksha came to Japan in 2009 and currently works for a textile company in the city.

I want to create more opportunities for the people who were born in and grew up in Ashikaga to interact with us Sri Lankans,” he said.

In the past, it was not uncommon to encounter Sri Lankan students in Ashikaga, but the community began to grow quickly around spring last year.

Sri Lankans used to number in the 400s, but in November their number surpassed the city’s 652 Chinese residents, which until then had been the largest foreign population.

This year, the number of Sri Lankan residents passed 700, putting it close to other cities with a significant Sri Lankan community — Yokohama had 798 Sri Lankan residents as of July and Nagoya had 832 as of December last year.

According to an official at the city government’s resident section, the growth of the Sri Lankan population came about because people who came to live in Ashikaga first were able to support those who came later in their daily lives and other aspects, which created a strong community in the city.”

Japanese language schools, a nearby industrial park and the ease of finding work are other factors that have encouraged the phenomenon.

Another reason is the charm of Ashikaga, which is sometimes called the Kyoto of the east.”

The city’s 123 temples are also a welcome sight for the many Sri Lankans who are Buddhist. The city also has a mosque, which is important for Muslims who do not want to miss their daily prayers.

I’m happy that Sri Lankans have come to like Ashikaga,” said Hiroaki Toneki, 30, a company employee from the city’s Kakabocho district who took part in the July event.

We want to hold more events and build trusting relationships with the people of Ashikaga,” Rajapaksha said.

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