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Japan for life: Chinese man forms unbreakable bond with adopted country

Yile Kohashi, center, enjoys badminton with friends in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on March 2, 2017. (Mainichi)

On a badminton court at a sports center in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, spoken Chinese rings out: "Zui hou yi ju jue sheng fu" (Let's have one more game to decide the winner). Of some 50 people on the 10 courts, around 15 of them are Chinese. They connect through the free communication app WeChat. Among them is 29-year-old Yile Kohashi, an employee of a major Japanese lens manufacturer.

Kohashi was born in Shanghai in 1988. When he was 1 year old, his parents came to Japan as students, and he was raised by his grandparents on his mother's side. In 1995 his father returned home alone. Then suddenly in 2002, his mother came to collect him, telling him, "We're going to Japan." On his way over, she broke the news to him: "Your father and I divorced and I married a Japanese man." He was shocked, thinking, "Why am I going to Japan?"

Though he was unable to speak any Japanese, he entered a junior high school in Shinjuku Ward. After merely sitting through classes, he attended a local international exchange association where he learned Japanese. At his junior high school he was teased by Japanese students and one time was poked in the back with an umbrella. When he resisted, he was slapped by a teacher who didn't know the full story, leaving him with a bleeding nose.

While enduring such hardship, he was accepted into a private high school in Tokyo. When he had first come to Japan he was allowed to stay in the country because his family was there. In high school, he became a permanent resident. He served as a member of his school's student council, and even entered a United Nations debate contest. But remaining in his mind was the desire to return to China.

A turning point came after Kohashi entered a private university and started a part-time job at a major home appliance store. His boss and a manufacturing representative had a soft spot for him, and they taught him buying, retailing and sales techniques. He sometimes drank with them until the morning.

"For the time being, I'll work in Japan," he thought. After joining a major electronics firm, he started a job at Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. and then moved to his current job with a major Japanese lens manufacturer. He has about the same number of Chinese and Japanese friends. But the WeChat app links him with several hundred Chinese people in the Tokyo metropolitan area. He joined five badminton-related groups through the app and gets in touch with members about practice locations and time. Linking up has enabled him to make more acquaintances outside the sphere of badminton.

The year before last, Kohashi got married. His 28-year-old wife, who works for a major map company, was born in Shanghai, like him, and came to Japan as a student. Since his wife's parents live in China, she hopes to return eventually.

Kohashi says, "I don't feel that I'm a Japanese person, but my awareness as a Chinese person has gradually weakened. Even if I take up a post somewhere in China for a few years, I still want to come back to Japan." He describes himself as a "Chinese person who wants to live in Japan for good."

(This is part two of a three-part series)

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