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New city councilor 'Yogi-san' works to better integrate Indian compatriots in Tokyo

Puranik Yogendra is seen taking general questions at the Edogawa City Council in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward on June 20, 2019. (Mainichi/Taro Fujii)

TOKYO -- Puranik Yogendra, 42, commonly known as "Yogi-san," was elected in April's local assembly election, in which 44 seats were contested, under the banner of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan for the Edogawa City Council.

Yogendra was elected after receiving the fifth highest vote share at 6,477, in Edogawa Ward, which is home to over 10% of Indians residing in Japan -- some 4,600 people. He and his mother have managed an Indian restaurant in the area since 2013.

At the first regular meeting of the Edogawa City Council on June 20, Yogendra debuted cutting a calm and composed figure as he answered questions on his plans for a cultural exchange festival, as well as what measures he intends to take to cultivate a feeling of internationalism.

Hailing from Mumbai in the western part of India, he majored in physics at university whilst taking up Japanese with his father's encouragement. He first came to Japan in 1997 as a student.

He has worked in IT companies and banks in Japan, and in 2012 he obtained Japanese citizenship. The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 spurred him to become Japanese -- after the disaster he went to affected areas to make curry for people there.

Many of his compatriots left to return to India after the quake, but he realized then that he didn't feel the same way. He came to think that his place was here, and decided he would live out the rest of his life in this country.

He set his sights on politics some years ago, when Edogawa Ward came up with initiatives to revitalize the area by bringing together Indian curry restaurants and temples there. Yogendra resolved to run for office because he felt that this framework would actually cut off Indian people from Japanese society, and that he wanted regional development to reflect the voices of Indian people living in Japan.

He first started doing voluntary work over 10 years ago, by running a computer class for elderly people. Working at a self-governing body, he also took part in conveying to his compatriots rules in Japanese society, such as ways to dispose of trash.

In his new role, he continues to work as a bridge between the two nations. "The ward should create a place where foreigners and Japanese people can mutually recognize and understand the differences between their cultures," he said.

(Japanese original by Shohei Kawamura, Tokyo Bureau)

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