Enjoying your midday walk? You might want to stop by Le Thanh Ton Street. Located in central HCMC, the 15B Le Thanh Ton Japanese residential, though small, knows just how to make itself stand out. Big welcome gates, straps of colorful lanterns overhanging the lanes, trademark Japanese-style signs – a recipe to turn any mundane neighborhood into an intoxicating one, and the Japanese folks here did perfectly to make their everyday surrounding a place for recreation, with over 20 food shops and restaurants offering not only delightful Japanese cuisine – genuine ramen and sushi to name a few – but also various Japanese comics and souvenirs spreading across the area.
The history of the formation of this so-called ‘Little Japan’ neighborhood is somewhat vague, which serves to give it even more charisma. According to a Vietnamese resident I had a chance to talk with, the Japanese came here Many years ago and just “blended in”. He also suggested that the Japanese came here looking for a place with affordable house rents and to settle down for work. As more and more Japanese people came, their business started to grow significantly and they realized the Vietnamese’s appetite for exotic dishes from their homeland, along with various other services. As of now, there are well over 300 Japanese households in the area.
Getting in touch with the Japanese here is not easy; however, as they are often busy and/or reserved. “They are always either at work or inside their houses”, said another Vietnamese who lives there, “but they do help decorate the streets and lanes with colorful lanterns and sometimes have small talks with people around, you know, to fit in”. And sure enough what he said was true, unless you venture into one of the various stores here, it is very unlikely that you are going to bump into anyone from Japan.
Be that as it may, the neighborhood still has a lot to offer, and if you’re into Japan and its various mangas and animes, or simply want to get to know another fascinating part of the city, pay a visit – the gates are always open.
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Photo Album Flickr
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Words and photos by Duy Nguyen