Many people probably think of Los Angeles or New York when they think of a city with a large Japanese community. In fact, an October 2008 survey by the Consulate General of Japan shows that Los Angeles has about 64,734 Japanese residents while the entire state of Georgia has only 7,902.
As a Japanese citizen living in the United States, life might be more convenient for me if I lived in a city like Los Angeles where there would be more Japanese grocery stores and restaurants.
However, during the past 13 years I have lived in Atlanta, the city has experienced some very exciting changes and the trend is continuing. Japanese food and groceries have become available at more places. There are many cultural and network events such as Japanese film screenings and businesses. Atlanta definitely has a very tight and active Japanese community.
With the increasing number of companies which focus their attention on Atlanta as a hub of international business, it seems that the city also has a higher awareness and interest in international cultures. Not surprisingly, I meet more and more non-Japanese friends who enjoy dining at Japanese restaurants, attending cultural events and learning the language.
It is fun to live in a city that is moving so rapidly towards becoming global. What is more exciting is to witness the growing appreciation and understanding of my own culture in this city.
U.S.-Japanese ties in Atlanta could grow even stronger by the influence of sports entertainment. The Atlanta Braves baseball team has signed a three-year contract with its very first Japanese-born player, Kenshin Kawakami. The addition of a Japanese pitcher will probably bring a lot of attention to Atlanta from Kawakami fans in Japan as well as Japanese media. It is truly nice that we can see cultural exchange take place not only in business but in entertainment.
As Mr. Kawakami also mentioned when asked about his impressions of the city, the climate is another aspect of Atlanta that I love. With its four seasons similar to Japan, flowers bloom here that are familiar to me from back home. The cherry blossom is just one of many that comes to my mind. In spring, I enjoy watching snowflake-like pink petals float in the air at the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival, or better yet, in the front yards of many of my neighbors.
Atlanta, truly, has become my home away from home.
Ayako Ichikawa, a native of Japan and a 1999 graduate of Kennesaw State University, lives in Atlanta.
GlobalAtlanta welcomes 600-word personal essays from member of Georgia’s international community on life in the United States. E-mail submissions here.