Book Review

                  YAMASHITA, Kiyomi :

Chainataun: Sekai ni Hirogaru Kajin Nettowaku

 (Chinatowns: A Global Network of Ethnic Chinese).

Tokyo: Maruzen. 208p. 2000  (ISBN 4-621-06086-4)  Price: Japanese Yen 2,300


By  Prof. Noritaka YAGASAKI, Tokyo Gakugei University

  Major cities of the world have Chinatowns, and many of us enjoy visiting Chinatowns for Chinese food, Oriental novelties and the exotic atmosphere. Many guidebooks have been written on Chinatowns and Chinese food, but I do not recall any books that professional geographers examine Chinatowns around the world.  Characteristics of Chinatowns and the conditions of ethnic Chinese differ from one country to another, while Chinatowns the world over possess common features.  Professor Yamashita attempts to depict Chinatowns within the context of local host societies as well as to show how to look at the globalization process geographically by comparing and contrasting ethnic Chinese communities. 

  It appears that Yamashita is successful in his ambitious attempt.  It is due mainly to the fact that Chinatowns is based on Yamashitafs longtime involvement in the geographic research on Chinatowns and ethnic Chinese in various countries.  In the past quarter of a century, Yamashita has conducted geographic fieldwork, taking advantage of his Asian appearance and his good command of the Chinese language, and published extensively on Chinatowns in Southeast Asia, Japan, and North America.

  Chinatowns consists of seven chapters plus a prologue and epilogue.  In the prologue, Yamashita emphasizes the importance of geographic methods for looking at ethnic Chinese and Chinatowns.  Such ethnic towns are the products of overseas Chinese and their host society, thus reflecting social, economic, cultural and natural conditions of the country.  Consequently, overseas Chinese communities may be understood by examining Chinatowns.  At the same time, Chinatowns around the world have many characteristics in common as overseas Chinese are linked with each other by way of their culture and network.

  Chapter 1 gives a definition of Chinatown and ethnic Chinese, explains some basic ideas about overseas Chinese economies, and points out the growing importance of ethnic Chinese and Chinatowns in the context of global migration and capital flows since the 1970s.  In Chapter 2, starting with the gshop-househ in Southeast Asia, Yamashita explains landscape features of Chinatowns.  Canopies called gfive-foot-wayh on the façade of buildings, Chinese temples, and tower gates are unique to Chinatowns.  Chinese food is briefly surveyed with special reference to regional food cultures.  Readers of Chinatowns are instructed what to see and how to observe in such an ethnic quarter.

  Social structure within Chinatown and the ties of ethnic Chinese with their homeland are the topics of Chapter 3.  Kinship and regional networks are important, and mutual aid on the basis of kinship-regional organizations is maintained in every segment of Chinese life.  Chinatowns and Chinese homeland are linked closely with each other, and people and capital move between them.  Yamashita was often mistaken as an ethnic Chinese who visited his homeland while conducting his studies in China.

  Chapter 4 on Chinatowns in Japan may be of great interest for those living outside Japan.  Japan has three major Chinatowns in Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.  The past and the present of these Chinatowns are briefly summarized.  Without an influx of immigrants, Japanese Chinatowns are tourist spots rather than ethnic quarters to provide new immigrants with food and shelter.  Readers come to realize that Chinatowns need to be understood within the Japanese context.

  These Japanese Chinatowns differ substantially from those in other parts of the world.  The following chapters examine Chinatowns in Southeast Asia (Chapter 5), in the United States and Canada, particularly in San Francisco, New York, Honolulu, Vancouver, and Toronto (Chapter 6), and in Europe (Chapter 7).  Chinatowns in Australia are briefly mentioned in the epilogue.  With a growing number of Chinese immigrants since the 1970s, new Chinatowns have expanded in the suburbs in addition to the old Chinatowns close to the city centers.  Yamashita depicts such a dynamic change taking place in the suburban communities.

  This book is written for the general public in plain language but with a scholarly background.  Many maps and figures in this volume are Yamashitafs originals, and his photographs help to visualize the landscape of Chinatowns.  Many people appear to have stereotypes of Chinatowns as characterized by Chinese gangs, crimes, and drugs, partly due to the influence of American movies.  Yamashitafs Chinatowns revises such an old image of Chinatown, provides an accurate picture, and helps us comprehend the ethnic quarter in a global context.

  Finally, Yamashitafs Chinatowns appears to show a new style of publishing.  Readers may find more photographs and information on Chinatowns by reaching  Information is also available on line at