Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Iyad Mansour (Palestine)
Managing chef of a Palestinian restautant
(He’s been in Japan since 1997)
Nishi-kawaguchi – It is located near the river which forms a boundary between Tokyo and outskirts. We introduce you to Iyad Mansour, who’s been running his own Palestinian restaurant in that town.
He is a “man in a million” guy. His heart is direct and pure so he hates anything crooked. But he is not only stubborn but also mischievous. He holds belly dance shows on Fridays and Saturdays at his restaurant. He starts dancing with dancers when he gets excited! We truly think that we want to be a man like him.
This pure-hearted man came to the town eight years ago, which used to be nationally-known for its sex district. At that time, many yakuzas (Japanese Mafias) were hanging around there. There were many unreasonable things for him but he’s never left the town because he really loved life there.
This is the story of a Palestinian man’s struggle in a Japanese entertainment town.
“I’ll never leave here.”
I moved my shop four times. My first one was a kitchen-on-wheels, the second one was a tiny stall, the third one was a small restaurant (33 square meters) and the fourth one is this restaurant (82.5 square meters). If you want to do a job you love, and yet if you want to start your own business, you have to do things one step at a time.
When I started my business by putting a kitchen-on-wheels in front of the railway station, police officers came to me everyday and asked me to go home. But I answered, “I’ll never leave here.” That offense and defense between us continued for a year and they wore down. I thought that I should open a restaurant after building up a good regular clientele at a small stall.
I actually own my own restaurant. But I think I am not at a starting point for my dream yet. People admire me and I say “Thank you” to them. But I secretly think that I have to go a long way before reaching my goal.
I won’t tell you about my dream now because if you tell someone else about your dream, a dream turns into a “promise”. It may be that you won’t realize it in your lifetime. I think that’s what I call “dream”. And I can’t predict my fate tomorrow.
In front of the Nishi-kawaguchi railway station
Double in brass.
Before starting my business, I was working for a company which deals with turning machines. That company made various things from iron, aluminum and brass. Also I was working at many kinds of restaurants such as Italian, French and Hawaiian after work. I did that everyday and continued it for five years. All of them were run by the same company and I worked at 32 restaurants in total. Even after starting my small stall, I kept gaining experiences at other restaurants.
Those experiences were really useful for me. I completed the work that had to be done and then I cooked dishes which I wanted to put on their menus. That was what I wanted to achieve at each restaurant.
Also I made good friends with cooks who came to Japan from many countries. I learned from them a lot. I loved cooking so I wanted to cook various dishes. That’s why I worked at restaurants, aside from whether even though I wasn’t sure yet if I was going to open my shop or not. Actually I was going to open a Palestinian restaurant. But I wanted to learn how to cook other countries’ recipes first.
Threatened with a knife.
The reason I started my business here in Nishi-kawaguchi is very simple. The rent fee is cheap in this area. A real estate agent recommended it to me.
This area has changed a lot since I came here eight years ago. The crime rate has decreased. But I think there are still many things that the police have to work on.
Actually the sex trade shops on the main streets were cleared out. But those kind of shops are still open on off-streets. However 95% of yakuzas who were taking control of the entertainment business here have gone. That’s a big improvement.
When I came here, I couldn’t walk on the streets without trouble. At that time, I had a fight with yakuzas every single day. They pressed me to hand over money or drunken ones swung at me.
I have had a brush with death some times. I was threatened with a kitchen knife at least three times. I couldn’t believe that I was in Japan, which is said to be a peaceful country.
The moment I got off at the Nishi-kawaguchi station, I got culture shock. Women were selling their bodies, yakuzas were milling about and police officers were chasing them. I don’t drink, I don’t have a nightlife at all so I’ve never been to a place like here. I’ve never seen that kind of sight.
I came from Palestine, where wars occur daily. So I was not scared by those events. But I’ve never faced them when I was at a office or I commuted to work. I felt that there was a frightening town in Japan. That was a big culture shock for me.
Small back streets of Nishi-kawaguchi
I had to scare yakuza to survive here.
I made friends with some local yakuzas. But the problem was the existence of yakuzas who came from other areas. Nishi-kawaguchi was nationally-known among them for a night town so they came here from all over Japan. They were notorious for being scary so I thought that I would have to be stronger than them.
They asked me to give them protection racket. But I didn’t feel a need to pay money to them. I thought I would have to pay back a hundred fold to them if I got hurt. If they asked me to give money, I answered, “Why I have to pay you? You pay me!” If I hesitated to say that, it would be very difficult for me to survive here. So now I have to scare even yakuza in this town, I think.
I can’t let unreasonable things go. If someone – not only a yakuza- gets drunk and give troubles to other customers, I refuse his/her re-entry to my restaurant. I’ve refused re-entry to yakuzas, regular people and even police officers so far. No matter how much they spend here, it doesn’t matter to me.
I want to clean this town. That is my mission.
Now I think this town is huge in terms of my life. If I didn’t come here, I wouldn’t learn that there are many kinds of Japanese or there are unsafe places even in Japan.
Nishi-kawaguchi has been said to be a rough town. But there are shops which have been running for 30 or 40 years here. Every town has good points and bad points. Then we see the positive side.
I really love this town. When I think about ways to make Nishi-kawaguchi more environmentally friendly, I feel happy. Making other people happy is one of my goals in life.
In September, 2009, college students, community residents, local companies and the city office starts working on cleaning this town collectively (*This interview was in August). And their prep rally will be held at my restaurant.
I was asked how we should change Nishi-kawaguchi, the town of yakuza and sex business. Something like Disney Land? But it is already here in Japan.
How about building a shopping mall? They have been built all over Japan. So what should we do?
I love my country and I am willing to risk my life for it. And I love Japan as much as Palestine. So to tell Japanese people about Palestine is my goal of living as well as cleaning this town.
Then I came up with a good idea. How about building a museum here? It is a museum for introducing cultures from the globe. We show clothes, food, language… any kind of thing that we don’t see in Japan. And a starter is the exhibition of Palestinian culture.
If we do that, people will think that they can learn about cultures from all over the world if they come here. Many people who are interested in those things will come and this town would be cleaned with time. I’m going to make that kind of proposal.
There are many ethnic food shops.
I want to make my neighbors happy.
I’ve worked hard in Japan. I’ve learned a lot here. I could support my families back home from here. My life really started here. I really appreciate it. So I never forgive people in other countries who speak bad of Japan.
I’m not a person who came here to make money. If I was not here, I might be dead or be serving prison time. So I think I have to do something for Japanese people as a Palestinian, as a human being.
My presence will be left in people’s memories. It is not exaggeration to say that because I’ve interacted with neighbors a lot. I’ve convinced prostitutes to leave the sex business. I’ve backed up their marriages. I want to make people whom I met happy as much as possible in everyday life. And if Nishi-kawaguchi became a town like what I want it to be, I would leave here. Then I would move to another unsafe town.
What is Japan to you?
That’s a difficult question for me because I’ve been in Japan for a long time and I think my heart is not different from the mind of Japanese. So Japan is not a special country for me.
If I dare to answer that, I would say, “Japan is a land on the globe”.