The beginnings of Novi becoming known as Little Toyko date back at least 20 years to when Japanese auto executives began their relocations to metro Detroit to work in the auto capital of the world.
The hospital now known as Providence Park was and is a stop for many of those executives, whose arrival always required a company physical. As each year passed more and more patients were Japanese. Then their families came and grew, and as one family's assignment in the U.S. would end, another family would leave Japan for a new home, often in or near Novi.
By 2009 the hospital had decided to make an official Japanese Health Care program out of the many practices that had developed piece by piece over years of caring for the families. Documents translated to Japanese, translators on staff and cultural awareness training for hospital employees. In the last three years the program has expanded from general health care and treatment to one that promotes preventive health care with free health screenings and health fairs, caters to a health-minded lifestyle with green tea chats and yoga classes and provides Japanese-speaking employees, Japanese style hospital areas and meal choices from a Japanese menu.
"We discovered that in the Japanese culture, historically, the man would speak English," Dr. Andrew Vosburgh recalls of the early days of the Japanese influx. Vosburgh oversees the medical side of the program for the hospital that is part of the St. John Providence Health System.
"The wife may speak it but not as well and the children would be plus or minus in English, depending on how old they are….If everyone speaks a different language than you, it can be very intimating and confusing. Imagine delivering a baby, or having surgery where nobody can explain to you in your language what's going on."
Providence Park's Japanese Health Care program is just one aspect of the Japanese impact on Novi, where more than 16 percent of the population is Asian. Between 2005 and 2011 the city's Japanese population increased 33 percent, making it home to the largest Japanese community in Michigan.
Dozens of Japanese restaurants and grocers thrive, including U.S. chains which carry Japanese products. There's been a growth in Japanese translation and relocation services. The library, city and school district offer documents and web info in Japanese and schools provide a six-day Japanese style education.
The Japanese School of Detroit moved to Novi from Birmingham in 2011, and the Japanese Auto Parts Industries Association's North America office is in Novi.
Many of the relocated Japanese citizens work in engineering or research and development in or around Novi, Ann Arbor, Springfield Township, and other cities, Vosburgh says. Often they are here as part of an overseas assignment, which is needed to move up with their company. The companies, he says, are auto suppliers that are part of "an industry that is trying to build most of their stuff in the United States."
"Our volume is probably doubling year over year… It's quite a growth spurt," says Vosburgh. He moved to Novi to live in 2011.
"The program has actually grown into all sorts of cultural things too," Dr. Vosburgh says. "The hospital is trying to reach out to the Japanese community to give them another resource to connect to. It can be very isolating."
Darlene Ephraim, director of occupational health for St. John Providence, oversees the design of cultural components in the program. Green Tea Chats are a recent creation.
They started about a year ago as a way to help women not only understand health care systems but to meet new people, especially other women in the position of being a stranger in a strange country. They can learn where to shop, where to get the things they need and want. There are also Japanese-English classes and yoga classes.
"We've also had a lot of education with our staff so they understand the culture," Ephraim says.
Health fairs and screenings for bone density and blood pressure and targeting the concerns of Japanese patients is a recent creation, she says. The hospital also offers extra support for new-born infant care.
"They're used to having help from their mom and they don't have that here," she says. "We want to give them whatever help we can."
Kim North Shine is Metromode's Development Editor and a Grosse Pointe-based freelance writer.