This is not intended to be racial..but has a racial component to it. [Asian-owned chair massage]

I travel for work quite a bit and will occasionally get a chair massage at the local malls. My question i:

Why are the majority of these owned and operated by orientals? I’m guessing most are Koreans?

Title edited to indicate subject. Please use descriptive thread titles.

[Moderator Note]

The term “Asian” is presently preferred to “oriental” with respect to people from Asia. Let’s not derail this thread from the outset by discussion of this usage. If you want to comment on these terms, open another thread.

General Questions Moderator

I have tried those chair massages at a couple of different malls, and I was never very impressed. The masseurs I had didn’t seem particular trained in any of the better-recognized massage techniques (Swedish, acupressure, etc.), they just pounded, squeezed and thumped for the allotted amount of time.

As for the racial component, I don’t have any solid information, only guesses, and it’s rather soon in the thread for that. I have noticed that most of these places also have foot reflexology massage, which seems also to be practiced almost exclusively by Asians. Perhaps the foot massage came first and they expanded to get more customers.

My WAG: When immigrants arrived from Asia, they needed to quickly establish some sort of income that didn’t have much local competition in the area. For some reason, that happened to be dry cleaners, massage places, restaurants, nail salons, etc. And it didn’t take long for them to get entrenched in that industry. If it’s a family business, the son may then take over for the father, and as new immigrants or friends/family arrive “off the boat,” they too need jobs, and they would naturally go to existing Asian-Americans for employment first. Before long, the cycle becomes circular. Asians start working in nail salons and dry cleaners and massage parlors because…Asians work in nail salons and dry cleaners and massage parlors.

Sometimes it’s just luck and then continuing to do something the same way for no particular reason. Look at the following story about why so many nail salons (particularly in southern California) are run by Vietnamese-Americans. This wouldn’t have happened except for one chance event:

Velocity hit it on the head. Specialized businesses that either no one really bothered with or didn’t want to do. In Hawaii we have The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center which is an open air market with multiple kiosk concessions. Growing up in the 60’s the concessions were primarily run by Chinese and Japanese, some of whom were clearly the owners and their family members. Another clue was the type of goods they sold and their country of origin. Later, the majority of kiosks were manned by Korean, then Filipino owners and goods. The last time I visited over 10 years ago, many were owned/manned by Vietnamese. This follows the order of mass immigration to the islands.

The same pattern holds true for less desirable, lower status jobs. As each new group of immigrants come to Hawaii, they typically get tasked with the more menial jobs and work their way up the social ladder as new immigrants arrive. Also, often it’s not that they’re unqualified for higher position employment, but their education and experience from their country may not be accepted as equal to the U.S. standards. I’ve meet a number of Filipinas who were nurses or RNs in the Philippines, but are working as nurse’s aides because their level of education and experience doesn’t equal the U.S. standards.

As new immigrant groups arrive, it will usually take a while to establish credit and take out a business loan. My parents (who were brought in plantation days Hawaii) said that they would make their own loan system. Everyone in the camp (usually of the same nationality) would pool their money and ‘bid’ by stating what they needed the money for. The winning bidder would take the money, return it to the pool with a set amount of interest and go to the bottom of the bid pool until everyone has had a chance to benefit from the money pool.

Now, if someone starts a successful business, the next person who wants to open up the same or similar business will likely win the next bid. Rinse and repeat and you have multiple ‘clones’ of the first successful business.

I quite agree with this. But one item you didn’t mention: this chair massage business is one that* takes very little capital to get started*. When you are a new immigrant, you aren’t likely to have much to invest in buying a business, so tones like this are very attractive.

Cost of equipment and worker overhead may be relatively small, but rent (square footage + a percentage of gross) at a mall is extremely high compared to outside the mall locations. Still, it must be a profitable business for it to be a common site at the mall.

FYI, about 20 years ago, a cell phone store I worked for was looking at setting up a kiosk at a local mail. Rent for a 4x6 kiosk was $10,000/month + a percentage of the gross (I think it was 6 or 8%). I also knew the owner of a longtime tenant of the mall who said that his rental cost was over $1 mil. a year. He and many other long time tenants left after the mall was brought out and the new owner raised the rent even more! He said the store wasn’t profitable, but his online business was and the store was marketing to boost his online business.

Often times these Asian owned businesses only last a generation before they are sold off.

A fellow landscape company owner here in southern California is Korean. Out of his three kids, two became doctors and one is a lawyer. The children wouldn’t know the first thing about planting a tree and that is just fine with him. He just sold the business to a guy from Mexico.

My sister in law works as a seamstress for a couple from Taipei. They bought the Tailor Shop years ago and much of the money they make goes to pay the tuition for the medical school that their daughter attends. I doubt she knows anything about sewing.

This is the likely scenario at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center I mentioned in an earlier post. Every generation wants their offspring to have a better (less work, less stress) than they had, even if it may not be as profitable. A number of successful businesses here, started by the first generation to immigrate to Hawaii, then passed on to the second or third generation, are closing because the current generation doesn’t want to carry on the business. What grew out of the necessity of struggles and hard work, is being abandoned by the younger generation who fully understand and/or appreciate what allowed them to make the choice of continuing the business or not.

Edit, should be:

“Every generation wants their offspring to have better (less work, stressful) life life than they had, even if it may not be as profitable.”


“…younger generation who don’t understand and/or appreciate what allowed them to make the choice of continuing the business or not”

You’re not going to find any Japanese gardeners anymore, but it used to be a common stereotype back in the 50s and 60s. But by the 80s the only Japanese gardeners left were elderly, like Mr Miyagi. All their kids went into professional jobs.

Same goes for Chinese laundries. There used to be one in every neighborhood but they are a thing of the past now. Couple more generations and you won’t see Vietmanese nail salons or Korean dry cleaners either. For some people the American dream is a reality. More power to them.