Latin-Japanese Workers Feel Cool Welcome Facing a Shortage of Unskilled Laborers, Japan Sent out Calls for Foreign Migrant Workers, Particularly Those with Japanese Ancestry, but Many Who Responded Face Discrimination

By Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 27, 1992 | Go to article overview

Latin-Japanese Workers Feel Cool Welcome Facing a Shortage of Unskilled Laborers, Japan Sent out Calls for Foreign Migrant Workers, Particularly Those with Japanese Ancestry, but Many Who Responded Face Discrimination


Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


BORN to Japanese immigrants in Brazil, Kazuhiro Otsubo never thought he would suffer discrimination in Japan.

After all, the second-generation Japanese-Brazilian says, he was welcomed to Japan under a new race-based immigration policy that grants a visa to any foreigner with at least one Japanese parent or grandparent.

The special visas, first available in 1990, have made him one of more than 150,000 Japanese-Brazilians who have migrated to the homeland of their ancestors, earning wages 10 times those in inflation-wracked Brazil. Thousands of Japanese-Peruvians, too, have migrated to Japan, favored solely because they have the right blood lines.

For foreigners without Japanese ancestry, especially Asians, the door to Japan remains largely shut.

While a racist immigration policy did work in his favor, Mr. Otsubo, whose father left Japan for Brazil after World War II, finds that just looking like a Japanese is not enough to be treated like one in a factory or in daily life.

"Before I came, I heard that the Japanese people were very kind," says the Japanese-Brazilian, who welds pipes for an auto-parts factory in the city of Oizumi. "But it's not true. I may look Japanese, but I am always asked why I speak and act differently. The kindness disappears the second that I open my mouth."

Other Japanese-Brazilians, many of whom say they enjoy life in Japan while earning big money, report an unexpected prejudice.

"Yes, there's a lot of discrimination," says Katsumi Yonezawa, who heads a group of about 70 small firms that directly recruits Japanese-Brazilian workers from Sao Paulo to Oizumi. "But how can we stop it? It's difficult."

In some factory lunchrooms, Japanese-Brazilians are segregated from Japa-nese workers, and sometimes not given the best food. They are more often asked to work overtime than Japanese workers, to take the dirtiest or most dangerous tasks, and they are laid off first.

Mr. Yonezawa's group, which is mainly affiliated with Subaru auto-making, has hired a second-generation Japanese-Brazilian woman to deal with complaints. His organization is the exception in Japan because it directly recruits from Sao Paulo, bypassing brokers, and provides special benefits to workers from Latin America. And the city of Oizumi, which is estimated to have the highest percentage of foreign workers in Japan, offers such services as Portuguese in classrooms.

At the same time, Yonezawa says, "Company loyalty is small among Japanese-Brazilians." One in 5 break their contracts, usually to find better jobs elsewhere.

The Japanese government, too, recently set up a complaint office for Latin-Japanese workers and holds special courses for employers in how to avoid discrimination in managing such employees.

The worst offenders are Japanese brokers, often associated with gangster organizations, who recruit both Japanese-Brazilians and Japanese-Peruvians and "sell" them to small Japanese companies in need of part-time workers.

The brokers extract a heavy percentage of the wages paid to each worker they recruit, and often keep a worker's passport until transportation costs and finders fees are paid back.

"There are few honest brokers," Yonezawa says. Paying off the broker

Carlos Hirano, a second-generation Japanese from Sao Paulo who speaks little Japanese, could only find a job through a broker. Under a deal with between his broker and his employer, he earns $11 an hour while an additional $4 an hour of his earnings is paid out to the broker. He works 13-hour days, six days a week, and receives no bonus, pension, or housing subsidy as Japanese workers do.

Like many Japanese-Brazilians in Japan, Mr. Hirano is a professional, a lawyer, reduced to manual work in Japan for lack of opportunities in Brazil. It is common to find doctors, lawyers, and dentists from Brazil working as factory hands, golf caddies, maids, or ditch-diggers in Japan. …

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