Still Waters

Posted Jul 9 2007

During a recent group trip to Ogaki, Japan I wandered off on my own one evening and struck up a conversation with a woman at a local café, which turned into a full-blown interview. I learned quite a bit and while these are obviously her opinions, through conversations with others and follow-up research, a lot of what she said was confirmed. This young woman was familiar with my program through her colleagues and while she gave me permission to use her name, I decided not to, with her permission. She works for the Gifu prefecture government and once you read her comments, it’ll make sense. She wasn’t one to bite her tongue and I didn’t want to get her in hot water. I pulled out the main points as we discussed topics ranging from Brazilians in Japan to social disparity. I also had my students read this interview so I’ll post their responses as they come in.

I’m glad this program has helped you. I’m a public servant so I myself want to work with all people who want to learn about cultures from all corners of the world. I’m not sure if you all saw what you wanted to see, but I hope that the hospitality and feelings were understood.

Just for some context, what are some of the main differences between Tokyo and Ogaki?

I’m originally from Ogaki and live here now, but I lived in Tokyo for ten years. Ogaki is easier to live in if you have family. It’s much safer and people are more open and don’t hesitate to talk to strangers in the street. If you’re standing on a corner with a map, people will offer to help you. Merits of the local community can also be a detriment. Everyone knows each other. Of course, there’s a loss of some privacy, but neighbors won’t hesitate to help out. I feel safer. The workplace is less competitive out here.

On immigration

Can you give me some background on the large number of Brazilians in the area?

Many Brazilians work on the line with textiles, cell phones, semi conductors companies. They’re what Americans call blue-collar workers. They come because the Japanese currency is stronger. They are willing to work at lower wages than Japanese and Japanese college graduates don’t want to work on line. The governments of Japan and Brazil have agreements which have made it easier to immigrate. I personally feel that companies need to be more responsible to Brazilians They should have orientations to local culture. They are often fired without warning. They have to find other jobs, which isn’t easy.

For the past ten years or so the Brazilian population has been pretty stable at around 4,000. Most are
Nikkei (Japanese emigrants or their descendents) or are married to nikkei. They are more likely to stay because of relatives and they have a network in place. In terms of other Brazilians, the young ones who aren’t married tend to leave after a few years. They can make lots of money, but they seem to spend a lot of it here in Japan. They usually get bored.

They also spread out and don’t tend to congregate and create a "Brazilian town." I don’t know why. I need more observation. Maybe they just want their privacy. I don’t know. They are starting to make more of a community though, starting businesses such as the Landy Shop, which sells Brazilian goods, and restaurants. Maybe it will happen in 10 years or so.

Are there any cultural events?

They love dancing and festivals. Some who seem to be more active come to city hall and say they want to participate in the summer festival. At this festival many locals dance in a big circle and the Brazilians began to join in and set up food wagons. Not only do they participate in Japanese dances, but they also samba. We’ve gotten accustomed to it and many young people join in. Also, Ogaki City’s
International Association started Japanese language classes for non-Japanese, mostly Brazilian.

The city provides rooms and waives the parking fee for the teachers, who are volunteers. The Japanese register themselves as teachers and the Brazilians register themselves as students. The goal is to make Ogaki more international. Brazilians are not strangers anymore. We’ve known each other for generations.

We have to help them march into the community. As one typical example, we have to show them basic rules like sorting garbage—burnables, nonburnables, recyclables, etc. We can’t just walk by and say "hi." We need to help them participate in the community. More are starting families and sending their kids to schools. Of course it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach and raise their kids, but we feel like it’s our responsibility to assist the families.

That’s very different from the U.S., where a lot of Americans don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to help out immigrants as it was their choice to move to the U.S. so they should have to adapt. In the U.S. people expect you to speak English, yet in most other countries people apologize for not speaking better English, even though we’re the visitors. Of course, the U.S. has a lot more immigrants so there’s a different pressure.

Yes, I understand. Assisting in education is hard because the students learn quickly, but language is still a problem. The teacher can’t slow down for one or two kids in the room. We hire Brazilian teachers to go to the school to help the kids, usually after school.

Where were they trained?

These teachers were not trained here, but in Brazil. This is more of a local think for Ogaki as we’re one of the main cities with this population.

Is the city information available in Portuguese?

Yes, as the population has risen, more use services. For example, babies born here are registered as residents. They need to have an insurance card. Babies under one year of age get free health care. Of course, many families apply. This is becoming a bit of an issue as many Brazilian mothers are single. This is very unlike the Japanese way. I apologize for saying this, but many do not know who the father is. In one recent case, a mother came to city hall for help. She had three sons by three fathers and living with a new boyfriend who wasn’t supporting her. Of course there are Japanese single mothers, but they’re small in number and tend to be so because of divorce (and the father helps out financially).

The government budget is limited so we can only do so much. The city provides translators to help Brazilians with documents. We now have three Brazilian translators working Monday through Friday to help Brazilians with documents. I feel that we’re doing a lot to help the Brazilian population. Sometimes I wonder if we’re being fair to other foreign immigrants. But then again, they’re the largest population. Overall, we’re worried about creating a caste of outsiders; kids frustrated with school, who might drop out. We are noticing more Brazilian teens who don’t speak Portuguese or Japanese well. They hang on the streets…there’s a rise in crime and street gangs. It’s not a big problem here yet, thanks to the volunteers, who teach them everything from dealing with the police to sorting the trash, as I mentioned before. Some things happen there that don’t make it to the papers, but we’re not having as many problems as other cities such as Toyota and Hamamatsu. Other cities have a gang problem. The Brazilian street gangs fight local Japanese youth and other Brazilians. They’ve had to deport some due to serious crimes. For lighter stuff, they might just go to jail; the same as Japanese.

What about other immigrants?

More Peruvians are coming and many Chinese girls are working for textile industries. Many of them come as "trainees." On the contract it says they’re being trained on skills and techniques but they end up working on the line. There are many young girls. I see them around. They say they’re here on student or training visas. The girls aren’t paid well. Some work seven days a week. They’re given a room and a small amount of money. They have to work because need money. Many Chinese cannot endure those conditions, working on textile lines, so many leave.

How does the government address this problem?

It’s hard to find. In extreme cases the police will conduct raids. This is difficult because many are legitimate students. The government really has to be like spies and investigate. The police try to monitor it. Some Chinese girls stay past visas and begin working in night clubs. They are viewed as being more fair-skinned and obedient. Japanese guys go to these hostess clubs and most of the hostesses are illegal (immigrants).

Do these girls come to the government for help?

Not really. Many Brazilian girls do, possible because there is a stronger Chinese network and many go to a larger city and disappear from Ogaki. Maybe because they’re here illegally and they don’t want to get deported.


1. Roman B. said at June 12, 2008 11:29 pm:

Brazilians in Japan! That has got to be the most interesting thing I've learned about Ogaki. I never heard of it before until I read this article. But this is so interesting, I didn't know it was so hard to blend in a group of people into society. I mean I see what happens when some spanish speakers can't read a sign. But they take it to the next level. People over there can actually go to the city for help. What is this? No need for marches just to get help and basic rights. The info about students who commit suicide because they feel to pressured by parents can be considered here too. I mean the SAT suicides, and other problems. But I think it's because Japan also seems like they have a very anal system. Live by the book, die by the book. That sort of thing needs to be taken care of with more liberal power. less conservativeness means more change and growth. I think the Japanese need to be with therir school system as they are with their building designs, freeflowing.

2. Tania said at June 13, 2008 6:38 pm:

Like i said before before i had different thoughts about japan. But after reading this interview and remembering that i had a class of japan in summer school last year. It seems that over there things are some the same as the united states but witha different that the rules of immigration are differently. I think that is fair what the rules of immigration they have with the immigrants. Because they help them succed and become someone in life. Not like in here in the united states they discriminated the immigranst or judge them because of who they are or just because they are latin and or because they speak spanish. I think that that's what the government in thge us should do. I agree that if they have done penalties than they have a reason to send them back to their birth place. But if they just come to work and have a better life its find. And its niced that people over there can help everytime they need help even on the streets.That's why my thughts have change about Japan i would like to visit one time.

3. alejandra Ruiz said at June 14, 2008 2:58 am:

Its interesting to see the differences between the U.S. and Japan. Over there they help out immigrants and here all people want to do is send them back. From what the lady mentioned it isn't all good but its like that in every country with immigrants. The mentioning of the Chinese Immigrants girls reminds me of the human trafficking situation. Its similar how the girls go to different countries with dreams of making money in a legit way and end up working as hookers and other things they never thought they would be doing.

4. Martin Rochin said at June 16, 2008 4:23 am:

I ran into this one looking at the curriculum page. Once again you've inspired me not to hesitate on curiosity since this is how this interview came to be. This interview also provided me with a place to go when I go to Japan. As for the Brazilians in Japan, I don't think I would prefer it if the US was more open with immigration but treated the immigrants as Brazilians are treated in Japan. In the curriculum piece, you said many students based their opinion on Japan based on one interview. I think the main reason that happened was because the lady interviewed seemed to know what she was talking about. According to the interview, the Brazilians are barely starting to move together to form the "salad bowl" pattern and retain part of their culture. I find it pretty interesting because it is like hearing about Mexican immigration in Oakland, but in slow motion. I hope that more people in Ogaki think like her because I like her dedication to integrate Brazilians into Japan. I just wish more people ion the US were like her (not to lose culture but to integrate communities). I real,ly like to hear that the government there is helping Brazilians by offering services in Portuguese as well. I am not happy, however, that many Brazilians are dropping out but it is to be expected when many immigrants come to a country, they can't all succeed. I really dislike hearing that Chinese girls are still being taken advantage of, on a worldwide basis! As she said the abused workers can be hard to find, especially since they rarely come out in the open. Many people must feel as frustrated and powerless as I do when I hear about this. Whew... This interview went IN DEPTH!!! I can't finish reading it right now but I promise I will get back to it (it is too good to miss) Thank you very much for doing this interview, you have amped up a voice that may have otherwise gone unheard.

Add your own comments