Japan Times on NJ workers: No money for food or return flight

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hi Blog. Here’s a quick word from Eric Johnston on how the recession is biting deep into the NJ workforce. From, where else, the only source that does investigative journalism on a regular basis with full-time reporters on the ground. Debito


Hard times for foreign workers
Laid off by the thousands, some don’t have money for food, let alone enough to return home
By ERIC JOHNSTON Staff writer
The Japan Times: Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008

First of two parts

News photo
On the street: Chago Iwasa, a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian (center) hangs out with friends in front of a Brazilian food store in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, in October. Iwasa lost his job at an auto parts company. KYODO PHOTO

OSAKA — With the global economic downturn, many Japanese workers face a not very Merry Christmas or Happy New Year as they lose their jobs or see wages or hours cut.

But the bad economy is hitting the country’s foreign workers particularly hard, with nongovernmental organization volunteers warning that many who have been laid off face not only losing their homes and access to education in their mother tongue, but also that emergency food rations are now being distributed to the most desperate cases.

“Of the nearly 300 people who attend my church, between 30 and 40 of them have already lost their jobs, and I expect more will soon be laid off as companies choose not to renew their contracts. Many of those who have lost their jobs have no place to live or get through the winter,” said Laelso Santos, pastor at a church in Karia, Aichi Prefecture, and the head of Maos Amigas, an NGO assisting foreign workers and their families.

“We’re currently distributing about 300 kg of food per month to foreigners nationwide who are out of work. I’m afraid the amount of food aid needed will increase as the number of out-of-work foreigners increases,” Santos said.

Over the past few months, layoffs among foreigners nationwide, especially those who are temp workers employed by auto parts manufacturing plants in the Kanto and Chubu regions, continue to grow as Toyota and other leading automobile firms struggle with declining demand. Many now out of work would return home if they could, but the rising cost of airplane tickets due to increased fuel surcharges makes it difficult.

“A lot of Brazilians who have lost their jobs would return if they could. But a ticket back costs nearly ¥200,000, which is money they don’t have,” Santos said.

Even those who at least for the moment still have jobs and want to stay are finding it difficult.

Erica Muramoto, a Gunma Prefecture-based Brazilian who teaches Japanese as a second language, arrived in Japan with her two children in 2001, a year after her husband, a Japanese-Brazilian, found work at Nihon Seiko, a car parts manufacturer.

“My husband and the rest of the foreign staff have just gotten a two-month contract that finishes at the end of January. After that, he doesn’t know what will happen to him or to his friends,” Muramoto said.

“I’m still working, but sadly some Nikkei Brazilian (Japanese-Brazilian) families here in Gunma are in trouble, and are almost without a place to live or without food,” she said, echoing the concerns of the Aichi-based Santos.

Of Japan’s roughly 2.2 million registered foreigners, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates about 930,000 were working legally or illegally as of the end of 2006. In some towns in the Chubu region, where many Japanese-Brazilians and others work in small auto parts manufacturers, foreigners constitute a significant percentage of the total population.

Nearly 11 percent of the 55,000 residents of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, are registered foreigners. Most are from Brazil, the Philippines or China. Minokamo currently serves as secretariat for a group of 26 municipalities throughout the country with a high proportion of foreign residents. On Dec. 17, the group called on the central government to provide emergency employment and lifestyle assistance to their foreign workers and their families.

A few days later, the central government announced that the plan to spur consumption by handing out cash payments nationwide would include foreigners.

Fumika Odajima, a Minokamo-based spokeswoman for the 26 municipalities, said Monday there was still no word on what further assistance, if any, the central government would provide in response to the group’s aid request.

Central government money, specifically for foreign residents, is needed because the local governments say they are struggling to meet the financial needs of growing numbers of jobless Japanese residents and have neither the financial nor personnel resources to adequately handle the needs of large numbers of jobless foreigners and their families.

In the meantime, they are offering services like language assistance because improved language skills would increase the foreigners’ chances of getting a job.

“In Minokamo, from early January, we’ll offer beginning and intermediate Japanese lessons to foreign residents seeking new jobs, and try to introduce them to potential employers,” Odajima said.

But the effectiveness of such efforts in a worsening economy is questionable and does little to solve the immediate crisis facing Japan’s laid-off foreign workers.

“Of course, Japanese workers who get laid off are suffering as well. But unlike foreign workers, most Japanese have friends and relatives they can turn to for immediate financial help, at least enough to ensure they have enough to eat,” Santos said. “(The foreign workers) desperately need financial help for their daily lives now, not for things like language assistance.”

The Japan Times: Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008
Go back to The Japan Times Online

7 comments on “Japan Times on NJ workers: No money for food or return flight

  • I was under the impression that if you choose to go work in a foreign country, you should have either a return ticket or at least enough cash to buy a ticket home, should such situations arise.

    I thought it was common sense, but apparently it is not. Remember the Nova teachers who cried poor (only one yen in the bank after eight years) — now these workers too.

    Before anyone says “RISING FUEL SURCHARGES NULLIFY YOUR ARGUMENT!”: they’ve been rising for the past two years. It’s much, much less difficult to save money for a higher fuel surcharge over two years if you keep an eye on things, and if you already have your return-flight money in your piggybank.

    — Not everyone expects to “go home” when they come here to work, especially when they’ve been promised otherwise both contracturally and visa-wise. I think your blame is misdirected.

  • The government should definitely do more for the unemployed, Japanese and foreigners, instead of just throwing money at the banks. If nothing is done to try to stem the growing mass of hopeless unemployed, I fear the worst ie riots and social unrest.

  • This story reminds me of a man I know from France. 50 years old, with a wife and 3 kids. He couldn’t find a job in his country and accepted a contract to come work as an engineer in Canada last february. So he moved his family to Canada, put his kids in canadian schools, found an apartment, etc. Then about a month later he was fired because the company found a guy out of college who could do the same job cheaper. The poor family was ripped apart. When you get fired at 50, your chance of finding another job are about zero. The man was so happy to get a new job he moved across the ocean for heaven’s sake… it was this bad. I’m sure there are countless other families like that. Foreign workers are often in a position of weakness, but somehow when I suggest they should have more government help I get called a communist.

    The worldwide economic situation right now is absolutely scary.

  • Not everyone expects the Spanish Inquisition, either. I don’t expect my apartment to burn down, either – yet I have a fire insurance policy. It’s called planning for unforeseen events.

  • Simon,

    someone once said:

    “It is not how governments treat people in good times that they are judged – it is how they treat them in bad times”

    I guess the same could be said for people too.

    On the subject of your fire insurance policy – what happens if your insurer goes bust – or even just fails to honour your claim?

  • The article said “Many now out of work would return home if they could, but the rising cost of airplane tickets due to increased fuel surcharges makes it difficult. “A lot of Brazilians who have lost their jobs would return if they could. But a ticket back costs nearly ¥200,000, which is money they don’t have,” Santos said.”

    Sorry, I thought “go home” and “return home” meant basically the same thing.

    E.P. Lowe: I’m not going to argue your point. My point is simply this: If you move to another country for work, it is prudent to have money or the means to get back to the country of your citizenship.

    — Of course it would be. If you didn’t take out a loan to get here in the first place, as many NJ laborers have had to. I guess you would now argue that it would have been prudent of them not to have taken out that loan. We got it, you’re not sympathetic. And there’s no convincing you otherwise. It’s their fault, not the system’s, so heck with them. How simple life is for some who don’t have to show any concern for others in more disadvantaged circumstances.

  • Many people came to Japan years ago not only recently. Why would you buy a return ticket if you planned to stay indefinately? Telling people to just go home because we don`t care about you is the exact reason this world`s a mess. We need to start helping others and showing compassion in a big way. The bottom line here is these people are human and need help. Seems very simple to me. But when politics gets involved things go crazy. As Marvin Gaye said “What`s Going On”? and that was almost 40 years ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>