Audience reactions to documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES roadshow March 21-April 1


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatar

Hi Blog.  I was asked a few days ago in the Comments Section to give you an update on how the documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES Spring Tour was going.  I’m in Okayama at the moment, fresh out of two screenings (one more to go, in Kumamoto), and a couple of hours in an internet cafe getting mentally prepared for an evening of partying, so here you go.   A quick summary:

First, the executive summary at the very top.  The response to this movie, about Japan’s hidden NJ migrant workers, has been remarkable.  I have never sold so many DVDs and books ever on a tour (we sold out so fast — you can buy your own copies by clicking on the avatars above — that I had to have my stocks replenished twice on the road by post).  Sixty DVDs and 40 books sold later, I think it’s prudent to plan yet another tour.  I’ll be working down at Nagoya University the second week of September, so that takes care of the airfare costs to and from Hokkaido.  For places that missed me this time, how about planning something late August/early September?  If you’d like to schedule an event, please contact me at

Now for some tour highlights (directors Koenig and Kremers, please feel free to comment or answer questions if you’re reading this):

The first showing was at Second Harvest Japan, a very nice public service provided by Charles McJilton and company to provide homeless people with food that supermarkets decide not to sell.  A capacity crowd (eating, you guessed it, leftover strawberries beyond the supermarket sell-by date) asked poignant questions about why the film covered the Trainees and Nikkei workers so well but didn’t mention those being human trafficked on “Entertainer” visas.  I didn’t have the answer (I’m a promoter, Jim, not a producer or a director), but Patricia Aliperti, a scholar of human trafficking in Japan who serendipitously happened to be in attendance, gave us a firsthand account of how Japan was listed as a Tier-Two Human Trafficker by the US State Dept in 2004, promised to abolish its state-sponsored sexual slavery, reduced the number of NJ visa-ed women in the water trades on this visa by about 75%, then neglected to abolish the visa status completely.   Seems to me within character. 

One attendee of the first screening offered her thoughts here.

Other screnings were equally well-attended, with Amnesty International at Ben’s Cafe Takadanobaba pulling in at least 50 viewers and the Blarney Stone in Osaka pulling in close to the same.  Smaller screenings in Tsukuba and Shiga had interested commentary from viewers asking about how the directors came to choose this subject, and why it took itinerant Germans to finally produce a movie of outstanding quality about this issue.  The Nagoya University Labor Union screening was so full of Nikkei (as was the Okayama screening) that we decided the lingua franca for the Q&A would be Japanese language, and everyone, however haltingly for some, put their thoughts into Japanese. 

Further sundry thoughts:  Two Nikkei participants in the Okayama screening had lost their jobs at the end of January, were on unemployment, and were thinking they would probably have to return to Brazil when the dole money ran out in three months.  I made sure they got a free copy of the DVD and of the HANDBOOK to show around, if that would help.  Participants were nearly unanimous in both the power and necessity of labor unions to inform and enforce labor rights.   The audience’s outrage was palpable over the GOJ’s negligence at inviting all these people here, neglecting the schooling of both them (the Okayama Nikkei, for example, worked 11 hours a day, six days a week, and had no time to study Japanese) and their children, and telling them to go home now that they “weren’t necessary”.  After all their time spent here paying taxes, living here for years if not decades, and saving Japanese industry from being priced out of the market.

Rumor has it the GOJ has advised Hello Work to consider three Japanese for every non-Japanese applicant.  It’s unconfirmed, but if true, that means nationality once again has become a job qualification, one should think in violation of Labor Standards Law.

Moreover, 2HJ’s Charles also told us that visa overstayers in Japan are actually being issued with Gaijin Cards from local governments (yes, stating that they are overstaying).  That’s why they’re centralizing the Gaijin Card system behind the new Zairyuu Cards, to remove the local government’s discretion in these matters (so much for chihou bunken, then!).  I’ll have more information later on in the blog after some confirmations.

In sum, SOUR STRAWBERRIES may be a testiment to the last days of Japan’s internationalized industrial prowess, as people are being turfed out because no matter how many years and how much contribution, they don’t belong.  Have to wait and see.  But to me it’s clear the GOJ is still not getting beyond seeing NJ as work units as opposed to workers and people.  Especially in these times of economic hardship.  I’m seeing it for myself as the movie tours. 

Call me out for another movie tour by the end of the summer.  I might by then be able to get FROM THE SHADOWS movie about child abductions after divorce as well.  Arudou Debito in Okayama

9 comments on “Audience reactions to documentary SOUR STRAWBERRIES roadshow March 21-April 1

  • Friday, March 27, 2009
    Film exposes struggles of Japan’s ‘hidden’ workers
    Special to The Japan Times

    “They said: ‘If you get injured, you will be fired immediately.’ ‘What kind of law is this?’ I asked. They said: ‘The Company’s law.’ ”

    The documentary “Sour Strawberries: Japan’s Hidden ‘Guest Workers,’ ” depicts the struggles of non-Japanese in Japan as they strive for their rights as workers and citizens. Filmed by a Japanese and German film crew in March 2008, the documentary focuses on the experiences of nikkeijin (economic migrants) and “trainees” who can mostly only find short-term employment in low-wage sectors. The quote above is from a Bolivian worker, who tells how the company he worked for treated him. He lost his right hand in a work-related accident and the company subsequently fired him.

    The title of the documentary is a reference to a strawberry farm in Tochigi Prefecture where trainees from China worked before being inexplicably fired. They would then have been forced out of the country, if not for the help of the Zentoitsu Workers Union. Union leader Ippei Torii introduces the film crew to the three trainees who relate their stories. On the stance Japan takes in the matter of foreign workers, Torii states, “Japan doesn’t want to damage the facade of being an ethnically homogeneous nation. They say they don’t accept unskilled workers, so ‘training’ is used as a pretense to get migrant workers into the country.”

    Though the depiction of foreign workers in Japan is at the center of the documentary, other important political and business leaders opine on working conditions. The director of international affairs of the Japan Business Federation, Hiroshi Inoue, discusses the highly skilled workers Japan wants, while former Vice-Minister of Justice and LDP Lower House lawmaker Taro Kono discusses the stance of the Japanese government.

    For those who cannot make the movie screenings, it is available for ¥2,000 (including postage) from

    “Sour Strawberries: Japan’s Hidden ‘Guest Workers’ ” will have a limited screening throughout Japan from now until mid April. It will also show in Okayama on March 28, in Kumamoto on March 31 and in Sapporo in April. All screenings will have a voluntary contribution of ¥500. For more information, visit


  • “I made sure they got a free copy of the DVD and of the HANDBOOK to show around, if that would help…Participants were nearly unanimous in both the power and necessity of labor unions to inform and enforce labor rights.”

    Good work, Debito-san. Back in the US I used to volunteer (as part of my membership in an oft-maligned political party that I will decline to name) as an amateur union liason. I contacted workers, many times illegals (who, contrary to popular belief, DO have rights, too), who had grievances and asking them if they knew their rights or knew how to form a union. Suffice to say, it was quite heart-breaking and stressful. It’s a shame how often the working man gets screwed over in just about every country around the world.

    On a lighter note: as I mentioned in your post about the film “Yasukuni,” I’m a big documentary fan. I also remember your older post with film reviews of Japan-related movies. How about a list of good documentaries, J-related or otherwise, that you can reccomend?

    — That’s a good idea. Things will come to mind in the course of a day, should make a laundry list over time and put it up here.

  • where does the hello work rumour come from?

    — Um, er, I can’t quite recall the source at the moment, darn it. The past week or so has been a bit of a blur, what with information overload every day. Perhaps I should delete that bit until I can get better confirmation. Sorry.

  • He! I really want to see this!! Im not going back to Japan until May though!!…more though, I feel documentaries and such of this type should be shown more OUTSIDE of Japan…GOJ is not going to do anything until it become publiclly embarrassed in the international scene

  • I can’t factually verify the Hello Work thing, but I had a very screwed up experience with them. I asked for “shoukaijou” for two English teaching jobs. The Hello Work guy called one place, which asked him for my phone number, and said they would call me back. While he was pulling up the information for the second place, my phone rang and my wife (who’s Japanese) answered, and a woman from the first place told her they’re only hiring Japanese. I thought this was strange for an English teaching job. Anyway.

    He’s on the phone with the second place, everything seems to be going fine. He tells them I’m American, fine. They sound interested. When it comes out that I’m “Kankoku-kei” American, things on the other end change noticeably, and he’s explaining to them that I was born/raised in the US, yada yada. Finally they concede to the Hello Work guy an interview for me. I’m told that when I arrive at the Nishi-oogi station on the day of my interview, I should call the employer, because they might be doing something. I arrive 20 minutes before the interview and call them continuously but they do not answer. I finally just walk to the place and there is a sign on their door that they have taken the kids to a park for the day or something like that. I was stood up. And Nishi-oogi is about an hour from where I live.

    I call them back in the evening and finally someone answers! The guy says I arrived “daibu” late and that he’s sorry. I ask if there’s anything to be done and he says mail my resume. BS! I’m still pissed. This was about a week ago. I’m really ready to go back to New York. I’ve had nothing but frustration and BS experiences trying to find a job in Japan.

  • Hi Debito,
    thank you very much for the “Sour Strawberries” road show!
    It feels very good to hear about the reactions from the audience from you.

    Maybe you can do another tour wit our documentary sometimes.

    Dear audience – Thank you for watching the documentary!

    Tilman Koenig


    PS: The best way to get the DVD is to follow this link: (our click on the avatar picture on top of the page).

  • Dude Id just like to say I think your doing allot of good for the foriegn community. I am from the states as well and I didnt like you at first because of the citiznship issue but now that I have seen what your doing for all of us out here, I got to give you credit because it is due. your doing allot more than the people down at the embassy would ever do, thats for sure. This was a good documentary.

  • mike mullins says:

    Hi, this is mike mullins. Interested in getting a copy of that DVD Sour Strawberries. Tried to order through the “to order click here” place but it didnt work. If you would, Please let me know how to order it another way.



    — What, this site here? Try here if you haven’t.
    Thanks for the interest! Write back if it doesn’t work.


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