ANA BORTZ AT THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS' CLUB, JAPAN (FCCJ)
Press Conference Tokyo, October 1st,1998
The Situation of Brazilians in Japan
1) Immigration Laws
In June 1990, the Japanese government modified the immigration laws to permit foreigners with Japanese blood, up to the third generation, to come to Japan to work. In those years, Japanese lived well during the "Economic Bubble," and Japan was in need of labourers to work at 3K jobs: kiken, kitsui, and kitanai (dangerous, difficult, and dirty), that Japanese didn't want.
2) How many we are?
According to the Ministry of Justice data of June 1998, there are 1,482,707 foreigners living in Japan. The Korean community represents 43.5%, Chinese, 17% and Brazilians, 15.7% of the total. At the end of 1997, there were 233,254 Brazilians living in Japan, mostly concentrated in Aichi (42,917), Shizuoka (32,202) and Kanagawa (15,434) Prefectures. The largest Brazilian community lives in Hamamatsu City, in Shizuoka Prefecture. According to data provided by Hamamatsu City, in September 1998, there were 9,983 Brazilians registered. Brazilians are the largest group of foreigners in Hamamatsu. The total population of Hamamatsu is 579,890.
Workers are recruited in Brazil through specific agencies and are sold financed air tickets that are overcharged up to 200%.They have no chance to be reimbursed for their return flight that will not be used, because their tickets are taken from them by the brokers. When Brazilians arrive in Japan, brokers also commonly take their passports and keep them as a guarantee that the ticket money as well as the commissions to both the Brazilian and Japanese brokers will be paid.Usually, people do not know what kind of job they are going to do. They do not get any information, explanation or training from the brokers. Generally, they live in accommodations rented by their broker and when the broker no longer wants their labour, irregardless of whether the work contract has ended, the labourers are evicted. When they try to rent an apartment by themselves, Japanese real estate agencies demand six months' rental money and a Japanese guarantor. These are hard conditions for an unemployed foreigner. In May of this year, the alternative for some unemployed Brazilians was moving under the Shin River bridge in Hamamatsu.
Some brokers employ as many as six thousand foreign and Japanese labourers. The brokers exist because factories need temporary labourers but do not want to pay for any extra benefits. In theory, these employment benefits should be paid by the brokers, which usually does not happen. How can these brokers be supervised by the government, in terms of paying benefits, if their existence is illegal ? As the labourers are not classified as regular full-time employees, most of them also receive no bonuses. However, in the first years of the nineties, hourly wages for temporary labourers were higher than for full-time workers since benefits were not deducted from their wages. Nowadays, even with the Labour Ministry demanding that brokers provide income tax payment receipts to their employees, and that they equalize Japanese and Brazilian salaries, most of the brokers still refuse to pay for any benefits. The factories pay the salaries to the brokers. The brokers make their profits by collecting a percentage of each labourer's hourly wage, and then transfer the remaining salaries to the labourers. An example of how brokers can behave incorrectly is when they receive salaries from the factories to pay their labourers, but do not transfer the money. They declare bankruptcy to avoid paying their labourers. A real example is the broker, Chubuseiko's case in Kosai City, Shizuoka Prefecture. In November, 1996, the contractor, Nariaki Hashimoto, declared bankruptcy, leaving a debt around ´ 100 million . Approximately 150 Brazilian, Peruvian and a few Japanese labourers did not receive 3 months' salary including over-time hours. Hashimoto disappeared and the lawsuit in the Tribunal of Justice worked through his son. Some employees were never paid.
The immediate consequence of brokers not paying for benefits, is health problems. There are companies that do not have workplace accident insurance and don't pay unemployment insurance for their employees. Different from other cities, Hamamatsu City restricts foreigners' registration in the National Health Insurance (Kokumin Kenkou Hoken) program. In answer to this restriction, the group "Justica e Paz" (Justice and Peace), was formed by Brazilians and Japanese. The leaders of this group are a Catholic priest, Evaristo Higa and a Japanese volunteer, Kyoko Yotsuya. They petitioned Hamamatsu City Hall for the basic human right to health care.The claim was denied. Another initiative was begun by neurosurgeon Sergio Branco, formerly of the University of Osaka. Since 1995, his group has been providing the "Caravana da Saœde," (Caravan of Health), providing free medical consultations. They have assisted foreigners in many prefectures. As many foreign doctors are not authorized by the government to work in Japan, "Caravana da Saœde" only diagnoses the health problems of Brazilians, and is an inadequate substitute for government provided health care. Another step has been taken by some other non governmental organizations that provide some free health consultations to legal and illegal foreigners once a year. In October of 1997, a group of NGO gave assistance to 280 foreigners in Hamamatsu, and 49% of them had no health insurance. Of the total, 72% were Brazilians. Some doctors have expressed the opinion that any foreigners without access to health care are at risk of spreading transmittable diseases. Some brokers state that their employees do not want private health insurance (shakai hoken) because of the resulting hourly wage decrease. Private health insurance payments must be shared: 50% to be paid by the company and 50% by employees. Another common reason given by some labourers to their employers is that they do not intend to stay in Japan for a long time. Meanwhile, the decision of whether or not to have health insurance is an individual right denied by some brokers. To enforce companies to comply with their duties is the local authorities' responsibility.
In 1995, the Brazilian community in Japan transferred by bank remittance US$4 billion to Brazil. Two years later, in 1997, the transfer amounted to US$2 billion. This community also produces resources in this country. There are businesses all over the country including schools, restaurants, importers, video rental shops, and shopping centers, as well as 4 newspapers and 2 TV channels . Also, Brazilians in Japan provide consistent business for international telephone companies, and banks such as Banespa, Banco do Brasil e America do Sul (Bank of the State of Sao Paulo, Bank of Brazil and Bank of South America). It is a prosperous community that has a strong purpose to remain in this country.
6.) Cultural activities and sports
Mentioning only Shizuoka prefecture, Brazilians participate in motocross, surfing, judo, capoeira (a kind of Brazilian martial art from Africa), futsal soccer (played inside a gym), theater, dance, photography, music groups and computer associations. In October, the Hamamatsu Foundation for International Communications and Exchanges (HICE), will sponsor Expo Art '98. For the 5th consecutive year, this annual event is organized to display artwork of foreign amateur artists who live in the city. As part of this event, the Hamamatsu Photographers' Association has invited Brazilians to join them in a Photo Festival. In this year's event there will be 23 Brazilian photographers. The cultural exchange continues, and this year 80 Japanese photographers have sent their pictures to a Brazilian exposition. Last November, the University of Tenri, in Nara Prefecture, organized a symposium about the education of nikkeis in Japan. Tenryu League of Futsal promotes tournaments including Brazilian and Japanese teams. The Free Power Racing, a Brazilian motocross team has both Brazilian and Japanese riders. SUN Surf Union promotes a championship at Hamamatsu beaches with both Brazilian and Japanese teams.
This year we celebrate 90 years of Japanese immigration to Brazil and also the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In my opinion, the privilege of a working visa concession to second and third generation Japanese descendants was possible because authorities and the Immigration Department believed Japanese blood descendants would not be so different from Japanese as compared to other foreigners, and if so, conflicts would be minimized.The Japanese education system stresses conforming behaviour patterns and does not educate people to accept differences. Many believe that discrimination happens because Japanese are still learning to live among people who are different. This was influenced by the geographical and historical Japanese circumstances that isolated and blocked the country for some centuries (sakoku). Then, changes started to happen gradually. Others justify discriminatory attitudes, describing them as reactions to fear. I do not believe this. If these factors or agents could explain the discriminatory process it would not exist in countries whose history, culture and geography are different from Japan. I think discrimination against foreigners, Japanese descendants or not, happen in Japan as well as in other countries, against minority groups and powerless people. Japanese discriminate against Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido; those born in Okinawa (Ryukkyu people); women; Dowa (buraku-min or hamlet people), a huge community that belongs to a stigmatized social class; disabled people; homosexuals and others. Foreigners that do not come from politically and economically powerful countries are just part of the context. Among those included are the Latin Americans. Two days after being driven out of a jewelry store in Hamamatsu because I am Brazilian, I found out that the Civil and Penal Codes of Japan, the second strongest economy in the world, do not mention racial discrimination as a crime. There was no legal mechanism of protection against racism before December of 1995. This legal omission could lead residents to believe that there is not discrimination in Japan. I think that cultural differences are not a problem but part of a solution. The racist attitude of the jewelry store owner to me was rude and up front. Last October 6, Herculano Reiko Lukocevicius, 14 years old, of Komaki city, Aichi Prefecture, was brutally murdered by a young Japanese because he was Brazilian. This murdered boy's father is here today. There are no comparisons between one or another injustice.Our aim is to strive to extinguish injustices. This is my opportunity. It also can be yours.
Brazilians that were victims of discrimination in Japan
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