Vietnamese volunteers and migrant workers, who lost their jobs amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, eat lunch during a break while they prepare packages of food and protective masks for Vietnamese people in need and living in Tokyo at a Buddhist temple which has turned into a shelter for young Vietnamese migrant workers in Tokyo. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
national

In Tokyo, a temple offers pandemic-hit Vietnamese workers a safe haven

26 Comments
By Sakura Murakami

A few hours after sundown last week, Thi Tu Luong dragged her suitcase down a side street in Tokyo's business district, looking for the temple that would take her in for the night.

Luong, a 22-year old Vietnamese worker, had just been fired from her job at a hotel in a hot springs town north of Tokyo.

After a few minutes of walking the street, she saw Jiho Yoshimizu, who runs a support group for Vietnamese workers, waving her in from the entrance of a concrete building.

The three-story Buddhist temple, Nisshinkutsu, has become a haven for young Vietnamese migrant workers, one of the groups hardest-hit by the economic slump that followed the novel coronavirus outbreak in Japan.

"I felt abandoned," said Luong, shortly after she arrived at the temple. "I'm just really grateful I can be here."

Lured by higher wages but often burdened by debt to recruiters, Vietnamese are the fastest-growing group of foreigners in Japan. They numbered 410,000 in 2019, up 24.5% from the previous year.

In ordinary times, nuns at the temple would offer prayers for the deceased, but with the coronavirus upending the economy, they now spend their time making care packages for Vietnamese scattered across the country.

Inside the temple, young Vietnamese workers whose lives are in limbo study Japanese, cook Vietnamese food, look for work or book flights home.

"We do everything. We take care of people from when they're inside the womb to when they're inside an urn," said Yoshimizu, who heads the Japan-Vietnam Coexistence Support Group, a nonprofit based out of the temple.

The temple became known to Vietnamese circles after it took in Vietnamese workers who were left homeless after the 2011 earthquake in northern Japan.

As Yoshimizu's reputation spread in the community, she started receiving messages from young Vietnamese – including women seeking abortions, workers who were abruptly dismissed with nowhere to go, and laborers fleeing abusive employers.

In 2019, Yoshimizu handled about 400 cases, but since April that number has spiked. She now receives between 10 and 20 messages a day, all pleas for help from Vietnamese across Japan.

"I've lost count," she said, sitting next to a phone that beeps and rings ceaselessly with calls and messages from labor brokers, employers, and desperate Vietnamese workers.

"No one else in Japan right now can provide this kind of support," she said.

When Luong was fired without warning and told to leave her dorm, she turned to Yoshimizu for help.

"I have no job, no place to stay right now. Please, please help me," Luong messaged Yoshimizu. "Can I come to the temple today?"

Luong graduated from a vocational school in March and started a job in mid-April at a high-end hotel in Nikko, a tourist destination known for its temples.

But she said she wasn't given any work and spent her days in a dorm room with nothing to do. Luong said she was paid about 30,000 yen in May and was not sure if she had been paid in June. A representative of the hotel where she worked told Reuters they were not in a position to comment because they did not employ Luong directly.

Many Vietnamese workers arrive in Japan as students or trainees, making them dependent on their employers and therefore vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Yoshimizu spoke in parliament last month to urge the government to do more to support Vietnamese students who do not have employment insurance.

"The current government's coronavirus policy is focused on helping the Japanese first," Yoshimizu said.

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
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Victims of Japan's new "flexiible" and "market-oriented" labor policies, now so prevalent. These are part of the structural reforms that the neo-libs (and many JT commentators) said were necessary to save the Japanese economy. Remember?

they were not in a position to comment because they did not employ Luong directly.

Nope, not our responsibility. Hey, we make more money due to their their cheap and "flexible" labor. Let the temples take of the mess we created.

10 ( +16 / -6 )

It’s good stories like that that highlight the plight of these good honest foreign workers who have become victims of Japan’s excellent treatment of their imported “ blue collar” working scheme.

Well done to the Vietnamese community for being proactive

6 ( +13 / -7 )

Most work visas require a contract for a job with a company that guarantees a minimum monthly salary. Is this not the case with migrant workers?

I was under the impression that they were guaranteed a minimum salary from which deductions were made for board a lodging and so on so that in the end they did not receive enough to really live on. That there employer can just kick them out of their job, their lodging with no support is disgraceful.

15 ( +16 / -1 )

the temple should have its website for people to make donations, this very sad !

15 ( +15 / -0 )

A representative of the hotel where she worked told Reuters they were not in a position to comment because they did not employ Luong directly.

Looks like the usual personnel agencies acting as labour brokers, probably taking a large cut, with zero responsibility from the end employer. Just like TEPCO and their nuclear gypsies, though they had 7-8 layers of personnel contractors, many with ties to organised crime.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Great job by the temple and shame on the govt for not giving a damn about the foreign workers.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

Good on the temple for the compassion and humanity that is sadly all too lacking these days.

the temple should have its website for people to make donations, this very sad !

Perhaps JT can post a link, thanks.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

 and shame on the govt for not giving a damn about the foreign workers.

The companies, not the govt, are the ones who don't give a damn. They are the ones doing the firing, the foreigners first, so they can maintain their regular (and more expensive) Japanese workforce.

The greedy companies want all the benefits of cheap, flexible labor while refusing to take any of the risks or responsibilities. The govt is an abettor, but not the perpetrator.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Bless them.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

30k yen a month is ridiculous..how is that even enough for survival?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Im happy that there are people ready to help, unfortunately we will have many more cases in the near future as economy will worsen.

I get more and more messages about foreigners who are working in companies as a part time staff being laid off while their Japanese counterparts who are also part time being promoted to full-time workers. Many of foreigners are upset as they always wanted to become full-time workers many of them working years for the company.

Sad but true and, it's going to get worse

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I have long monitored on the topic of Vietnamese foreign labor. Chinese and Vietnamese workers are the most populous ones in Japan but they all face worker exploitation as everyone else. The reason is the declining economy for decades has made Japanese businesses increasingly unprofitable. Shinzo Abe hasn't done much to reverse the trend, and we have a report that 40% of SMEs may go bankrupt during Covid Depression.

Vietnam and Japan have become very cordial in recent years. Shinzo Abe has waived many barriers and added certain privileges for Vietnamese workers in Japan. He has even allowed Vietnamese to enter the white collar workforce in masses. Taking positions among the Japanese. The nursing industry is a prime example of suchs, as Vietnamese scores higher than Japanese in the examination and earns an equal salary to Japanese natives.

Unfortunately, Japan seems to make it harder for foreign workers to stay, along with the declining economy of Japan. Most Vietnamese workers do not see Japan as a golden goose anymore. Many of them now prefer to work at their home country due to the manufacturing boom and prosperous domestic economy. They can make the same amount in Vietnamese industrial zones rather than working in Japan. Many of them learn Japanese, Korean and Chinese to facilitate international trades in Vietnam rather than seeking works outside. For those people who are ambitious for quick rich, they now seek international employments in Europe and USA instead. With the EVFTA and rising cordial relations of US-Vietnam, it is expected that those entities will relax labor laws to accommodate Vietnamese workers. Like H-1B or EU work visa. However, there are people who take more shady path of illegal immigration to work underground and obtain permanent residency after a certain year. Whatever the case, Japan and South Korea have become increasingly undesirable for Vietnamese workers.

30k yen a month is ridiculous..how is that even enough for survival?

Well, a lot of old, far right people, who operate black vans, make the same amount. And they still prosper to spread xenophobic rhetorics across Japan.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Toasted Heretic, sigrid (and others):

https://nissinkutu.or.jp/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lured by higher wages but often burdened by debt to recruiters

Human trafficking, this shady business needs to stop.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Nope, not our responsibility. Hey, we make more money due to their their cheap and "flexible" labor. Let the temples take of the mess we created.

Yep, I remember the word ‘dynamic’ being used a lot to describe companies using cheap and disposable labour.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The govt is an abettor, but not the perpetrator.

JeffL,

The govt set this up, KNOWING, exactly how these loopholes would be used, they have WILLINGLY ENABLED Japan Inc to EXPLOIT cheap foreign labour!!

Big SHAME on Japan, where human trafficking IS accepted, for SHAME!!!!

And 10,000 cheers for the temple!! There is good in Japan as well, seems hard to find sometimes, again  a big THANKS!!!!

9 ( +10 / -1 )

"We do everything. We take care of people from when they're inside the womb to when they're inside an urn,"

Wow! Now if that isn't STELLAR customer service, I don't know what else is!

"The current government's coronavirus policy is focused on helping the Japanese first," Yoshimizu said.

This Yoshimizu person sounds WOKE and is EXACTLY what Japanese people need to be like! Take example, Japan!

Many Vietnamese workers arrive in Japan as students or trainees, making them dependent on their employers and therefore vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Not only Vietnamese people, foreigners in general.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Initially I thought oh that is not a big deal , we can pay for few JAL flights back to Vietnam and problem solved but then I saw "They numbered 410,000 in 2019" . Wow that is like a small country in Europe. What if they all get fired ?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@GW

they have WILLINGLY ENABLED Japan Inc to EXPLOIT cheap foreign labour!!

the govt doesn't tell the private companies to abuse the workers. The companies pro-activity do that on their own. Also, the govt set up the programme after it was relentlessly pressured by the Keidanren and other corporate interests, which wanted cheap labor and were willing to exploit and abuse vulnerable people to achieve that goal. If the govt said no, everyone would be blaming it for being anti-business.

Why are you deflecting blame away from the perpetrators?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japanese omotenashi at its best.

Unfortunately, most people out of Japan don't get to see this dark side of Japan, that exist in almost all professions.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Vietnamese who don't speak English trust Japan and like working there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@gaijintraveler @VinceBlack Thank you guys. I didn’t realize that all the stuff was going on. I didn’t realize the “flexible” working scheme was resulting in things like this. And good on that Buddhist temple for taking those workers in, when they so greatly needed it.

And since I’m looking to move in Japan in a few years, this would be very good to know. So that way, I can watch out for stuff like this.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The companies, not the govt, are the ones who don't give a damn. They are the ones doing the firing, the foreigners first, so they can maintain their regular (and more expensive) Japanese workforce. 

The greedy companies want all the benefits of cheap, flexible labor while refusing to take any of the risks or responsibilities. The govt is an abettor, but not the perpetrator.

Very good point @JeffLee. Because the foreign workers are still here, the government didn’t kick them out. So yeah, it’s the companies that are really at fault here. This is a tragic story, let’s not make the perfect be the enemy of the good, as they say. A lot of these people, come from much more dire straits than this in their home countries, as I’m sure that many of you can imagine.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What is the Japanese good people going to do about this kind or cases ???. ABUSE on humans rights.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Vietnamese who don't speak English trust Japan and like working there.

Don't forget South Korea and Taiwan. Unlike Japan, they have been passing legislation to protect rights of foreign workers.

South Korea has become more progressive than Japan in this aspect.

The govt set this up, KNOWING, exactly how these loopholes would be used, they have WILLINGLY ENABLED Japan Inc to EXPLOIT cheap foreign labour!!

Japan simply doesn't have a choice after the bubble economy collapse in 1990s. Japan is still primarly an export-driven economy. Without exports, Japan can't obtain the USD reserves from each export to build the national economy. Most importantly, the manufacturing sector still plays an important role of keeping millions of Japanese employed. The decline of lifetime employment as well as international intense-competition forces many Japanese companies to resort to the exploitation of cheap labor to survive.

I don't think you should worry for Vietnamese or Chinese workers for long. @Rubbedite pointed it out that the rise of Vietnamese manufacturing and export industries is making a better alternative for Vietnamese workers to be employed at home. They can make an equal salary or higher if they work for international FDI companies or a Vietnamese industrial conglomerates. There has been a trend of declining number of Vietnamese workers in Japan, or I should put as a transitional period. The blue collar workers from Vietnam to Japan are on the decline but the white collar workers from Vietnam to Japan are on the steady rise. Nursing job is already a prominent profession among Vietnamese workers in Japan, and IT jobs plus engineering jobs are also making waves as well. Japanese would rather trust Vietnamese for their white collar positions rather than Chinese, for sure. We will see a reshape of Vietnamese foreign worker population in Japan in the next few years, and it will be quite dramatic in the neoliberal world order that Abe envisioned.

The companies, not the govt, are the ones who don't give a damn. They are the ones doing the firing, the foreigners first, so they can maintain their regular (and more expensive) Japanese workforce.

It doesn't seem to be a smart business decision.

In the US, American businesses will force their native workers to train foreign workers before firing the native workers. American businesses will replace American workers with cheap, foreign workers in a heartbeat if they have a chance. Even Trump is in power, the global trend of cheap labor exploitation through visa workers will not halt.

Japanese citizens should feel lucky that they have "Nihon socialism" that protects their employments and benefits. When Abe and LDP cronies demolish the last of Nihon socialist structures to impose Reagan neoliberalism, Japanese workers will experience the pain that American workers struggle for years of trickle down economics.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As the native born Japanese population declines due to their below replacement fertility rate, Japan needs to find ways to fully integrate immigrants from other Asian nations fully into their society in order to maintain their economic prowess As immigration to Japan is a relatively recent experience for Japan this is going to require a conscious effort on the part of the Japanese government, regional governments and civil society to achieve. The goal needs to be for immigrants to achieve full citizenship so that their children grow up in Japan as Japanese and not always suffer the stigma of being foreigners.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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