Foreign Workers a Challenge to Japanese Society and the Catholic Church

Ando Isamu SJ
Jesuit Social Center staff
Migrants’ Desk

  Late November 2018, when the National Assembly of Catholic Justice and Peace was held for 2 days in Nagoya city, a total 16 break-out sessions were held. Staff of the Jesuit Social Center’s Migrants’ Desk also participated, and facilitated Break-out Session 1, “Migrants and Japanese Society and the Catholic Church.”

  The central aim of this break-out session was to deepen interest in “immigrants,” and to search together for actions that we can take together. For this we first turned our ears to the personal experiences of several immigrants, then engaged in discussion. Partly due to budgetary constraints, we elected to produce some videos that focused on the challenging realities faced by immigrants with whom we have been working.

  A surprisingly large number of people participated in Break-out Session 1, and nearly 60 people engaged in earnest discussion from 10AM to 4PM.

  In the morning we showed two short videos made by Migrants’ Desk staff and Sister Le Thi Lang of Kawaguchi Church, Saitama prefecture, then divided the 60 participants into 5 groups for discussion. These videos introduced themes that confront immigrants: The first focused on the situation of medical care for people who fall ill within the immigration detention center; The second dealt with cases of unjust job terminations against non-Japanese laborers. Both depicted the factual, suffering experiences of immigrants.

  In the afternoon we welcomed as session leader Dr. Yamamura Junpei, who serves patients at the Minatomachi Clinic in Yokohama city. Dr. Yamamura showed a self-produced video as he explained the medical problems and labor situation of foreigners who come to Japan under the Technical Intern visa program. After this, we divided into the same groups as the morning for a time of sharing. The afternoon ended with a presentation from each of the groups.

Seminar Participants’ Reactions and Thoughts
  Amid strict time constraints, the participants appeared to engage in earnest discussion. Many of the participants already had contact with migrants, and I had the impression that the discussion was rich in content. They viewed with a critical eye the behavior of Japanese society and the Catholic Church toward immigrants, and some complained that the church offered no cooperation toward immigrants at the parish level. Many acknowledged that language barriers obstruct mutual understanding, and expressed the feeling that there are “walls” even within the church. Rather than adopt a welcoming stance toward migrants, society views and treats migrants as a cheap labor force.

  As people who belong to the church, what actions can we take? This was an important topic of this seminar. Despite the limited time, a variety of hints and concrete ideas were voiced. For example, there is a need for fellowship in daily life, so we might welcome them into our homes, or develop relations of trust so they can confide about their problems. Since we don’t know each other, we could provide places for conversation——not difficult discussions, but start with day-to-day topics. We could invite them to participate in church councils and committees. With the aim to eliminate the language “wall,” we might hold Japanese language classes. We could begin with a listening stance, to hear the stories of their experience. It is also important to go out to meet them where they live and work.

  To borrow an expression from Pope Francis, we must make effort to replace the “walls” within the church with “bridges.” The church community should strive to be a welcoming, attractive place for them. We may have different languages and cultural upbringings, but we are all equally human beings, often sharing the same faith. Technical trainees and others in Japan for work, who visit to our churches, are young people who came to Japan to help their families. They come to Japan with dreams for the future. This is an important challenge for the church in Japan.

Plans for “Migrant Antenna” and“Seminar House”
  Now, 3 months from the Seminar, I am filled with curiosity about what participants might be doing in their parishes and places of life. I expect many are continuing the work that they were already doing. Here at the Migrants’ Desk we are trying to make use of what we learned from everyone.

  At the level of Japan’s national legislature, for the first time, there has been active discussion about welcoming greater numbers of foreign technical trainees and simple laborers. I feel this has awakened the average citizen to the new situation.

  The Migrants’ Desk has created the “Migrant Antenna,” where we use an e-mail communication system to gather information mostly within Japan and share this with individuals and organizations who are interested in these issues. We do this because we feel there is a need for more “horizontal connections.”

  At the same time, in collaboration with other organizations, we are considering the possibility of establishing a “Seminar House” that would serve migrants. We hope to establish “Seminar House” in the Kanto area and are now working to connect with supporters and volunteers, and establish a fund for the running costs of maintenance and operations.

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