The case of a Japanese man who committed suicide rather than be deported to a land he never knew and could not even speak the language of has underscored the tragic consequences of Japan’s dubious immigration and citizenship policy.
The 25-year-old ethnically Japanese man was originally of Brazilian extraction, but at the age of 5 was taken to Japan by his mother as she went to join her husband, who had already taken up the government’s hungry offer of hospitality to the Brazilian Japanese it needed to man its factories.
For the next 20 years he lived in Japan, not knowing a single person in Brazil and being unable to speak Portuguese. His parents worked at a car factory, but later quarreled and split.
His little sister reports that he was bullied and beaten by delinquent youths on account of his ancestry, and eventually became just such a delinquent – “he was looking for something like a family,” she recounts.
He graduated from middle school. By this time he had been arrested several times for riding a motorbike without a proper license. By the time he was 20 he had met the woman he would marry, but later opted to evade arrest after being cited for further traffic related crimes, in order to keep working off the couple’s debt.
Finally, in 2007 he was arrested for these traffic offenses and possession of illegal stimulants (the most popular kind of illegal drug in Japan).
He was sentenced to 2 years in prison, and whilst in prison his visa came up for renewal. Immigration declined to renew it, and upon release he was detained in an immigration detention centre for being an illegal overstayer. He soon realised he would be unable to return to Japan ever again, as those with criminal records are usually denied entry.
He applied for special leave to remain, but with little hope of success and a forced deportation order looming sunk into depression.
After a call to his sister in which he said “I’ve finally understood the importance of family,” and another to his wife in which he was thought to be under the influence of tranquilisers, Japanese to his last he hung himself and died soon after.
His sister ponders what would happen were the same fate to befall her: “If I was told to return to Brazil… I can’t speak or write Portuguese – I don’t know how I could live there.”
Via the Ibaraki Shimbun (link transient).
The issue of “Nikkei” Japanese-Brazilians themselves is itself a complex one.
Japanese immigration to the Americas in the last century saw large populations of Japanese descent develop in South America as a result of population pressure in Japan, and these to a larger extent integrated into the host nations. The largest such community is in Brazil, numbering several million.
In the 1980s the Japanese government sought to alleviate boom-time labour shortages with immigration; unfortunately the thinking at the time was evidently along racial rather than practical lines, and the government began offering visas and citizenship to those of Japanese blood if they would immigrate back to Japan to do the jobs the Japanese no longer wanted any part of, a process known as “dekasegi.”
The reasoning was that those of Japanese blood would have no trouble turning into dour Japanese workers even if they were largely rowdy Brazilians unable to speak Japanese.
Predictably, this led to major problems, with Japan totally unable to integrate its new population of several hundred thousand “Japanese” Brazilians, and the decline of manufacturing employment and subsequent economic malaise since then led them to become a major liability.
The Japanese government currently offers several thousand dollars to these South American “Japanese” if they will but go back to their countries of origin (and permanently give up their right to return as “nikkei”), demonstrating the total failure of the policy and their intense desire to rid themselves of the fractious lot in favour of other, more useful immigrants (mostly Chinese and Korean).
The case in question is also reminiscent of the recent fate of the Calderon family, a family of Filipino immigrants who illegally resided in Japan for decades, but were finally discovered and a deportation order issued.
However, their daughter 13-year-old Noriko Calderon had in fact been born and raised in Japan as Japanese and knew nothing else, but still held no Japanese citizenship.
She was able to make tearful pleas on television saying “I love Japan” and “I want to be Japanese,” and managed to sway public and official opinion into allowing her to stay, although her family was deported.
Unfortunately for this man, not being a tearful Japanese schoolgirl able to captivate the media and wring an exception from officials seems to have meant no reprieve from being crushed by the implacable cogs of immigration bureaucracy.