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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Arudou Debito and Sour Strawberries

有道出人 サワー・ストロベリーズ~知られざる日本の外国人労働者

Arudou Debito is an American-born Caucasian Japanese citizen, an associate professor at a university in Hokkaido, and a well-known activist working for an end to discrimination in Japan based on nationality and ethnicity, which, unlike in most first-world countries, is not illegal in Japan.

I attended a meeting in Tokyo at the end of last month, part of a 10-day tour of the Kanto and Kansai regions by Arudou, where he promoted the documentary Sour Strawberries - Japan’s hidden guest workers.

Sour Strawberries is a 60-minute film shot in Tokyo in March 2008 by a German-Japanese film crew that focuses on the issue of discrimination in Japan, mainly as it affects foreign workers from other Asian countries.

Numerous interviews in the film reveal the blatancy of discrimination in Japan, with foreign workers treated very much like slaves, most notably the workers who inspired the film’s title: strawberry pickers from China who worked days of at least 12 hours, 365 days a year, and whose passports were taken from them by their employer.

Union activism in defense of victims of discrimination in Japan is also liberally documented, the most startling example being the story told by a Japanese union activist, Torii Ippei of the Zentôitsu Workers Union, who, in response to his efforts in one case involving foreign workers, was doused in gasoline and set alight by the infuriated employer.

There was an extended question and answer session after the screening, where Arudou also took the opportunity to promote Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants to Japan, a book he and Higuchi Akira, a solicitor, released in 2008.

The 370-page Handbook covers the major issues of life affecting foreign residents in Japan, from residency and visa, to employment, starting a business, unions, retirement, activism, and “what to do if.” Handbook is a must-have for any non-Japanese resident of Japan, whether just off the boat, or veteran. It is written in both easy-to-read English and Japanese, and is available, for only 2,300 yen, through Arudou Debito’s website.

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