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Friday, March 27, 2009

Film exposes struggles of Japan's 'hidden' workers

Special to The Japan Times

"They said: 'If you get injured, you will be fired immediately.' 'What kind of law is this?' I asked. They said: 'The Company's law.' "

The documentary "Sour Strawberries: Japan's Hidden 'Guest Workers,' " depicts the struggles of non-Japanese in Japan as they strive for their rights as workers and citizens. Filmed by a Japanese and German film crew in March 2008, the documentary focuses on the experiences of nikkeijin (economic migrants) and "trainees" who can mostly only find short-term employment in low-wage sectors. The quote above is from a Bolivian worker, who tells how the company he worked for treated him. He lost his right hand in a work-related accident and the company subsequently fired him.

The title of the documentary is a reference to a strawberry farm in Tochigi Prefecture where trainees from China worked before being inexplicably fired. They would then have been forced out of the country, if not for the help of the Zentoitsu Workers Union. Union leader Ippei Torii introduces the film crew to the three trainees who relate their stories. On the stance Japan takes in the matter of foreign workers, Torii states, "Japan doesn't want to damage the facade of being an ethnically homogeneous nation. They say they don't accept unskilled workers, so 'training' is used as a pretense to get migrant workers into the country."

Though the depiction of foreign workers in Japan is at the center of the documentary, other important political and business leaders opine on working conditions. The director of international affairs of the Japan Business Federation, Hiroshi Inoue, discusses the highly skilled workers Japan wants, while former Vice-Minister of Justice and LDP Lower House lawmaker Taro Kono discusses the stance of the Japanese government.

For those who cannot make the movie screenings, it is available for ¥2,000 (including postage) from the Sour Strawberries Web site.

"Sour Strawberries: Japan's Hidden 'Guest Workers' " will have a limited screening throughout Japan from now until mid April. It will also show in Okayama on March 28, in Kumamoto on March 31 and in Sapporo in April. All screenings will have a voluntary contribution of ¥500. For more information, visit www.debito.org

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