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Laid Off Brazilian Migrant Workers Want to Return to Japan

  • Jason Strother

Japanese language class at an organization called CIATE in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Japanese language class at an organization called CIATE in Sao Paulo, Brazil

During last year's global economic crisis, tens of thousands of Brazilian migrant workers were laid off in Japan. These manual laborers were there on special work visas given to descendants of Japanese migrants to South America.

So many lost their jobs that the Tokyo government became worried that the unemployed Brazilians would put a strain on the nation's welfare system. So, they offered the workers one-way tickets back home. Many took that offer. Others returned on their own. But, now that they are back in Brazil, many say they want to return to Japan.

Students at a class in Sao Paulo's historic Japanese neighborhood, Liberdade, practice Japanese conversation.

Land of ancestors

Some have never been to the land of their ancestors, who migrated to Brazil in the 20th century. But others, like Claudio Koboyashi, have. Until last year, the 53-year old worked in a Japanese factory. He lost his job during the global economic crisis.

He says coming back home to Brazil was not what he expected.

He says it has been difficult and he has not been able to get a job in Brazil. He is taking Japanese language courses, in hopes of returning to Japan.

Koboyashi is not alone, says Masato Ninomiya, president of CIATE – an organization that supports Brazilian workers abroad. He says, despite Japan's economic slump, many factory workers still see more opportunities there.

"So there are many people waiting for the recovery of Japan's economy to go back there," Ninomiya said. "People who stayed a very long time in Japan, they have some difficulties in adapting themselves again in Brazil'

Ninomiya says salaries in Japanese factories are as much as four times higher than what workers can earn here.

Workers want to return back to Japan

Many of those who returned to Brazil say they cannot wait until the Japanese economy improves, says Helena Sanada, a counselor at CIATE. She says she has met returned workers who are so eager to go back to Japan, that they are willing to return without any guarantee of a new job – even if that means they end up homeless there.

She says many of them say that society is better in Japan than here in Brazil. She says they feel they would be better off living in the streets of Japan than on the streets here.

CIATE offers counseling and help

Sanada says some of the returned workers suffer from depression and contemplate suicide. CIATE offers them counseling and helps them find new jobs.

CIATE President Masato Ninomiya says the children of these workers also suffer from this cross migration. He says, by moving back and forth between countries, many kids never attend school or receive an education.

"They become adults and they are not educated in any language," Ninomiya added. "Our fear is that many people become rootless. They're not Brazilians. They're not Japanese. They're not educated in Japan. They're not educated in Brazil."

Ninomiya says families that want to go back to Japan should consider what is in their children's best interest.

He adds they also should take into consideration Brazil's expanding economy. Ninomiya says better, higher paying jobs will become more available soon, especially for young Brazilians.

"I recommend them to stay here. Because I think the medium and long term range, I think Brazil will have progress," said Ninomiya.

Matter of right opportunity

Thirty-six year old Carlos Aragaki is taking that advice.

He lost his job last year, during the recession in Japan, and now works at a produce market in Sao Paulo.

Aragaki says he is in no rush to return to Japan.

Although he says he would go back to Japan for the right opportunity; otherwise, he is happy where he is.