Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: email@example.com
(Has been in Japan since ’92)
Refugee – You may have heard this word many times. Its definition is: “a person who’s owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.
N.Y has been in Japan as a refugee for about 20 years. There are many people like N.Y in Japan. Moreover there are thousands of people who are applying to the Japanese government for refugee status. They want to receive petitions as soon as possible and live their lives without fear of being deported. They are living in Japan obscurely.
We cannot show you N.Y’s photo, real name and his/her hometown. N.Y permitted an interview under special circumstances. We put almost all the things that one could reveal on My Eyes Tokyo. So hear the refugee’s voice.
One who was next to me was lost
T. You joined the movement for democratization in the country where you’re from. And you belong to the ethnic minority there. So you’ve gotten sadness in your heart. Could you tell me what had been going on in your country?
N. As you said, I had joined a huge pro-democracy movement. Some of the participants including students are living here.
Holding up a placard which told our call, I marched on the street. The bottom of my face was hidden by a placard so I was not recognized by the government. But a man walking next to me was killed. Government officials were taking pictures of us secretly in order to check who were joining the march.
Officials came to my house so I escaped to the neighboring country. But they crossed the border. I thought that I had to leave there for any other country. Then a friend of mine told me that Japan was safe. Because you can walk alone even in the nighttime, you can go out anywhere and whenever, you can say what you want.
A book which I was reading confirmed the advice from my friend. “Japan is a country which has a very low crime rate.” The words “freedom” and “safe” struck my heart. Also it was not difficult to obtain a visa from the Japanese government. That’s why I came to Japan.
Japan, the land of liberty
T. How many people told you that Japan was a safe country?
N. One. I had another friend who left my country, but he went to Germany. But he was exposed to racism because of the color of his skin. He said that he had no reply every time he asked something.
T. Did you come to Japan by yourself?
T. What did you feel when you got here?
N. I thought that Japan was a free country as described. But as soon as I started my new life here, I faced a high cost of living and cultural gaps. However I just had to keep going so worked feverishly.
“If I cannot stay in Japan, let me go to the US!”
T. How long had it taken from applying for asylum until being given official refugee status?
N. Two years. People who had applied before me didn’t receive petitions for refugee status, so I had been really nervous. Even if I was not recognized as a refugee, I couldn’t go home. If I went home, I would have been killed or persecuted.
I made a request to the Japanese immigration authorities, “If the application is denied, please let me go to the US.” Because my oldest sister lived in America.
T. When you came to Japan, what was your visa status?
N. A tourist.
T. Have you already had a passport?
N. Yes. My country wanted to kick us out so we could get passports easily.
T. You wanted to go overseas regardless of your situation.
N. Yes. If I stayed in my country, I couldn’t learn what the world thought. My brother read Newsweek and Reader’s Digest and told me what was happening in the world. Then I learned that my country was lagging behind other countries in all aspects of life. When you make a phone call, you have to pay attention to what you talk about. Officials check each letter you send by slitting it open with scissors.
Working hard everyday
T. What kind of job did you get after coming to Japan?
N. I had no job over the initial three months. I couldn’t speak Japanese at all so taught myself the Japanese alphabets. I mastered them in three weeks.
After that, I started working at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. It was too busy.
T. How did you find that restaurant?
N. I attended a temple in Tokyo with my friend after I came here. A friend of mine knew a Japanese person and he introduced me to that restaurant.
I couldn’t read difficult letters and understand what they told me, but I had to remember all of the menu. So I read a menu until midnight day after day.
T. How long had you worked at that restaurant?
N. About five years. After that, I worked at a soba (buckwheat) noodle shop in central Tokyo. I worked weekdays from 10AM to 11PM.
The person who’s been so good to me was working next to that shop so she talked to the manager of soba shop. The manager said to her that the manager needed a new staff and she told me about that.
The manager had an experience of war. He said that Chinese people helped him when he was going to escape from the front. Other staff were also very kind to me so I felt as if I was at home.
I want to be a “cool refugee”
T. Have you gone through hard experiences here in Japan?
N. I think yes. Some of my Japanese friends looked down on me because I’m a refugee. I still feel that some people do that.
I think many Japanese don’t know about our circumstances. They tend to think that we come to Japan and accept help from NGOs. Actually I explained to people about the definition of refugee and my story.
Some of them apologized to me but others walked out on me. But I won’t give up. What I want to be is a “cool refugee”. I’ll study Japanese harder and acquire technical knowledge. I would like to be a refugee who lives an independent life.
What is Japan to you?
My second home because I’ve been here for almost half my life.
But – I don’t need to worry about it yet – I’m anxious about my old age. I wonder how Japanese government will support refugees’ lives in the future. Also there are refugees who have children so I worry about their kids, too.
However, no matter how it is under the bad situation, my real home is my country. I’ll never be able to go back, but I hope that at least it’ll be democratized. So please give us your help and support!