Interview by Isao Tokuhashi
Edited by Jennifer A. Hoff
Pozo Rodríguez Miguel Angel (Bolivia)
Manufacturing company employee / soccer coach / enka singer manager
“My determination to protect my family was that firm.”
We met a man who fits the word “gentleman” perfectly.
The day before the interview with Yolanda Tasico, the “first Filipino enka singer” whom we introduced in our previous article, she asked us, “I’m bringing my assistant tomorrow. Is that okay for you?” On the day of the interview, a man appeared with Yolanda near the Central Gate of JR Ueno Station. That is Pozo Rodríguez Miguel Angel, whom we would like to introduce to you today.
When we were in Ueno Park looking for a location for our photo shoot, Pozo ran around the park and found us a great spot overlooking the beautiful Shinobazu Pond, which was covered with lotus leaves. When we were chatting over lunch after the interview, he was always attentive, running to the drink bar to get us new drinks even before Yolanda’s drink ran out. We wanted to know more about him, so we requested an interview.
Then in late June, we met him again. When the unseasonably hot weather caused a malfunction in the filming equipment, which prolonged the interview, Pozo remained calm the whole time. Moreover, after the interview, he treated us to a home-cooked meal at his humble abode (a photo of which will be shown in this article). Our interview with this Bolivian prince began with a story about his unexpected background.
*Interview at Kawasaki
The power of love led me to an unknown country
I have been working for a parts processing company that serves clients in all manufacturing industries for about 18 years. Before that, I worked for four years for an auto parts recycling company I found through a job-placement office. What all of these have in common is making things. I have loved working with my hands since I was a small child. I even remodeled my own home by myself.
On the other hand, I am also involved in activities outside of work. I started playing soccer in my home country when I was a child, and I continue to play soccer today. I also served four years over two terms as a volunteer member of the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents, a support group for foreign residents, in order to convey the voices of foreign residents in Kawasaki City to the government.
The reason that I first came to Japan was through the encountering of my ex-wife, who is Japanese.
At the time I was an instructor at the Naval Academy. I was interested in working in the military because my brothers were in the military, I had always enjoyed sports and other physical activities, and it was a stable civil service position. On the other hand, my ex-wife was posted to Bolivia as an employee of JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency). She was a frequent visitor to an on-base recreation facility that the military had opened to the general public, and that is where she and I met.
Pozo (fourth from left) when he served in the Navy
*Photo provided by Pozo Rodriguez Miguel Angel
Until then, I knew very little about Japan. In the past, the TV drama called “Oshin” was broadcast in Bolivia and it was very popular, but that was the only impression of Japan that I saw in my country. Thanks to the high regard the military held for me, I had the opportunity to study in other countries in South America and the United States. But Asia, including Japan, seemed geographically and culturally distant, so I didn’t want to go only to Asia. But after meeting her, I told the head of the military, “I want to go to Asia, and Japan in particular.” The power of love is amazing.
When I arrived in Japan in the late 90s, the scenery was completely different from what I had seen in “Oshin”. The food culture was similar to Bolivia in that rice was eaten, but there was no such thing as eating tasteless rice and it was always seasoned before cooking. So when I came to Japan and was served white rice, I could not swallow it. In fact, I almost vomited (laughs). As for natto, I wondered why they held back from eating the beans until they spoiled (laughs). Now I enjoy both.
He made Bolivia’s local dish called “Pique macho” for us.
“Return your pay to us”
I was posted by the Bolivian navy to learn about operations related to vessel arrival and departure in Japan, but first I needed to learn Japanese. At the time, the city of Kawasaki, where I began living with my girlfriend, offered free Japanese language classes once or twice a week for foreign residents, and I began to study there.
Soon after, I married her. I decided with her that we would return to Bolivia together after our three-year stay in Japan. But in the meantime, my first son was born and I myself became ill, so I asked the military for my resignation. However, the military told me, “You went to Japan to represent Bolivia, so you need to come back here.” They allowed me to extend my stay for two years to recuperate and prepare for my return home, but during that time, my first daughter was born. So again I applied to the military for retirement.
Those in the military are national public servants in Bolivia. As a person who receives a salary from the public’s taxes, there was a rule that one must not quit for at least 10 years after joining the military. However, since my length of service did not meet that requirement, I was told that if I left the military, I would have to return the salary that I had been paid until then. Still, I chose to remain in Japan. My determination to protect my family was that firm.
In order to survive in Japan, I started looking for a job. I found a job at a job-placement office for a company that recycles auto parts and applied for it. Even though I barely understood Japanese at the time, the company, which until then had zero foreign employees, accepted me. While working at the factory, I studied Japanese during breaks, lunches, and other free time. Thanks to the free Japanese language classes Kawasaki City offered, I eventually was able to read, write, and speak Japanese. Although even now, I am still learning new words every day through my work and daily life.
Soccer saved my life
There is one more thing that has helped me in a foreign land. That is soccer. I started playing as a child as part of a selected team and went on to participate in tournaments in elementary, junior high, and high school, as well as during military college. I also continued to play soccer as an adult and after coming to Japan. Later, my oldest son joined the soccer team at the elementary school he attended, and while watching him practice, I became the coach of that team, changing my role from player to coach.
On the other hand, at work, although the environment was not bad, I sometimes clashed with my bosses due to differences of opinion. Looking back, I think this was due to my lack of language skills and understanding of Japanese culture. At that time, someone I played with on an adult soccer team asked me if I was interested in working with him. That is how I joined the company I am still working for today.
When my wife and I separated due to one thing or another, a man I became friends with through soccer helped me during the divorce settlement with my wife. Difficult legal terms became a big obstacle for me, and although my friend was very helpful to me, at the time of the trial I still could not fully grasp the meaning of the complex questions in Japanese my wife’s lawyer asked me. I answered “yes” to questions I should have answered “no” to, and as a result, my answers were taken to mean the opposite of what I wanted to convey. When I was feeling trapped mentally and thought that I would give up and throw everything away, my good friend from my soccer team said, “You are not alone. If you need help, please talk to me. I will help you.” I still remember those words from him. I was so glad that I played soccer.
I joined an adult soccer team because I wanted to get in touch with the people in the community where I live, and later I even started coaching a youth soccer team because I wanted to help the community where I’m living now. I have no desire for anything in return, only to give back to the people who allow me to live in Japan through what I can do. Even so, the children in my neighborhood and their parents say “thank you” to me. That makes me feel really happy.
Members of Pozo’s adult team. Pozo joined this team through an introduction from his ex-wife’s colleague. Pozo is the fourth person from the left in the back row. His daughter is to his left, and his son in orange is on the far left.
*Photo provided by Pozo Rodriguez Miguel Angel
I want to be a bridge
Until February of this year (2022), I had been working for a local support group for foreign residents called the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents for about four years. It caught my interest when I saw a notice about the organization in my mailbox at home. I felt that I wanted to be a link between foreigners and Japanese people for the sake of Kawasaki City, which recognizes me as a foreign citizen.
I think I was very fortunate. Thanks to my ex-wife, who is Japanese, preparing documents and working as an interpreter, I was able to get a job even though I knew very little Japanese.
On the other hand, however, I heard that some foreigners who marry other foreigners who have limited Japanese language abilities are at a disadvantage in procedures such as ones regarding when their children can enter school or when they can receive medical care, because they lack sufficient language skills. We also learned that even singles may not be able to find work because they do not understand the language, and even if they do find work, they may not be paid properly.
In order to serve as a bridge between such people and the Japanese, I participated in the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. I translated notices from the city into Spanish, made sure that the city’s publicly available materials were properly understood by foreign residents and proposed improvements as needed. I am currently on a two-year leave of absence for one term, in accordance with the rule that a person must have a gap of one term before he or she can continue working for more than three terms.
Ask not what Japan can do for you, ask what you can do for Japan
Through my activities with this organization, I hope that foreign nationals in Japan will have a sense of wanting to help others.
We foreigners tend to demand Japan to do things for us and complain when all our wishes are not fulfilled. However, Japan actually does many things for us. To respond to them, we should give back to the community in which we now live through participation in volunteer activities, or by other acts of charity. By doing so, we can be able to live comfortably in an environment that is different from our home countries.
I broke through to the wider Japanese community through soccer, which I loved to play. Because of this, my children were not bullied even though I, their father, is a foreigner. When you interact openly with the community, they will treat you with respect.
There haven’t been any foreign children on my team yet, but I would tell them, “You are just like everyone else.” if there were. If you give them confidence in this way, they will do their best just like the other kids. At the same time, I would also tell the other Japanese children, “These kids are just like you. They are one of you.”
Love your family
Recently I have not been able to return to my home country due to COVID, but I used to always return with my entire family every three years because I wanted them to have as much fun as possible.
In my country, it is customary for children to return en masse to their parents’ homes when there is something to celebrate. We like to get together with our families, even if it is only for the weekend. On the other hand, in Japan, when children grow up, they seem to be more separated from their families, both physically and emotionally, in my eyes. Rather than saying that this situation should be improved, all we need to do is to care for the family. I believe that if we do this, people of all ages, including the elderly, can come together and enjoy their lives more.
On the other hand, what I want parents to be aware of is that loving their children and keeping them by their side forever are two very different things. What is important is to provide an environment where they can “spread their wings.” I myself left my family and my hometown to go far away to Japan. I am sure I made my parents feel lonely. But on the other hand, they believe in the concept that “you have to be responsible for your own family.” So they sent me to Japan with the words, “Be sure to protect the person you have chosen to be with and the family you have built with that person.”
Allowing children to do what they really want to do to the fullest will create in them a sense of gratitude to their parents. With that feeling, they will return to their parents or decide to live with them, even if they have been separated. I want my own children to be happy while also respecting their mother.
I unfortunately have gotten divorced with my wife, and I occasionally still have regrets that I’ve not fully lived through my duty of protecting my family. But now, my children give me strength. They are my greatest treasure.
With his beloved children
*Photo provided by Pozo Rodriguez Miguel Angel
What is Japan to you?
It’s a “safe country” and “a country where I can live with peace of mind.”
I am very indebted to Japan. So I am very grateful to this country.
I believe that Japan is the country where I can live with peace of mind, together with my family.
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