So travel posts can be super detailed or glossy and broad in scope. In this one, I’d like to zoom in on a couple highlights from Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture, a company town that is relatively close to Nagoya and Kyoto but definitely off the tourist path. WARNING: long-winded post ahead!
I was doing research on this recent trip to Japan studying immigration policies and practice. I had read so much about Homi Danchi, a housing complex where roughly 5,000 Japanese Brazilians live (representing about half of the area’s residents) and so I just had to go and see it for myself.
Now, doing research in a foreign country is definitely daunting and there were days when I just looked sky high and wondered if I was in wayyyy over my head, but as per usual, God knows what is going on and things did work out quite smoothly so thank you Lord for that! So I am very, very appreciative of my time “on the ground”, and also I am truly indebted to a few wonderful individuals who took time out of their busy schedules to accommodate a lowly student researcher with a smattering of Japanese under her belt. (Seriously, if you want to study anything in Japan, get thee to class and/or find a language tutor asap! Mine was fantastic and I am so happy to have met Makiko san!)
OK so now for Toyota City highlights:
Through a network of professors in Canada, the US, and Japan, I made contact with an non-profit organization (NPO) that works on site in Homi Danchi; they offer language courses (work-related Japanese for adults, supplementary Portuguese for kids) as well as assistance in other areas (job searches, food packages etc.). Although the Japanese professor (Nomoto sensei) who initially wrote to me was unable to meet me, he put me in touch with people that arranged for a working schedule that was truly beyond anything I could have even hoped to achieve during my trip.
After attending a Japanese-Portuguese lesson on kitchen vocabulary (hilarious when your backup language is French and your Portuguese is nada), I met the most impressive Monsieur JJ (I’ll have to ask him permission to use his name here), a 70+ year old, retired Japanese businessman who just loves to be active and so, get this, he volunteers for roughly 20 organizations in the region!!!!!! Yes, he has a wife and family, and he modestly says he is just committed to helping out in the community. If I were even 1/3 as energetic as this man, I’d be a star! (Talk about Japanese work ethic!!!) He alternates between organizations throughout the week: sometimes he plants tea leaves at 4am and I think that work takes at least til lunch time, he tutors at the local public schools, and he organizes charity runs for Japanese Brazilians (AKA nikkeijin) and translates informally (his English is awesome!). There’s a lot more but I forget….He really has a heart for foreigners/immigrants in Japan. He also uses his business networks to solicit donations like free backpacks for kids.
Well, I was in for a treat: he had planned to spend the entire day with me, introducing me to NPOs, taking me on a personalized tour of Homi Danchi, DRIVING me to the local community centre and city hall (he’s the kind of man who knows important local officials and he even secured us a free lunch cooked by local residents who were in training to become home care workers in elderly homes). I was so blown away…..when we first met, he showed me an article from that day’s newspaper on the plight of nikkeijin in Japan that he had clipped for me and he also translated it for me after…I did not even know I was going to meet him and here he was with a fully packed schedule all meant for me! It was sooooo amazing! He gave me historical context on the area (he’s been a resident for at least 30 years) and he drew pictures on the board and gave me pamphlets that he thought would be useful for my research. Monsieur JJ is a gem of the most fabulous kind!
After hours and hours of showing me too many amazing things all related to immigration in Toyota City, he drove me back to the train station and said that if I came back on the weekend, he’d also be available for coffee….I was thinking: after all this time, you still wanna see me?!!?? Wowee was this man ever generous!!!!
So that is my attempt of giving praise to a kindhearted individual who took time out of his life to give to me, a stranger from a faraway land….I am just eternally grateful and seriously, I do indeed just LOVE LOVE LOVE Japan!