TOKYO: Rows of wooden mortuary tablets inscribed with names line an altar at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo, silent testimony to Vietnamese people who died after coming to Japan to work or study.
“Whenever I am contacted about a death, I can speak only two words: ‘Why?’ and ‘Again?’” said Thich Tam Tri, a Vietnamese Buddhist nun who has been counselling migrants from her home country after arriving almost two decades ago.
“These young people … were living in great poverty in remote rural areas and their parents were suffering hardship,” she told Reuters after offering incense and prayers at the altar.
“They wanted to work hard in Japan,” Tri said. “They had dreams. And then they suddenly died.”
Lured by higher wages but often burdened by debts to recruiters, Vietnamese are the fastest-growing group of foreigners in Japan, which on April 1 will implement a new system to allow more workers into the country to cope with a historic labor shortage.
Many of the 140 Vietnamese whose names are on the tablets came to Japan on a “technical trainee” program that acts as a back door to blue-collar jobs in a country where immigration is a touchy subject. Others came as students and worked part time.
Next to the adults’ memorials are rows of smaller tablets for unborn infants, many aborted.
Debate over the new visa program highlighted problems with the trainee system such as overwork, unpaid wages and harassment.
Tri said many of those for whom she prays died of stress-related illnesses, others in accidents. Some committed suicide.