Making “Invisible Reality” Faced by Peruvian Children in Japan Visible—Seminar Series on Migration History and Multicultural Understanding in Japan


On Feb. 2, 2022, the second lecture of the “Migration History and Multicultural Understanding in Japan: Understanding ‘Others’ from Historical Perspectives” was jointly held online by JICA Ogata Sadako Research Institute for Peace and Development (JICA Ogata Research Institute) and the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum at JICA Yokohama Center. This series of six lectures was held as part of JICA Ogata Research Institute’s project “Study on the International Migration and Networks of Japanese Descendants between Japan and Latin America.” For this second lecture, Nagamura Yukako, research fellow at JICA Ogata Research Institute, served as the moderator, and Kohatsu Jose, who is a researcher at the Center for the Multicultural Public Sphere, School of International Studies, Utsunomiya University (also a visiting fellow at the Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences, Waseda University) gave a talk under the theme “The Invisible Reality of Latin American Families in Japan During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from Learning Support Activities for Peruvian School Children.”

Nagamura Yukako, research fellow at JICA Ogata Research Institute, served as the moderator

Kohatsu started by looking at the “invisible reality,” as in the title of his talk. He said that when Nikkei Latin Americans (i.e., descendants of Japanese people who emigrated to Latin America) with temporary job positions in Japan experienced layoffs and a governmental program to assist them to return to their home countries was in place following the Great Recession, their existence and working environment partially received public attention and the issue became visible. However, he said, our society overlooks many of the difficulties Nikkei Latin American workers in Japan are experiencing during the current pandemic—not only economic ones but also those related to education and various aspects of life—and they remain invisible. Japanese Peruvians started to migrate to Japan in the late 1980s for employment and their population in Japan peaked at around 60,000 in 2008. Since then, in all generations, they have increasingly returned to Peru or have chosen to become naturalized Japanese citizens and as of 2020, their population has dropped to around 48,000. Kohatsu suggested that several issues may surface in the coming years, including their aging and the weakening of organizations assisting Peruvians in Japan. He stated that some of them lost access to education because they had to work and others were unable to receive sufficient higher education because they had difficulties in acquiring prerequisite educational backgrounds. This may pose another issue since they are now old enough to start families, and their children may fall into the same downward spiral.

Kohatsu then introduced Asociación Japonés Peruana (AJAPE, a Japanese-Peruvian Association), based on his own experience participating in its activities. AJAPE is a nonprofit organization providing assistance to residents of Japan with Peruvian and/or other Latin American backgrounds. AJAPE Kanagawa is active in Yamato, Kanagawa, a city with more than 7,000 foreign residents. It is an area where efforts to achieve intercultural cohesion have a long history, including the establishment of Yamato International Association in 1994, but many issues for foreign residents prevail, including the lack of interaction with local communities, insufficient opportunities to learn Japanese and the lack of a learning environment for their children. For one year since November 2020, AJAPE Kanagawa conducted a support program for foreign school children who suffered from the lack of social interaction and/or faced difficulties in receiving education because of the pandemic. This program included activities like learning assistance, native language and cultural support, psychological assistance, support for their parents and counselling. 61 children from elementary school pupils to high school students (of which about 70% are Peruvians) received learning assistance catered to the needs of each child from 11 foreign teachers and five Japanese teachers. As a result, nearly half of the children gave assuring responses in a survey conducted after program completion. They commented for example, that after participating in the program they are studying more at home, not only before exams. In fact, those who were in their final year of junior high school or high school at the time proceeded successfully to high schools, colleges or vocational schools to continue education.

Kohatsu Jose talked about the invisible reality faced by Peruvian children in Japan

To take a glimpse at what the family environment was like for these children, Kohatsu made an analysis by comparing family environment (e.g., financial situation and the stability of the parent-child relationship) against the capacities of the parents to gather appropriate information. The results showed that the majority lived in good family environments but their parents had limited capacities to gather information. Kohatsu remarked that while adaptation to online classes is difficult for many children, regardless of their nationalities during the pandemic, the habit to study regularly was not instilled among the Peruvian children to start with and this had nothing to do with the pandemic. We need to examine whether this was because their parents were too busy to look after them or because the parents lacked sufficient education, and this is a question that has not been addressed to date. In other words, invisible reality faced by the Peruvian children needs to be made visible. Moreover, he said that as these children tend to leave the communities that support them when they get older, for example, quitting the program once they are accepted at a high school, thus it is difficult to get the full picture of why children are not studying. Kohatsu looked back and said that many of the parents did not seem to have enough information about their own children and suggested the need to further address this issue.

In the Q&A session, Kohatsu answered based on his own experience as a child in Japan with foreign roots. He said that civil society organizations can help in areas where support from local administrations or schools cannot reach, so he would like to continue activities to provide learning assistance. He however emphasized that there is some sort of reason when a child has behavioral problems and moreover, Japanese fluency does not always guarantee good academic performance. He called out that we have to look deeper than the surface to understand the context these children are placed in. A variety of questions including those on the identity issue of Peruvian children in Japan and how they are doing at school from the audience followed.

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