Myanmar migrants in Japan bear heavy load
NYEIN EI EI HTWE
I can’t sleep nights and the reason is that I feel so homesick,” says Aung Thu Soe, Sagaing native now sitting in a Japanese cafe whispering under the muzac track. Aung Thu Soe has been in Tokyo for three years, and today works as a waiter at a traditional Japanese restaurant. He originally came to Japan to earn extra money for his family, cycling through a number of low paying jobs until he found his current employment.
Being a migrant in a country known for its harsh work ethic, Aung Thu San is required to take a train first thing in the morning, around 6am, to get to work and usually does not arrive home until 11pm. Though he works exceedingly long hours and has little social life to speak of, Aung Thu San does enjoy his working environment, stating that the staff at the restaurant are warm and polite.
More than before, however, Aung Thu San is missing his family and his home in Sagaing. He plans on returning to Myanmar after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been held.
“I collected the salaries I earned so far and have sent them home to my family. Now, my younger siblings have graduated school and they asked me to come back to Myanmar. I do also want to take part in the 2020 Olympics as a volunteer, so I will wait until I have done that and then go home to start a small family business,” Aung Thu Soe said. He has spent his time in Japan living with a Chin Myanmar national named Mang Shing. The two first met at a Japanese language class.
Similarly to Aung Thu Soe, Mang Shing’s goal is to open a business at home. He has already purchased a plot of land near to Kalay University and intends to build a student hostel there. It is to find his dream of running a hostel that he is working in Tokyo, where he earns the equivalent to K4,000,000 per month.
“it’s actually hard to save money in Japan. Work is stressful and it’s so important to always be diligent and respectful in your work. So, here, most people release stress by drinking alcohol and gambling,” Mang Shang said.
Mang Shang is very eager to get back to Myanmar, though has been for some time wary of the relatively low pay he can expect at home. None the less, he too will return to Chin in 2020.
“Going back to Myanmar, I can only expect to earn two or three lakh per month by working the same job. I will need to start all over again. But, we are working so much here. It’s also about quality of life,” he added.
The two live in Takada Baba block, Toyko, a location popular with Myanmar migrants. A place where they can share conversations in Burmese language, talk about home and maybe cook some traditional food. Another comfort for Myanmar residents – lots of local karaoke. Takada Baba is known as the Myanmar block.
Now naturalised Japanese citizen U Than Lwin, 70, runs one of these local karaoke bars where the workers come to drink heavily to de-stress in Japanese fashion, but sing in Burmese language about the people and the places they miss so much. At the end of the night U Than Lwin warns the liquored-up men to be quiet getting home, and sends them on their way. U Than Lwin first came to Japan seeking work in 1980. Eventually, he would return to Bago but after his close relatives died, he no longer had anything tying him to his birthplace. Under pressure from his friends back in Tokyo, he left for good and would eventually gain his citizenship.
“I know they’re homesick,” U Than Lwin said. “I give them as much relief as I can. Personally, I do not have any attachments back in Myanmar. I miss my native land, but there are no people to welcome me there and, if I go to stay, I would be put up in a monastery.”
He said the number of Myanmar migrants in Japan is rising, reaching perhaps triple what it was under the closed years of the junta. The Japanese government today is actually trying to curtail the entry of “unskilled” Myanmar labour, opting to try and poach whitecollar professionals instead as the economic situation at home has been deemed to be improved.
“But there’s no change for the Myanmar migrants. They can go on an adventure and see some of the world and earn better money. They still want to come, even if Japan is trying a new policy,” U Than Lwin said.
The migrants that do come usually receive an education in conversational Japanese in order to be more economically useful in the capital. They are theoretically banned from working full time jobs but report that most do anyway, just “off the books”. The combination of language school and a heavy, totally unregulated work schedule many of the men feel burdened and exhausted, but must endure the exploitation to raise the money they need to make a better life at home.
“I don’t want to see more Myanmar men coming as general workers in the future. It’s a hard life with over-work and stress draining people of the fun of the adventure. I would recommend anyone looking to work in Japan to try and achieve professional qualifications,” U Than Lwin said.
“Going back to Myanmar, I can only expect to earn two or three lakh per month by working the same job. I will need to start all over again. But, we are working so much here. It’s also about quality of life.” Mang Shang Myanmar migrant
A Myanmar migrant is working in the kitchen of a famous Japanese bbq restaurant in Tokyo, October 28.
Young migrants from Myanmar relax in a restaurant in Takadanobaba, in the vicinity of Tokyo. U Than Lwin.