Myan­mar mi­grants in Japan bear heavy load


The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend|expatriots - Photo: Mang Shing

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.

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