In Tokyo, a temple offers refuge to pandemic-hit Vietnamese workers
August 12, 2020

Temple in Tokyo offers refuge to pandemic-hit Vietnamese workers

TOKYO (JAPAN) – Last week, Thi Tu Luong, a 22-year old Vietnamese worker, dragged her suitcase down a side street in Tokyo’s business district, in search of the temple that would take her in for the night.

Luong had just been fired from her job at a hotel in a hot springs town north of Tokyo.

She saw Jiho Yoshimizu, who runs a support group for Vietnamese workers, welcomed her in from the entrance of a concrete building, after a few minutes of walking the street.

Nisshinkutsu, the three-storey Buddhist temple, has become a safe haven for young Vietnamese migrant workers, which figures among the groups hit hardest by coronavirus outbreak in Japan.

Luong said shortly after she arrived at the temple. “I’m just really grateful I can be here.”

Nuns at the temple offer prayers for the deceased usually, but with the coronavirus upsetting the economy, they now spend their time effectively making care packages for Vietnamese, who are spread across the country.

Inside the temple, young Vietnamese workers whose lives have come to a standstill now study Japanese, cook Vietnamese food, look for work or book flights home.

Yoshimizu, who heads the Japan-Vietnam Coexistence Support Group, a nonprofit based out of the temple, said, “We do everything. We take care of people from when they’re inside the womb to when they’re inside an urn.”

The temple became popular in Vietnamese circles after it became a safe haven for the homeless after the 2011 earthquake in northern Japan.

Yoshimizu’s reputation spread in the community, as she started receiving messages from young Vietnamese. From women seeking abortions, workers who were abruptly disowned with nowhere to go to labourers fleeing abusive employers, they started receiving requests from different people.

In 2019, Yoshimizu took care of around 400 cases, the number of which has increased since April. She now receives between 10 and 20 messages a day, all seeking help from Vietnamese across Japan.

“I’ve lost count,” she said, sitting next to a phone that beeps and rings ceaselessly with calls and messages from labour brokers, employers, and desperate Vietnamese workers.

“No one else in Japan right now can provide this kind of support,” she said.

When Luong was fired without warning and was asked to leave her dorm, she turned to Yoshimizu for help.

“I have no job, no place to stay right now. Please, please help me,” Luong messaged Yoshimizu. “Can I come to the temple today?”

Luong graduated from a vocational school in March and started working in mid-April at a high-end hotel in Nikko, a tourist destination made popular for its temples.

Having received no work and spending her days in a dorm room with nothing to do, Luong said she was paid about 30,000 yen (£223.41) in May. She, however, was not sure if she had been paid in June. The hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many Vietnamese workers arrive in Japan as students or trainees, making them rely on their employers. Hence, they are subjected to abuse and exploitation.

Yoshimizu spoke in parliament last month to urge the government to extend support to the Vietnamese students who do not have employment insurance.

“The current government’s coronavirus policy is focused on helping the Japanese first,” Yoshimizu said.

(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field.

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