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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006

A glimmer of hope for castoffs

NGO finding jobs for young, desperate Japanese-Filipinos


CEBU, Philippines (Kyodo) Shinsaku Horiuchi, 17, is looking forward to returning to Japan.

News photo
Akira Oka

"I hope it will be soon," the slender 157-cm-tall Japanese-Filipino said.

A Japanese trainer, seeing in Horiuchi the potential to become a professional jockey, has offered him a job as a stable hand in Ibaraki Prefecture.

But before he flies to Japan, Horiuchi will work for a couple of months as an apprentice jockey in Manila to familiarize himself with horses. He knows nothing about horses or racetracks, but somehow he hopes to land a job in a stable in Japan.

He is prepared to get his hands dirty, he said.

"I know it's going to be tough, but I will never let failure enter my mind," he said.

The job could be his ticket to security. In the Philippines, Japanese-Filipinos, known as "Japinos," are often looked down on as children of "Japayukis," or Filipino women who work as bar girls, waitresses or entertainers in Japan.

Born in Saitama Prefecture, Horiuchi, his elder brother and their mother were forced to move back to her hometown in the central Philippines 10 years ago after their Japanese father left them. Out of work, their mother was forced to sell their TV, refrigerator and other items to survive.

Poverty forced him and his brother to quit school. He toils to earn 120 pesos (around 200 yen) a day to help his family.

"I'm glad that my dream to return to Japan will now come true," he said.

News photo
Shinsaku Horiuchi (right) pays attention to Japanese lessons given by a volunteer teacher from the Shin-Nikkeijin Network Association, a group helping Japanese-Filipino children in Cebu, the Philippines. KYODO PHOTO

Around 20 Japanese-Filipino youths ranging in age from 16 to 23 will leave for Shizuoka Prefecture beginning this month to work in electronics factories and places that prepare "bento" boxed meals, said Akira Oka, 79, chairman of the Shin-Nikkeijin Network Association, Cebu Inc., or SNN.

"We need to speed up the process of bringing many of these children to Japan. We want their fathers to support these children, especially their education," Oka said, adding that some of the children, who carry Japanese passports, will be accompanied by their mothers.

Launched in February, SNN is a nongovernmental organization that helps the growing number of abandoned Japanese-Filipino children in the Philippines. SNN, with the help of similar NGOs in Japan, helps the children locate their Japanese fathers and seek financial support.

In 1994, then Philippine President Fidel Ramos raised the plight of Filipino-Japanese children during talks with Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama when he visited Manila.

Ramos wanted "some form of recognition" from the Japanese who fathered the children, in the wake of growing concern over their rising numbers.

Specifically, Ramos wanted financial support from the Japanese fathers, and, if possible, some help from NGOs.

The number of Japanese-Filipinos was estimated at around 10,000 in 1994. Today, Oka puts the number at around 120,000. The Philippines and Japan keep no records of these children.

The Philippines is the world's second-largest sources of migrant workers, after Mexico. Japan is among their top five destinations, and more than 65 percent of the workers are women, according to the Asian Development Bank.

According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, only 35,000 Filipino entertainers entered Japan in 2005, far fewer than the 80,000 plus recorded in 2003, due to the imposition last year of stricter entry rules for entertainers.

Nearly 300,000 Filipinos, mostly women entertainers at bars and other nightspots, are currently working in Japan. Philippine authorities estimate that up to 77,000 entered Japan illegally.

Every year, according to Oka, an estimated 8,000 weddings take place between Japanese and Filipinos. At least 10,000 Japanese-Filipino children are born every year.

Some of the children hold Japanese or Philippine passports, but many are registered neither in Japan nor in the Philippines.

Typically, the parents met in a nightclub in Japan. Many of the couples end up separating due to age gaps and cultural differences, with the Japanese men often completely abandoning the children to their jobless mothers.

Many of the abandoned and their mothers who end up in the Philippines wallow in poverty, the situation that drove their mothers to work in Japan to begin with.

Since February, at least 260 children and 150 mothers have registered with SNN's main headquarters in Cebu, said Oka, adding the many more are flocking to the group's office.

They attend classes on the Japanese language and on the necessary academic and social skills to survive in Japan.

Elsa Nishioka, 29, an unemployed mother, is among those who attended the course. She was deserted by the Japanese man she married in 1999, leaving her to fend for her three children, aged 2, 4 and 6.

"My husband apparently forged my signatures in the divorce papers," she said.

Yasuhiro Yajima, 21, and her two older brothers and younger sister are also seeking help from SNN. Their 77-year-old Japanese father has been languishing in jail in Manila since 1994. They, too, want to go to Japan for work.

"SNN is our only hope," said Yajima, who hopes to be reunited with his father someday.

The long wait for some children of Japanese fathers and Filipino mothers may at last be coming to an end. SNN keeps a flicker of hope alive for these children who wish to get a chance to start fresh in the land of their fathers.

Most of the children who spoke with Kyodo News have only the vaguest notion of what life would be like in Japan. Yet they are convinced it can only be an improvement.

Horiuchi, who wants to be a jockey, looks forward to his new, and hopefully, better life in Japan. "Japan is my home. I want to work in Japan," he said.

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