I didn’t want to beat myself up

Came to Japan from Peru in the second year of junior high school. Attended a multicultural free school in junior high school. Went to a part time high school, and after graduation, proceeded to a vocational training school. Currently works as an electrician. Father of one child at the time of interview.

– Please tell us about when you first came to Japan.

At first, I went to Disneyland and was told I would be back in a week. We went to Disneyland and had a great time, but after a week, we still weren’t leaving and I was told that I would be living in Japan. I was annoyed at first. Why should I come to Japan when I was studying normally in Peru? I was in the eighth grade at school in Peru, but because of my age, I joined the first-grade class.

– Did you go straight to junior high school in Japan?

Yes, I did. But I was originally quite good at schoolwork and math, and I could speak English. But I didn’t understand Japanese at all. There were no Japanese classes at school, so at first I learned Japanese from the movements of people’s mouths. After six months, the school decided that since I couldn’t speak Japanese, we should have an interpreter come to class, but I felt embarrassed because it was like I was studying with my parents, and I felt like I was interrupting the class. I didn’t need an interpreter, so I wanted to go to a place where I could study Japanese on my own. I don’t think I had any friends. Not really friends, but classmates. I didn’t get along with them badly, but they weren’t my friends.

– When did you start to understand Japanese?

I remember it was in December of 2012. I was watching anime and TV every day. My classmates were speaking Japanese, and the people around me were speaking Japanese. It was so loud. And before I knew it, I learned to say, “Shut up! I couldn’t say thank you, so I said “Shut up. I couldn’t say “thank you,” so I had to say “Shut up” and other explosive words. I was able to get them all out, and somehow these became understandable. Before I knew it, my emotions started to explode. At the end of junior high school, I finally began to understand the language. But I was still naive and thought that I didn’t have to say anything in class because they said I didn’t have to, so I thought I could understand but didn’t have to. I pretended that I couldn’t understand until I was in the third grade. At the end of the second year, I calculated that I would pretend to understand.

– How did you become involved in a multicultural free school**?

I think it started with an acquaintance of my mother. They wanted children to have someone who could understand foreigners and their feelings. Also, I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to study. I was not a serious person, so I don’t remember much about my studies. However, by participating in the program, I realized that I was not alone, and that there are people who suffer. I have people who can help me. I felt that I wasn’t the only one struggling.

– How did you decide on high school?

I was lost for a long time. I couldn’t say where I was going to go, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was easy to enter junior high school, but high school requires a lot of ability. I’m not good at Kanji and I can’t speak Japanese that well, so I thought I would be bullied if I went to high school. Even if I could fight, there were times when I couldn’t reply with words, so I took the full-time course at first. But I wasn’t good enough, so I applied but failed. Another friend told me, “If you fail, go to A High School. You can pass if you write an essay. I thought about what I should do, but I didn’t have much time, so I decided to go to A High School, and if A High School didn’t work out, I would study hard again and go to a full-time school.

– How was your high school life after you were successfully accepted?

Carefree, like always. I took it easy. I studied as usual and learned kanji and other things I didn’t know. There were classes for foreigners, so I also took Japanese classes. I didn’t take Japanese in my third year of high school because I didn’t like kanji, and in my third year I took the tea ceremony club, P.E., English 1, 2, and 3, and Math A, B, and B II. I liked math. On weekdays, I usually stayed home and played games, and went out before school. On weekends, I worked part-time. I’m glad I chose the part time high school because I could use my time well.

– I think a lot of people drop out.

I didn’t want to be defeated by myself. Every day I thought to myself, “Is this what I’m supposed to be like?” Ever since junior high school, I’ve been thinking, “Is this what I’m supposed to be?” If I went back to my country, I would be a loser. Besides, my grandfather always told me not to cry in front of people when I was a child. I was the most serious in high school. I never missed a day of school. When I received an award for perfect attendance, everyone was surprised to hear that I never skipped school.

– How were your relationships in high school?

Same as junior high school. But I was much closer to the twins I met at the multicultural free school. Compared to normal people, we felt like a family. I can talk to them about anything. They are almost like best friends. When I first met them, they looked like they were in pain. They were being bullied, and they were having a hard time, and they wanted to die. By the looks of them, I thought they might die if I didn’t help them. They needed a friend, but they had no one, I thought, and I wanted to help them. I even helped them in high school when they were being bullied. They couldn’t study, so I taught them how to study.

– What did you plan to do after graduating from high school?

I had the desire to go to college, but I didn’t have the money. I also have a younger brother, so if I went to college, he wouldn’t be able to go to school. My parents were the ones who needed the money, and if going to college was going to put them in trouble, then I didn’t have to go. My uncle who lived nearby was an electrician, so I thought I wanted to work in the electrical industry. A person from the training school came to my high school to explain about the school, and although there was an exam, I could get in as long as I could perform at a normal level, so I entered.

– What were the classes like at the vocational training school?

From morning to evening, we studied about electricity, wiring work, and manners. Both classroom lectures and practical training. At first, I did it lightly, but it gradually became fun. When I didn’t understand something, I asked my uncle for help. However, I had a baby in the middle of the course, and due to the stress of that, I was not able to study well. I had been in the training school for one year, and I was about to graduate, but I couldn’t do it anymore. But when I thought I couldn’t do it, I talked to the teacher at the training school. He was the person who taught me the most about working with electricity, and I thought he was the only person I could talk to. So, he helped me. Then one of his students came to me and said, “If you can’t do it anymore, will you come to my company?” He asked me to come work for him. I started out as a part-timer, but after a month of proper work, I became an employee three month later. Thanks to my teacher, I became an electrician. Even though I was no longer a student at the school, he taught me all the way to the end of my electrician’s exam.

– You have an exam.

There is a Type 1 and a Type 2. You have to pass both of them and then you just need to accumulate five years of experience.

– What kind of work do you do now?

When I was working part-time, there were simple jobs like drilling holes, and I thought I could do that without much skill. And since I was a lowly worker, I was in charge of baggage, which I didn’t like. Now, the company does wiring, illumination, and air conditioning wiring. They won’t let me do the air conditioning because they think it’s dangerous. I’m sure I can do it, but I’m still a little nervous about it, so I’m not quite ready for the experience yet. I can wire, but I’m not fast enough. I’m also teaching kids about electricity at the request of my seniors. I didn’t like teaching them at first, but I tell them how electricity works and let them touch the electrical outlets. I think the kids enjoy it. I think it’s fun to teach them, even though I only do joking things.

– How do you feel about coming to Japan?

I am glad I came. I learned a lot about Peru by getting out of the country. I used to think we were normal, but we are not. In Japan, you have work experience in junior high school. You can learn about society properly. I think that’s important. This is not possible in Peru. There are countries like this. You can understand more.

– What country do you think you are from?

I’m not Peruvian, I’m not Japanese, I’m human. I don’t even know if I’m human. I only think I am myself. I’ve always thought that since I was a child. I’m not even Peruvian because I have both Asian and European roots. I’ve been bullied in Peru, too. I feel like I don’t belong. That’s why I need power. At first it was power, but now I have a weapon to do my job: electricity. But when I was in high school, I didn’t have a weapon and I didn’t have a license.

– Why were you able to work hard in Japan?

I don’t know why. I guess it was because when I was in junior high school, the twin said to me, “I won’t give up because you’re here.” I really felt like crying at that time. “Because you’re here.” I’ve never heard anyone say that before. I’ve never cried in front of those guys, but when I left, I cried as hard as I could. I could do my best because I was recognized by others.

– What about the option of going back to Peru?

I don’t have a choice because I have my child. It will be hard for my wife in Peru. If that’s the case, I’ll just have to do my best in Japan.

– What advice would you give to children with immigrant background about their career path?

If you are in junior high school, don’t give up and study hard. If you give up, your parents will be sad. If you give up, your parents will be sad, and they may wonder why you are still here. You have to show your parents that you can do your best. Study Kanji, even if you don’t want to. You don’t have to be serious, but I want you to be able to have normal conversations with people in Japanese. Don’t think about exams, just think about yourself. Even if you fail junior high school, you can still get a job. But it’s meaningless if you don’t study to be able to speak Japanese normally. Forget about your studies and just study Japanese. You can study in high school. If you are a high school student, you should study what you couldn’t study in junior high school, and also study Japanese and talk with Japanese people to improve your Japanese level. Language is important. If you can’t speak the language, you will be alone and suffer. You can’t understand. If you don’t want to suffer, you should study.


**multicultural free school
A school run by the Multicultural Center Tokyo, a non-profit organization. It provides a place to stay and a place to study for students who came to Japan at the age of over 15 years old or graduated from junior high school, who are mainly aiming to go on to high school in Japan. At the time, we were running night classes for junior high school students.

Interviewing and writing: Tatsuhiko Uehara