Don’t think that you can’t do it because you’re a foreigner, but pursue your dreams.

Yukimi Miyagi
Yukimi Miyagi grew up in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, after moving to Japan from Brazil when she was 10 years old to work for her parents. After graduating from university in Japan, she is currently working as an overseas sales representative for a local company, and also as a representative of “COLORS,” an educational support group for students with immigrant backgrounds. For students with foreign roots, it is still not common for them to graduate from universities and find jobs in general companies. In order to improve this situation, she herself continues to serve as a role model

As a role model for student with immigrant background

– What kind of organization is COLORS, and what is its purpose?

 Originally, when I was a university student, I was working with the Hamamatsu International Communications and Exchanges Association (HICE) to plan and organize one-off events to support students with immigrant backgrounds, but we decided to continue our activities and established ourselves as a voluntary organization in January 2014. The purpose of our activities is to encourage students to think about their future and gain confidence by sharing our experiences and hardships as role models.

– Did you establish the organization by yourself?

 Originally, there were about five members who established the organization, all with immigrant backgrounds. They are from Brazil, including myself, Peru, and Indonesia.

– What are the specific activities?

 Currently, our primary activity is what we call “Trip COLORS”. We go to high school to hold workshops, and we also collaborate with school for integrated learning classes. The students are mainly students with foreign roots, but Japanese are also joining recently.

At the workshop, we ask the student to think about the importance of learning Japanese and their future. In many cases, students with immigrant backgrounds become part-timer or temporary workers after graduating from high school, but instead of being satisfied with that, we suggest a way to get a full-time job at a company and ask them to think about what kind of story they can draw by five or ten years from now.

Since working adults and university students like myself are members of the group, we are able to talk to high school students more closely than teachers. As the sessions go on, the students start to share their will or concerns, such as “I actually want to have this kind of job in the future,” or “My parents want me to work, but I really want to go to university. I think this is a meaningful activity for us and for the students.

– How often do you hold “Trip COLORS”?

 Before COVID-19, the most I did was at three part-time high schools in the Hamamatsu area, about once every two months, five or six times per school.

– How do you feel about the workshop?

 There were two things that impressed me. First, the principal was very surprised at the student’s positive attitude during the workshop. Second, the students who looked into the COLORS class wanted to participate because it looked like fun. There were times when three classes were held at the same time, with as many as 100 students participating.

The challenge is to change the mindset of parents

– Are there any issues that have come to light through the activities of the “trip COLORS”?

 First of all, it is important for parents to have a better understanding regarding their student’s future. The reason why most parents send their students to part-time high schools is because their students can work while attending school. In the Brazilian sense, it is admirable to work and study at the same time. However, the reality is that it is more difficult to go on to university while attending a part-time high school than it is to attend a regular high school. It is a big challenge to get parents who want their student to work after graduating from the part-time high school to understand the significance of going to university.

– Is this mainly due to parents’ financial reasons to think that way?

 That’s part of it. For example, in the Brazilian community, there are very few people who actually graduate from university and go to work for a company. There are so many parents who have been working in factories as temporary workers for a long time, and they have the image that their students will follow the same path. Therefore, I am trying to get them to think about whether that would be really the right thing to do in 20 or 30 years down the road.

– Are there many parents in communities outside of Brazil who think in a similar way?

 I feel that Peruvian and South American people are especially similar. I think this is due to the fact that many of them come to Japan as migrant workers. Our family also came to Japan to work and planned to return to Brazil after three years, but now we are here. What to do after settling down in Japan is a big issue.

– I think there are many people of South American descent in Hamamatsu. Are there any issues that are unique to the region?

 It may be a stereotype, but South American people don’t really think about the future (laughs). If they have the money, they spend it all, and it’s true that many of them think that the present is good enough. In fact, there are many people who do not think about going to university or finding a job, but instead think about working at a factory to earn money right after high school. The challenge is how to change that way of thinking.

– What approaches will you take to help parents understand more about the situation?

 Starting this year, I would like to deliver videos focusing on parents who have student with immigrant background. I think it’s important for the parties involved to speak to the community. So, I’m thinking of having my mother speak. What was the actual experience of my mother raising me and sending me to university? My mother has always told me that she didn’t want me to become a temporary worker in a factory, but why did she think that? I hope that I can transmit some of the things that I want to say to the Brazilian community.

What I thought about through my job-hunting experience

– Do you feel that it was a good thing that you actually went to university and worked for a Japanese company?

 At my current age, I have already surpassed my parents’ annual income as a temporary worker, so when I think about that, I realize once again that we are totally different. Another big change is that even though I have an immigrant background, I am now seen as a role model for working in a Japanese company as a member of society. There are not many people who can talk about such experiences, so I would like to share them more and more.

– Is it still a rare case for someone like you, who has an immigrant background, to attend a Japanese university and find a job at a Japanese company?

 The number has been increasing for the past five years, but it is still very small. There are different paths at the stage of entering high school, and the paths of those who can enter a full-time regular high school and those who go to a part-time high school are very different. In the case of regular high school students, after graduation they go on to higher education or find a job at a company, but half of the students who go to part-time high school find a job, and the rest continue their lives as they are.

– When you were looking for a job after graduation as a university student, did you have a clear idea of the type of work you wanted to do?

 I didn’t have much in the way of specifics, but I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something that would connect Brazil and Japan. As I was searching for a job, I learned more about the field of trade and logistics, so I found a job at a company in that field.

One problem I had in my activities to find a job was that there were no slots that applied to me. Since I was not an international student, I was worried that I would be buried among the Japanese people in the general quota. So I thought that there might be other people who had the same problem, so I held a job hunting support seminar. We held an event to connect companies in Hamamatsu with students with immigrant background, and to deepen mutual understanding between companies and students.

– Did you have any difficulties in finding a job?

 I was rejected quite a few times in the application process, but when I got to the interview stage, many of them passed. If anything, I was often troubled by the fact that I wondered if the company I was accepted into was really a company where I could make use of my characteristics.

– When you started working in the mid-2010s, I think it was a seller’s market, but when the economy gets bad, doesn’t it get tougher for students with immigrant background to find jobs than it is for Japanese students?

 I think it will be tougher. However, university graduates can speak Japanese to a certain extent, and I think that having a background that allows you to respond flexibly in your native language while still being part Japanese is an advantage. I think you can appeal to companies and say, “If you hire one person, it will be as beneficial as hiring two people.

A room for improvement in the field of education

– You came to Japan when you were 10 years old. Besides learning the language, did you have any other difficulties?

 I still don’t understand the history of Japan (laughs). I know the name Tokugawa Ieyasu, but I honestly don’t know what he actually did or what kind of history he had. I was in the sixth grade when I transferred to a Japanese school, so I learned Japanese in a different classroom during Japanese and social studies classes. When I was in junior high school, I took social studies classes, but I was only memorizing for the test, so to be honest, I didn’t really understand the history.

– Having attended elementary and junior high schools in Japan, is there anything that could be improved in the educational field regarding the problems associated with students with immigrant backgrounds?

 I think it depends on the region, but I think it is important to make students think that they can go to university. Of course, it is important to make sure that students study hard in their daily lives, but I think it is also important to give them information about English recommendation quotas, scholarships, and special student programs that exempt students from tuition fees. I took out a general JASSO scholarship. For example, even if some organization has a scholarship system, there is the question of whether the students themselves can get there on their own. They may not understand the system well, or their Japanese may be too difficult for them to fill out the application form.

I also think that it is necessary to provide input on the concepts of international understanding and global society not only for students with immigrant backgrounds but also for Japanese students.

Although not as a member of COLORS, I personally participate in the Hamamatsu City Committee on Education for Foreigners as a member of the promotion committee, so my opinions are reflected in the committee. In addition to the government, private companies, elementary and junior high school principals, and NPOs are also invited to participate in the discussions, and I think it’s great that a party like me was able to participate.

– Are there still inadequacies in the schools in terms of access to information?

 To be honest, there is a part that depends on the individual teacher’s ability. Sometimes the teachers don’t know a lot of information, so we need to first increase the amount of information that reaches them, and then we need to improve the parts that don’t actually reach the foreign community.

– Do you have any ideas on how to approach the schools?

 If possible, I would like to incorporate the organization, but I would like to continue my activities rooted in the local community, as HICE is a part of COLORS and COLORS is a part of HICE.

– So you’re thinking of continuing your activities as your life’s work?

 That’s right. Ideally, multiculturalism will become so commonplace that the word “multiculturalism” will disappear, and the government will provide enough support for students that they will not need our help.

I want students with immigrant backgrounds to believe in their own potential and not give up. At first, I couldn’t speak Japanese very well, and I could only imagine my future job as an interpreter, but now I am working globally for a good company, and I can talk about myself as a role model. I would like to encourage you to pursue your dreams without thinking that it is impossible because you are a foreigner.

Interviewing and writing: Hiroshi Yoshida