A 30-minute train ride away, there is another world. Be curious and take on new challenges.
Life can sometimes change for the better when those around you discover talents that you are not aware of. Once he was ready to live in a provincial city, Cabrejos Cesar’s life was changed by the encouragement of those around him and his own unrelenting curiosity. We interviewed Cesar, who has been working on various initiatives to support foreign residents as a businessperson while making use of his own experiences, about how he got to where he is today.
Learning Japanese to get out of loneliness
“At first, I had never thought becoming interpreter as my career. “
Cesar came to Japan from Peru in 1990, when he was 11 years old.
At the time, Peru was in a catastrophic economic situation, with hyperinflation of 7,500% per year. In addition, the far-left terrorist organization Sendero Luminoso was gaining strength, and security was deteriorating violently. At the same time, the Immigration Control Act was being revised in Japan to open the door to second and third generation Japanese descent workers. Against the backdrop of the situation in both countries, Cesar, whose mother is of Japanese descent, moved to Japan with his parents and 20 relatives.
Although he did not understand the details of the situation until much later, the sudden start of life in a foreign country was still a series of hardships for a young boy of his age. One of the most shocking things was that although he was old enough to enter junior high school, he was forced to transfer to the sixth grade because he could not speak Japanese.
“In Peru, there is a system where children who cannot study are required to stay in school from elementary school on, but being forced to drop a grade in Japan was the most mentally challenging. It is true that learning is difficult if you cannot speak the language, but the mental damage was greater. When I entered junior high school, I had to use honorifics with children of the same age who were one grade above me. I still appeal to educators about this issue. “
The elementary school he entered in Asaka City, Saitama Prefecture, was across the street from the junior high school he was supposed to attend, and he had mixed feelings when he looked at it. In class, there were some classmates who spoke to him out of curiosity, but since he could not speak the language and did not understand the culture, he did not make friends right away. On the other hand, the pressure to escape his loneliness helped him to improve his Japanese quickly.
After entering junior high school, Cesar was often called upon to work as an interpreter. It all started when his younger brother, who was still a toddler at the time, had a car accident. Although he could only speak a little Japanese, he managed to communicate with the doctors. After that, he was often called upon by relatives and others to interpret for them.
“I was the oldest children among my relatives, and I was the first to learn social terms and honorifics. Eventually, I started getting calls from my relatives and even strangers. After all, I was often asked to interpret in emergency situations, such as when someone going to the hospital. “
Nowadays, it might be considered problematic to leave a child to interpret in an emergency situation. However, “It was unavoidable at the time as I had no choice,” Cesar recalls.
Anxiety about an invisible future
Later, due to his parents’ work, he moved to Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture, where he attended the local technical high school. The big change from before was that there was a large community of Peruvians and Brazilians. The number of people of the same generation who were also from South America increased, and life became more enjoyable. It was during this time that he met Sofia, whom he would later marry.
At the same time, however, he came to realize the reality of his situation. On the recommendation of his father, he went to work part-time at a local factory. The only people standing in line outside the factory waiting for work to start were foreign workers, including myself. The roles of the workers were clearly divided, with the foreigners doing the simple work and the Japanese managing the work. The press machine used for the work had a broken sensor that could lead to a serious accident if one mistake was made, pinching a finger.
“I had no idea what the future held for me. I had no idea what the future held for me.”
Along with tinkering with machines, Cesar’s interest in DTP design began in high school. In fact, as a child living in Peru, Cesar attended Private schools for Japanese descent, where he learned the basics of programming and received a very advanced IT education for the time in the 1980s. With the money he saved from his part-time job at a factory, he bought a computer and decided to attend a DTP school after graduation. After graduation, he decided to attend a DTP school, and at one point, he even tried to become a DTP designer.
However, he had to abandon that goal easily. After graduating from a vocational school, he sent his resume to several design companies, but was not selected for any of them. When he contacted one of the companies, he was told that the reason for rejection was that he was a foreigner. He thought that if that was the reason, there was nothing he could do about it.
“It may not have been because I was a foreigner, but I was young and I accepted the reason as it was. Also, even as a full-time employee, the salary for a DTP designer was low and I could earn more money working part-time at a factory, so I thought it was enough. In any case, I hadn’t thought about leaving Shizuoka. “
He wanted to own his own maintenance shop someday, but he continued to work part-time until he turned 27. It was the encouragement of his wife, Sofia, that changed his fate.
A life-changing the wife’s push
“My wife had seen the hardships I had gone through and was of the opinion that raising a child in Shizuoka would limit my future possibilities. So she suggested that I try my hand as a professional interpreter in Tokyo. “
For Cesar, interpreting was just a volunteer job, helping people who were in need. He had no idea that he would be able to do it as a profession, so he was at a loss at first. Nevertheless, he decided to give it a try.
“My wife found out about a job posting for an interpreter in Tokyo, so I hurriedly packed my suit, coat, and bag and headed to Tokyo for an interview, but she was mistaken and the company was looking for an English interpreter, not a Spanish one. (laughs) But I figured I couldn’t make any more embarrassing mistakes, so I went on to the second and subsequent companies. “
The next company he applied to, an interpreter dispatch company, offered him a job, but he had to turn it down because of the short-term employment conditions. However, the manager of the company liked Cesar and introduced him to the interpreter call center division within the company, where he was hired. Thus, he was able to make a new start as an interpreter in Tokyo.
He was not aware of his language skills at all, but his wife, who was closest to him, saw that he was at a level where he could do well in his profession, which changed his fate.
After that, when he changed jobs, he was approached by his colleagues, and people around him have always been interested in him. He is currently working for a company called Language One Corporation, which provides multilingual interpretation services. He started his career as an interpreter, then worked as a call center supervisor and then as a sales representative. The reason why he moved from interpreting to his current position in the sales department was an invitation from a salesman who saw his talent.
“When I was working as a supervisor at a call center, I launched various projects and was approached by people in the sales department who were involved in those projects. I didn’t think I could do sales, but I was as curious as I was when I came to Tokyo, so I thought I’d give it a try and quit if it didn’t work out.”
The sales job turned out to be more fun than he had imagined, and his new abilities began to blossom. He has continued to take on various challenges, such as building a 24-hour interpretation system with the local fire department, training medical interpreters, and working to create a multilingual interpretation system that can be used in times of disaster. There is no doubt that his own experience as an interpreter in emergency situations has come in handy in no small way.
The management liked him and gave him a position where he could act freely, saying, “Cesar is interesting, so if you want to do something, do it. ” Now, under the title of Director of Multiculturalism Promotion, his mission is to realize social contributions while exploring customer needs.
A 30-minute train ride away is a different world
Having experienced firsthand the difficulties and inadequacies of social systems due to his immigrant background, there are things he can solve through his work. This is what makes Cesar’s work worthwhile.
“It’s like when you’re in elementary school and your grade suddenly drops and you’re set up without being asked for your opinion, so I think the rules and laws should be more inclusive of the foreigners involved. I realized that there are a surprisingly large number of people who want to hear my opinion, and as a bridge, I would like to summarize the opinions of people with immigrant background and propose them to the government. “
If he had been aware of his own language and sales skills earlier, his path might have been smoother, but Cesar feels that he is where he is today because of the many hardships he went through. On the other hand, he does not want his children to have the same experience. If we can create a society where it is easier for people with immigrant background to get information and live in, it will open up new possibilities for their children. Creating such an environment will be an important theme in his work in the future.
Cesar, who once almost closed off his potential, is now able to find a rewarding job because he has continued to take on new challenges with curiosity, as well as with the support of those around him. When I asked for advice for children with immigrant background in Japan, I received this answer.
“When you’re in a small community, you tend to think that’s all there is to the world. But the truth is that there is a whole other world within a 30-minute train ride, and in my case, a whole other world within an hour’s bullet train ride to Tokyo. I think the strength of people with immigrant background like us is that we can understand various cultures and pass them on to other people for support. I hope that we can use this strength to help them achieve their dreams for the future. “
Interviewing and writing: Hiroshi Yoshida