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Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK
Japan's fear of Brazilians
Ronaldo playing in Kobe
Has Ronaldo made Japan's Brazilians more popular?

Japanese football fans may be wearing Brazil's shirts and chanting its name, but discrimination against foreigners in Japan is not easily eradicated.

As Brazil played England in the World Cup finals, a Brazilian woman walked into the Hokureko bank in Akasofu with a bag full of 500 yen pieces.

Immigrant Brazilian family in Japan
More than 250,000 Brazilians live in Japan
Simone de Fatima Repullo Morente Nakamura asked to exchange the coins for notes, but instead found herself being led away by police under suspicion of theft.

The bank employee had assumed the money was stolen from a machine.

"It was very upsetting," said Ms Nakamura, who has lived in Japan for 13 years.

"I know they only treated me like that because I look like a foreigner."

Police deny that racism was behind the Hokureko teller's decision to contact them - or their own decision to send four police cars to the scene.

But Ms Nakamura, who was cleared of wrong doing, does not believe them. On Wednesday she filed a complaint with a human rights organisation.

Historical ties

Brazilians - 250,000 strong - are the third largest group of foreigners in the country. The two nations are linked by history. Japanese emigrants went to Brazil a century ago to set up farming communities.

Their Brazilian-born descendants have been flocking to Japan since 1990, when visa rules were relaxed to make it easier for people of Japanese decent to fill a labour shortage.

Brazilian Ana Bortz
Ana Bortz sued a jewellery shop for throwing her out

Many have been victims of racism.

A United Nations-commissioned report on discrimination in Japan cited cases involving shop owners who put up signs stating that Brazilians were not welcome.

Television journalist Ana Bortz filed a law suit against a jewellery shop in Hamamatsu, central Japan, after the owner tried to push her out the door upon learning her nationality.

When she asked why, he showed her a police document warning shop proprietors to do their utmost to prevent theft.

To him, this meant expelling foreigners.

Ms Bortz believes a lack of anti-discrimination education and laws are to blame for such attitudes.

"I would like to believe that my lawsuit raised awareness," she said. "The Japanese don't like to discuss racism. It's taboo - especially racism against Koreans."

Kansai's Koreans

About 700,000 Koreans live in Japan, many of them in the Kansai region.

Retired pastor Lee In-ha came to Japan from Korea 61 years ago, when he was 15 years old.


The younger generation, who do not have historical scars in their hearts, they are getting along. Maybe the World Cup can help

Korean Lee In-ha

In the decades that followed his arrival, he was denied social security and voting rights.

When Mr Lee tried to enrol his daughter in a Japanese kindergarten, he was told "we don't take children from the other side of the river".

He has seen anti-Korean sentiment throw up barriers against employment, education and housing benefits.

But times are changing, Mr Lee said, and the future looks brighter. He points to intermarriage statistics - about 85% of Korean-Japanese marry a Japanese.

"Our generation is very cautious about past history," he said.

"But the younger generation, who do not have historical scars in their hearts, they are getting along. Maybe the World Cup can help."

Labour needs

Discrimination is a problem that Japan will need to address soon, according to Tony Laszlo, the director of ISSHO - an anti-discrimination organisation which produced a report on the subject for the United Nations.

ISSHO director Tony Laszlo
Tony Laszlo says racism is not discussed

He said Japan's ageing population will force the country to accept an influx of foreign workers.

"The government is still largely in a state of denial and has failed to take important steps to prepare," he said.

Japan's leaders must recognise the need for increased immigration, and legalisation of those already here, he stressed.

The ISSHO report called for discrimination to be outlawed, but the government has yet to act on the proposals.

"The problem of discrimination is not being taken very seriously," Mr Laszlo said. "Not by government, nor by society."

The World Cup effect

But he said he was encouraged to see the "positive energy" generated by the World Cup.

At a Brazilian bar in central Tokyo on Wednesday, a post-match victory conga line snaked noisily around the bar.

The leader was an ecstatic Brazilian woman holding a giant flag aloft. Grinning Japanese fans bobbed behind her, clad in yellow and green.

"It is really sweet to see Japanese people wearing Brazilian T-shirts, kissing each other and trying to learn a few words of Portuguese," Ms Bortz said. She believes the event has thrown the two sides together for the first time.

Friendships are being forged, as normally segregated nationalities mingle outside the stadium, drinking and chatting about football.

"It's beautiful to see," she said. "Thank God for the World Cup!"

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