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Hokuriku Foreigner Focus 5: Brazilian plays vital community role

Vitor Kira, left, is seen in class with Adriana Takano in the city of Echizen in Fukui Prefecture. (Mainichi)

Hokuriku is a region located several hundred kilometers from Tokyo -- on the coast of the Sea of Japan -- and is essentially made up of three prefectures: Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui. There are no major cities in Hokuriku, but the region offers a rich variety of foods, profound traditions as well as a wide range of famous tourist attractions. The wonders of Hokuriku have not only attracted Japanese people to the region, but foreigners too. There are approximately 37,000 foreigners living in Hokuriku, which is just over 1 percent of the total number of residents in the region (approximately 3 million). This section provides a glimpse into the lives of various foreigners who have based themselves in Hokuriku, and who have integrated themselves within the region.

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ECHIZEN, Fukui -- When 42-year-old Brazilian Adriana Eiko Hamazaki Takano landed a new role at the Echizen Municipal Government office in April 2016, she became the first ever foreigner to be hired as a full-time, regular employee there.

Adriana first arrived in the city of Takefu, now part of Echizen, in 1991. Currently, Adriana works at both the Echizen municipal office, where she assists Brazilians with administrative procedures, and also at a local elementary school where she provides learning support to pupils as a Japanese-Portuguese interpreter. Not only for the 2.7 percent of the population in Echizen who are Brazilian but also for the municipal government, Adriana is a vital member of the local community.

It is Dec. 7, 2016, and Adriana is in a third-grade classroom at Echizen's Takefunishi Elementary School. Nine-year-old Vitor Kira, a Brazilian of Japanese descent who has been living in Japan for about 10 months, is laughing with his classmates. "Lessons are fun!" exclaims Vitor. To which Adriana warmly responds, "You've become used to Japan, haven't you?"

Adriana is a third-generation Brazilian of Japanese descent from Sao Paolo. Her parents ran a fruit and vegetable store in the suburbs of the city, but her father died when she was only 8 years old. She took care of her three younger sisters, and also supported her mother, now 71, by helping out in the store before school from about 5:30 a.m., and until 9 p.m. after getting back from class.

Vitor Kira, left, is seen in class with Adriana Takano in the city of Echizen in Fukui Prefecture. (Mainichi)

She wanted to continue her studies but decided to quit high school to work, thinking she would make life easier for her mother, and moved to Takefu with the help of some relatives who had already come to Japan.

Some 25 years later, Adriana says, "I really like the abundant nature here," and talks about the pleasure of driving through Fukui Prefecture on her days off -- admiring autumn leaves, or looking at cherry blossoms in the spring. However, it was not always plain sailing.

When she first came to Japan, Adriana worked six days a week -- from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. -- assembling parts in an electronics factory. Initially, Adriana struggled to adapt to life in Japan, and became increasingly sad, running up a monthly international phone bill of about 50,000 yen. She lacked sufficient communication skills and was unsure what to do regarding procedures at the local city office. She even gave up on going to hospital one time because she did not have any health insurance. When the bubble economy collapsed, she was laid off.

The Hokuriku region of Japan. (Mainichi)

However, Adriana was resilient. "I did not like being dependent on people," she says. To improve her Japanese, she began to walk around with a bulky dictionary, writing down anything she did not understand.

Her efforts eventually paid off. In October 1998, she was employed by the local city office as a temporary worker. She recommended ways of taking out public health insurance to local Brazilian residents, as well as explaining how to sort household garbage and how to register kids for school. Adriana was very competent in this new role, but it was because she had endured so much hardship in her early years in Japan that she was so reliable. The local community was very appreciative of her help.

Subsequently, Adriana obtained some qualifications via distance-learning high school and university courses, and also gained a Brazilian elementary school teaching license. Currently, she works at the city office on Mondays, and does interpreting work during elementary school lessons on other weekday mornings, as well as information sessions for local Brazilian residents about schools. Upon becoming a full employee at the city office, her responsibilities have increased, and her workdays are fulfilling.

In recent years, the number of Brazilians in the area has increased and various diverse issues relating to the community have arisen, such as caring for the elderly, abuse, and child developmental disorders. Adriana is a revered member of the local community who the Brazilian residents particularly like to rely on. In response to all of this, Adriana says, "I want to create a town in which everyone can live with peace of mind."

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