Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Foreigners in Japan worry about fallout of xenophobic president in White House

Brazilian grocery store Atacadao in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, is pictured here in a photo taken on Jan. 19, 2017. The signs are in Portuguese. (Mainichi)

HAMAMATSU, Shizuoka -- The inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has shared his xenophobic rhetoric on Twitter and elsewhere, has foreign nationals living in Japan worried about the repercussions such views expressed by the president of the United States may have on Japan.

Many Brazilians of Japanese descent live in Hamamatsu, and are at times discriminated against for being "foreign." However, many of Hamamatsu's residents appear to be from South America, and foreign nationals prop up the manufacturing industry in the city, where numerous major manufacturers' headquarters and factories are based.

The number of Brazilian residents here is less than half of what it was at its peak in 2008 at approximately 20,000 people, but still, about 8,500 Brazilians -- more than in any other municipality in Japan -- live in Hamamatsu.

Eiji Lucas Kobayashi, 20, of Hamamatsu's Minami Ward, is a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian who works at a Brazilian grocery store called Atacadao. His facial expression betrays his concern that Trump's inauguration will lead to a climate condoning discrimination.

"I can't believe that the leader of a major nation has repeated discriminated against foreigners," Kobayashi said. "Obama was much better."

Portuguese is the lingua franca at Atacadao, but Japanese customers patronize the shop, too. A 52-year-old second-generation Japanese-Brazilian female worker at the store has been in Japan for 27 years, and is unfazed. "Foreigners support the community here," she said. "The same thing is true of the U.S., and even Trump won't be able to chase them out of the country just because he doesn't like them."

Despite having ancestors from Japan, Japanese-Brazilians are at times subjected to anti-foreigner remarks and acts. Whenever issues with immigration authorities arise in the city, people have taken to the internet to spew prejudiced and discriminatory comments, such as "It is only natural to limit the number of people from races that tend to commit crimes (from entering and staying in Japan)." There's no knowing what kind of impact having Trump in the White House will have on Japan.

"Japanese, Americans and Filipinos come to eat at our restaurant," says a 63-year-old second-generation Japanese-Brazilian man who works at Trem Baum, which serves Brazilian cuisine. "I just hope we can continue to get along."

According to Yoshihiro Takemura, an official with the Hamamatsu Foundation for International Communication and Exchange (HICE), many foreign nationals end up settling down in Hamamatsu. "We want to build a society that takes full advantage of Hamamatsu's diversity, and allows children of foreign nationals who put roots down in this city to succeed."

In Tokyo, meanwhile, there has been a mixed reaction from Muslims to Trump's inauguration. Shigeru Shimoyama, 67, who is a Japanese national and a practicing Muslim, fears that the possibility of resolving the issue of Palestine will grow even more remote now that Trump, who has made remarks expressing his support of Israel, is in office. "The momentum that we'd been seeing toward a realistic resolution will probably be rolled back," he said. "That may strengthen resentment toward Trump."

At the same time, however, Emad Kawamoto, 54, who hails from Egypt and manages several restaurants in Tokyo's Minato Ward and elsewhere, takes a more laid-back stance. Asked what he thought about Trump's remarks that Muslims should be restricted from entering the U.S., Kawamoto answered, "There are Muslim nations that make huge investments in the U.S. There's no way the U.S. can stop Muslims from entering the country. Trump is a capable businessman. I think his presidency will benefit both the Middle East and Japan."

Also in The Mainichi

The Mainichi on social media