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Chinese trainees describe harsh realities of Japan's technical intern program

Chinese technical interns are seen holding a press conference at the Kurashiki Municipal Government building in Okayama Prefecture, western Japan, on July 29, 2020. (Mainichi/Sayuri Toda)

KURASHIKI, Okayama -- A group of Chinese nationals who worked as technical intern trainees at a restaurant in this western Japan city held a press conference on July 29, claiming that the actual nature of their training differed from what they were told in advance.

    A total of five male and female individuals aged in their 20s and 30s held the press conference in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. They and one other person who was not present at the conference had been accepted as technical interns to work in ready-made meal production. The training plan outlined that they would mainly be in charge of cooking boxed lunches for catering services and the like.

    However, the trainees were apparently made to actually do tasks such as washing dishes and serving food in the Japanese restaurant. The technical interns claimed that they "have not been able to acquire food processing skills." Furthermore, they were subject to long work hours including an average of 100 hours of overtime per month, unpaid wages resulting from a discrepancy in the recognition of work hours, and also power harassment from their boss.

    In explaining the situation during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, the supervising organization for the intern program said, "We did not think that the training would be carried out exactly according to the plan. We understood that the store would at times be busy and the trainees' main task of cooking would sometimes be reduced. To raise the trainees' earnings, overtime hours were increased to the extent that they wouldn't infringe on regulations. However, we did not get a sense of any particular issues during regular inspections of the store." The restaurant and an attorney for the supervising organization have refused to respond to interview requests on the grounds that they are in the midst of collective bargaining over the matter.

    One of the trainees, a woman in her 30s from Inner Mongolia, expressed feelings of regret, saying, "These two years have gone to waste." She came to Japan in 2018 while leaving her 13-year-old son in her relative's care. The trainee also worked in the food processing industry in her home country, and wanted to bring back Japanese knowhow, which is more advanced and healthier, in order to own her own shop in the future. When leaving her country, she was charged around 800,000 yen (about $7,624) by brokers and had borrowed more than 1 million yen (about $9,530) from friends and relatives.

    Despite all this, the actual training in Japan was different from what she had expected. The trainees spent the large majority of their time working as floor staff at the eatery, instead of cooking and carrying out food processing tasks that she had initially been informed she would do. She also suffered mentally due to the overbearing attitude of her boss and others, and experienced insomnia and symptoms of dizziness. Two years passed without her being able to improve her food processing skills or Japanese language ability.

    The woman occasionally talks with family in video calls, but has not been able to tell them about her current situation as she doesn't want them to worry. Half of her loans remain unpaid, while one year of training remains in her technical intern program. She has requested to be moved to a different store for her training, while suppressing her feelings of wanting to meet her son as soon as possible. She commented, "I would like to acquire skills in this one year, and return home after paying back my loans."

    The group of technical interns said that they will demand an apology and payment of temporary leave allowances, and aim to resolve the matter while continuing to negotiate with the restaurant and supervising organization. They commented, "We want others to know about the reality so that there won't be more people deceived like us."

    (Japanese original by Sayuri Toda, Okayama Bureau)

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