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Brazilians in Japan worried about rising prejudice after COVID-19 infection disclosure

Mario Makuda, right, is seen talking to children about a poster that calls for novel coronavirus prevention measures, such as avoiding the "three Cs" of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact, at a Brazilian school in the eastern Japan town of Ora, Gunma Prefecture on Nov. 6, 2020. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- Concerns about becoming the target of prejudice are rising among Brazilian residents in a Gunma Prefecture town, northwest of Tokyo, after novel coronavirus infections among foreigners were announced.

    Foreign nationals account for around 20% of the 42,000 residents in the town of Oizumi, located in the southern part of Gunma Prefecture, on the opposite side of the Tone River from neighboring Saitama Prefecture. Of such foreign residents, some 4,600 Brazilians live in the area -- the largest in number.

    In early November, Mario Makuda, a 48-year-old second-generation Japanese-Brazilian, hung up a poster written in Portuguese that called on people to avoid the "three Cs" of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact at a Brazilian food store set up along the prefectural road in Gunma. Makuda said, "If something bad happens, the blame is placed on Brazilians. I want people to know that we are taking thorough (coronavirus prevention) measures."

    An unforgettable incident for Makuda happened in mid-September when coronavirus infections saw a resurgence in Gunma Prefecture. Gunma Gov. Ichita Yamamoto announced in a press conference that among the 90 new infections recorded in the recent week, those thought to be foreign nationals reached about 70%, and that "it appears that especially those from Peru and Brazil comprise a majority." The governor went on to reveal in a press conference the following week that about 80% of newly infected people were foreigners.

    The details of the press conference were spread among Brazilian residents of the town instantaneously through word-of-mouth and other means. A 30-year-old Japanese-Brazilian woman, who works as a dispatch worker at a factory in the town of Oizumi, expressed strong concern and said, "Everyone suspects that we might be infected. I'm worried that my child will be bullied at elementary school." She said that she immediately checked with her child, but there had apparently been no problems at school.

    A 38-year-old Japanese-Brazilian man, who is also a dispatch worker, showed his confusion by saying, "It's just that there happened to be foreigners that contracted the virus, and infections spread. It's a bit sad when people point the finger at foreigners."

    Meanwhile, there have been some Japanese residents who voiced approval of the announcement, including a 72-year-old man who said, "I can feel at ease as it is possible to avoid going near foreigners when I notice them," and a 28-year-old woman who commented, "It is better if the notices are issued if there are such trends."

    Makuda still has lingering doubts surrounding whether the ratio of infected foreigners should have been disclosed. The novel coronavirus exposed the underlying prejudice of residents, and unmasked the invisible wall between Japanese and foreign nationals.

    (Japanese original by Naoko Furuyashiki, Business News Department and Kosuke Hatta, Foreign News Department)

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