Shahin and Sepehr

Iranian in Japan

Morteza Mousavi
Tokyo, Japan

Please note that what you are about to read is only a general picture of what Iranian workers in Japan are up to. I would like to remind everyone that those who have gotten involved with illegal activities have done do because of economic pressures. MM

Here is some information about a large number of Iranians living in Tokyo and a few other cities in Japan. I have no statistics available, but what I am about to tell you is based on personal observations and what I have seen in the daily papers about Iran and Iranians in Japan.

Most Iranians here are considered illegal aliens as they have overstayed their three- month tourist visas. A few years ago Iranians could enter Japan without first obtaining a visa. Japan revoked this arrangement due to problems with Iranian workers here. Iran reciprocated.

Most came to Japan during the so-called "bubble economy" when there were lots of construction sites offering work and plenty of money the Japanese were able to spend.

Japanese authorities used to turn a blind eye to the presence of these workers because there was a shortage of unskilled workers and they did what Japanese workers did not want to do, with low wages.But after the bubble burst of 1991, the job market tightened and foreign workers were the first lots to get affected.

Lack of construction jobs and manufacturing work has led a number of these workers into other types of work, mostly illegal. Iranians are the main retailers for fake telephone cards here. One can see quite a few in major railway stations in Tokyo openly selling these cards.

The cards are originally manufactured and sold by NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegram Company) and KDD which is a subsidiary of NTT, handling the international telephone calls from Japan. The fake cards are apparently manufactured in Hong Kong or Thailand and brought through the Japanese Yakuza mafia-type network.

Whereas previously one could make international telephone calls from most public booths using the special telephone cards, now very few such phones accept the cards.

Some Iranians have gotten into a number of other shady activities including the video sex industry. Others are still involved in manual jobs but with much lower salaries and worse living conditions. They are at the mercy of their employer for their livelihood. Wages are daily and no insurance coverage is offered.

Still, for most of Iranians the exchange rate between the Iranian Rial and the Japanese Yen makes it worthwhile to live here even under poor conditions. They can afford to buy their own house in Iran one day and perhaps put aside some cash to start their own small business.

But an increasing number of these workers are being deported on a regular basis. There is a lot of bad publicity about the Iranians community here. Apparently there is a lot of bad publicity about this in Iran as well. In Tehran people coming back from Japan are generally looked down upon.

The author is a geologist by education. Mousavi, 43, studied and worked as a lecturer and researcher at St. Xavier's, a well-know Jesuit school in Bombay, India, for several years before moving to Japan in 1990. He has taught at Kyoto University and run a corporate training program for Japanese managers in companies such as Hitachi, Fuji Film and IBM Japan. Since April 1996, he has been an associate professor of basic sciences at Huron University's Tokyo Campus and director of the university's science laboratory that is being built.

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