Monday, December 5 2022

A young Vietnamese man recalled entering Japan with expectations of shiny new cars and skyscrapers and a dream of lifting his family out of poverty.

Three years later, through an acrylic panel in a detention center in Tokyo, he apologized profusely and said, “Finally, I can go back to Vietnam.”

The man, in his early twenties, was to be deported.

But first he wanted to explain how his dreams in the technical trainee program turned into a nightmare that resulted in a criminal conviction and a stint in the center of the Japan Immigration Services Agency.

NEED MONEY FOR PARENTS

The man was born and raised in Hanoi. Her father was too weak to work, her older sister had already left home, and her mother made sheets to support the household.

Under pressure to earn money for his parents, he discovered Japan’s technical trainee program.

The government-sponsored program aims to provide skills that trainees can use after returning to their home countries.

The man believed that acquiring skills would allow him to earn a lot of money in Vietnam, so he paid a broker 900,000 yen ($7,500) for arrangements. This amount was more than double the legal ceiling set by the Vietnamese government.

His impression of Japan was that it was a nation full of “tall buildings and new cars”.

For six months he studied the Japanese language and other things about the country.

In the spring of 2018, he arrived for the three-year training program.

LIFE DIFFERENT THAN IMAGINED

He was working from home in a welding company in Tochigi prefecture surrounded by agricultural fields. It was far from his image of Japan.

His Japanese co-workers were kind and taught him how to do his chores.

He didn’t need to work overtime or vacations, so he spent his weekends relaxing with other interns.

The only thing he was not content with was his monthly salary of 100,000 yen after tax.

His boarding expenses plus fuel and lighting expenses totaled 40,000 yen per month, and an additional 40,000 yen of his salary was used to cover his debts or sent to his parents.

This left her with 20,000 yen to buy food and other necessities each month.

On a social networking site popular among Vietnamese residents in Japan, he found posts from other interns in the Tokyo area who were enjoying their “urban” life and relatively good salaries.

Their descriptions were similar to what the man had imagined before arriving in Japan.

He tried to follow the program patiently, thinking it “will only last three years”. But his hopes have been dashed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Although he was originally due to return home in March 2021, the Vietnamese government’s strict anti-virus regulations on flights between the two countries made it difficult to predict when he might leave Japan.

At that time, the man read a social media post that insisted that “an easy high-income job awaits you in Tokyo.”

He suspected the offer involved something nefarious, but thought it “better to earn a lot in a short time, even through illegal work, so that I can go home at my own expense” .

He applied for the job posting via email and pre-signed a lease for an apartment in Tokyo.

In May 2021, he reached the Japanese capital at the start of the afternoon with a backpack as his only luggage.

He spoke with a man who called himself “Alex” and spoke awkward Japanese on a highly anonymous communication app.

He was told to use an ATM card to withdraw money from another Vietnamese person’s bank account.

The next day, he retrieved the card from a coin locker at JR Shinjuku Station and withdrew 200,000 yen from an ATM at a convenience store.

He put 180,000 yen in the locker and took 20,000 yen as an “allowance”.

Satisfied with the compensation, the trainee repeated the practice each time an order arrived.

APOLOGY TO THE MOTHER

After two weeks on the job, he was arrested after being questioned by a police officer near a convenience store around a Tokyo subway station. He was carrying 20 other people’s ATM cards in his backpack at the time.

He knew it would now be impossible to continue his routine of calling his mother and hearing the joy in her voice.

He was told the funds he withdrew came from victims of international dating scams operated through social media.

At the suggestion of his lawyer, he wrote apology letters in awkward hiragana and kanji.

He said he felt “guilty” when he heard about the victims and then saw his hands shaking.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced him to three years in prison, suspended for five years.

It was decided that he would be expelled.

The Vietnamese man was questioned by the police at this site in the Suginami district of Tokyo. (Nobuaki Tanaka)

STARTING WORDS

Ahead of his interview with The Asahi Shimbun in October, the former technical intern bowed and said “konnichiwa” (hello) through the detention center’s acrylic panel.

“I want to apologize to my mother first when I come back to Vietnam,” he said several times in the interview. “I made him worry about my business.”

He also promised to express his “feeling of regret through hard work”.

“I want to undertake welding work in a Japan-affiliated company in Vietnam,” he said.

A few days later, the man boarded a plane bound for Vietnam.

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