Photo/IllutrationMortuary tablets of Vietnamese who died in Japan are placed on shelves in Nisshinkutsu temple in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. (Ari Hirayama)

  • Photo/Illustraion

In Nisshinkutsu temple in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, new mortuary tablets written in Vietnamese line the shelves.

These are of 81 Vietnamese who died from 2012 to the end of July this year.

According to Thich Tam Tri, 40, a nun at the temple, many of the 81 were students or technical intern trainees in their 20s or 30s. Of these, four died in July. Three were technical intern trainees, and the remaining one was a student. The four died suddenly from various causes or from suicide.

Amid the increase in the numbers of foreign students and technical intern trainees in Japan, many have died due to overwork, failing health or pressure in their daily lives.

Experts say that it is necessary to improve the working environment and take more support measures for foreign trainees and students in Japan.

Of the three technical intern trainees whose tablets is at Nisshinkutsu temple, one, who was doing a painting-related job, killed himself on July 15. He left suicide notes to his company, his younger brother who was also living in Japan and his family in Vietnam.

The messages read, “It’s painful because there is violence and bullying.”

He called his brother and said, “I’m lonely. I’m drinking beer alone.” The next day, he was found hanging by a river.

The death certificate of a 31-year-old man who died in June ruled that the cause of death was acute heart failure. Another technical intern trainee in his 20s was found dead when his co-worker went to his room to wake him in the morning.

Tam Tri came to Japan in 2000 and has counseled such Vietnamese people since then.

She looked for a childbirth facility for a pregnant woman who was at a loss on what to do. She also looked for a person in Vietnam who could take care of the newborn.

This month, the body of a Vietnamese student was found on the coast of Hokkaido. Tam Tri held a funeral there for the student.

“Technical intern trainees and students are feeling much mental stress partly due to language barriers. They have been plunged into malnutrition as they often eat cup ramen noodles to save money. They work too hard and, as a result, become unstable physically and mentally in many cases,” she said.

They save money to send it to their families in Vietnam or repay debts they have incurred to come to Japan.

Junpei Yamamura, 63, a medical doctor who has detailed knowledge on the issue, said, “It’s abnormal for healthy people in their 20s or 30s to die suddenly.

“They are engaged in their jobs excessively without getting sufficient rest. As a result, mental stress and pressure are corroding away their bodies,” he said.

Yamamura visited Vietnam in March and met the father of a man in his 20s who died in Miyagi Prefecture in late 2017. The man had come to Japan after paying about 1.2 million yen ($10,700) through a local broker hoping to earn money for marriage.

A local organization that had sent him to Japan told the father that his son died of heart disease and sent his ashes to him.

Yamamura feels that technical intern trainees and students who died in Japan are victims of Japan’s inappropriate policies.

“(Japanese companies) should employ them as workers under appropriate conditions. But they are making them work as trainees or students. As a result, burdens are placed on their hearts and bodies,” he said.

“The Japanese government should grasp their actual conditions and take preventive measures,” he added.

According to the Justice Ministry, the number of Vietnamese living in Japan increased seven-fold from 36,131 in 2007 to 262,405 in 2017 due to good relations between Japan and Vietnam and a shortage of workers in Japan.

The number in 2017 exceeded that of the Philippines and became the third largest following China and South Korea.

The number of Vietnamese technical intern trainees stood at 57,581 at the end of 2015. It passed China, which had the largest number of those trainees, at the end of 2016 and reached 123,563 at the end of 2017.

The total number of suicides and sudden deaths of foreign students and technical intern trainees is unknown.

According to a report of the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization, a public-interest foundation that supports acceptance of trainees, 28 technical intern trainees or other trainees died of accidents, diseases or other causes in fiscal 2016. Of these, eight died of brain or heart diseases.

Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer well-versed in the issues of technical intern trainees, said, “I think that the technical intern trainee system has a structural problem that it is difficult for trainees to complain about even if their working conditions are bad or physical condition is poor.”

According to Ibusuki, there are cases in which trainees are forced to incur debts before coming to Japan or organizations that send them to Japan prohibit them from consulting with labor standards inspection offices or lawyers.

There are also many cases in which students ring up debts and must work for long hours beyond the legal limit of 28 hours a week.

“It is necessary to revise vicious contracts with the local organizations and inform trainees, students and their families that there are compensation insurance programs for workers and various consultation centers in Japan,” Ibusuki said.