Japan is a country that is not traditionally known for its cosmopolitanism. Whenever Japan’s immigration policy is discussed, descriptions of Japan’s long history as an isolated country closed off from the world soon follow. However, immigration has started to be seen as the most obvious solution to the demographic challenge faced by the country. Where do migrants come from and how are they changing Japanese society?
According to the Ministry of Justice, the top ten foreign populations in Japan as of October 2021 come from China, Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines, Brazil, Nepal, Indonesia, USA, Taiwan and Thailand. From about twenty years ago, the first three largest foreign communities came from China, Korea and the Philippines. With Japan’s acute labor shortage, continuously hiring workers from overseas is urgently necessary to keep its top global economic ranking. The country is using the Technical Intern Training Program (TIIP) to lure workers from developing countries to fill up the jobs that Japanese could no longer do. With TIIP, the Vietnamese recently placed second among the largest foreign population in the country after the Chinese. In a very short period of time, the Vietnamese population has reached over four hundred fifty thousand surpassing the Koreans and the Filipinos who used to rank second and third respectively among the larger number of foreigners living and working in Japan. By merely looking at the top three largest foreign communities in the country, Japan is still very much dominated by an Asian face. In fact, the face of the Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans definitely look homogenous to the locals hence, they could effortlessly hide their ethnic identity, especially in the agricultural, fishing and diverse industrial sectors. However, in larger cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya the changing image from ethnically homogenous to moderately diverse is more visible with the presence of the other ethnic communities who are working mainly as engineers, teachers and in other service oriented industries. In metropolitan cities like Tokyo and Osaka, the English, Chinese and Korean languages are commonly used in public utilities and services, such as in public transport systems, in streets, roads, hotels and restaurants. With the Vietnamese occupying the second largest foreign community in the country one should not wonder if the Vietnamese language would soon be equally heard in public address systems or in other public utilities and services. Meanwhile, in the Catholic Church, masses in Vietnamese had already been introduced.
As supervisor and assistant of the Catholic Tokyo International Center, what activities do you carry out in order to assist and integrate migrants people in “the land of the Rising Sun”?
At the Catholic Tokyo International Center (CTIC), I serve as the point person to the pastoral ministry providing for the English speaking community, which is composed mainly of Catholic Filipinos. Of course, there are other English-speaking Catholics in the archdiocese, but the local Church encourages all foreigners to be integrated into the local Church, regardless if the local parish is ready to receive them or not, which also means that whether the foreign Catholic speaks or understands the local language, they are invited to participate in the life of the local Church. My task is to help foreign Catholics to integrate in the local parish. Hence, only a few parishes organize Masses for the foreigners. Through CTIC, I assist several parishes in the archdiocese of Tokyo that request for sacramental and religious services in an English or Pilipino language. Every month, my ministry brings me to serve five parishes that host foreign communities for the English Mass and other sacraments. During Advent and Lenten season, a request to conduct an Advent and Lenten Recollections are common. Moreover, each month, I am conducting catechism and bible studies. While most of my work is consigned to purely sacramental and religious, CTIC’s English Pastoral Ministry, which I supervise also provides ongoing formation and other program to groups and communities pertinent to their psycho-emotional and socio-economic needs. During pre-pandemic period, I am celebrating Mass to over a hundred people just in one parish. With Covid-19 pandemic however, more than half of the parishioners has stopped coming to Church.
How important is specific training in the pastoral care of migrants for growing churches, and transforming communities especially in a context where Christians are a minority?
In the context of Japan, the training for the pastoral care of migrants is very important. It is not however an assurance that such training could be easily or immediately applied to the type of character of the local Church that is distinctly Japanese. The Japanese Catholic Church forms a very tiny minority within a society that is relatively religious, with Buddhism and Shintoism as great influence. Coming from their bitter experience of persecution and seclusion, the Japanese Church tries its best to survive and hopes to develop. Apparently, the presence of the large foreign Catholic community is an added burden to the local Church while it tries its best to develop and project a strong Japanese Catholic identity. How to minister equally to the foreigners and the locals requires an enormous wisdom in the pursuit of evangelization. Seemingly the local Church is turn between what to prioritize while trying to keep her distinct Japanese Catholic identity. By just allowing the foreigners to take the lead in liturgical celebration for instance due to their huge number may yield adverse result. The task of missionaries to the migrants is to assure the local Catholics that the foreign Catholics are not here to take control. The role of the missionaries to migrants is particularly important in bridging the gap that exists between the locals and the foreigners. Such requires a lot of patience and perseverance coupled with a lot of catechetical formation.
Edwin D. Corros, CS is supervisor and assistant at the Catholic Tokyo International Center. After completing his Novitiate in Loreto (Ancona, Italy) in 1989, Fr. Edwin D. Corros, CS returned to the Philippines to finish his theological formation at Maryhill School of Theology in Manila. Following his sacerdotal ordination in 1993, he was sent to Australia to learn more about the Scalabrinian mission in preparation to open the mission in Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. In 1994, he was appointed chaplain to the English-speaking community in the Archdiocese of Taipei while learning Mandarin language and culture. In 1997, he was made parish priest of St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Taipei until he was moved back to the Philippines in 2004. He then worked as executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Itinerant People of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for ten years, until he was requested to work in Tokyo, Japan where he is currently working as assistant director of the Catholic Tokyo International Center. In 2019, Abp. Isao Kikuchi has appointed him director of Stella Maris – Tokyo.