From Refugees to Supporters: Conversions Made By Religious Organizations in Contemporary Japan

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Norihito TAKAHASHI, Toyo University, Japan
It has been more than 40 years since the Japanese government officially began accepting refugees into the country. However, since the end of the Indochina refugee crisis, Japan’s refugee acceptance rate has dropped sharply. The rate is currently the lowest among advanced countries. The Japanese government has neither been exceedingly passive with regard to widespread refugee crises, nor has been sufficiently supportive of the Indochina refugees who have decided to remain in Japan. Rather, religious organizations (especially Catholic churches) have played important spiritual and social roles for Indochina refugees (most of them being Vietnamese) in many locations across Japan.
In this paper, I examine several cases in which Catholic churches have undergone the formation of Vietnamese refugee communities. My examination is based on data from both documentary and field surveys. The churches I have studied have been important spaces from which Vietnamese refugees have contacted compatriots and constructed ethnic networks. Non-Catholic participants have also been a part of these networks. These churches have also been spaces in which Vietnamese refugees have been able to interact with neighbouring communities. This is because many Japanese are also members.
The recent number of incoming Vietnamese migrants has rapidly increased as a result of an influx of students and technical interns, as well as family reunions. In this paper, I point out situations in which leaders of Vietnamese refugee communities have played active roles in Japanese language classes, the support of livelihood, and annual Vietnamese cultural events for second generation Vietnamese and Vietnamese newcomers. Because there is some amount of indifference in Japanese society regarding the social adjustment of refugees and migrants, as well as the maintenance of Vietnamese language and culture, the social roles of refugees who have become supporters of their adoptive religious communities are highly important.