In May 2016, Ken Yamaguchi, president of the Hokkaido-based construction company Hisaken Group, was invited by a colleague to visit a Japanese language school in Hanoi, Vietnam. The purpose was to interview Vietnamese technical intern trainees. In the run up to the Olympic Games, the construction industry was booming in Japan, but with the declining birthrate and aging population, there was a serious shortage of manpower in the manufacturing and construction industries.
“Recruiting trainees in other countries would bring in more applications and lower labor costs. Since Vietnam has a low cost of living, they are happy to work for low wages”, he heard and became interested. He thought it was easy to say, “If they are willing to accept a low salary, why not?” However, Yamaguchi was struck by the job applicants who lean forward and say “I have no job and no hope for the future here. I want to seize the chance in Japan” and realized that he shouldn’t be doing the interview with such a half-hearted attitude. He redefined his idea of trainees and thought “These people will be helping my company going through difficult times. They of course deserve rewards for the work they do”. Then Yamaguchi told the trainees “Don’t you worry, I promise that I’ll make you all happy”.
In Japan, many small and medium sized companies still regard technical trainees as low-cost and convenient labor force, and non-payment of wages and power harassment are rampant. This has developed into a human rights issue that generates nearly 10,000 missing persons every year. Against this backdrop, Hisaken Group’s efforts to build a mutual trust with the trainees and raise the company’s profitability by providing sincere and patient trainings have become a role model for the future, overcoming the problems of exploitation and division between countries due to economic gaps. The company also focuses on the problem of trainees who are unable to apply the work skills they gained in Japan after returning to their own countries and thus face poverty again, and has launched a new project.
Director Biography – Hirokazu Kishida
Born in Kyoto in 1975. Following his career at an optical manufacturer, he began making documentaries after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. He made his directorial debut with the short film “Cans of Hope” and has been involved in the production of videos and documentaries for internet media such as Yahoo! and VICE Japan. In 2016, his short film “Sakurada, Zen chef” won the Best Short Film Award as well as the Audience Choice Award at the NYC Food Film Festival. Kishida’s goal is to portray the “enthusiasm” and “process of trial” of those who take on challenges, and to deliver stories that will give a supportive push to anyone who needs to take a step forward.
As a university student, I spent a total of nearly two years in Southeast Asian countries for my research on cultural anthropology. At that time, although I was a minority with no money and almost no ability to speak the local languages, I did not experience any type of discrimination. Rather, I was touched by the countless kindnesses and curiosities of the locals and realized for the first time in my life that I was supported by a great many individuals.
As time has passed, Japan has created a very convenient system named “Foreign Technical Intern Trainees”. Almost 10,000 non-Japanese who came to this country under this system go missing every year and it has evolved into a human rights issue. I was appalled to learn of this situation. As a documentary filmmaker, I set myself a new personal goal.
I wanted to tell the story of the people fighting this problem on the ground and show hope that we can overcome the human distortion by our native conscience and genuine interests in others.
Too many developed and emergent countries have fallen into a fragmented structure based on economic inequity. I would like to deliver my film to the world as a trigger to get out of this absurdity.