Tuyen Le, a second-year college student, was near Kasumigaseki subway station on his way back to his apartment as midnight approached. It was the usual time for office workers in Tokyo to return home to the city’s suburbs after work.
Seeing a 24/7 restaurant, he walked in to eat after a tiring day at school and part-time jobs.
Then things took a bad turn.
He said: “I was eating when a Japanese man came in and shouted in my face, ‘Go back to your country, you foreigners are always doing illegal things. You don’t deserve to be here!’ “
He felt embarrassed but mostly sad, he said.
“It’s not out of nowhere that when Japanese media covers reports of poultry and fruit thefts where the thieves have not been found, social media alludes to those whose name is ‘Nguyen'” .
There are about 433,000 Vietnamese living in Japan, accounting for 15.7 percent of all foreigners, according to the Immigration Service Agency. They top the list of foreign nationals breaking the law, the Ministry of Public Security said in June.
Tuan Anh, who has lived in Tokyo for 10 years and works at the ASEAN-Japan Center, said the problem was deeply rooted, linked to learning and unrealistic expectations of migrant workers in the country.
As of June 2021, there were about 202,000 Vietnamese technical apprentices in Japan, or 63.8 percent of the total number in the country, according to data from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Eighty percent of them had to borrow ¥674,000 (US$4,680) on average to make ends meet in Japan, a Nikkei investigation revealed.
But some apprentices, arriving in Japan and disillusioned with the realities of life, become criminals.
“They would have incurred huge debts to get to Japan, and the disillusionment associated with these debts often leads them down the path of crime,” Anh said.
The number of Vietnamese committing crimes in Japan has increased in recent years, police said.
In 2020, there were about 600 cases of Vietnamese apprentices committing crimes, a 60 percent increase from the previous year, they said.
Vietnamese are also involved in 60% of robberies and 35% of fights involving foreign nationals.
Hiromu Shimada, 31, the director of a company that supports foreign nationals based in Tokyo, said the process of recruiting foreign apprentices was not good enough. Many of them are manual workers with poor prospects and modest education, run up huge debts to get to Japan but are poorly paid, he added.
Tuan Anh said companies should be transparent about earnings and provide training to ensure Vietnamese apprentices adopt the right skills and language abilities, which will help reduce crime.