KAWASAKI — When Rosemarie Salvio began taking care of children at the Fureai-kan public welfare facility in Kawasaki in 1997, Filipino mothers started showing up to talk with her.
“A lot of Filipino mothers came here not only to discuss problems they faced but also just to speak in Tagalog,” recalled Salvio, who moved to Japan in 1992 at age 23 with her son to marry a Japanese man. “There was no place where we could feel at home in this town.”
The Manila native and several other Filipino women took the initiative to create the Kawayan Group Information Center for Filipino Women’s Community and Sari Sari Store.
The center, operated by several Filipino residents of the city, opened in March in a two-story home in Kawasaki Ward.
The Sari Sari Store occupies the first floor, its shelves crammed with various foods from the Philippines, including hot vinegar, mango juice and canned fish and vegetables.
The store also sells traditional toys and Philippine cosmetics.
On the second floor is a room where Filipino mothers and their children take language lessons — Japanese, English or Tagalog. Salvio, who has received training from a nonprofit organization, counsels Filipino mothers in another room.
Visitors can also get information in English or Tagalog about municipal services and use the in-house computers to access the Internet.
“Newcomers (to Japan) don’t know where they can get vital information, and old-timers also don’t have sufficient information about municipal and medical services,” Salvio said.
According to the Kanagawa Prefectural Government, the Filipinos are the third-largest foreign community in Kawasaki, with 3,871 registered residents as of the end of last year. The Koreans are the largest with 9,376, followed by the Chinese with 8,885.
The Filipino women’s efforts to build a community base date back to 2004.
Salvio and six other Filipino mothers formed the Kawayan Group to talk about the problems they face — discrimination against their children at school, financial difficulties and everyday troubles such as how to get medical interpreters.
Kawayan means bamboo in Tagalog.
The group gave classes introducing Philippine culture to students and teachers at Kawasaki elementary, junior high and high schools. It also began offering Japanese-language classes for Filipino residents.
The next step came in 2005 when the Kawayan Group placed food from the Philippines on carts in front of a coffee shop operated by Fureai-kan. To launch the project, each member pitched in ¥30,000.
“This was an attempt to introduce a bit of Philippine culture to Japanese neighbors in this town,” Salvio said. It didn’t hurt that Filipino residents also wanted access to food and other items from their home country.
The cart shop evolved into the center and Sari Sari Store after a foundation in Kanagawa Prefecture provided subsidies in fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008.
Salvio said a community center like this is necessary for foreign residents to better communicate with compatriots as well as Japanese residents.
“For foreigners, Japan is still a difficult place to live in, due to the language barrier,” she said.
When her son was an elementary school student in Japan, Salvio worried about how he was doing because he did not understand Japanese and she wanted to talk about it with his teacher.
However, she didn’t know how to proceed because Japan’s school system is so different from that of the Philippines.
If a Filipino mother figures out how to solve such problems, she can pass her knowledge on to other mothers, Salvio said.
The center also helps Filipinos communicate with their Japanese neighbors.
In fact, several Japanese children take English classes at the center, and their mothers chat with Filipino mothers at the Sari Sari Store while waiting for their children, according to Salvio.
“I think this center can publicize our activities not only to Filipinos but also Japanese people here,” she said.
“It’s very sad if there is a wall between Filipinos and Japanese. I think there are many Filipinos and Japanese who want to interact with each other.”