With midlife job switch, man helps foreigners clear legal hurdles

by Itsuro Onishi

Kyodo

Concerned about the legal hurdles faced by Japan’s foreign residents, Masafumi Inagaki switched careers in his 50s to become an administrative scrivener, to help people he believes will play an important role in the country’s fast-aging society.

Once a month, working out of his office in the Mie prefectural city of Yokkaichi, home to about 7,500 foreigners, Inagaki offers free consultations to foreigners applying for visas or filing paperwork to marry Japanese.

“I am struggling every day,” Inagaki, 63, said in an interview, recalling a former case.

Three years ago, a Filipino woman in her 30s visited his office to ask him to help her stay in Japan with her 4-year-old and 3-year-old sons.

Since she was not married to their Japanese father, she was not qualified to apply for resident status and her stay in Japan was thus illegal.

Inagaki needed to have the man recognize the boys as his own children so they and their mother could obtain the status.

But the father, who was then a gang member, refused to do so, giving the woman and her children no choice but to move to the Philippines.

“They had the right to live in Japan,” Inagaki said. “I was not able (to help them).”

Before becoming an administrative scrivener — someone who prepares legal documents — Inagaki worked for an electronics manufacturer.

He often took business trips abroad and learned that many more foreign workers were accepted in European nations than in Japan.

Inagaki, who was also concerned about Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population, wondered if he could help foreigners work in Japan by preparing administrative documents for them as a scrivener.

It was his daughter’s wedding that made him resolve to give up his stable life and take a national certification examination to become a scrivener.

“In order for my daughter and grandchildren to have a bright future in this country, we must accept foreigners,” Inagaki said.

He left the company at the age of 50 and passed the exam after four years of study.

Since then, hundreds of foreign residents have consulted him to overcome language and cultural barriers as well as complex legal procedures stemming from differences in the laws of their native countries.

Inagaki said that he sometimes thinks he can no longer keep going, but that he feels a “priceless sense of achievement” whenever he sees a client smile after procedures are successful.

“There are many foreigners who do not receive adequate judicial protection and suffer injustice,” he said.

His next goal is to build an organization to protect the rights of foreign residents.

“There is no end to studying,” Inagaki said, holding legal books filled with notes and marks.