Eiji Teruya, a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian and son of a migrant worker, has passed the bar exam and is getting ready to go to work as a lawyer in Japan, possibly the first Brazilian to do so.
Teruya’s accomplishment has spread in the Brazilian community by word of mouth, providing a ray of hope among children of foreign migrants. The 26-year-old from Aichi Prefecture had to overcome financial hardships and the language barrier on his path to join the legal profession.
He says that as a lawyer he wants to protect the rights of foreign nationals in Japan and is hopeful that young foreign people can shine here.
“There are a lot of paths. I hope (young foreign people) will be encouraged to pursue their own ambitions by hungrily looking to their future,” Teruya said, adding that being able to speak a different language in addition to Japanese “will be a weapon in pursuing any field.”
After moving to Japan at age 8, Teruya grew up in a single-parent household. He spent his after-school hours at home watching TV while his mother, Regina, 45, was busy working in a factory.
He said he learned about the work lawyers do by watching TV dramas. He recalls how he was inspired by the way in which lawyers sided with the weak and crushed the strong because he considered himself a socially vulnerable person.
Although public education is free, related expenses such as lunch, school trips, uniforms and gym clothes took a financial toll on his mother, who began to look “gaunt,” even from Teruya’s perspective as a little boy.
He had poor grades in elementary and junior high school but told his high school teacher that he wanted to enter Nagoya University’s law department to become a lawyer. He still appreciates how the teacher took seriously what must have seemed like a pipe dream.
For six months, Teruya studied five hours every day after school and eight hours on holidays to prepare for the university entrance exam, which he passed. After graduating from Nagoya University’s law school, he passed the bar exam on his first attempt.
Yoshimi Kojima, an associate professor at Aichi Shukutoku University who has conducted extensive research on human rights of foreign nationals in Japan, said Brazilians have become teachers and local public servants, and she is happy to finally see a lawyer.
“It is highly meaningful that young Brazilians are encouraged and their spirits are lifted by such role models,” she said, but added that the situation remains tough for many foreign people who try to earn qualifications in Japan in the face of persistent discrimination that disregards their abilities.
Teruya is currently undergoing mandatory legal training and could officially become a lawyer as early as the end of this year.
While foreign nationals are eligible to take the bar exam, only Japanese nationals were previously allowed to take the legal training that was required to practice law.
A Korean resident in Japan who passed the exam in 1976 demanded that the Supreme Court, which oversees the appointment of legal apprentices, scrap the rule. The top court changed the regulations in 1977, paving the way for foreign nationals to become lawyers in Japan.
Tokuji Izumi, a former Supreme Court justice who was involved in the 1977 decision, welcomes the increasing number of foreign lawyers in Japan.
“In foreign countries there are many active Japanese lawyers, so this is just a natural consequence. There are more than 2.5 million foreigners in Japan. … It is good for Japanese society that foreign lawyers who can understand their problems can work as lawyers,” Izumi said.