Seto, Aichi Pref. – Schools for Japanese Brazilian students are facing financial difficulties after many parents lost their jobs or were suspended from work amid the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Such schools not only give Brazilian children descended from Japanese immigrants an opportunity to learn Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language but also offer support for those who are having difficulty in Japanese society.
Established 15 years ago, Escola Paulo Freire Seto is one such school in Seto, Aichi Prefecture.
In a classroom repurposed from a room in a housing complex, six children were reading out a fairy tale story in Japanese around the table on April 28.
“The Japanese language is difficult, but I enjoy meeting with friends here,” said an 8-year-old girl who has been going to the school since she was 1 year old.
Approved by the Brazilian government, the school offers lessons to 18 full-time students with the same curriculum as schools in Brazil. After school hours, it also teaches Portuguese to 30 children who go to Japanese schools.
Many of their parents work as temporary employees at factories. The pandemic has forced plants to shut down, which has led to substantial lost income. At least one of them has lost his job.
The school is helping parents by suspending tuition payments or granting exemptions. Teachers’ wages have been reduced by about half after its revenue more than halved.
“It’s a terrible situation. We won’t be able to run the school if this situation is prolonged,” said Marcia Brunetti, 50, the school’s principal.
Among the nation’s 47 prefectures, Aichi had the second-highest number of foreign residents as of June 2019, at some 270,000. Brazilians make up over 20 percent of them.
There are 11 schools for Japanese Brazilian students in Aichi, including one in Toyota, where there are many plants affiliated with Toyota Motor Corp.
Such schools are eligible for subsidies if they receive approval from the Japanese government, according to the Aichi Prefectural Government, but only four of them have received such approval.
Like the Seto school, many do not fill enrollment capacity and school size requirements.
“Many schools are operating on a shoestring, and a tough situation is expected,” Aichi Shukutoku University Prof. Yoshimi Kojima said.
“It’s a huge loss for communities if the schools are lost,” said Kojima, an expert on the Japanese Brazilian community.