Jesuit Social Center in Tokyo [Bulletin No:150]

Ando Isamu S.J. (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 150 / July 15th, 2009

This is the 150th issue of this Bulletin. The first issue was published 25 years ago as a bimonthly newsletter, A-4 size, 8 to 10 pages in length. Since the essence of the social center’s 28-year history can be found there, we want to present here a general overview of the Center’s present activities.

Social and Pastoral Bulletin number 150

The Jesuit Social Center was inaugurated in April 1981 at Kawadacho (Shinjuku-ku). In July 2006 we celebrated the 25th anniversary with a special celebration in the St Joseph Hall of St Ignatius Church in Yotsuya (Tokyo). The following year, on June 15, 2007, we published a Booklet to commemorate the Center’s 25 years of existence from 1981 to 2006. Here I would like to reflect on what we have done and are now doing.

 Social Apostolic Letter (SAL)

One of the main tasks of the newly founded Center was to establish a system of direct communication with all members of the Japan Province of the Society of Jesus. Thus, upon the initiative of Fr. Weghaus, on December 6, 1980, the Social Apostolic Letter (SAL) began publication in order to keep members of the Province informed about the activities of the Center. Father Provincial formed a special committee of 7 Jesuits (Frs. Weghaus, Ando, H. Hayashi, Kuga, Linthorst, Susukida and Yamada). The committee discussed matters regarding the social apostolate and the content of the new SAL, assisting Fr. Weghaus to solicit advice on how to conduct the social apostolate in the Province.

SAL aimed at including the following content: (1) An editorial on some contemporary social problem. (2) Fr Provincial’s answers to questions submitted by Jesuits of the Province. (3) Short reports on “What we are doing.” (4) Opinions regarding “What we should and could do.” (5) Opinions on “What we are doing but should discontinue.” (6) New problems, vital statistics of Japan, activities of the Center. SAL was discontinued with the 29th issue in March 1983. A year later, May 1984, the publication of the Social and Pastoral Bulletin began (see Booklet p. 11).

Fr Weghaus returned to Germany before the Bulletin was published. Fr. Ando became the new director of the Center, and when Mr Shibata Yukinori started working at the center, he became part of the editorial staff of the Bulletin. Let me quote from the above Booklet.

The Social and Pastoral Bulletin (May 1984) replaced SAL and beginning in September 1992 was issued bimonthly and bilingually (Japanese-English) in A-4 format with 8 to 12 pages. While SAL had concentrated on Catholic social teaching and theological reflection, the new Bulletin, especially after the 1990s, stressed information from the field concerning social movements from inside and outside the Catholic communities (Booklet, p.16).

The Bulletin has continued publication uninterruptedly for the past 25 years. As a general rule, the Bulletin is sent gratis to each Jesuit of the Japan Province, as well as to Jesuits abroad working in the social apostolate and those cooperating with the Center. There are also subscribers who pay the yearly subscription (\1200 for the six numbers a year). The number of readers of the Bulletin as of June 2009 was 475 (338 for the Japanese edition and 137 for the English). About 98 of these are ordinary subscribers.

The Bulletin has accomplished the role of an “information operations room” to transmit to our readers in Japan and in other parts of the world not only the activities of the Center and the way of thinking that inspires them, but also the social problems Japan and the world are presently facing. The Center’s web page has a file of all back numbers of the Bulletin since 1998.

Objectives of the Center and Networking

The Center tries to show the many facets of our Jesuit social apostolate in Japan. We are selective in our activities kin order to maintain a Jesuit identity. The social apostolate is deeply involved in the building of healthy human structures, where people can enjoy respect as images of God and the freedom to live together in harmony and without discrimination, to develop themselves as human beings and to contribute to healthy changes so as to improve our societies. For its part, the Society of Jesus has taken as its priority the specific mission of working for the promotion of faith and justice. It stresses a preference for the poor in this world.

In general, one the main focuses of this Center is NETWORKING. We stress cooperation with the Jesuit Social Secretariat in Rome and the Jesuit Networking in East Asia. The Tokyo Center played an important role in the Jesuit social apostolate in Asia while the SELA organization was in existence, as well as with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Asia. It is always open to other networks of NGOs in Japan and other Asian countries working for refugees and migrant workers, against poverty and violations of human rights, against capital punishment, against landmines, etc.

In cooperation with Jesuit companions and other groups we watch and analyze the situations confronting us and look for ways to act accordingly, aware of our limitations.

Adachi International Academy (AIA)

Let me offer here the example of a concrete program, a small school for migrant workers in the suburbs of Tokyo, which was the result of a long process of continuous contact with the situation of foreign workers living in Japan. The support of the Center was one of the key elements in making a successful start for AIA a year ago. The Jesuit Social Center had from its very beginning a priority involvement with refugees from the Indochina region (Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia) in former camps of Thailand as well as with those that reached Japan looking for asylum. During these last years foreign workers in Japan have attracted our attention. Japanese NGOs and church groups have gradually come forward to take care of refugees and foreign workers in a variety of fields from pastoral and legal issues to offering shelter and advice on health issues and family problems.

Meanwhile, it became clear that a lack of communication due to the difficulties of mastering the Japanese language was like a “chronic disease” that needed special attention. Most people thought that this was a basic issue common to all foreign workers, no matter what their nationalities, but the volunteer programs for learning Japanese that are available in quite a few churches as well as in public places are by no means adequate to provide a suitable solution. In the past I personally had been offering volunteer services on Sundays after helping out in the Umeda parish (Adachi-ku) and participated in programs of all kinds of assistance, going so far as to rent an apartment that functioned as a secretariat for such volunteer activities.

One Sunday two young Filipino workers came looking for advice. Their Japanese employer had told them to stop coming to work the next Monday. They had been fired, but they could not understand the reasons behind their dismissal. I asked them whether they had been given anything in writing. They showed me a piece of paper with their signatures. They could not read what was written in Japanese. The employer had written: “I, the undersigned, will stop working here next Monday.” They had signed the paper trusting their employer, but they had been clearly cheated in an underhanded way.

This is just one instance proving the need for full involvement in the language education of tens of thousands of foreign people working in Japan. Most cannot afford the expense of Japanese language schools and the casual volunteer services offered in many churches and public halls are of limited value.

On July 6, 2008, the Adachi International Academy (AIA) opened officially with a special ceremony of blessing and started operations in an old rented Japanese-style house in Umeda. The location was selected with regard for the big number of foreign workers living and working in Adachi Ward.

Four Catholic religious congregations agreed to share responsibility for this new pilot educational project in cooperation with lay people. In fact, the small school, rather like a Christian “Terakoya,” started functioning with the registering of 13 children in September. AIA is always open for anyone to come, from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. It offers private lessons in the Japanese language to children up to the high school level, and to foreign adults, as well as lessons in English conversation, mathematics and computer. The educational method is a person-to-person approach. The needs of the student concerning time and subject matter are given special priority. Thus, a large number of teachers is often needed. Financial limitations make it compulsory to depend on volunteers. On the other hand, the organizations cooperating together have agreed to look for educators and young volunteers to come to AIA to offer free services. One of the main jobs of the AIA office is to check daily on each student and volunteer so that the education proceeds smoothly. We ask for a low monthly fee to help pay the transportation expense of the volunteers.

The number of AIA users during the past 11 months was over 2,203. Some 50 volunteers have registered: half of these are university students, 14 religious and 10 lay. But, in fact, the actual number of volunteers comes to 35 persons, of whom 17 are university students, 10 religious and 8 lay people.

JAPA VIETNAM (The Japanese Group of Private Assistance to Vietnam)

JAPA VIETNAM was established in 1990 as a citizens’ group. The representative is Fr. Ando, from the Jesuit Social Center, where JAPA VIETNAM’s desk is located. The Secretary General is Mr. Shibata and a 6-member volunteer staff normally participates in the running of the group. There are 300 members helping financially to fund projects operated by Vietnamese groups in Vietnam. In rural areas the programs consist of building small bridges and vital roads, digging wells, as well as forming cow banks and sow raising farms, building classrooms for literacy education and clinics. In urban areas, assistance is provided to programs for street children and slum dwellers and programs for HIV/AIDS patients and their rehabilitation toward become independent. The total amount of funds each year is about 250 million yen, or an average of US$3000 per project.

A JAPA VIETNAM team visits Vietnam once a year. Every 6 months an informative Newsletter is published and once a year a general assembly is held with live reports from the visits to Vietnam. A charity concert and two bazaars are organized every year. During the first two weeks of August this year Fr Ando and Mr Shibata will be part of the team visiting Vietnam. There are plans to hold the general assembly together with a charity concert and a report on the August Vietnam tour around October of this year.

Stop the Death Penalty: Network of Religions

 Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Shintoists, together with other non-affiliated groups and individuals, have established the “Stop the Death Penalty” Network. The establishment of the Network was the result of a seminar against capital punishment organized in Tokyo in the year 2003 under the initiative of an Italian Catholic organization, the St. Egidio Community. At the time, the secretariat of the Network was located at the office of Amnesty International, but in 2008 it was transferred to the Jesuit Social Center under the care of Mr Shibata.

Actually, 6 years ago, in 1997, the Jesuit Social Center conducted a national campaign against landmines in collaboration with citizens’ groups, Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist organizations. After that, in 2001, the center organized a “Life Painting Exhibition” of paintings from prisoners on death row. These experiences have helped us cooperate as the secretariat for the “Stop the Death Penalty” Network.

The Network consists of 5 or 6 religious bodies: Catholics, Protestants (NCC), Shinshu Otani, Tendaishu, Seimeizan Schweitzer Temple, Oomoto, etc. and organizes seminars twice a year. An important event is a common prayer meeting once a year of these religious bodies to demand the abolition of all executions, along with public appeals and a signature campaign demanding the abolition of executions.

Based on the experiences and personalities of those participating in this religious Network, Mr Shibata has been actively involved in the recent formation of a task force of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission for the abolition of capital punishment and in a campaign of citizens’ groups protesting executions.

Task Team on “Mental Illnesses”

Back in October 2004 the Province Committee on Social-Pastoral Ministry conducted an enquiry among all the Jesuits in the Province with regard to the main social issues in Japan. In the order of priority given them the results were as follows: First were the problems of foreign workers, then globalization and marginalization, and finally inner mental disorders. In order to address these issues various task forces were established.

The task team on mental illnesses was composed of 3 Jesuits, Frs. Hanafusa and Matsui and Br. Yoshiba, 3 lay people and a Sister issued a complementary enquiry to Jesuits on the matter and gathered several times to analyze the data and decide on the basic directions to follow.

 Theory and reflection are not enough. There is need for field work and private commitment.

Besides pointing out the issues involved there is a need to present successful live instances.

 The main causes of psychological problems cannot be reduced to personal temperament. There is need to clarify the social distortions which surround and disturb people’s lives.

The team members divided up their tasks and published a booklet, Taking a Positive Stand on Psychological Problems. The booklet was issued 3 times with a circulation of 1,700 copies. Since it takes a Christian stand on psychological situations, the booklet was well accepted by Catholic readers.

The task team remained inactive for a while after publication of the booklet, but last May three of the members, Fr. Hanafusa, Br. Yoshiba and Mr. Shibata resumed activities. The team plans to continue preparations for an initiation seminar on psychological issues with practical activities in view.

Association for Solidarity with Friends in Cambodia (Cambo-Ren)

Cambo-Ren was born from the wishes of all members that attended the Cambodia Study Tour of 2003. Fr. Bonet is the representative of the group, which is comprised of some 300 members. Cambo-Ren’s main office is located in the Jesuit Social Center. The local counterpart is the Jesuit Service Cambodia, particularly in Sisophon, near the Thai border.

The group gives importance to the following:

Giving assistance to programs orientated to “human development,” like rural development, education and health

  By reducing consumption the members of the group produce some income that is used to support programs

  By sharing their free time every year the members organize study tours to Cambodia.

Thanks to the assistance provided by members of the group, offering some of their savings and occasional free time, a number of projects in Cambodia have been implemented. Here is a list of them: houses built for victims of landmines, water reservoirs for villages, mobile libraries in 15 different locations, building of schools and study centers, benches and tables for schools, school toilets, wheelchairs, cow banks, wells, teaching materials and assistance to teachers’ salaries. The group visits the sites, discusses the projects directly with the persons involved and the JSC staff and then decides on possibilities of assistance. A year later, a Cambo-Ren group pays a new visit to the site of the project and reports to all Cambo-Ren members. A Newsletter is sent twice a year to all members.

Study tours of 9 days are organized every February during the dry season when the roads leading to the project sites are in good condition. The tour schedule is tightly planned to observe not only the educational programs of JSC for disabled people and children’s home receiving assistance, but also the torture facilities of Pol Pot’s times in Phnom Pen and visits to refugees’ homes. In Siem Reap the visits include a number of projects run by JSC and informative talks of NGO people clearing landmines. The last day is left for a visit to Angkor Wat. The groups are composed of 10 members and we hire a van to move around Cambodia.

Seminar: Let’s Discuss Development with Fr. Anzorena

Fr.Anzorena

Back in 1994 we began this seminar of monthly lectures from April to July each year. We used Kibe Hall this year and the theme of the seminar was “30 Years of a Housing Movement with the Cooperation of the Poor and their Supporters.” The lectures introduced the history of the housing movement and its development with future prospects in the Philippines, Africa, the Indochina region and Pakistan.

Fr. Anzorena has long been visiting third world countries, building a network of skilled personnel. He makes efforts to help the poor to become fully independent and deals with government officials to assist NGOs and squatters’ organizations working for the improvement of housing conditions. Fr. Anzorena usually spends half a year visiting countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Thanks to his rich experience the reports on the situation of the countries offer always fresh insights.

Seminar “The voice of the Church for Modern Society: Catholic Social Teaching”

This is a series of seminars that started in 2007. Beginning last year the seminars have been held in one of the meeting halls of Kojimachi Church under the auspices of the Social Center and St. Ignatius Church. The coordinator, Fr. Bonet, and the speakers are Jesuits. The seminars deal with actual social issues concerning people.

First of all, there is a presentation of concrete situations, so that the following session explains the thinking of the Catholic Church and its public declarations. The main themes this year are: 1- Poverty and War. Japan’s actual poverty gap. The Catholic Church denounces modern realities and makes appeals for solutions. 2- History of Human Rights: Lights and Shadows. Human Rights and the Catholic Church; Catholic social teaching and Peace. 3- The Labor situation in Japan; Society seen from the eyes of foreign workers and temporal workers; John Paul II’s encyclical letter on Work and a Christian vision of human work. 4- Three kinds of assassinations: Criminals, War and Executions; Voice of the Church: Culture of death and Culture of life.

The participants are not only Catholics and as much as possible all share their questions and comments.

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