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Sour Strawberries: Japan‘s Hidden Guest Workers

“Sour Strawberries” is a documentary on migrant workers, human right, exploitation and discrimination in Japan. It tells the story of two Nikkei-Jin workers from Peru and Brazil and three Chinese participants of the International Training Programm. It also features interviews with former Vice-Minister of Justice Kono Taro, Upper House Member Tsurunen Marutei, Union-Leader Torii Ippei, Arudo Debito, Keidanren represenative Inoue Hiroshi and the German political scientist and Japan expert Dr. Gabriele Vogt.

The migrantsʻ point of view is complemented and contrasted in numerous interviews with experts and representatives of political and business interests. The Film crew spoke with: 

  • Dr. Gabriele Vogt, expert on migration at the German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo (DIJ) 
  • Tarô Kônô, former Vice-Minister of Justice and Lower House representative for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 
  • Hiroshi Inoue, director of international affairs of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) 
  • Marutei Tsurunen, Upper House councilor for the oppositional Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the only Japanese national politician who has migrated to Japan 

Former Vice-Minister of Justice Tarô  Kônô (LDP) 



In the first chapter a Peruvian and a Bolivian worker tell us about the working life of a so-called „nikkei-jin“. That is what Japanese call the offspring of former Emigrants. Since 1990 they are allowed to live and work in Japan without restriction. Yet they remain strangers and mostly find only shortterm employment in low wage sectors, which are shunned by Japanese. 

In the second part the film crew joins Debito Arudô on a walk through Shinjuku. During the last years here and elsewhere in Japan signs have appeared which prohibit foreigners the entrance of restaurants, swimming pools and other places of business. Arudô discusses the „Japanese Only!“ sign with a nightclub manager in front of his club.

Shortly afterwards the film crew encounters a group of Japanese ultra-nationalists holding an anti-Chinese rally. In a very remarkable manner the speaker links poisoned dumplings from China with a war crime committed by the Japanese army in World War Two. I should note that 15 Chinese trainees sued strawberry farms in Tochigi Prefecture for unpaid wages, unfair dismissal and an attempted repatriation by force. Thanks to Zentoitsu Workers Union, they were awarded ¥2 million each in back pay and overtime, a formal apology, and reinstatement in their jobs.

Why this matters: This is another good precedent, treating non-Japanese (NJ) laborers (who as trainees aren’t covered by labor laws) the same as Japanese workers.

In the third chapter the Japanese union activist Torii Ippei is introduced. In his Zentôitsu Workers Union over 2000 non-Japanese workers are organized. The larger part of the foreign union members live and work in Japan without official permit. Due to its activities the union gets into conflict with both the police and the organized crime. In 1993 Torii almost lost his life in an arson attack. The employer of a worker frowith gasoline and ignited it with a lighter. 

You can view the film promo stills here

Debito will be screening and speaking on the film at the following dates:


Contact him if you’d like me to screen in your neighborhood between March 20 and 31.


One Comment

  1. Arudou Debito Arudou Debito January 29, 2009

    Hi BT. Thanks for the extra word of mouth on this. More dates for SOUR STRAWBERRIES screenings have been finalized and more are on their way. Please see the most up-to-date schedule in real time at

    Thanks again! Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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