Li Chuan-hua (29) is a Chinese guest worker from Shandong Province in Mie Prefecture, Western Japan. The father of 5-year old boy, he came to Japan in April, 2008 as a contract worker for a local construction company. He arrived in Japan with just 5-month Japanese crash course and left his family behind. He had no plan to visit China and his family during his 3-year contract with the company to save money.
According to a recent labor survey, there are 280,000 Chinese workers (out of 650,000 foreign workers) in Japan. Chinese workers hold 44% of all foreign workers*(1). Yet, under the facade of the homogeneous and somewhat xenophobic society, it is very easy for many Japanese to disregard their existence as the invisible "the other". In fact, Japan's agricultural, manufacturing, construction, or service sectors which face rapidly aging workers and labor shortage depend on their workforce tremendously, and there will be more need for their labor force.
I had been documenting his life in Japan and went back to China with him in this May 2011. *(2) Through this project, I would like to show that he is not a statistic and is just like "one of us" who searches for a taste of the good life although he can be seen as a disposable force in Japan and is only paid half of the other Japanese workers' earnings. I also would like to explore his anxieties of dislocation and of being swept up outside his control in this globalized economy.
*(1) To be specific, according to the Governmental Agency, JITCO (Japan International Training Cooperation Organization)'s term, foreign guest workers are supervised under "Industrial Training and Internship Programs" and are called "Trainees." Chinese workers hold 82.1% of all trainees. According to the Immigration Bureau of Japan, In 2008 alone, about 69,000 new trainees (out of total 102,000) were from China and had joined the agricultural, manufacturing, or construction workforce in Japan.
*(2) Unfortunately, his father had been ill and passed away just the day before he arrived in China. Li’s family members kept his father’s illness secret from him till he came back home.
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Li Chuan-hua, 27, goes grocery shopping by a bicycle on a Sunday evening. He and his housemate, Su Li-li, always do the shopping on Sundays, their only day off.
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Li Chuan-hua attends the company's routine morning assembly pep talk and calisthenics workout which are mandatory and still ritual for many Japanese companies.
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Li Chuan-hua receives his supervisor Shusaku Terakado's,40, instruction at the assigned field. "There is nothing to teach him now.He is a very diligent worker," said Shusaku Terakado.
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Li Chuan-hua takes a short recess in the shade of assigned field on a sizzling summer day.
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Li Chuan-hua takes a bath after a long day at work on December 2010. He usually takes a shower, but he often soaks in the bathtub during winter months.
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Li Chuan-hua's Japanese supervisor gives him an order in the assigned filed. Li Chuan-hua, and Su Li-li, both 20s, are the youngest workers in the company. The other Japanese workers are all above 40s.
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Sun dried clothes and uniforms of Li Chuan-hua and his co-worker & supervisor,Su Li-li, in the early morning of September.
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Li Chuan-hua takes a short recess with a glass of coffee and sweet bean bun after he cleans his room thoroughly at dusk on the New Year holidays.
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Li Chuan-hua takes a short nap after lunch, about half an hour, with his supervisor of the day, Shusaku Terakado,40, in the shade near the assigned field on a sizzling summer day.
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Li Chuan-hua cooks a Chinese dinner. He cooks three meals (including his lunch Bento box) at home everyday to save money.
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Li Chuan-hua ,27, right, and his co-worker&supervisor,Su Li-li,25, left, share a bond of friendship in their living room on a Sunday afternoon with 6 pack of Low-molt beer which is the cheapest alcohol beer available in Japan. Sunday is their only day off.
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Li Chuan-hua ,27, shows me a picture of Li Jia-yi,3, son he left behind in China. He carries the photo with him in his wallet all the time.
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Li Chuan-hua talks with his wife and son in China after dinner. He doesn't own a cell phone, so he borrows it from his housemate, Su Li-li.
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Li Chuan-hua ,27, studies with intensity in his room for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for Level 2 which takes place on December 6th, 2009. He studies Japanese for about 2 hours every night.
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Night look of the dorm house where Li Chuan-hua and Su Li-li reside.
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Li Chuan-hua checks the route to Mie University where the Japanese Language Proficiency Test takes place at Nabari train station in December 2010 with Su Li-li who decides to accompany him in part to see his Chinese friend at Mie University.
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Li Chuan-hua heads to Mie University where the Japanese Language Proficiency Test takes place by train in December 2010. Li Chuan-hua doesn't go out much except for mandatory obligations such as exam or grocery shopping to save money.
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Li Chuan-hua checks the starting time of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for Level 1 at Mie University in December 2010. The test takes about 4 hours.
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Li Chuan-hua keeps his mind on the coming Japanese Language Proficiency Test for Level 1 at Mie University in December 2010. The test takes about 4 hours.
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Li Chuan-hua takes a short intermission break during the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for Level 1 at Mie University in December 2010."Reading section in the test was difficult. I am not sure I pass the test this time," said he. He passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for Level 2 last year.The test takes about 4 hours.
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Li Chuan-hua is drowned in slumber after a tiring day of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in train on his way back home while Su Li-li reads Chinese newspaper which is distributed for free at Mie University where the test takes place. Su Li-li decides to accompany him in part to see his Chinese friend at Mie University.
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Li Chuan Hua works at a company’s storage space in the early morning before he leaves for the assigned field. He and Su Li-li, both 20s, are the youngest workers in the company. The other Japanese workers are all above 40s.
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Li Chuan-hua is on the way to the assigned field. He always rides shotgun because he doesn't own a Japanese driver license.
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LI Chuan-hua uses empty beer cans as ashtray.
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Li Chuan-hua attends the company's routine morning assembly pep talk which is mandatory and still ritual for many Japanese companies.
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Li Chuan-hua receives monthly payments at the company's main office on the last day of every month. He wears a mask because he catches the flu.
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Li Chuan-hua gets drunken with a puff of smoke in a living room after work. He starts smoking Japanese cigarette brand called "Echo" which is cheaper than the other brands. "I start drinking and smoking heavily.I don't want my wife in China to find this!" he laughed to himself.
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Li Chuan-hua, drowning in slumber after a tiring day of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, is reflected on the window of the train on his way back home.
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Winter trees cast their own shadow on the closed window of Li Chuan-hua's room.
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Li Chuan-hua poses with a bit crooked sunglasses which he bought at 100-yen discount store after drinking beer. He has recently quit smoking. He said, "I hope I will be my boss in China soon."
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Li Chuan-hua's Futon, sleeping mattress and alarm clock in the morning.
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Li Chuan-hua heads to the community waste disposal site on the way to work in the early morning of April.
On A Slow Boat to China My Journey with Li Chuan-hua Li Chuan-hua (29) is a Chinese guest worker from Shandong Province in Mie Prefecture, Western Japan. The father of 5-year old boy, he came to Japan in April, 2008 as a contract worker for a local construction company. ...