TSU - Concerned about the legal hurdles faced by Japan's foreign residents, Masafumi Inagaki switched careers in his 50s to become an administrative scrivener, aiming to assist a population sector he believes will play an important role in the country's fast-aging society.
Once a month, Inagaki provides free consultations to foreigners with administrative procedures to apply for a visa or to marry Japanese at his office in the Mie prefectural city of Yokkaichi, home to about 7,500 foreigners.
"I am struggling every day," Inagaki, 63, said in an interview, recalling one of the cases he dealt with in recent years.
Three years ago, a Filipino woman in her 30s visited his office to ask him to help her continue to live in Japan along with her 4-year-old and 3-year-old sons.
Since she was not married to their Japanese father, she was not qualified to apply for resident status and her stay in Japan was thus illegal.
Inagaki needed to have the man recognize the boys as his own children so the children and subsequently their mother could obtain the status.
But the father, who was then a gang member, refused to do so, giving the woman and her children no choice but to return to the Philippines.
"They had the right to live in Japan," Inagaki said. "I was not able (to help them)."
Before becoming a scrivener, Inagaki was an employee of an electronics manufacturer.
He often took business trips abroad and learned that many more foreign workers were accepted in European nations than in Japan.
Inagaki, who was also concerned about Japan's declining birthrates and aging population, wondered if he could help foreigners work in Japan by preparing administrative documents for them as a scrivener.
It was his daughter's wedding when he had the resolve to give up on his stable life and take a national certification examination to become a scrivener.
"In order for my daughter and grandchildren to have a bright future in this country, we must accept foreigners," Inagaki said.
He left the company at the age of 50 and passed the exam after four years of studying.
Ever since then, he has offered consultations to hundreds of foreign residents, overcoming language and cultural barriers as well as complex legal procedures stemming from differences in laws of their native countries.
Inagaki said he sometimes thinks he can no longer keep going, but that he feels a "priceless sense of achievement" whenever he sees a client smile after procedures are successful.
"There are many foreigners who do not receive adequate judicial protection and suffer injustice," he said.
His next goal is to build an organization to protect the rights of foreign residents.
"There is no end to studying," Inagaki said, holding legal books with lots of notes and marks in them.