Photo story: Portrait of a Filipino migrant worker in Japan in the midst of the pandemic

Story and photos by Markus Castaneda

This is a photo story about Bayani BJ Dela Cruz, a local bartender in the Honch at Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo by Markus Castaneda)

Most people travel to a different country to experience its culture, witness its unique sites and explore a world outside of what they are accustomed to. But not everyone approaches international travel in this way. There are individuals who leave their home country in search of an answer, a solution to supporting one’s day-to-day living, or supporting a family.

For Bayani BJ Dela Cruz, the answer is 3,070 kilometers and unemployment. Born and raised in Bulacan, Philippines, he left his family behind, migrating to Japan in the summer of 2018 in hopes of finding stability to better support his growing family of a wife and two kids.

Dela Cruz starts his day early to prepare to go to his first job as a construction worker. (Photos by Markus Castaneda.)

“My aunt was the first to travel to Japan and start a new life, then my mother followed and married a Japanese man,” said Dela Cruz. “Life in the Philippines has always been hard, and it was even harder to sustain when I had my own family. Moving to Japan was my only hope for a better life.”

Currently, Dela Cruz is in between jobs due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. His last job was bartending at a nightclub in Yokosuka, Japan. However, since the Kanagawa Prefecture issued a state-of-emergency sometime around May of 2020, most businesses have shut down.

He is an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) and has been working in Japan for the last 3 years to provide for his family back home. (Photo by Markus Castaneda)

“Since night life establishments have shut down, there are no jobs available for me,” said Dela Cruz. “Due to the lack of education and certifications required to work in Japan, my options are very limited.”

In Japan, a common term exists for a foreigner or non-Japanese national living in Japan: ‘gaijin.’ In an article from ‘Diversity Aboard: Preparing the Next Generation of Global Leaders,’ Filipinos are the fourth-largest foreign contingent, with a population of approximately 282,823. The Chinese population leads the group with nearly a third of all foreigners.

According to Justice Ministry data released in June 2020, 132,551, or roughly 47% of the 282,823 Filipinos legally residing in Japan, hold permanent resident visas.

Dela Cruz said he hopes to acquire permanent residency in Japan. This would open up more favorable job positions and would allow him to bring his family to Japan.

Obtaining such status does not come easily. ‘June Advisors Group, Visa Support and Business Consulting in Japan’ states that for the Japanese government to even consider issuing an individual a permanent residency in Japan, one would have to have sufficient assets or ability to make an independent living.

Additionally, 10 years of consecutive residence in Japan, which should include five years of residence under a work visa. Finally, he would have to have paid taxes and made contributions to the Japanese social security system during the required period.

After 6 hours of hard labor, he prepares for his night shift at a local bar, where he works until closing, usually into the late hours of the night. (Photo by Markus Castaneda)

Currently, Dela Cruz has held at least six different occupations in the last three years, from construction work to waiting tables and bartending gigs in Yokohama and Yokosuka. The pay would average to about ¥1,000 an hour or approximately $9.00.

Dela Cruz admits the hours are late and long, but he constantly reminds himself of the reason why he’s traveled so far.

“The global pandemic has set back my family and me for the past year,” said Dela Cruz. “No jobs are available at the moment, so it is difficult to support my family in the Philippines. All I can do is keep going and keep hoping that everything will start to get better.”

Throughout the photo story, he can be seen holding his phone, his only way to communicate with his kids back home. (Photo by Markus Castaneda)

The adverse effect of the global pandemic has been felt across the globe. According to ‘The Japan Times,’ the total number of coronavirus cases worldwide is estimated at 83,748,593, with deaths being at approximately 1,824,140.

Japan’s corresponding figures are close to 230,304 cases and 3,414 deaths. The Japanese government has been active in providing support for businesses, big and small, approximately ¥300,000 a month, or $2,800.

The businesses receive the supplement as long as they abide by the rules set in place. However, the employees who were laid off reap none of those benefits.

“The global pandemic has set back my family and me for the past year. No jobs are available at the moment, so it is difficult to support my family in the Philippines.” (Photo by Markus Castaneda)

Despite the ongoing challenges of obtaining a stable job, coupled with being away from his loved ones, Dela Cruz remains hopeful. He maintains contact with his wife and kids in the Philippines and seeks employment as the ‘new normal’ starts to unfold.

He said the price for a chance at a stable life may have been a bit higher than what he had originally anticipated, and it may take some time before he starts to reap the benefits. Dela Cruz stated that his resiliency and drive, though battle-scarred, remains strong.

“My current situation is just a minor setback,” said Dela Cruz. "In the long run, I will look back on these trying times and know that it contributed to making me a stronger individual, a better father, and husband. It has been a long, tiring journey. But I have three reasons why I must keep going.”

“In the long run, I will look back on these trying times and know that it contributed to making me a stronger individual, a better father, and husband.” (Photo by Markus Castaneda)

This story and accompanying photos were originally published in DVIDS, a US Military Press website. Story and photos are Public Domain.