Back to SummaryAdrian Bonifacio - Student Advisor Profile
INTERNSHIP: Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center, or HURIGHTS OSAKA
It had been almost a year since being initially accepted into the Kyoto program when I watched incredulously the grey waters that devoured the northeastern coast of Japan.
The March 11th seismic disaster sent a tsunami hurtling towards the Tohoku region, killing, injuring, and misplacing thousands in its wake. Days later, the name “Chernobyl” reentered daily vernacular as experts and government officials began fighting an impending nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. As non-nationals fled the country, the United States Department of State finally issued a Travel Warning encompassing the entirety of Japan, which prompted Stanford University to issue a cancellation of the Kyoto program for the Spring of 2011. Only after this Travel Warning was lifted did the University allow the original cohort of students to decide whether or not to pursue the summer internship component without having actually studied abroad for the ten weeks prior.
It was this decision that gave me anxiety for days on end. On the one hand, I already had an internship confirmed at a human rights agency in Osaka, I was to study a subject I was passionate about, and I had a few friends already committed to going that would live near by. On the other hand, I would be living alone from the start, I would not have had the opportunity to study the Japanese language in Japan prior to the internship, and I had already landed another summer position working at Stanford. Truth be told, I originally rejected the offer to go to Japan and intern. But after more soul searching and a very long e-mail to BOSP, I withdrew my initial rejection and chose to work in Japan over summer. I can say now that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this was one of the best decisions of my life.
My fears centered around being thrust into a working environment from the beginning disappeared after entering the doors of the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center, or HURIGHTS OSAKA for short. I soon learned the generosity and kindness of every worker in the office, and especially of my supervisor. I also learned that, while far from perfect, I could surprisingly carry out a conversation in Japanese. But the bulk of my worries really disappeared after I began researching for my project.
Having discussed this beforehand with my supervisor, my main project for the summer was to research Filipino migrants living in Japan, a subject of incredible importance to me as the child of Filipino immigrants myself. Not only was I able to read a number of insightful articles already written on the issue, but I was also able to integrate with the community itself and do field research. From cooking Filipino food, dancing traditional folk dances, attending Sunday mass, volunteering at a café, to simply hanging out in migrants’ homes, I was able to catch a glimpse of the lives of these Filipinos. Through in-depth interviews I was able to learn of their trials, tribulations, as well as joys in Japan. My research was eventually consolidated into a report on the migration, remittance behavior, and human rights of Filipinos in Japan.
Aside from this project, I was able to learn so much more from my supervisor and others at the office. We toured museums showing the history of the discriminated buraku people of Japan and the atrocities both committed by and against Japan during World War II. We went to squalid neighborhoods inhabited by day laborers and most likely, as my supervisor mentioned, the Yakuza as well. Experiencing these sights reminded me that the same problems are likely to crop up anywhere on earth. I learned much from my supervisor and co-workers in different aspects, too. Restaurant and bar hopping, in addition to the several welcome parties and send-off parties, really gave me a taste of Japanese culture, and more specifically the vibrant culture of Osaka. Moreover, being in Japan right after the March disaster influenced my experience as well. Hearing everyone in the office speak of the tragedy and their efforts to help really reinforced a sense of solidarity that I found incredibly humbling.
Apart from my experiences at work, on free weekends I was able to travel with friends to different sites in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Soni Kogen, and after the internship had ended, to Kobe, Hiroshima, and Tokyo. Needless to say, the landscapes, architecture, and history I had the opportunity to appreciate are some of the fondest memories I have of my time there.
My experience in Japan can be summed up by an anecdote from my very first day of work. As I anxiously walked from the train station to the office of HURIGHTS OSAKA, all the fears I had felt that caused me to initially turn down the summer internship suddenly flooded back to me. As I shifted my weight back and forth outside the door of the office, reaching out and retracting my hand from the door handle multiple times as if I didn’t know how to use it, a man (I later found out he was the boss of the office) passed me and asked, “Are you coming in?” Without waiting for a reply, he opened the door and I followed.
That question, “Are you coming in?”, was a question I continued to ask myself throughout my experience in Japan. Would I pass through difficult thresholds? Would I challenge myself to step into unknown territory? Although the door had been opened for me that first day, I found myself opening the door in the days to come. Being in Japan both solidified my passion for social justice, and enhanced my appreciation for the beauty that does lie in Japan. If you are thinking of, or are already going to Japan, I advise you to ask yourself that question.
“Are you coming in?”
You may be surprised by your answer by the end of the program.