Once reluctant lawyer hailed as a hero for foreign tech trainees

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Shoichi Ibusuki humbly calls himself “a labor activist wearing a lawyer pin”, but the US government has gone further and called him a “hero”.

Ibusuki became the second Japanese named Hero of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for his long battle to protect the rights of foreign technical trainees in Japan.

“Contradictions in the system have surfaced,” he said. “The technical training program should be abolished.

Its ascent was a long and bumpy race.

Ibusuki, 60, first passed the national bar exam at the age of 27 and passed it on his 17th attempt after turning 44.

His professional activities began during his college studies while working part-time in a convenience store.

He founded a union at his workplace, then joined the activities of a larger union that represented workers in small and medium-sized enterprises.

When a lawyer supporting the union fell ill from overwork, the union association, whose leadership positions were held by young university graduates, decided to train a young lawyer on their own.

He selected Ibusuki.

He tried to decline the offer because he wanted to “continue working as an activist throughout my life”.

However, a colleague told him that he “could pursue a career as a lawyer while remaining an activist”.

After receiving encouragement from his peers, Ibusuki studied for the bar exam between his professional activities.

Immediately after finally being registered as a lawyer, he began to deal with cases involving foreign technical trainees who had contacted the union.

He had seen small and medium-sized businesses mistreating their employees, but the circumstances facing interns abroad were much worse, “more like slave labor,” he said.

His many years of engagement on the issue were cited in State Department praise in July.

Ibusuki said he is still determined to end the framework of the training program.

The internship program is intended to provide skills that interns can use after returning to their home country. However, complaints abound about employers forcing them to perform menial or dangerous jobs under appalling working conditions.

The government has continued with the program, claiming that it contributes to international society.

Interns have also been instrumental in addressing labor shortages in the agriculture, nursing and retail sectors in Japan.

However, travel restrictions linked to COVID-19 now prevent foreign interns from entering Japan.


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