May 27, 2010

JAPAN: Landscape gardener, 57, plants seeds of friendship

TOKYO, Japan / The Japan Times / News / May 27, 2010

Bangladeshi's deportation sparks cultural exchanges

By Ryota Wakamatsu, Kyodo News

MOBARA, Chiba Prefecture. — When immigration authorities deported Md Tarique six years ago, landscape gardener Masao Sekiya lost an assistant and gained a mission: fostering friendship between Bangladesh and Japan.

Sekiya met Tarique in 1994 and hired him to work in his landscaping business even though he knew the Bangladeshi had overstayed his visa.

The 57-year-old Sekiya admits it was wrong to put Tarique on the payroll but felt treating the man from Dhaka with compassion took precedence over the law.

"I taught him a great deal of the business because he is an honest man," Sekiya said, adding he took him on job assignments from his company in Mobara, Chiba Prefecture, to places like Ishikawa and Aichi prefectures.

Footloose: Masao Sekiya looks at one of his art pieces at his home in Mobara, Chiba Prefecture last month. Kyodo Photo

At the time Sekiya hired the Bangladeshi, now 47, he was busy with such projects as building log cabins and expanding his landscape gardening business to include selling housing lots with garden plots.

Work also involved erecting tombstones, waterworks and some hard, dirty and dangerous tasks. Tarique worked diligently, though he was ever fearful that the authorities could arrest him at any time.

However, orders began to decline and Sekiya was on the verge of bankruptcy, buried under ¥2 billion in debt.

Sekiya said Tarique was "my spiritual supporter when more and more people walked out on me." He also said he was encouraged by Tarique's positive attitude on life.

Tarique received ¥10,000 a day, the same as his Japanese colleagues. He went to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in 2004 to seek a special permit and Sekiya was there to support him.

The number of foreigners overstaying their visa declined from about 219,000 in 2005 to about 113,000 in 2009 following a government crackdown. The number of illegal entrants dropped from an estimated 30,000 to anywhere from 15,000 to 23,000 in the same period. Sekiya pleaded with the authorities to allow Tarique to stay, pointing to "his enduring and hard work that would be of help to the country." It did no good. Tarique was sent back to Bangladesh.

He now works in an office with a desk, chairs and a personal computer in a Dhaka building stained light brown by car exhaust and dust.

"I thought if he couldn't stay in Japan, I should set up what amounts to my company's branch in Dhaka to create a job for him," Sekiya said. "He speaks Japanese well and he can serve as a coordinator to pass on our orders to fellow Bangladeshis."

Sekiya ordered samples of fences and bamboo products for gardens, but he found the items he received from Tarique were inferior and couldn't be sold here.

So he focused instead on cultural and spiritual interchanges rather than importing goods, thinking that low-priced merchandise from Bangladesh couldn't compete with products manufactured in China.

In April, Sekiya set up a project team comprising Dhaka University students majoring in fine arts and musicians, with Tarique serving as its leader. His plan is to hold concerts and make art objects.

He puts emphasis on manufacturing products in the shape of a human foot, based on his belief that strong feet and hips are the basis of good health.

Tarique "says he often remembers Japan when he goes to bed," Sekiya said. "He tells me of fond memories about Japan. I want him to become a bridge of friendship between the two countries." [rc]

(C) The Japan Times