Page 7, 27th February 1998

27th February 1998
Page 7
Page 7, 27th February 1998 — an's crusading nun

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Locations: Tokyo, Lausanne, Nagano


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an's crusading nun

Behind the glamour of the Winter Olympics is a story of environmental and economic disaster for many. ANDREW JENNINGS went to Japan to meet a woman who is determined to set the record straight.

C iis., musku,'

Monica Monica answers the phone Japanese style. If she switches to Spanish it'll be a Filipino construction worker fearing deportation or a Filipina bar girl fleeing heryakuza gangster boss.

And if Monica slips into English then it must be a European press or TV reporter looking for the laughinE nun we've all heard about in Nagano; the Sister who insists that there's a huge gulf these days between Olympic reality and idealism.

This morning there's a raft of causes on her agenda. Monica is busy working the phone, charming her bishop into attending a conference on East Timor. I'd tried being formal when 1 arrived at her cramped office in the Pakikisa refuge in the Nagano back streets and was swept away with eruptions of delight that I'd charted my way from the bullet train station.

Dressed in her well-worn check jacket, skirt and thick wool stockings we're up in the Japan Alps she might be a modest-ranking, middle-aged civil servant, but for the chunky silver cross she wears.

Some days she rushes from the convent without it and only when she pauses to give me her card another Japanese formality she treats so casually do I learn that she is Sister Monica Nakamura; on one side she's introduced as a Handmaid of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; on the reverse, a member of the Anti-Olympics People's Network.

WIY IS THIS good woman campaigning against a sports festival we've been told brings huge benefits to Nagano and its people? "We're publicising the destruction of the environment, excessive taxation and the disrespect of peoples' freedoms," she says.

Japan is predominantly a Shinto Buddhist nation, so what's a nice girl like Monica doing signed up to a foreign faith with less than half a million members scattered across the archipelago?

"After the war things were unstable and everybody was looking for some assurance, so my mother sent us all to Catholic schools. I was the youngest. My family was Buddhist but in the first year of high school I was converted to Catholicism."

Yes, but why did Monica opt to become a nun?

"I had a strong interest in human rights and social welfare. My parents were very good people, we were very happy and, somehow, I wanted to share my happiness with people who were not so happy."

And one way is to put a cheery face on a world that can be dark for some of these people. "My mother always told me," and she's cracking up already, "please Sister, you are a religious sister, so please don't laugh so much."

Monica's commitment mirrors a key decision, taken by Japan's Catholics more than a decade ago, to take their faith back to roots. "I believe that Jesus came to this world to save the oppressed and I think his way, Christ's commitment, his lifestyle, is the only authentic way of living."

That's not compatible in her view with the modem moneyand-drug-fuelled Olympics. We're sitting talking in a wornout building that is a refuge for homeless migrant workers. There are a lot of them in Nagano, now those gleaming ice palaces, broadcast centres and ski runs have been built.

The International Olympic Committee tells us that its made-for-TV sports event brings together the people of the world. "Not if you're an undocumented migrant worker," says Monica. When Nagano was awarded the Gaines back in 1991 it had no Olympic facilities, just some paper plans drawn up by the construction companies behind the bid.

When the IOC members, after some highly enjoyable trips to Nagano, gave the goahead, there was a shortage of construction workers to get the facilities up on time.

There are an estimated five million migrant workers in Asia, following the contracts. Most travelled on tourist visas and stayed on illegally until the job was done then hoped to evade the police, "Japanese immigration law is applied opportunistically," according to Monica. "When they need workers, they ignore their own law. When the work is completed, they throw them out. The Olympic people should appreciate the contribution of the workers."

The majority of the illegals come from the Philippines. But Monica has been called out to help migrants, sometimes with their families, from as far away as Peru.

"Foreign workers have long done the dirty work," she explains, "the so-called 'three K' jobs (kitanai, kitsui and kiken which mean 'dirty, hard and dangerous') shunned by the more affluent Japanese.

One illegal Filipino, he would only give the name `Jhun', told a local reporter: "I worked for 12,000 Yen a day, while Japanese workers were paid 15,000 to 18,000. And we were always paid three days to one week late.'"

It can be even worse for the Filipinas. Desperate for work they agree to act as bar hostesses. Sister Celeste, who works with Monica, reckons there are around a thousand of them in Nagano. They work the Karaoke bars, trying to avoid harassment, being forced to date customers and finally get trapped into the sex trade.

Imagine being rich enough to buy out Rupert Murdoch three times over and still have a large personal fortune. Meet Mr Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, 63, until the Japanese bubble economy collapsed in late 1991 the richest man in the world. He now languishes in 27th place but Murdoch is at 116th.

Tsutsumi is the principal intermediary of the $19 billion the Japanese taxpayer has lavished on the Olympics. In his huge business portfolio are ski resorts and golf courses on the road from Tokyo to Nagano. Their profitability suffered because of slow trains and poor roads.

Not any more: Tsutsumi became president of Japan's Olympic Committee, and organised $25m-worth of donations towards a new Olympic museum in Lausanne.

Nagano got its Olympic Games largely because the construction industry favoured this backward and underdeveloped city and from the tax breaks that a compliant government gave it.

Tsutsumi got a $6.5 billion new bullet train to Nagano stopping, conveniently, at his flagship mountain resort of Karuizawa. One man referred to him as Japan's "shadow Prime Minister".

A reporter from Shukan Shincho magazine it sells half a million copies a week told me that the Olympic and infrastructure debt for each Nagano household is 16,500 yen. Monica says it's a crushing burden.

But there's another burden which may be irreversible. Monica produces pictures of the mountains before the winter snows fell. The smooth white slopes which can be seen circling the town are, underneath, scarred and ravaged by the army of earth:movers that gouged out the ski slopes for this two-week event.

HOW DOES Monica find time to campaign on so many issues? With the inevitableshe laugh she tells me the story of her deportation from Malaysia last year.

"It was a terrible experience. We were holding a conference about Indonesia's illegal occupation of East Timor and the government got frightened and they took us away in a truck with iron bars. It was like a prison." And she laughs again.

Casually, so casually that I almost miss it, she says this is her second deportation.

"The first time was by the Philippine government. But they didn't put a special stamp in my passport so I can still go back again."

And suddenly she mentions, quickly and casually: "Of course I have a different name on my passport." And then you realise her laughter in the face of grief is an act of love, not derision, and that she has steel in her convictions.

So why have I seen TV pictures of happy citizens lining the streets welcoming IOC president Samaranch? And besides, Olympic installations I are awash with volunteers. Is Monica detached from grass roots thinking? Maybe she is factually right in her critique but is it shared by the 360,000 citizens of Nagano? It didn't seem so.

Then I read a story in the Daily Yomiuri. Olympic organisers were having problems trying to get "volunteers" to turn out for the evening medal ceremonies.

According to the report: "In early December the association of 26 ward chiefs were asked to provide 700 people every day for the ceremonies. Quotas ranging from three to 50 were set for each of the districts."

Quotas of volunteers? I thought it was all about Olympic idealism.

"This is the old-fashioned style of community mobilisation," Monica explained. "It's I called Tonarigumi. For one IOC ceremony last week hundreds old people were mobilised alongside :ocal council employees. They were sent to wave flags and each was given a Yen500 (L2.50) phone card."

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