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Ehomaki are great, but it’s important to buy them on our own terms.

For quite some time now the number of foreign-born employees at places such as convenience stores has been steadily rising. I kind of like it, because I tend to feel a lot less self-conscious about my own Japanese when speaking to a clerk whose first language also isn’t Japanese.

But for employers, many of whom are deeply accustomed to the homogenous culture of Japan, it means a greater understanding of diversity is needed. This is something that convenience store chain Lawson is getting an education in, from a group of 10 employees originally from countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

▼ Members of the group speak to media outside Lawson HQ

They are all employed at Lawson stores in Saitama Prefecture through a work placement service and requested collective bargaining with the chain to renegotiate the terms of their employment on 1 August at the Lawson corporate headquarters in Tokyo.

During the meeting they aired several grievances with their current employment system, such as not having transportation expenses covered and being forced to buy seasonal products from their own store like ehomaki sushi rolls and Christmas cakes.

▼ Ehomaki and Christmas cakes both generally sell for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 yen ($15) each at convenience stores.

They say that in some cases they weren’t even able to eat the things they were required to buy, for reasons such as religious dietary restrictions. “I threw away most of the things they made me buy,” said one Hindu employee from Bangladesh.

▼ In fairness, George Michael is way more closely associated with Christmas in Japan than Jesus is, so some people here might be oblivious to the …continue reading