Sri Lankan Woman’s Employment Hopes, Image of Japanese Shattered by Marriage-Divorce Scam


KYOTO — Japanese marriage laws were the last thing on H.P. Priyani’s mind two years ago when she spied an advertisement in a Sri Lankan newspaper inviting computer trainees to Japan.

Priyani answered it, so intrigued by the prospect of working in such a technologically advanced nation that she gave up her three-year nursing job at Colombo General Hospital.

Soon after arriving in Japan, however, the passports of Priyani and other Sri Lankan women applicants were allegedly confiscated by Yukio Niizu, president of a private company called the Tohshin Matrimonial Agency in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture.

Priyani, 27, claims they were told that marrying Japanese men was the only way to get back their passports, so she and 11 other Sri Lankan women reluctantly complied.

In her case, Niizu, the broker, was reportedly paid ¥10 million for the arranged marriage by the husband, Yoshio Suzuki, a real estate company president.

Not long afterward, Priyani recalled, she returned to Sri Lanka for a brief visit in summer 1988. She came back to Japan and was shocked to learn that while she was gone, her husband and the marriage broker had forged her name on a divorce application.

The papers were successfully filed through the Adachi Ward office in Tokyo.

The husband cited “irreconcilable differences” on the divorce application, claiming also that Priyani was physically incapable of bearing his child. The ex-husband immediately remarried another Sri Lankan woman, for which he paid Niizu another ¥10 million.

“I felt the Japanese were very ugly and bad” at that time, Priyani said in an interview. “I hated Japanese people.”

Now, Japan’s marriage laws are foremost on her mind as she sues her ex-husband and the marriage broker in a Kyoto court. She seeks ¥50 million in compensation from Niizu. She also wants the divorce annulled and her former marriage reinstated, citing Sri Lankan taboos against divorce.

She is filing additional criminal charges against the ex-husband for forging her name on the divorce papers. The charges await action by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, according to Chikage Koyama, her attorney.

“I’m not out for the money,” said Priyani. “If the judge were to suggest I accept only a single yen in compensation, I would readily accept it. But I cannot accept such injustice as divorce by a forged signature.”

Priyani’s predicament is not unusual and casts light on what may be Japan’s hottest import: Asian brides — nowadays from Sri Lanka and Indonesia — to fill the needs of older, single men in both rural and urban areas.

Hisashi Nakamura, an economics professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, has investigated the bride-importing business and personally taken up Priyani’s cause.

“Miss Priyani is really brave to point out these human rights violations by the Japanese,” Nakamura said in a gravelly voice scarred by throat cancer surgery. “So, we need to support her and show just how the Japanese feel about such violations.”

Nakamura traced the Sri Lankan connection to Niizu’s Apollo Electone paper company there [in Sri Lanka], where local women were trained for cheap labor. The more physically attractive women were allegedly sent to Japan under the assumption that steady employment awaited them on an electronic parts assembly line.

For his mediation, Niizu receives about ¥380,000 monthly from labor-short Japanese companies, according to Nakamura.

Nakamura stresses that Niizu and similar marriage brokers operate as independent businessmen — with apparently no ties to Japanese “yakuza” gangster groups.

Niizu receives between ¥4 million and ¥10 million for every Asian bride he supplies to a Japanese bachelor, according to Nakamura.

Once in Japan, the women are reportedly deceived, manipulated and, as Priyani cites in her own case, physically abused and forced to go along with the scheme.

“(Niizu’s) company is looking only for profit out of Sri Lankan women. It never thinks of their human rights,” said Nakamura. “Niizu even boasts that he has done more for the Sri Lankan economy than the Japanese government’s ODA (overseas development assistance) program.”

“Indeed, Niizu is the one committing the crime,” said attorney Koyama. “But it is we Japanese who are creating the demand to import brides.”

Priyani now has a temporary visa to work at a Kyoto company as her case gets underway. The overwhelming support shown her by Professor Nakamura and a local civic group has eased some of her bitterness.

“I feel that some Japanese people are not as bad as I thought when 1 first learned about the forgery,” she said.

Of her future in Japan, she said, “I can say this much: During the course of this problem and my stay here, I have acquired some knowledge of the Japanese language and an understanding of Japanese lifestyles. With that capacity, I may embark on a new, more independent stage of my life.

“Still,” she added, “I’m not really sure what kind of job I’ll get or what kind of life I can lead.”