Mai Kyaw Oo, a Myanmar soldier who fled to Japan in 1999 smiles in Tokyo on Tuesday.
For many Myanmar nationals in Japan, their homeland is still beyond their reach.
Myanmar is now drawing public attention in Japan, triggered by the ongoing visit by the nation's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar is now thought to be on track for democratization after its transition to civilian rule in 2011. The nation is attracting both the world's attention and financial investments.
But Myanmar nationals who fled the military junta's suppression and have been living in Japan since said their county does not seem to have changed in nature.
Suu Kyi, 67, who is on her first visit to Japan in 27 years, met about 2,000 Myanmar residents Saturday in Tokyo and told them they need to hang on to continue moving toward democracy.
Mai Kyaw Oo, 46, who was at the gathering, said Myanmar people finally became able to take a step forward, and the real fight starts from now.
Mai Kyaw Oo, from Shan State in eastern Myanmar, was a soldier of Palaung tribe, an ethnic minority group suppressed by the military junta. He fled to Japan in 1999, fearing for his physical safety.
Although life in Japan was not always easy for him, Mai Kyaw Oo smiled, saying, "It's nothing compared to the time when my life was threatened.
"I came to like Japan very much." He went to areas stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake to work as a volunteer. Still, he said he always feels like going home.
In 2003, Mai Kyaw Oo established the Japan Council for Ethnic Minorities Burma, an organisation comprising 11 Myanmar ethnic minorities, and continued to call for the democratization of his country.
Although the Myanmar military rule ended, many important government positions are believed to have been held by former military personnel or officials of the former government. Mai Kyaw Oo said nothing has changed in his country except the military men now wear business suits.
Fights between ethnic minorities and the central government still continue in rural areas while urban areas are rapidly changing with increased foreign investments.
"I want Japan to support the nation to become democratized in a real sense. A close check needs to be kept on the situations in local areas and on [the situations of] ethnic minorities," Mai Kyaw Oo said.
There were 8,692 registered Myanmar residents in Japan as of the end of 2011, including many who came here to flee suppression.
During the 30 years up to 2011, 4,215 Myanmar nationals applied for refugee status in Japan, and 307 were granted it. They account for more than 50 per cent of all foreign nationals granted the status during the period.
Although refugee status was not given to 1,558 Myanmar nationals, they were granted special residence permission as a result of humanitarian considerations.
Apply lessons from Japan
Kyaw Kyaw Soe, 49, nodded as he watched Suu Kyi saying on TV that her compatriots should put what they have learned in Japan to use for Myanmar.
The Myanmar native runs a restaurant in Takadanobaba, Tokyo, an area that is home to about 500 people from Myanmar and is called "Little Yangon."
He came to Japan in 1991 to escape persecution and lived in a small apartment with 13 other Myanmar nationals who helped each other in their new country. He was an accountant back home but has held various jobs such as construction worker and electrician, and has learned many skills from his Japanese colleagues.
In 1998, he was recognised by the Japanese government as a refugee. After his country shifted to civilian rule, refugees were gradually allowed to temporarily return. He wishes to visit his home country soon, but no rules have been established for refugees' complete return.
"Though Japan lost in World War II, it was able to achieve so much development. I'd like to tell children about how Japan revitalized itself. I believe if my compatriots who escaped abroad become a bridge between Myanmar and other nations, my country will improve," he said.
Concerns linger about returning
Htin Aung, 53, who lives in Nishi-Tokyo, Tokyo, escaped to Japan in 1991. Many of his friends who participated in antigovernment demonstrations were detained at the time of his escape. He was riveted by Suu Kyi's message.
In 2000, he became a reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma, which provides uncensored information to people in Myanmar through radio and satellite television broadcasts. He also works long hours at a factory and another job to feed his wife and two children, but he cherishes his freedom.
Htin Aung is wary of returning to Myanmar because he worries the country may regress to its former military rule. He is also concerned about family issues such as his children's education. He said: "I couldn't be with my father when he died. I also want my 85-year-old mother to meet my children."
Copy from - asiaone.com