A few hours after sunset last week, Thi Tu Luong dragged her suitcase down a side street in the Tokyo business district, looking for the temple that would house her for the night.
Luong, a 22-year-old Vietnamese worker, had just been fired from her job in a hotel in a hot spring city north of Tokyo.
After walking down the street for a few minutes, she saw Jiho Yoshimizu, who runs a self-help group for Vietnamese workers and beckoned them in from the entrance of a concrete building.
The three-story Buddhist temple of Nisshinkutsu has become a haven for young Vietnamese migrant workers, one of the groups most affected by the economic slump after the outbreak of the novel corona virus in Japan.
"I felt abandoned," said Luong shortly after arriving at the temple. "I'm just very grateful to be here."
Vietnamese are the fastest growing group of foreigners in Japan, attracted by higher wages but often burdened by debt to recruiters. In 2019 there were 410,000, an increase of 24.5% compared to the previous year.
Usually nuns in the temple offered prayers for the victims, but as the coronavirus stimulates the economy, they spend their time creating care packages for Vietnamese scattered across the country.
In the temple, young Vietnamese workers whose lives are in limbo learn Japanese, cook Vietnamese food, look for work or book flights home.
"We do everything. We care about people, from womb to urn," said Yoshimizu, head of the Japan-Vietnam Coexistence Support Group, a non-profit organization outside the temple.
The temple became known to Vietnamese circles after receiving Vietnamese workers who became homeless after the 2011 northern Japan earthquake.
As Yoshimizu's reputation spread through the community, she received messages from young Vietnamese – including women who were seeking abortions, workers who were abruptly fired, and workers who fled abusive employers.
Yoshimizu treated about 400 cases in 2019, but that number has increased since April. She now receives between 10 and 20 messages a day, all requests for help from Vietnamese across Japan.
"I lost the count," she said, sitting next to a phone that constantly beeps and rings with calls and messages from employment agents, employers, and desperate Vietnamese workers.
"Nobody in Japan can provide this type of support at the moment," she said.
When Luong was fired without warning and asked to leave her dorm, she turned to Yoshimizu for help.
"I currently have no job, no accommodation. Please, please help me," Luong Yoshimizu wrote. "Can I come to the temple today?"
Luong graduated from a vocational school in March and started a job in a high-end hotel in Nikko, a tourist destination known for its temples, in mid-April.
But she said she couldn't get a job and spent her days in a dormitory without doing anything. Luong said she received about 30,000 yen (USD 279.04) in May and is not sure whether she was paid in June. A representative of the hotel where she worked told Reuters that they were unable to comment because they did not directly employ Luong.
Many Vietnamese workers come to Japan as students or trainees, making them dependent on their employers and therefore vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Yoshimizu spoke in parliament last month to urge the government to do more to support Vietnamese students who have no job insurance.
"Current government corona virus policy is focused on helping the Japanese first," said Yoshimizu.
($ 1 = 107.51 yen)
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; editing by Stephen Coates and Christian Schmollinger)
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)