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[Letter from Japan]

The Boy Without a Country

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Tokyo’s painful exclusion of immigrants

When Utinan Won was twelve, he liked to sprawl out on the floor of his living room and read manga. His favorite series was Naruto, the story of a lonely orphan. Naruto, who also happens to be twelve, has spiky yellow hair and dreams of becoming a ninja, but he is forced from his village after his neighbors learn that he has a mystical fox inside him — a source of ominous power.

In those days, Utinan and his mother, Lonsan Phaphakdee, lived just outside Kofu, a small but bustling city two hours west of Tokyo, where neon billboards flash against a backdrop of green hills. Utinan rarely went outside, but on weekends, the kids from his neighborhood would tell him about their classes, school plays, and soccer games. He was envious. He had never been allowed to join them in school, because he was an undocumented immigrant.

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