Stillwater News Press

Local Columnists

June 14, 2014

KAMEOKA CORNER: Japan’s connection with Brazil goes back 100-plus years

STILLWATER, Okla. — In the early 1900s, a large number of people moved from Japan to Brazil.

There were two primary reasons for this – the end of the feudal system of government in Japan brought about a fairly significant level of poverty in rural areas across Japan and Brazil was trying to entice people to that country to work on coffee plantations offering more than they delivered.  

Between 1907 and 1941, approximately 190,000 people from Japan moved to Brazil where life tuned out to be very difficult for many of them.

Pay was much lower than promised, living conditions were poor and discrimination was an ever-present problem.

By the late 1990s, there were approximately 1.4 million people of Japanese decent in Brazil, however at that time the Japanese government authorized legal entry into Japan of Brazilian Japanese to the third generation.

Since that time, some 300,000 Brazilian Japanese have moved to Japan only to find the situation to be not a great deal better for some of them than in was in Brazil.

Most are farmers or factory workers and there are some complaints about their salaries being lower than native Japanese, however  they’ve sent about $2.5 billion U.S. dollars to family members still in Brazil.

The Brazilian Japanese have settled primarily in about six different prefectures across Japan, including Gunma Prefecture northwest of Tokyo toward the Sea of Japan.

Last week, there was a very nice program on Japanese TV which we receive by satellite about a Brazilian Japanese community in the city of Oizumi in Gunma Prefecture.

Of the total population of 41,000, slightly more than 10 percent are Brazilian Japanese. Many are farmers growing produce that is more common to Brazil than to Japan.

There are grocery stores selling almost exclusively products from Brazil.  There are restaurants where the menu includes only Brazilian dishes as well as other aspects of Brazilian culture. The hour-long program presented the Brazilian Japanese people and their culture and native Portuguese language in a very positive and most enjoyable way.

Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.

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