What many people do not know is that Brazil has the largest Japanese population of any country outside of Japan. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, tens of thousands of Japanese immigrated to Brazil with the hopes of saving money by working in agriculture near Sao Paulo. Japanese schools and communities were established throughout parts of the State of Sao Paulo and parts of southern Brazil. Assimilation was never the goal and most, if not all of the immigrants intended to return to Japan. World War II changed all of that, especially once Brazil allied itself with the United States. The Japanese language was banned from all schools and Portuguese was forced upon the communities. Seen as spies, the Japanese were watched carefully and viewed as suspicious from their neighbors of European ancestry (much like they were in the 1940s in the United States). Consequentially, the second generation of Japanese born in Brazil were much more Brazilian than their parents, which has continued today to the third and fourth generation. The Japanese in Brazil today play an important part in the Brazilian government and business world and make up a very educated and productive part of society.

Interestingly enough, however, in 1990, Japan changed its immigration laws to allow people of Japanese ancestry to enter Japan on a three-year working visa. Since then, literally hundreds of thousands of Brazilians of Japanese ancestry have entered Japan, some of full Japanese blood, and some of as little as a quarter or less. Many of these people find Japan a foreign place where they are not accepted and treated as an outsider. As such, they embrace the Brazilian culture that they came from much more than they ever did while living in Brazil.

I have spent a good amount of time with Japanese Brazilians and made a new friend this past week from Brazil of Japanese ancestry here in New York. They are a wonderful people and have the culture and the warmth and love of two of the best countries in the world to draw from. See here and here for links on more information.

Edit: Here is a link to a recent NYT article on Japanese-Brazilians on July 12, 2007.


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