Japanese Immigration to Brazil

I had the chance to visit Brazil for the first time last month. It was a brief business trip which mainly consisted of long days in conference rooms negotiating a business deal in Sao Paulo. The parties involved came from various corners of the world. It was a good experience, but what was even more memorable was the chance I had to visit an old area of the city I first heard about many years ago, while in college, and studying Japanese immigration to Brazil. The area was Liberdade.

When my hosts learned of my knowledge of the vast numbers of individuals in Sao Paulo with Japanese ancestry, they all conspired to take me to the old Japan-town that night for sushi. And it turned out to be extraordinarily good sushi. While my Japanese language skills are much better than my Portuguese skills, I realized upon arriving at the restaurant that my Japanese would be useless, as the employees at the restaurant were just as Brazilian as my hosts. And I would have expected nothing less, given that those with Japanese ancestry in Brazil are three or four generations removed from their ancestors who made the trek across the ocean to a brave new land.

One of those pioneers was named Masatomo Murakami. As part of my senior research paper for my bachelor’s degree in history as an undergraduate student, I had to pick a topic and write about it. That topic for me was Japanese immigration to Brazil, a phenomenon I first learned about while living in Japan and coming across numerous individuals from Brazil of Japanese descent. I met the granddaughter or Mr. Murakami and had access to primary sources. I went back recently to the paper I wrote and relived the amazing story. I ended the paper in 2003 with the following last three paragraphs.

“Masatomo’s idea was to construct a Japanese Buddhist temple on a designated piece of his land. He did not get around to beginning the construction of the enormous project before his death, however. Nobuko, still in good health and living off the money her husband had saved, took up the construction of the temple as her project to complete before she passed on to be with her husband. She knew little of the construction of Buddhist temples and could do little to help, but it reassured her greatly to know the temple was being built where and how her husband desired.

Masatomo Murakami’s legacy lives on in the city and state of São Paulo. Nippakuji, the Japanese name of the recently completed Buddhist temple, lies just southwest of the sprawling city of São Paulo in the rolling, green hills that Masatomo spent so much of his life in. It stands as a witness of a great man that achieved his dreams a world away from his birthplace. Nippakuji, though more of an emblem to the Japanese heritage in the area than a religious structure, stands boldly in a beautiful valley flanked by rising hills, its newness and dominance radiating in the Brazilian sun.

On special occasions, the priests of the Nippakuji temple ring the large bell that stands guard in front of the main gate to the temple. Its tone resonates throughout the countryside, the breeze propelling the sound over the hills to the neighboring community. With most of her family now back in Japan, Nobuko especially enjoys the nights the priests ring the bell. She sits on her porch in the evening warmth down the road from the Buddhist temple made possible by her late husband and imagines the fond years she spent with him. Gradually, both the lingering daylight and echo of the ringing bell fade from Nobuko, carrying with it the memories of her ancestors and the distant land she hardly knew.”

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