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.”

The Equitable Building

The Equitable Building in lower Manhattan at 120 Broadway sits between Pine and Cedar Streets, a few blocks north of Wall Street, and is one of the giants in the Canyon of Heroes. Completed in 1915, it was once the largest office building in the world, with its dual 538 feet towers hosting 40 stories of office space. It is 100 years old and happens to be a building and location I think about often.

In 2005, I had a chance to work in that building as a summer intern between my 2L and 3L year of law school. It was a valuable experience, especially in that it taught me what I did not want to do after graduation. And so it was ironic that when I did graduate the following year, my first job out of law school was with a law firm headquartered in the Equitable Building.

Starting in September 2006, I had my first office on Wall Street, both literally and figuratively, given that I was working on capital markets transactions and was two blocks from Wall Street. I had an office on the 32nd floor with a view, that if I craned my neck to the west enough, looked down on the hole that was once the World Trade Center. Back then, almost ten years ago, lower Manhattan was a mess of construction and a world away from what the Fulton Street/WTC area has now become.

I took the subway downtown from GCT each morning on my way to the office, and while it would have been more convenient to take the 4/5 train all the way to Wall St. and come up to ground level directly into the lobby of the Equitable Building, I often chose instead to take the local 6 train down to the end of the line at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall. From there, I would walk the remainder of the way south on Broadway, cutting through City Hall Park and my favorite fountain in all of the city (the one with the gas-lit lamps). Passing the red cube at 140 Broadway and the grunginess of Zucotti Park to my west (before the renovation), I would enter the Equitable Building and be whisked away upwards, another shark in a suit.

It feels like it was just yesterday that the 6 train was part of my commute. I miss it, but also feel glad I am no longer subject to the whims and delays of public transportation. But back then, I loved New York. It was my city and I was one of its inhabitants, a history in the making. As I sit here today as the father of four in a suburban Salt Lake City home, I can say I love New York in a different way than I used to, where I admire it from a distance but feel at home in its grasp. And while I was there, I lived history. The Equitable Building will always be a part of me.


Car Audio

Whatever happened to car audio? 20 years ago when I was a teenager, it seemed like a big subset of our generation cared about how the music sounded coming out of your car. Entire sections of big box electronic stores were dedicated to car audio. There were even stand-alone stores dedicated to sub-woofers, amps, decks with removable faces, some of which even came with remote controls. Now, the industry is dead as far as I can tell. Is it because the stock audio incorporated into cars these days is good enough, if not more than sufficient, or is it because everyone is too busy playing on their phones all day with no need or energy to spare thinking about car audio.

All I can say is that among the many industries digital music and smart phones have killed, the car audio industry is often overlooked. Kids these days will never know what my memorable experience was like driving in a friend’s suped-up car thumping two 12-inch subs in the back for the entire neighborhood to hear. Another adolescent pastime down the drain that will be lost forever for today’s kids.

WTC Memorial

I am here at the World Trade Center Memorial in lower Manhattan. After passing the site formerly known as Ground Zero and staring in for seven years, I am finally allowed into this hallow ground. It is an impressive memorial. The two reflecting pools are larger than I imagined, marking the footprints of the feats of engineering that once stood above this great city for thirty years. I wasn’t in New York in 2001, but I remember that day well. As I stand here now, alone, the immediate thought I have is that I will be back here one day with my daughters. I will show them this memorial, take them to the museum on the site and show them how the country and great city beautifully rebuilt. I will not let them go uneducated. I will not let them forget.

3.5 Years Later

It was probably inivitable anyway, but it feels good when you’re right. I posted the below two paragraphs on this blog on February 16, 2007 in response to the January 2007 announcement of the iPhone. As I begin to now think about what phone I want early next year, and after playing with the Android-based HTC Droid Incredible the other day, I am happy to see how the iPhone has improved my overall choice and raised the available options to an impressive level in just over three years.


I’ve been wanting to get a new cell phone for the past several months. The one that I have now has been with me for the past two and a half years and has been a great phone, although the battery life is starting to fade. But I have decided to wait until later this year to get a new cell phone. I have decided to wait not for the iPhone, but because of it.

Yes, I read about the hype when Jobs announced the new phone last month. Yes, the phone looked nice, but it didn’t occur to me to get one. And then, this past Tuesday morning, I arrived early for a meeting at the building on the corner of 59th Street and 5th Avenue – the site of the world’s busiest Apple store. I decided to go in for a few minutes to warm up. While inside, I checked out a demo of the iPhone and its functions and features. I was impressed, to say the least. The iPhone is the direction that phones are heading and I wanted in. Yet, I’m not one of those guys who loves Apple. I have an iPod and enjoy it, but I am loyal to PCs for my computing needs. Once the iPhone (or whatever else it may be called depending on the dispute with Cisco) comes out, it will only be a matter of months before the big cell phone manufacturers come out with something similar available on the major service providers. The price may be steep, but if all of the iPhone’s bells and whistles work as well as they did on that demo I saw, the price may be worth it. I am not the only one to think this, but this phone will revolutionize cell phones as we know it. And once I have more options and lower prices, I will be ready to jump in.

Every Four Years

Every four years the world comes together to dance, cheer (and this year, blow on their vuvuzelas) and watch soccer. While the matches are fun to watch, the nationalism and pride displayed is usually just as entertaining. Last Wednesday I took a break to watch the U.S. tie Slovenia in an exciting game. I spent the morning with a colleague from work at an Irish pub in Manhattan. What an atmosphere! I was high-fiving guys in business suits that I have never met before and will never see again. In that moment, when the U.S. tied up the game, it doesn’t matter where I was from, what my last name was or where I worked. I was an American cheering for Team U.S.A. and that is all that mattered.

In cheering for the U.S. last week, I was brought back to the 2002 World Cup when I was in college in Hawaii. It’s one thing to watch a good match between, say, South Korea and Ghana, but it’s another experience to watch that same match with people from South Korea and Ghana. It was an incredible experience given the extremely international environment I was in at the time. Each night I would get together with a group of guys at 10:00 pm in the dorm lounge and stay up late into the night watching matches. As we sat there and watched, cheered and bonded, national pride was displayed from countries around the world. It was truly a once in a lifetime event (until I can one day attend the World Cup). Go USA.

A Tribute to Ken Griffey Jr.

There was a time when baseball was a big part of my life. I remember being in fifth grade in suburban Seattle. The talk of the town centered on The Kid, the Mariners’ 18 year old rookie outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. Following in his father’s footsteps as a major league baseball player, Griffey Jr. entered the scene with the expectations of a city on his shoulders. I was a fan immediately. When my dad and I discovered he would be signing autographs for the public one day, he took me to join the throngs of people in line to meet Griffey Jr. For whatever reason that day he showed up late and I was too far back in line to make it to his table before he had to leave. When we left, I was without his autograph and a disappointed. As was my dad. He couldn’t believe that a role model (back when athletes could be considered role models) could be so arrogant to not have the decency to show up on time or finish the task at hand. He put his thoughts in a letter and mailed it to the Seattle Mariners (how did people obtain information in the pre-Internet era?). Lo and behold, a few weeks later a poster of Ken Griffey Jr. personally autographed by him shows up on our door step. I was proud to own that poster and hung it in my room for years afterwards.

When I moved out of the house at the age of 18 I gave the poster to my younger brother, who swears he has no idea where it is now. It truly is a shame. As Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement this week from the same team where his career started 22 years ago, I am reminded of a baseball player for the record books, a home run slugger that was never once implicated in the steroid scandal. A baseball player that stopped to sign a poster and respond to a letter twenty years ago. Thanks, Ken, for the poster and thanks for the baseball memories.