In June 1908, the Kasato-maru docked at the port of Santos near São Paulo with nearly 800 Japanese immigrants on board. They were the first immigrants to Brazil from Japan, and were joined by a slow but steady stream of their compatriots throughout the 1910s. In 1924, an official immigration agreement was signed between the two governments, resulting in a surge in the number of Japanese farmers heading for Brazil. Most of them intended to return after several years earning good money working the fertile farmland of the New World. The flow of immigrants continued until 1941, when diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed. The Brazilian government began accepting Japanese immigrants again in 1953, and a new generation made the momentous decision to leave their devastated homeland behind. Because of Japan’s rapid economic recovery, this postwar immigration wave did not last long, and came to an end around 1970. During that half-century, approximately 200,000 Japanese arrived; today, more than 110 years since the Kasato-maru arrived in Santos, there are roughly 1.6 million people of Japanese descent in Brazil, mostly in the southeastern states of São Paulo and Paraná.
This book is a collection of essays on Japanese-Brazilian culture that was originally published in Japanese in 2008 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Kasato-maru immigration. The Japanese title, Tōki ni arite tsukuru mono 遠きにありてつくるもの means “home is what you make when you’re far away” and it alludes to Murō Saisei’s (1889–1962) well-known poem (1913), which begins “furusato wa tōki ni arite omou mono” ふるさとは遠きにありて思ふもの (home is what you long for when you’re far away). The book focuses on little-known aspects of the Japanese as a minority ethnic group in Brazil—their feelings, based upon their awareness of being far from “home,” their practice and understanding of language, and their ethnic awareness as expressed in the performing arts. As the original title suggests, the notions of home and homeland are fundamental to my investigation.
Analyzing Japanese sources published in the form of newspapers, journals, private pamphlets, and literary essays, as well as the narrative arts, I discuss how the immigrants balanced the pressures of assimilation with the persistent tug of emotional ties to their homeland, how they dealt with their position as a visible ethnic minority within Brazilian society, how their Japanese identity affected their relationship with Brazil, and how this relationship changed over time. Although I have learned much from previous studies by historians, sociologists, and anthropologists, this book does not enter into their theoretical
Another aspect that distinguishes this work from previous studies is my decision to place the immigrants themselves at the center of the story. Throughout the book, I try to examine the lives of the immigrants from their own perspective. Wherever possible, I allow them to speak in their own words. I use language and the arts as a window to the inner lives of the Japanese-speaking immigrants, focusing on their yearning for home (nostalgia in its original sense) as a way of interpreting the shifting nature of Japanese identity in Brazil. My research therefore concentrates mostly on the cultural output of the first generation and is less concerned with their descendants, whose different situation requires a separate study.
Since the 1950s, immigrants have referred to their self-contained community as the koronia, deriving from the word “colônia” in Portuguese (“colony” in English). The term “koronia” as it is used in Japanese texts automatically means the “Japanese colony/community,” circumscribed by language, customs, and other factors. The term koronia is still used to refer to the main body of the Japanese-Brazilian community, but its limits are becoming vaguer over time owing to the declining numbers of Japanese-speakers and the proliferation of assimilated (and mixed) descendants. This book focuses on selected topics inside the koronia—a community circumscribed by linguistic barriers from the perspectives of both insiders and outsiders.
The experience of World War II marked a crucial turning point in the history of the koronia. In 1941, all publications in Japanese were prohibited and a shadow of suspicion fell over the Japanese community. After the war ended, many Japanese immigrants dismissed reports of Japan’s defeat as “enemy propaganda” and refused to believe that Japan had lost. The Japanese community became divided and was torn apart by violent conflict, including several assassinations and assaults on members of the “defeat group” (Makegumi) by the armed “victory group” (Kachigumi) in 1946–1947. Each faction launched its own newspapers.
Acceptance of the truth, once it came, was instrumental in awakening a sense of the differences that now separated Nikkei Brazilians from their
Chapters covering a range of topics draw on poetry, language textbooks, essays in speculative linguistics, amateur speech contests, narrative ballads, and opera, using these forms to reveal different aspects of early immigrant life in Brazil. Few of the sources I quote have been read seriously by researchers, who have regarded them merely as amateurish literature, popular amusement, or imitations of what was produced in Japan. By contrast, I utilize a wide variety of sources in order to scrutinize the emotional lives of the immigrants and to shed new light on their relationships with mainstream society in both Japan and Brazil.
Part 1 focuses on the emotions—in particular, the complex web of feelings that immigrants and their children experienced for the “homeland” they had left behind. This study is the first to make extensive use of the haiku, tanka, and other verses that were published in huge numbers in Japanese newspapers and journals in Brazil from the 1910s. No newspaper could have succeeded without the popular haiku and tanka columns to which readers contributed their poems. The widespread popularity of these familiar literary forms (and the pyramid-like structure of a society linked with the homeland that encouraged new local participants to join in), is something that exists in few other language communities. Although some of the immigrants had genuine talent as writers, the literary value of these verses is not my primary interest. Chapters 1 and 2 examine the poems for what they can tell us about feelings that were otherwise inexpressible or deliberately suppressed. As traditional forms written in Japanese in the alien setting of the tropics, these verses encapsulate the dilemma of identity at the heart of the immigrant experience. Throughout this book, I look at the contradictions in the immigrants’ emotional lives, and analyze some of the ways in which these feelings of nostalgia and memory served to define them both in terms of their distant homeland and their new homes in Brazil. The simple answer is that for many immigrants, the experience of
Japanese food, for example, is nothing but a daily necessity in Japan, but for the immigrants it is something “originating from the homeland” and therefore provokes a special emotional attachment. Eating Japanese food means partaking in the ritual of “national identity.” The distance separating “here” from “there” is so enormous that for something or someone to be “Japanese” means not being “Brazilian,” and vice versa. Their identity and position in society continued to be defined in terms of their distant homeland, giving rise to a constant experience of what Edward Said called the “awareness of simultaneous dimensions.”
Perhaps the most obvious area in which these complex questions of identity come into play is language, which is the focus of Part 2. The monolingualism of the great majority of first-generation immigrants had (and continues to have) a crucial impact on their daily existences and inner lives. Monolingualism was not a matter of choice, but something they were forced to accept. Living for years in a Portuguese-speaking country, they naturally picked up a few basic phrases and expressions crucial for everyday communication, but the majority were not able to articulate their feelings or fully “express” the struggles specific to life as a member of an ethnic minority. Writing Japanese verse, stories, and other prose was a remedy for making light of their situation and a way of confirming their sense of belonging. Just like eating Japanese food in Brazil, writing and speaking in Japanese meant remaining engaged in homeland practice. Their Japanese speech, which had previously been a self-evident and unremarkable part of everyday life, was now revealed as contingent, and their language marked as strange and foreign. The new environment forced immigrants to see their native tongue as a “foreign” language for the first time. The repercussions of this stressful discovery were felt in ways that immigrants themselves were often only dimly aware of.
The daily encounters with Portuguese gave rise to a whole host of inter-linguistic borrowings, producing koronia-go (the language of the [Japanese] koronia), the distinctive speech of the Japanese community, which is the subject of Chapter 3. This type of inter-linguistic practice is common inside and outside the archipelago. As has been discussed by linguists, the Japanese language is well-known for its extensive borrowings from English and other languages. Japanese immigrants to the United States spoke and wrote a language heavily inflected by English-language influences for decades, but I am not aware that they gave their English-bent Japanese an original name as their counterparts in Brazil did. Many of these loans from Portuguese were marked
Chapter 4 looks at the texts for speech contests introduced to Brazil in the 1920s by young immigrants, many of whom had received funding for their move from the Japanese government. Such public events were invented in Japan in the 1880s under the guise of amateur political gatherings. The speeches were usually nationalistic and idealistic as well as didactic and critical. An important aspect of these contests was the opportunity they provided for members of the community to take part in public performances of “Japaneseness” by delivering formal speeches in the language of their ethnic group. The speakers often preached in a self-confident tone about the beauty and virtue of the Japanese imperial nation and the merits of youth; many of the texts were copied from instruction manuals and didactic magazines. There was no equivalent of these contests in Portuguese. I use these contests—investigating how they were organized and how they were scored by elder leaders of the community—to reveal the cultural practices of the community and what they can tell us about its shifting identity. What does it mean when the national language of a group becomes redefined as the language of an ethnic minority in this way? Many of the most passionate speeches that have survived from the immediate postwar period were written by members of the Kachigumi faction, who refused to accept Japan’s defeat in the war. This chapter tracks the changes in the community by comparing speeches from two different eras, before and after the war, with a particular emphasis on the ultranationalist rhetoric of this important group.
Chapter 5 examines the work of journalist and Japanese newspaper owner Kōyama Rokurō, who dedicated much of his life to a theory that the Japanese language shared a common origin with Tupi, an indigenous Brazilian language. Of all the various indigenous ethnic groups, the Tupi are commonly seen as representing “aboriginal” Brazil. As the modernist artist-poet Oswaldo de Andrade put it: “Tupi or not tupi, that is the question.” Kōyama’s quixotic theory was more than just an exotic addition to the lengthy debate on “the origins of the Japanese language” among professional and amateur Japanese linguists. For Kōyama, it was also a political statement of belonging—one written by a member of an ethnic minority that was not normally regarded as part of the Brazilian nation. By claiming fraternity with a tribe of people who had lived in
Part 3 explores the issue of group identity through the performing arts. Chapter 6 examines the “Butterfly Singers,” three Japanese sopranos who sang the title role in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in Brazil before the war. A comparison of reports and interviews that appeared in Portuguese- and Japanese-language newspapers reveals that while these Japanese singers symbolized pure exoticism for Portuguese-speaking Brazilians, for the Japanese press they evoked a sense of ethnic pride in being Japanese. Both sides agreed that being Japanese guaranteed the authenticity of the singers’ performances, but the performances meant quite different things for the two groups.
The topic of Chapter 7 is Carnival, one of the defining aspects of Brazilian culture and national identity. Here I discuss the ways in which Japanese people have participated in Carnival over the years and how Japan has been represented in carnival parades. For an ethnic minority that existed on the periphery of Brazilian life, Carnival brought a release from daily pressures but also brought new contradictions of its own. In the 1930s, Japanese gathered at parties attended almost exclusively by other Japanese to celebrate the equality of all races within the Brazilian family. Over time, the nature of Japanese involvement changed, with Japanese-themed parades and carnival floats becoming common from the 1970s onward. This chapter looks at several examples of these parades, exploring their relationship with ethnic stereotypes and examining the light they shed on the position of the Japanese community on
Chapter 8 focuses on rōkyoku, a narrative genre of oral storytelling with shamisen accompaniment that was popular among the lower classes in Japan from the late nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth century. The stories are usually heroic and sentimental, allowing audiences to identify with the protagonists. In the 1960s, two history-conscious rōkyoku narrators in Brazil started writing original stories about the lives of real and fictional immigrants in order to celebrate and legitimate Japanese-Brazilian history. One example, “The Father of Immigration to Brazil” recounts the experiences of Uetsuka Shūhei; another tells the lives of characters on board the Kasato-maru. Listening to these recordings, I analyze ways in which the image of the “ideal Japanese” lived on in the postwar era even after most Japanese had theoretically assimilated into mainstream Brazilian society. These narratives present a version of immigrant history that relied heavily on sentimentality, extoling the sufferings of the first generation and revealing a sense of comradeship and common ethnic identity across the generations. Rōkyoku made the audience conscious of their collective history, which remained mostly unwritten in other forms.
The four LPs represent an “experience-based view of history,” a sympathetic view of the early years of the ethnic community, according to the Brazil-born journalist Baba Kensuke. He contrasts this with the “conceptual view of history,” a more detached perspective embraced by later settlers (and outsiders). Baba’s view of history puts too much emphasis on the “experience” of the pioneers to be accepted at face value by most historians. Throughout this book, my intention has been to connect the “experience” with the “concept”—reading carefully the poems, linguistic fantasies, rōkyoku, and other neglected texts—and arguing, for instance, how personal experiences can be shared by the others, how hidden feelings for home were multilayered, and how the isolated mother tongue was fictionalized in order to be made communicative and assimilated in a new land.
My first contact with Japanese-Brazilian immigrants occurred in January 1990 in my hometown of Fujisawa, near Yokohama. These Nikkei immigrants were dekasegi, factory workers who had been recruited to work in Japan for a few years. During Japan’s economic boom, many Japanese immigrants and their descendants who had grown up in Brazil and Peru were “hired back” to work in Japan because they did not need complicated working visas and often understood at least basic Japanese. They often lived together and sometimes formed a small “colony” near the factory. I had a chance to visit an apartment
The following year, I received a grant from the Toyota Foundation and traveled to São Paulo for a year’s research. I soon discovered the importance of karaoke in the Nikkei community, functioning not only as a gathering place but also as a social organization linking the first generation with their children and grandchildren, urban populations and regional, more rural colonies. I was introduced to the well-organized and extensive All-Brazilian Nikkei Karaoke Association. I came to understand the importance of singing Japanese songs for members of the Nikkei diaspora and their offspring. I read extensively in an archive of Japanese-language newspapers that dated back to the 1910s in order to write a historiography of the music life of the Japanese community in Brazil. The result was my first book on Japanese-Brazilian culture, Sanba no kuni ni enka ga nagareru (Enka in a Country of Samba, 1995), which looks at developments in musical practice in the community from the early decades to the arrival of karaoke in the 1980s.
As I worked my way through the newspapers and journals at the Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil in São Paulo, I also examined articles and advertisements on cinema. I learned that Japanese films were imported and frequently shown to audiences of Japanese immigrants from the 1920s to 1940s, with some screened in national theaters in São Paulo. During the “golden age” of Japanese cinema in the early 1960s, there were four Japanese theaters in the Liberdade area of São Paulo; only one of them survived till 1988 (Cine Niteroi, managed by Toei).
In 1999 I published a second book titled Shinemaya Burajiru o yuku (Cinema-ya Goes around Brazil) whose subtitle is “Nostalgia and Identity of Nikkei Immigrants.” While the book was first and foremost a chronology of Japanese films presented in Brazil, I also examined the sentiments expressed by the public and the massive popularity of Atsumi Kiyoshi’s legendary comedy series, Otoko wa tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being a Man). Along with karaoke competitions, watching Japanese films was one of the most important entertainment activities for the Japanese-Brazilian community.
Over the decades, the position of the Japanese community in Brazil has shifted dramatically in many ways. Using sources written principally by immigrants allows us to follow these changes in real time, providing a fuller picture of the inner lives of the Japanese in Brazil and shedding new light on the ways in which the immigrants and their descendants forged a new identity for
I would like to thank the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) for accepting this volume for publication in the Nichibunken Monograph Series and for funding the translation. I am grateful to translator Paul Warham for a number of valuable suggestions, which have been useful in conveying the meaning of the book to a readership outside Japan. Lynne Riggs and Takechi Manabu of the Center for Intercultural Communication and my colleague at Nichibunken, Patricia Fister, also made significant contributions by editing the manuscript and making further suggestions. I am also indebted to Shiraishi Eri of the Office of Digital Resources, Publications, and Public Relations at Nichibunken for her help with scanning the photographs, and Brill editor Inge Klompmakers for her commitment to bringing this project to fruition. Finally, I would like to extend my gratitude to Mori Koichi (†) (anthropologist at the University of São Paulo), Okamura Jun (video artist in São Paulo), Oura Fumio (poet living in Ipelândia, São Paulo), Tomishige Hisako (founder of the Hachidori haiku circle in São Paulo), Ina Hiroshi (editor-in-chief of Furonteira [Fronteira] in Alumínio, São Paulo), Nakata Michiyo (editor-in-chief of Brazil Nikkei bungaku) for their long friendship, and especially to Senhora Ezawa Kazuko, who graciously allowed me to stay at her apartment in Liberdade every time I traveled to São Paulo over a period of twenty years. Obrigado a todo mundo por tudo!