While language and cultural barriers have limited many Brazilians in Japan from actively participating in the wider community, the younger generation, fluent in Japanese, is rising to prominence in a variety of fields.
Cultural ties between Japan and Brazil began over a century ago with a 1907 treaty that paved the way for hundreds of Japanese, mostly farmers, to migrate to the South American country.
When the flow began reversing in the 1990s, the children and grandchildren of the first generation of Japanese-Brazilians moved to Japan in large numbers.
Justice Ministry records indicate that there were more than 190,000 Brazilian nationals living in Japan by the end of 2012. While an estimated 100,000 or more returned to Brazil after the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, they remain the fourth-largest population of foreign residents in the country, after some 650,000 Chinese, 530,000 Koreans, and 200,000 Filipinos.
The number of Brazilians in Japan shot up in the 1990s when changes to Japan’s immigration laws opened the domestic labor market to Japanese-Brazilians of up to the third generation. Most of the newly arrived settled in just five prefectures — Aichi, Mie, Shizuoka, Gunma and Gifu — where large numbers of auto plants and related manufacturers provided a ready supply of work.
Paulo Issamu Hirano, a 35-year-old third-generation Japanese-Brazilian, is one such immigrant. Now a resident of Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, he publishes a free newspaper that promotes Oizumi’s “Brazil Town” area, which contains many Brazilian restaurants and shops.
“I want to build closer ties between (Brazil Town) and Japanese people,” Hirano said, referring to the reason whyhe began publishing the quarterly paper four years ago under the title “Bem-vindo!” which means “welcome” in Portuguese.