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Centennial of Japanese Emigration to Brazil

Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Japanese and its emigration

In the pre-World War II as well as in certain period after the War, Japanese government encouraged its citizens to emigrate with a great ambition and hope as a part of resolutions to ameliorate its population problem. Quite contrary to the population problem in present Japan in which the birth rate is declining and people are aging, the population problem of those days meant the increase in the populations. Lack of jobs for farming population who moved to cities as well as the surplus people thanks to the development of modern medical science led to sending emigrants abroad who were looking for job opportunities. This does not necessarily provide the full and complete explanations why people in those days went overseas, however in general it is the historical background of the emigrations in those days.

In 1868 (the very first year of the Meiji era), the emigrants who were called as "Gannen-mono (First year people)" went to Hawaii to work for sugar cane plantations, and in the same year other people crossed to Guam as laborers. That was 140 years ago. In 1885, the "Government-sponsored Emigration (Kan'yaku Imin)" to Hawaii started, after which the full-scale group emigration was accelerated. However due to the Japanese Exclusion Act, people's destinations were expanded to include South American countries such as Peru, Brazil and Argentina as well as the South Pacific countries such as the Philippines, Australia, Fiji and New Caledonia. Finally a lot of "colonists" were sent to such areas as Manchuria, Korean Peninsula and Taiwan. The "Pearl Harbor Attack" in 1941, however, brought the "emigration to overseas" to a sudden stop. In the postwar period, the emigration to Brazil was resumed at the end of 1952 after the Treaty of Peace with Japan (San Francisco Peace Treaty) and people started emigrating to countries such as Paraguay, Dominica and Bolivia looking for a new world.

Centennial of emigration to Brazil and Economic nomads from Brazil

Japanese people have been emigrated to a variety of countries worldwide as described above. Now, on the opposite side of the globe to Japan and quite far away from it, the largest Japanese community in the world is coming into the spotlight. It is a Japanese community of more than 1.5 million in Brazil whose seasons are opposite from those in Japan. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of a Japanese emigration in 1908 when people started for Brazil onboard the emigration ship, "KASATO MARU". To commemorate this historic year, a variety of events have been planned or opened in both Brazil and Japan. In Brazil the media has prepared the unprecedented special features about Japanese-Brazilians and Japan. The Crown Prince who attended the 100th Anniversary was warmly welcomed by Brazilian officials and people as well as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In addition, coins and stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Japanese immigration have been issued, and the coffee has been put on the market, which beans are produced in the farms of Japanese-Brazilians.

Also in Japan, NHK and commercial TV stations have broadcasted a lot of documentaries. Overseas Migration Museum of JICA in Yokohama has been staging the "Photo exhibition commemorating Brazil-Japan Immigration 100th Anniversary, Japanese crossing ocean to a new world - Japan-Brazil Year of Exchange" and it is still exhibited in various parts of Japan. In August, the traditional and popular college baseball games between Waseda and Keio universities will be played in Brazil.

On the other hand, some of my Japanese-Brazilians are unhappy against the "unenthusiastic interest" of Japanese media in this historical event as opposed to the enthusiastic welcome atmosphere in Brazil. Population of Japanese-Brazilians in Brazil is about 1.5 million and those in Japan are more than 300 thousand. They are claiming that, despite of the fact that one fifth of Japanese-Brazilians have "returned", those staying in Japan are kept in the dark about this historical moment behind the festive mood in Brazil. Some of them are sarcastically calling this year as "20th anniversary of Economic nomads (from Brazil to Japan)", which is hardly known by Japanese.

Japanese government does not take any effective actions against the situations in which in various parts of Japan Japanese-Brazilians and their children are suffering, leaving the actions to the local governments and private volunteer groups. Japanese society should recognize these Japanese-Brazilians living in Japan as a part of Japanese residents as well as the "labor forces".

History Museum of Japanese Emigrants to Brazil and Waseda Institute for Migration and Ethnic Culture Studies

In São Paulo where a lot of Japanese-Brazilians reside, there exists the "History Museum of Japanese Emigrants to Brazil (Museu Hist坦rico da Imigra巽達o Japonesa no Brasil)", which is commemorating its 30th anniversary since its foundation. In order to sort out, preserve and make use of precious records and documents archived in the Museum, a project has been started in last April as a part of Japan-Brazil Friendship Endowment Project / Japanese Immigration to Brazil 100th Anniversary Commemoration Association (Associa巽達o para Comemora巽達o do Centen叩rio da Imigra巽達o Japonesa no Brasil) Endowment Project. Also in Waseda University, the "Institute for Migration and Ethnic Culture Studies" will be formally established in this coming October as a part of our Project Institutes so that we can support the project.

Our project will not be limited to support the archival of the records and documents but we are also planning the survey on preservation and succession of Japanese language and its culture in Brazil as well as the survey of the present status of emigrants who are circulating between Japan and Brazil as transnational migrants. When we think of the fact that the founder of Waseda University, Shigenobu Okuma was the first president of Association of Japanese Emigrants in the pre-World War II, our attempts in our Institute for Migration and Ethnic Culture Studies will be very significant events in terms of "utilization of academic study" and of the social contributions and international exchange performed as an university.

MORIMOTO Toyotomi/Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Brief academic records:

Completed Ph.D. in 1989 in Comparative and International Education at UCLA. Present position since 1999. Specializes in Migration Studies and Intercultural Education.


Japanese Americans and Cultural Continuity: Maintaining Language and Heritage. (Garland Publishing, New York, 1997), "Border-crossing People and Education - Brought up in foreign soil and Learn from the globe" (Academia Shuppan-kai, 2007), "Trend and outlook on migration studies in Japan" (The Annual Review of Migration Studies, Vol, 14, 2008), etc.