H-ASIA: Japanese in Brazil

Author: tpwolf <tpwolf@IUSMAIL.IUS.Indiana.Edu>

Date: August 26, 1995



Subj: Japanese in Brazil

From: tpwolf <tpwolf@IUSMAIL.IUS.Indiana.Edu>

A colleague has asked me why there is a large settlement of persons of Japanese extraction in Brazil. It is, I understand, the largest such group outside the Japanese home islands.

What is the background of this? What are the sources and reasons for Japanese migration to Brazil?

Thomas P. Wolf, Indiana University Southeast


Date: August 27, 1995



Subj: RE: H-ASIA: Japanese in Brazil

From: Michael Mcintyre <mmcintyr@condor.depaul.edu>

I knew having one foot in India and another in Brazil would come in handy one day. Back in the 1920s, after the state of Sao Paulo had begun to experiment with coffee price supports but before the resulting high prices began to cause Brazil to lose market share, the state was awash with jobs. Roughly one million Japanese emigrated to Brazil during the decade, though many stayed on the coffee fazendas for only a short time. A fair number, noticing that these silly Brazilians had not yet been introduced to the concept of vegetables, started truck farms on the metropolitan periphery. By today, a number of the richest Paulista families are Japanese. The story becomes really interesting in the last ten years, because there has now been a remigration back to Japan in substantial numbers. With a shortage of native-born labor for ill-paid jobs, and fearing an influx of non-Japanese to fill those jobs, someone in the Foreign Ministry got the bright idea of inviting these Brazilians to come back and take the jobs others wouldn't. You can imagine the consternation when these folks who look like any other Japanese citizen hug each other in the street. Would you believe Carnival in Nagasaki?

Michael McIntyre

International Studies

DePaul University



From: Assoc Prof Daniel M Masterson <masterso@nadn.navy.mil>

Subject: Re: Japanese in Brazil (X h-asia)

Mr. Wolf:

Japanese immigration to Brazil was part of the large Japanese Diaspora to Hawaii, Canada and the United States prior to World War II. Japanese emigration was encouraged by the government because of rural unrest caused in large measure by the heavy land taxes of the Meiji government. When the United States, Canada and Mexico curtailed Japanese immigration after 1908 because of racial and economic concerns, Brazil and to a lesser extent Peru encouraged Nikkei to migrate because of a need for rural laborers on the cotton, and sugar plantations of these nations. Figures for Japanese immigration to Brazil before WW II place the number of Japanese immigrants at about 280,000, second only to Hawaii. The ethnic Japanese population of Brazil including, Issei, Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei(first through fourth generation immigrants) is now about 1.2 million. More than 180,000 of these have sought "temporary" employment in Japan during the last decade.


From: DANA1@vms.cis.pitt.edu

Subject: Re: Japanese in Brazil (X h-asia)

Actually, the largest Japanese migrant community outside Japan was in Hawaii but Brazil ranks second. Migration to Brazil began around 1912, as the Japanese were excluded from the U.S., their preferred goal, by discriminatory federal legislation. The rapid growth of the Japanese community in Brazil was due to the decision of the Japanese Imperial government to sponsor such a move. The two largest shipping lines in modern Japan actually began their existence as official transporters of these sponsored migrants to Brazil. Brazil wanted agricultural migrants and that is what they got, initially, but following WWII the Japanese gov't - still sponsoring such migration - accepted urban volunteers in the post-war crisis atmosphere. Japanese migrants to Brazil were quite successful, despite discrimination, the difficulty of acquiring land, etc. The bibliography is extensive but for brief authoritative treatments, you might review back issues of the scholarly journal International Migration Review where several authors have published essays on this topic.

Harold Sims, Univ. of Pittsburgh <dana1@vms.cis.pitt.edu>

Co-Editor's Note:

I would like to thank Phil Mueller of H-LATAM for using his list on Latin America to follow up on this query and to cross post material back to us.


Date: August 28, 1995



Subj: RE: QUERY: Japanese in Brazil (x H-Asia, H-Latam)

[Scott Wong <Kevin.S.Wong@WILLIAMS.EDU> writes:]

In addition to sugar and cotton plantations, Japanese were recruited to work the coffee plantations. A good film on the subject is "Gai Jin." Karen Tei Yamashita has written two novels on the Japanese in Brazil: *Through the Arc of the Rain Forest* and *Brazil Maru* (or the other way around). The Japanese also established their own communes in Brazil after they left the plantations. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any scholarship on the subject.

Scott Wong


From: "Dr.Jeffrey Lesser" <jhles@conncoll.edu>

Dear Colleagues

I have been rather surprised by the incomplete responses on the development of the Japanese community in Brazil. There is an EXTENSIVE bibliography on this topic in Portuguese and Japanese although only a small amount in English.

Japanese immigrants first arrived in Brazil in 1908 following contract negotiations between the government of the state of Sao Paulo, looking for docial agricultural workers, and private Japanese emigration companies operating with the strong support of the Meiji regime which hoped to relieve serious rural population pressures. Furthermore, large numbers of Japanese emigrants came from Okinawa where the Japanese government was trying to enforce a linguistic and cultural homogenization policy. With the ascension of the Taisho regime in 1912 Japanese emigration to Brazil rose markedly although, ironically, the period of largest migration (1930-1939 - when almost 100,000 entered) was also the period of most violent anti-Japanese agitation, including a number of temporary bans as well as a constitutional quota.

While Japanese immigrants and their descendants (currently at the Sansei-neto generation - a mixed Japanese-Brazilian word that means grandchildren of the Sansei) have done well economically and socially, my current research on the dekasegi movement of Brazilian temporary workers in Japan shows that members of the nikkei community have a strong sense of being defined as outsiders and thus their decision to work in Japan is as much motivated by their own sense of place within Brazil as it is by economics.

Two fine works in Portuguese are: Tomoo Handa, O IMIGRANTE JAPONES (S. Paulo: TA Queiroiz, 1987)

Comisao de Elaboracao da historia dos 80 anos da Imigracao Japonesa no Brasil, UMA EPOPEIA MODERNA (S. PAULO: HUCITEC, 1992)

Those with the chance to go to Brazil should visit both the Museum of Japanese Immigration (R. Sao Joaquim, Liberade, SP) and the Centro de Estudos Nipo-Brasilieros in the same building.

For more information on this topic in English see my:

"Asians in South America." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. Vol. 7 South America.

Edited by Johannes Wilbert. New York: G.K. Hall/Macmillan, 1995. Pp. 58-61


Dr. Jeffrey Lesser

Department of History

Connecticut College

270 Mohegan Avenue

New London, CT. 06320 USA

phone: 203/439-2229




From: Gerald Greenfield <greenfie@cs.uwp.edu>

Subject: Re: Japanese in Brazil (X h-asia)

Some of the Japanese population in Brazil came in response to recruited labor opportunities on coffee plantations. There even is a good film that tells this story, documenting some of the exploitative features of that experience. It's called, I believe, Gaijin (that may not be spelled correctly, but I understand that it's Japanese for "stranger" or "foreigner."

Jerry Greenfield




again, thanks to Phil Mueller of H-LATAM for cross posting this material which ended up on both lists.


Date: August 31, 1995



Subj: Japanese emigration and immigration sources

From: Mel Thatcher <gsu@HK.Super.NET>

Selected emigration and immigration records from early Meiji through the early 1940s in the collection of the Diplomatic Records Office of the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo are available on microfilm through t Genealogical Society of Utah. These are records which give the names and particulars of individuals. They include passenger lists, naturalization papers, reports of vital events (births, marriages, deaths, divorces, etc.), and case reports. Policy and position papers and statistical reports were not microfilmed. Since these records are now being cataloged, interested researchers should contact Mitsuko Davis, Japanese Cataloger, for bibliographic assistance at 1-801-240-3796 (phone), 1-801-240-5551 (fax) or write to her at Family History Library, 35 West Temple, 84150.

Mel Thatcher

Genealogical Society of Utah



[Jeffrey Lesser <jhles@conncoll.edu> writes:]

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to add a few pieces of information to the recent discussion of Japanese immigration to Brazil as well as bibliographic information that may be of use.

Between 1908 and 1941 about 200,000 Japanese immigrated to Brazil. although over a million people today claim to be nikkei on the basis of at least one Japanese ancestor. Portuguese speakers can find yearly entry statistics, as well as boat by boat statistics, in Comisao de Elaboracao da historia dos 80 anos da Imigracao Japonesa no Brasil, UMA EPOPEIA MODERNA (S. PAULO: HUCITEC,1992). This information is culled from both the original Japanese emigration company records and the original entry lists at the Hospedaria dos Imigrantes in S?o Paulo. I have cross checked the originals against the published records and they are accurate. Entry records on Japanese (and all other groups) entering Brazil can also be found in the Revista de Imigracao e Colonizacao (1940 and 1941) which has tables of official entries and exits by country and year.

I would like to suggest to colleagues that the descriptive language regarding the dekasegi (Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent now working in Japan) is complicated. In my view, it is misleading to term the migration of nikkei to Japan as a remigration since the immigrant generation is not returning home.

Rather 2nd (nissei), 3rd (sansei) or 4th (yonsei or sansei-neto) generation Brazilians of Japanese descent who have never migrated previously are working in Japan with special visas issued by the Ministry of Labor to Japanese-descended foreigners. While those in the nikkei community are considered "Japanese" in Brazil, they are seen as "Foreigners" in Japan and face massive adjustment problems leading many to return to Brazil more quickly than anticipated.

Indeed, my very preliminary research on internal and external images of the nikkei community from a historical perspective, suggests that the dekasegi movement is as much one of culture (feeling an outsider in Brazil) as it is of wage differentials.

A fine published work on the dekasegi is Masato Ninomiya, ed. DEKASSEGUI


Palestras e exposicoes do simposio sobre o fenomeno chamado dekassegui (Sao Paulo: Estacao Liberadade/Sociedade Brasileira de Cultura Japonesa, 1992).


Dr. Jeffrey Lesser

Department of History

Connecticut College

270 Mohegan Avenue

New London, CT. 06320 USA

phone: 860/439-2229

(note new area code)




From: thh1@cornell.edu (Tom Holloway)

Subject: Japanese in Brazil


A few agrarian bits and pieces to complement what has already been added to this string:

The first experiment with Japanese immigrant workers to Sao Paulo, the 800 or so who arrived in 1908 on a single ship, was a nearly complete disaster on all sides. Although there were a few women (whose perspective is emphasized in the fine film "Gaijin") most were single males, while the colonato labor system then widespread in western Sao Paulo functioned well only with families contracting their labor as a unit. The language barrier was nearly unsurmountable, and the cultural gap very wide. Few of that first group were still working in coffee (the activity for which they were recruited) a year after their arrival. Some managed to make it back to Japan, and others found refuge in urban Sao Paulo.

The demographically and economically significant movement from the late 'teens through the 30's was also initially directed to work on coffee plantations, but many Japanese in those years soon established themselves as independent farmers, either in the Araraquarense and Noroeste zones (Marilia, Arac,atuba, e por ai'), or as truck (vegetable and poultry) farmers in the zone around the city of Sao Paulo. In the western zone they pioneered the system of renting farm land for annual contracts, and by applying intensive cultivation techniques to land rented for what Brazilian landowners considered appropriate rates for traditional extensive practices, the Japanese renters managed to succeed. The most famous development among the suburban truck farmers around SP city is the agricultural cooperative of Cotia, at one time the largest farm coop in the world. Any visitor to the CEASA (CEAGESP) wholesale vegetable/ flower/ poultry product wholesale market in Sao Paulo is instantly impressed by the preponderance of people of Japanese origin/background in those activities. A more common experience for outsiders is to pass through Liberdade, the Japanese neighborhood of SP city, where many signs and the commercial and cultural ambience are of Japanese origin.

There was also some rice farming by Japanese in the coastal lowlands in the south of Sao Paulo state, and Japanese-style tea plantations around Registro in that region, as well. In the Amazon area similar small colonies of Japanese introduced the cultivation of black paper to a country that has always considered that product "from the kingdom" (do reino), ie, imported through Portugal-even if it was produced in other parts of the Portuguese commercial empire.


Thomas H. Holloway, Professor of Latin American History

Department of History, McGraw Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

14853-4601 Email: thh1@cornell.edu