Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I tried, but failed, to find a similar wave of immigration, or reverse immigration, as it is being called. Many Argentines, of Spanish grandparents, or great-parents, are returning to Spain, but they speak Spanish, or at least Porteno. It is as if the Indian economy took a massive leap, the UK economy fell, the rupee became a hard currency and sterling weak, and 300,000 Britons of Indian origin returned to Bengal no longer speaking Bengali. Or let’s imagine a stagnant US economy, the dollar falling, and North Americans of Cuban origin, having lost their Spanish, taking up factory jobs in Havana in the post-Castro boom to save some strong pesos.

I get off the train at Nishikoizumi, 80km north of Tokyo, and enter Canta Galo, the secos e molhados general store of Sr Miyogi, three years in Japan, “Daijobi, tudo bem”, Brazilian rice and beans, tins of feijoada, Café Pele, even olive oil from Portugal imported from Brazil, and Inca Cola, the vomit green manna of the Andes, to quench the thirst of the Peruvian dekaseguis. Maybe even the most famous dekasegui of them all, Alberto Fujimori, or least his Yakuza minders, do their shopping here!

Into the Brazilian Plaza, Comida por Kilo, Pastel & Cia, Rio Fashion, Garoto for men’s wear, Elba Ramalho on the video. A despachante for Japanese driving licence and documents, and a Varig agent of course. The occasional Japanese is wearing a suit. A bauru at the lanchonete, Acogue do Ceara is selling beef from Australia cut in the chunky Brazilian way. Brazilian beef has not yet managed to get its foot in the door.

On my way out I’m accosted by the local Peruvian evangelicals, “Come to our culto, our service, tomorrow and find God.” Competition is strong, particularly after the recent visit of Bishop Edir Macedo of the rival Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus.

We drive to the Brazilian inter-school volleyball and indoor football championships. Schools have come from the other main area of dekaseguis, in Aichi, near Nagoya, a long drive. We are surprised by the lack of parents. But today is a Saturday, a working day for most. Orders are coming in. Jobs are there for the taking at Sanyo and Fujitsu electronics, Subaru car plant and their sub-contractors. Overtime pays 50% more or double, and this is why we are in Japan, to make some money, buy a house in Brazil, set up a business, maybe a franchise. In the 3D work, dirty, dangerous and difficult, in the foundry or paint shop, we can make up to US$4,000 a month. Stay two or three years, and we could make 50, 60, 70 thousand dollars, and then go back.

And such is the thinking of many. There is no engagement with Japan, the language, ancestors, Shinto, Buddhism, food or crafts. Karaokes are popular, but with English of Brazilian music.

Teenagers leave school at sixteen and go into the factories. Why go to high school in Brazil or Japan when they can earn U$2,000 a month and buy a smart car? But there is a feeling of non-belonging, of being in-between cultures. And we see the familiar consequences of petty crime, drugs and wannabe gangs.

Many have similar features but few have the willowy Japanese figure. The meat diet of the South of Brazil has thickened them up. Many of the families here are mixed. Wives and husbands are often from non-Japanese families.

The first descendants arrived in the state of Sao Paulo some hundred years ago to work on the coffee plantations. Many moved to towns or set up their own market gardens. Integration came slowly but surely. Brazil was always a melting pot. In the 1930s, to avoid the possibility of German bunkers, dictator Getulio Vargas banned schools teaching in foreign languages, and anyway, immigrant children had to learn Portuguese to get on. World War II was the watershed. After the war Japan was the shame of the world, burnt-out and poverty-stricken, better to forget, and Brazil the country of the future. More emigrants left.

But the Brazilian miracle of the sixties and seventies turned sour with the stagflation of the eighties and early nineties. Unemployment also appeared. And the yen was soaring and Japan booming, resulting in a shortage of labour. All those with one Japanese grandparent could obtain visas to work in Japan, and 300,000 came from Brazil.

Lunch at Mini Shop, where Marcelo is doing well. Where are hashi, the chopsticks? I settle for a steak, rice and beans as there is no feijoada, but Ana Maria Braga is on Globo more than makes up for my disappointment.

Some do go back to Brazil for good. Students spend a year or two here to pay for their studies. Many go back and stay in Brazil a year or two. Their business fails. Brazil seems messy and insecure. They have longed for Brazil, now they long for Japan. They are drawn by the Land of the Rising Yen, and return, and finally stay.

And eventually, in thirty, forty, fifty, years, there will be a permanent colony of second, third, generation dekaseguis. Speaking Portuguese almost certainly, Maybe a Portuguese with a difference. Business and newspapers and schools are already flourishing. Doctors and dentists too. There will be Brazilian-Japanese politicians seeking votes, films, radio and TV stations. A university, who knows?

We return to see the final of the girl under-16 indoor football. Viviane powers past Xuxa to score the winning goal for Hamamatsu. The reporters from Tudo Bem and International Press scribble in their notebooks. Edson Ruffino, ex­-pro with Joinville EC, tells me about the lack of English schools in the area. Never mind Japanese, English is what we want, but not taught by a native Japanese speaker. And I think of the yen to be made...

My thanks to Hilda, Augusto and Marianne.


Blogger Reginaldo said...

Very interesting post!
An interesting news about the problem with Japanese and foreigns in Japan. It seems that an island of dekaseguis is been formed in another island.

January 21, 2007 at 10:29 PM  

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