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100 years of Japanese immigration in Brazil
by Alexandra Pereira
2008-06-17 07:57:15
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On June 18th 2008, Brazil celebrates 100 years of Japanese immigration that began with the arrival of the Kasato Maru ship, which departed from Kobe to the port of Santos with 165 Japanese families aboard – many of them went to work on coffee farms. Nowadays, the Japanese-origin community in Brazil is the largest outside Japan, with an estimated 1.6 million, most of them living in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.

A growth in Japanese immigration to Brazil was registered between 1917 and 1940, with over 164,000 Japanese arriving in the country. The members of the current generation of Japanese Brazilians are still specially concentrated in the São Paulo state region, though they work today in every field of the economy, they are much better adapted in cultural and social terms, begun to go to the public Brazilian schools and to learn Portuguese, and mixed race marriages are much more common than 40 years ago, for example.

Liberdade neighbourhood, in São Paulo, hosts a great number of Japanese descendents, as well as immigrants from other Asian countries, shops of Asian products, groceries and restaurants.

Most of the first Japanese immigrants arriving to Brazil thought that they could save a reasonable amount of money by working during three or four years on coffee plantations, and simply go back to Japan after that. But the truth is that many of them were attracted by sweet promises of the contractors which had no realistic basis: Brazil was facing a shortage of labor force and most immigrants were forced to work for long hours, in bad circumstances and earning miserable salaries, thus not being able to achieve the minimum conditions necessary to go back home.

The majority were “contract immigrants” (keiyaku imin) and a smaller number were “free immigrants” (jiyu imin) or “called immigrants” (yobiyose imin), invited to Brazil by friends or family. The collapse of the Japanese economy based on agriculture and the excess of workers coming from the rural areas of Japan caused the massive Japanese immigration in Brazil and Peru.

KENREN, the Federation of Associations of Japanese Provinces in Brazil, organizes in São Paulo (on the 18, 19 and 20 July 2008) the 11th Japan Festival, which promises to be the best and greatest ever organized, in order to celebrate the Centenary of the Japanese Immigration. This Festival is considered one of the most prestigious and important events of Japanese Culture worldwide, and this year’s topic for the fair is “Matsuri” – meaning precisely “festival”, in honor of the Japanese tradition of offering festivals out of gratitude to the gods.

The Festival includes, among other events, exhibitions (including bonsai, handicraft, orchids and pottery exhibitions), Ikebana (floral art), Tea Ceremonies, events related with Japanese poetry (haiku, haicai and tanka), musical performances, sumiê (Japanese paintings), calligraphy (shodô), workshops of paper folding techniques (origami and kirigami), oshibana (pressed flowers technique) and shamisen (musical instrument), demonstrations of Japanese games (like and Shogi), traditional arts and dances, cuisine, a Miss Japan Festival competition (in which the candidates dress the summer kimono, or yukata) and activities for children related with the Japanese Arts and Culture, traditional games, myths and legends.

Martial Arts (like kendo, karate, kenjutsu) will be present as well, with several demonstrations, various painting exhibitions will take place, folk dancers (presenting typical dances like Yosakoi Soran, Waku Waku Uta, Namko Uta) and musicians (musical instruments like taikô, kotô and Japanese flute) will perform live, traditions from every province of Japan will be shown, appreciated and discussed.


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