In 1908, the Kasato Maru ship arrived in Brazil with the first generation of those who would become Japanese immigrants. More than 700 Japanese people arrived at that time to work, essentially, in the coffee plantations of the state of São Paulo. Between conflicts of the first and second world wars, little by little, new immigrants left Japan and settled in Brazil, strengthening the exchange between these two countries.
From that first wave of Japanese immigrants, from 1908 to 2020, 112 years have passed and today the Japanese descendants population in Brazil has reached almost two million people, making it the largest Japanese community out of Japan. In the of São Paulo is speculated the existence of more than 1.3 million Japanese and descendants, and the “Bairro da Liberdade”, city’s Japantown, a strong reference of this community with gift shops, supermarket, etc, including a famous Sunday street market selling everything from food to handicrafts.
In the 50’s, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Japanese immigration, members of the Imperial Family visited Brazil, including the Mikasa princes couple. Since then, celebrations have been held every decade and, with interactive and engaging performances, the celebration of the immigration anniversary pays homage to Brazil’s cultural plurality, as well as the relationship of harmony and respect built so many decades ago between Brazil and Japan.
In 2018, celebrations took place in several states in Brazil, in particular São Paulo, the state where the largest Japanese community in the country is concentrated, to celebrate 110 years with cultural, artistic, sporting and culinary events that symbolize Japan’s contribution to the Brazilian society. As an example, the Historical Museum of Japanese Immigration in Brazil, located in São Paulo (SP), reopened after almost three months of works for structural modernization and its collection – for those who want to know more about the history of Japanese immigration in Brazil, the museum exhibits two models of the ship Kasato Maru (which brought the first Japanese in 1908), 97,000 documents, objects and newspapers from the time that brings together moments lived by immigrants during the First and Second World War periods.
At business, the relationship built between the two countries over the past few years is of equal respect and value, so much so that, from January to September 2018, for example, the 700 Japanese companies with offices or factories in Brazil applied around US $800 million on investments in the country. From the development of jiu-jitsu to the agricultural expansion of the Brazilian cerrado, from the introduction of eggplant in national cuisine to judo, it is difficult to list all the contributions that Japanese immigrants made to Brazil.
In the urban landscape, neighborhoods such as the mentioned Bairro da Liberdade, and cities like Bastos (São Paulo) and Assaí (Parana) are still characteristic of the Eastern country. In the field of religions inherited by Japanese immigrants, Buddhism stands out, which arrived in Brazil in the early 20th century, but was persecuted because of prejudice against Eastern religions and because of the language barrier.
But Brazilians living in Japan also leave their mark. According to the Japanese ambassador, Akira Yamada, in an interview with a Brazilian government vehicle in 2018, Brazilian people living there contributed to enrich Japanese culture and customs. As examples, we can mention the ex-player Zico, who was important for the development of soccer in Japan. Samba and pagode, as well as Brazilian barbecue, are much appreciated by Japanese people. There were about 200 thousand Brazilian workers living in Japan until 2018, and it is speculated that they are responsible for the dissemination of Brazilian art and culture in that country.
Like any reciprocal and bilateral relationship, there are gains for both sides. Japanese immigration made an important and inestimable contribution to Brazil: from the introduction of more efficient techniques in agriculture in the early 20th century, through scientific contribution and installation of large Japanese multinational companies in that tropical country, in addition to investments in all sectors of the Brazilian economy. According to data from Brazilian Central Bank, approximately US $28.4 billion were invested by Japanese companies in Brazil from 2008 to 2018.
To further strengthen the relationship between these two countries, we mention an important sports event as Copa America, which was held in Brazil in 2019, and that received the Japanese national team as a guest country. In addition, exchanges of ideas about the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will take place in Tokyo in 2021, are being held between the two countries, and it is estimated that further exchange in the sports area is expected. Brazil and Japan have been united by cordiality and cooperation for several decades, and each year this relationship, by history, grows stronger.