SAO PAULO — Japanese Brazilians, who are now a community of 16 million in Brazil, are facing mounting concerns, such as the aging of early immigrants from Japan and the education of their offspring.
The first group of Japanese immigrants — 781 of them —arrived in Brazil in June 1908. Japanese immigration was suspended during World War II, but resumed between 1952 and 1973, during which time some 60,000 Japanese arrived. The postwar immigrants included 2,508 young, single men who came to Brazil between 1955 and 1968 under the Cotia Youth Immigration program for agricultural development in Cotia, in the state of Sao Paulo, and other locations. The average age of these men is now 78.
The average postwar Japanese immigrant is over 60 years old, and while some have become wealthy, many have trouble communicating with their grandchildren and other young people because they cannot speak Portuguese well.
Japanese is spoken daily at a nursing home near Santos for 41 elderly Japanese Brazilians, ages 66 to 95. Most of the residents are either Japanese immigrants or Nisei. Santos was the port of entry for most of the Japanese immigrants who settled in Brazil.
“I have no relatives in Brazil anymore and don’t want to cause any trouble by returning (to Japan) at my age,” said Chiemi Dogakiuchi, a 91-year-old resident of the home.
Dogakiuchi immigrated to Brazil from Hiroshima Prefecture in 1954 with her husband and twin daughters. Their family made a fortune selling eggs and tomatoes. Dogakiuchi outlived her husband and her daughters, but was swindled out of her money. She said she moved into the nursing home because, “I wanted to live the rest of my life [speaking] in Japanese,” she said.
Most of the residents of the home speak both Japanese and Portuguese. “When they fall sick, they speak only Japanese,” noted a volunteer care worker from Japan.
The home is operated by Masayoshi Ibusuki, a 47-year-old Japanese Brazilian Nisei who speaks to the residents in Japanese and to his staff in Portuguese.
Ibusuki’s now 81-year-old father, Tamotsu, immigrated to Brazil in 1956, where he married his wife, Hisayo, 78, who applied for a program that arranged marriages between Japanese immigrants. Tamotsu and Hisayo succeeded in agriculture and built a large home. But the Brazilian economy began to stall in the 1980s.
Masayoshi Ibusuki and his three siblings were attracted by the prospect of earning three times what they were making in Brazil at the time, so they relocated to Japan. Ibusuki earned more than 6 million yen a year as an interpreter and marketing executive at companies in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures.
In 2010, he returned to Brazil with his wife and children after the economy recovered. But he is now experiencing a problem shared by a large number of Japanese Brazilians who previously worked in Japan — a communication gap with their children.
Ibusuki’s eldest son Kelvin was a year old when his family moved to Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, where they lived until his second year of junior high school, when the family Masayoshi returned to Brazil. Now 17 years old, Kelvin’s first language is Japanese. He can speak Portuguese, but is more comfortable speaking English. And, although Kelvin speaks Portuguese with his friends, he never speaks it at home, perhaps in protest, surmises his father, because he wanted to remain in Japan rather than return to Brazil with the family.
Kelvin has many Japanese manga comic books and video games in his room. Currently a high school student, he also reads his grandparents’ Japanese novels and collects information about Japan from the Internet. When asked about his hopes for the future, Kelvin, after some thought, said he wants to return to Japan.
Juniti Saito, the 72-year-old son of immigrants, is one of the more successful Japanese Brazilians. He is the commander of the Brazilian Air Force. “Being of Japanese ancestry is an asset in Brazil,” he said, because “Japanese people’s earnestness, hard work and serious child-rearing are highly respected in Brazilian society.”
“Brazil is a country where even children of immigrants can move up the ladder purely based on ability and effort,” Saito said. “I am proud that I can command our country’s air force.” — by Motonobu Endo