Japan's Pororoca: Japanese Migration to Brazil and the Reverse Flow Back to Japan

Speech by Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Mr. Katsuyuki Kawai
At the General Assembly of the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas
(May 9, 2005, Iguacu, Brazil)

1. Introduction

It is a real privilege for me to have this opportunity to address the many representatives here today. In this regard, I would like to thank COPA President, Deputy Maria José Maninha for giving me this opportunity. She even came to my hometown Hiroshima to persuade me and my wife to attend this meeting. I am also very pleased to be able to visit the beautiful city and environs of Iguacu.

With the advance of globalization, the movement and migration of peoples is increasing around the world today. These demographic flows are creating many new opportunities as well as generating various challenges in diverse areas. Migration, the theme of this conference, is therefore a very timely topic. Today, as one example of this movement and migration of peoples, I would like to introduce some of Japan's experiences and efforts in this area.

2. Japanese emigration to Brazil

(1) History of Japanese emigration

The emigration of Japanese people on an organized basis began in 1868, the first year of the Meiji Period, when Japan reopened the country to the world after two and a half centuries of isolation. The pioneers of this migration were 150 agricultural emigrants who sailed to Hawaii. From the turn of the century, Japanese emigrants made their way to the continental United States, and after that, emigration to Latin American countries began and gained appeal. Prior to the Second World War, approximately 780,000 Japanese emigrated overseas, one-fourth of them went to Brazil, and after the War, 260,000 Japanese emigrated, with around 70,000 going to Brazil.

At present, the descendents of these emigrants are estimated to number around 2.6 million people, mainly in the American continents. Brazil, the home for 1.4 million Japanese descendents, heads the list followed by the United States, with around one million. And today the sixth generation of the original Japanese emigrants is being born and brought up in these countries.

(2) Japanese emigration to Brazil

The Japanese emigration to Brazil began in 1908, when the first Japanese emigrants aboard the Kasato-Maru arrived at the port of Santos in the State of Sao Paulo. Generally, the main motivating factors for emigration are the desire for freedom from oppression or for freedom from want. In the case of Japanese emigration, the main motivation was the latter one. Historically, behind the emigration from Japan to Brazil there were reasons in both countries. In the early 20th century, while Brazil enjoyed an economic boom spurred by the production and export of coffee, there were labor shortages on coffee plantations due to the granting of freedom to slaves from Africa. At that time, Japan was an agricultural-based developing country with an excess labor force at home. In particular, there were many cases of second and third sons emigrating overseas, because they could not inherit their father's farmland.

After the Second World War, organized emigration started again with the settlements in the Amazon region in 1952. At that time, per capita income in Brazil was about 1.7 times higher than that in Japan.

Japanese emigrants and their descendents contributed greatly to the development of Brazil, particularly in the agricultural sector. It is well known that their hard work in cultivating the Cerrado region has turned it to the largest soybean producing area in the world. In fact now there are many examples of Japanese words related to agricultural products that have become part of the local language in Brazil, such as kaki, Japanese persimmon.

Today, the nikkei in Brazil constitute the largest group of overseas ethnic Japanese in the world, and thanks to their diligence and perseverance, they have become the cornerstone of friendly relations between Japan and Brazil. The year 2008 is an especially commemorative year as it marks the centennial anniversary of Japanese emigration to Brazil, and this jubilee year will be celebrated in both countries.

3. Brazilians living in Japan

Next I would like to shift my focus to Brazilians living in Japan. The descendents of Japanese who once emigrated to Brazil are now migrating on a large-scale back to Japan, the land of their forebears. I would like to call this flow of reverse migration "Japan's pororoca", from the word "pororoca", which means the phenomenon of huge reverse current observed in the Amazon River.

With the Japanese economy thriving and the Brazilian economy stagnating, the number of Brazilians going to Japan to find gainful employment increased sharply from the second half of the 1980s. In 2003 the per capita income in Japan was 13 times greater than that in Brazil, and the movement of migration has reversed from what it was in the 1950s. In particular, the 1989 revision of Japan's Immigration Law eased legal conditions for residence requirements for third-generation Japanese-Brazilians. As a result, Japanese-Brazilians flooded into Japan to find employment.

In 2003, around 30,000 Brazilians migrated to Japan, and today approximately 275,000 Brazilians are living in Japan. Many of these Brazilians are employed at automobile and electric products factories. Remittances by these people back to Brazil are approximately 2.2 billion U.S. dollars annually, almost equal to the annual exports from Brazil to Japan.

At first, many of the Japanese-Brazilians who arrived in Japan came without their families and intended to stay for only two or three years. However, since then, many have been extending their stays year by year and have been bringing or calling their families to Japan. Approximately one-third of Brazilians who migrated to Japan every year acquire permanent resident status.

On the other hand, a number of issues have surfaced in connection with this trend, such as identity crises, language problems, employment, education, and relations with local communities. I would like to introduce some actual cases typifying these problems.

The first is the case of a young boy we shall call Antonio, who came to Japan as a lower grade elementary school student. After he came to Japan, Antonio began studying Japanese very hard, and his Japanese language ability became better than his language ability in Portuguese. Eventually he began forgetting Portuguese, but his parents did not understand much Japanese. As a result, communication problems began to arise in the family.

The second case involves a gentleman named Mr. Suzuki, who was employed by a private company. Unwilling to pay the insurance premiums, he did not enter any social insurance programs. But then one day he became sick. Since he was not covered by insurance, his medical bills were quite high, and so he stopped going to the hospital. This led to the prolonging of his illness, and he was often forced to be absent from work, eventually resulting in his dismissal from his job.

Up to now, I have only been giving you examples of the hardships Brazilian residents in Japan have been facing, but those are not the only kind of examples. A different example is the case of a lady we shall call Ms.Silva, who is a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian. She came to Japan with her parents when she was ten. She began attending a local school, but since her Japanese was poor, she could not follow the lessons, and becoming disheartened, she stopped going to school. But then she got an opportunity to receive bilingual instruction in Japanese and Portuguese at a learning support class offered by the local government. With that help, a smile finally returned to her face.

There are some municipalities in Japan where over 15 percent of the population is comprised of Japanese-Brazilians and other foreign residents, while the national average of registered foreign residents makes up about 1.5 percent.

Before attending this conference, I visited Ota City, which is located around 100 km away from Tokyo and has a population of 210,000. It is an industrial city with many companies related to automobile manufacturing. With around 8,000 foreign residents living in Ota City, the proportion of foreign residents is 2.7 times greater than the national average. About half of the foreign residents are Japanese-Brazilians. Attaching particular importance to education, the mayor of Ota City established a "special educational zone for foreign children". From April of this year, the city has begun offering bilingual education in Portuguese and Japanese by hiring resident Brazilian instructors . I was very impressed by these earnest efforts of Ota City and it was heartening to see both Japanese and foreign residents working together to solve these problems.

In 2001, the municipal administrations and international exchange organizations in cities with large numbers of foreign residents formed "The Committee for Localities with a Concentrated Foreigner Population". Fifteen cities are participating in this Committee. These cities are cooperating and collaborating in their efforts to solve problems affecting foreign residents, such as employment and educational problems.

Not only local municipalities, but also the central government is promoting various efforts to help foreign residents. For example, 11 relevant government ministries and agencies have formed a liaison council centered in the Cabinet that shares information and coordinates actions related to the problems of foreign residents. This kind of council is worth having as we tackle multi-faceted challenges arising from migration. But I must admit to say that there is much room for improvement. Therefore, I personally would like to work to create an effective mechanism that will make changes in the future.

4. Conclusion

Movements of population are becoming more active in today's world of increasing globalization, and this trend will probably continue in the future. As a result of these demographic movements and migrations, problems in various areas such as education, employment, and cultural succession are arising. These present great challenges both for the countries receiving immigrants and for those sending them out, as well as for the migrating peoples and their families. Within a very short period, Japan has the experience of being both a sending and a receiving country. Other Asian countries and Latin American countries may face the same situation sometime in the future, as the economic growth continues in these countries. I would be very pleased if the experiences of Japan prove useful to all of you attending this conference.

We must not evade our responsibility for finding solutions to the problems migration may create. When immigrants and the receiving countries work hand in hand, genuine friendship and mutual understanding will be realized. I am determined to pursue diplomatic policies with due consideration to the Japanese emigrants and earnestly address the problems foreign residents in Japan are facing. In order to repay for the warm reception which Brazil has shown to the Japanese immigrants, it is important for us to do our best to support the Japanese Brazilians living in Japan. From May 26th, President Lula is going to visit Japan. In his meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi, the issues concerning Brazilians living in Japan will be also discussed. I believe that the problems will be resolved only by the cooperative efforts of both Japanese and Brazilian governments and we welcome an active roll of the Brazilian government.

We should never forget that immigrants are precious bridges of understanding that create ties across borders and connect nations in the world.

Finally, I would like to thank you for your kind attention. Muito obrigado.

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