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  • ‘Viva Latin America! Deepening Ties With Japan' Vol.1: Japanese Emigrants Pioneered Japan's International Cooperation a Century Ago


June 15, 2018

‘Viva Latin America! Deepening Ties With Japan' Vol.1: Japanese Emigrants Pioneered Japan's International Cooperation a Century Ago

About a century ago, ships carrying Japanese emigrants crossed the ocean one after another. People who dreamed of success overseas had their eyes on such places as Hawaii, North America and Latin America. And today, more than 2 million Japanese Emigrants and their descendants live in Latin America. 2018 is a landmark year. It marks 150 years of Japanese emigration overseas, as well as the 110th anniversary of emigration to Brazil, the 130th anniversary of Japanese diplomatic relations with Mexico, and the 110th of its diplomatic relations with Colombia. This is Part 1 of a four-part series tracing Japan's ties with Latin America.

photoLeft: The emigrant ship Kasato Maru, which arrived in the Port of Santos, Brazil, on April 28, 1908, with 781 Japanese people on board. The journey reportedly took about two months.
Right: Emigrants who arrived at the Port of Santos, Brazil, around 1964
Note: Both photos courtesy of JICA Yokohama's Japanese Overseas Migration Museum.

photoProfiles of the Countries of Latin American

photoSource: Materials in the collection of the Japan Overseas Migration Museum

Pioneers who overcame hardship and earned trust

As anti-Japanese sentiment grew in North America at the start of the 20th century, the number of emigrants bound for Latin America grew. Many difficulties stood in their way, including a relentless tropical climate, demanding labor and malaria. Their property was seized and they were put in internment camps during World War II. After the war, some 2nd generation family members of Japanese emigrants were forcibly sent to Japan. Even so, those who remained grew cotton, vegetables and flowers, opened restaurants, beauty salons, dry cleaners and traveling movie theaters in cities. They blended into their local communities and earned great trust. They also established Japanese language schools and maintained their identities as Japanese people.

photoLeft: Picking cotton grown in São Paulo state
Right: Japanese emigrants and their families sell vegetables in the city.
Note: Both photos courtesy of JICA Yokohama's Japanese Overseas Migration Museum.

Oversea emigration was emphasized as a government policy starting before WWII, because it can be expected to lead to the acquisition of foreign currency through remittances to emigrants' hometowns. Not long after the war, emigration was restarted, and the Japan Emigration Service (JEMIS, the predecessor organization of JICA), which was responsible for assisting with emigration, was established. The number of emigrants declined dramatically, however, when Japan entered a period of high economic growth, and in 1973 the sending of large numbers of emigrants overseas by ship ended. The Overseas Development Youth Program, which supported overseas Nikkei communities, began in 1985. In 1996, its name was changed to Youth Volunteers for Nikkei Communities, and its areas of assistance expanded to include agricultural extension, medical care and other areas. Today its assistance continues mainly in the fields of elder care and Japanese-language education.

"You could say the emigrants were pioneers of Japan's international cooperation," said Yumiko Asakuma, head of JICA's Japan Overseas Migration Museum (and of the JICA Yokohama International Center). "It is because of their hard work that JICA is now able to send many people to work in developing countries."

Bringing the advanced medical care of their ancestral country to their homeland

photoNikkei registered nurses participate in a workshop on preventing falls in the elderly.

In November, eight Nikkei doctors, public health nurses and registered nurses from Brazil went to Saku, Nagano prefecture, which is known for its advanced community-based health care. They were participants in the Nikkei Training JICA carries out. Nikkei Training began in 1971, and 4,489 participants have been accepted from 15 countries so far. For about three weeks, the eight Brazilians toured welfare facilities, observed home visit nursing care and learned about how to promote the health of the elderly and prevent senility.

"It's just like they're caring for a family member," said nurse Yurika Hakeru Tanaka, who was impressed by the way Japanese doctors and nurses interact with patients.

After her training, she wants to help put in place a structure for home medical examinations in Brazil and deepen the younger generation's understanding of elder care, she said.

"I have heard that in Brazil, some elderly first-generation Japanese emigrants need assistance," said Yoshiko Tsukada, a professor in international nursing in the Saku University School of Nursing who was involved in the training. "It would be nice to see Japanese initiatives and examples put to use in Brazil."

photoHospital Nipo-Brasileiro

The home communities of participants in Nikkei Training value their work. Hospital Nipo-Brasileiro was certified by a specialized agency as providing "high-level medical care in Brazil" in 2016. It is run by Beneficência Nipo-Brasileira de São Paulo (ENKYO), which was formed by Japanese emigrants and their descendants in 1959. The reasons given for the certification included the large number of people who receive emergency care there and the low mortality rate of its intensive care unit. The association manages multiple hospitals and welfare facilities, and many of its Nikkei doctors, nurses and nutritionists have participated in JICA's Nikkei Training. Ms. Tanaka is one of them.

In Brazil, there is even an expression — "japonês garantido” — that means "trustworthy Japanese."

When asked his thoughts on this landmark year, Yoshiharu Kikuchi, who emigrated to Brazil in 1959 and served as the chairman of the association, said, "Japanese emigrants and their descendants make up a little less than one percent of the population of Brazil, but they have shown the good qualities of Japanese people through their active roles in a wide range of fields including agriculture, business and industry, and they have contributed to Brazilian society. We Nikkei must continue more than ever to build bridges between Japan and Brazil and make Nikkei communities grow."

From recipient country to true partner

photoCerrado, a formerly barren region that was born anew as a soybean farming center.

With the growth of Japan's economy, Latin America, which was the destination for Japanese emigrants, has become a beneficiary of Japanese international cooperation. In the 1970s, efforts to improve the soil succeeded in Cerrado, a tropical savanna region of Brazil that had been considered barren. It became a major producing area for soybeans, corn and other crops, and it made Brazil into one of the world's leading grain exporting nations. The new industry of salmon farming was also created in Chile, and together with Cerrado's farms, it has promoted employment and helped reduce poverty.

Latin America has grown a lot in recent years, and Brazil and other countries have become partners of Japan's in South-South cooperation and triangular cooperation, in which Japan and another country jointly provide cooperation to a third country. Japanese emigrants and their descendants with high level expertise are working actively as third-country experts in Latin America and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.



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