Monday, August 6, 2012

Brazil's Japanese

There’s a São Paulo cop in one of my books (Buried Strangers) called Yoshiro Tanaka.
I’ve been called whimsical for having given a Brazilian policeman a Japanese name, but the fact of the matter is there's no whimsy involved.

Because, São Paulo is home to more Japanese immigrants than any other big city in the world.

Here’s the story:

During the 265 years of the Edo Period (Tokugawa Shogunate) Japan remained isolated. She suffered no wars, few of her citizens left, there were no epidemics brought from abroad and, as a result, the country became overpopulated. The solution was thought to be emigration, and the Japanese Imperial Emigration Company was formed to do just that.

The President was Ryu Mizuno (in the center with the woman to his left).
He discovered that the coffee culture in South America was booming and labor was needed.
In 1906, he visited Brazil, spoke to government officials and opened negotiations. By the end of 1907, he’d overcome all of the bureaucratic obstacles. He went home and initiated a campaign to recruit emigrants.

This is one of his posters. I can’t read a word of it, but you don’t have to. Just look at where the guy is pointing on the map.

On the 18th of June, 1908, the Kasato Maru, after a journey of 52 days from the port of Kobe, disembarked the first 165 families in Santos.
It was the beginning of a wave that was to continue into the 1950’s and which would ultimately bring more than 1.5 million Japanese to Brazilian shores.

Most began by working the land.

But they made their children study hard. And, today, ethnic Japanese, Brazilian citizens all, are to be found throughout the country and in every field of endeavor.

This is the heart of the Japanese neighborhood in São Paulo, the largest "Japantown" in the world. 

It’s called Liberdade, and Japanese executives, visiting from Tokyo, have told me it’s the place where they have eaten the best Japanese food outside of their home islands.
Be sure to go if you come for a visit.

If you don’t like Japanese cuisine, you can always go to the McDonald’s.
Leighton - Monday


  1. I was in Brazil around 1980 and heard an official refer to his suited Japanese employee (in security? government? not sure) as someone having "an excess of efficiency." Translated for me at the time by a friend.

  2. I've never been to Brazil, nor to Japan. It looks like a visit to Sao Paulo could kill two birds?

  3. Fascinating article and pictures!

  4. Was in Brasil, beginning of the nineties. Visited the Japanese neighbourhood in São Paulo. Felt in some ways transported to Japan itself. Haven't visited Liberdade though: the budget of Flemish travelling writers (I was one of them at that time)forced us to eat from the streets :-). Thanks, Leighton, for this informative blog...Ah, memories, memories...

  5. My bad: it's Brazil not Brasil. Those are the small mistakes you're destined to make when you're not a native speaker...:-)

    1. Actually it's Brasil in Portuguese, Brazil is in English

  6. Fascinating! You! This history! The whole thing. Thanks, Leighton, once again for making this story come alive.

  7. Great photos and interesting historical observation, but what I'm really dying to know is whether that's how you spell "McDonald's" in Portuguese?

  8. Ditto! Fascinating! What a glimpse of something I never knew about Brazil or the Japanese people.

    Learn something new every day! True.

    The wonders of the Internet, blogs, etc.