PETROPOLIS, Brazil – A Japanese resident of Brazil has discovered the building that housed Japan’s first legation there, three years after he began searching for it in connection with the centennial of Japanese emigration to the South American country.
Kiyoshi Ami, 67, who hails from Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, began hunting for the diplomatic mission when he started research for a commemorative publication marking the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese emigrants settling in Brazil.
Japan opened the legation in Petropolis on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro in the southeastern part of Brazil in 1897 after the two countries set up diplomatic relations in 1895, following Brazil’s shift to a republic in 1889.
Ami, a former employee of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., checked official documents and other materials with the help of acquaintances, including a university professor, and found a Petropolis city council report in the city library.
It showed that the legation had been located at No. 21 Street of April 7, but that the Japanese mission moved from that address on May 31, 1903.
The street still exists but the numbering system has changed. Ami also learned from a newspaper article published at the time that Sutemi Chinda was Japan’s first minister, assuming his post in August 1897. He lived in a hotel adjacent to the mission.
Based on the newspaper report, together with the documents at the city council, it is “quite possible” that the legation situated at No. 21 was Japan’s first mission in Brazil, Ami said.
Rio de Janeiro used to be the capital of Brazil, but various countries actually had their embassies and legations in Petropolis, a highland resort at an altitude of about 840 meters, because of a yellow fever epidemic around the time when Japan and Brazil established diplomatic relations.
Japan kept its legation in Petropolis until it moved to Rio in 1918, but its exact location was unknown because it had lease agreements with private individuals and old registers had not been kept in sufficient order.
The white, Western-style house that served as the original legation measures 560 sq. meters and there are signs of damage sustained from a windstorm.
Its owner has put the building on sale for 430,000 real (about ¥27 million), but no prospective buyers have come forward as yet. Part of the reason is probably due to the relatively high cost of maintaining the property.
A city ordinance obliges the owner to preserve the exterior and has banned any remodeling or expansion work.
“I’d like to appeal for the preservation of the house as the place from which the two countries took a step toward bilateral friendship,” Ami said.
The Japanese Consulate General in Rio said it wants to study with those concerned how the Japanese government could cooperate in the upkeep of the property.