SAO PAULO – Thanks to its cuisine, martial arts, music and manga, Brazil’s small yet influential Japanese community is utilizing soft power to assert its ethnic pride and preserve century-old traditions.
Brazil’s roughly 1.8 million Japanese immigrants are among the most successful and well-integrated groups in the country, but manage to stay in touch with their roots through such events as the annual Festival of Japan, which was held in Sao Paulo last month.
A record 190,000 people attended the three-day fete in mid-July, according to event organizer the Federation of Associations of Japanese Provinces. Sponsored by leading Japanese firms, such as Honda, Mitsubishi and Toyota, as well top Brazilian bank Bradesco, the festival was a huge success.
“We have descendants representing all of Japan’s 47 provinces and they showcased their foods, dances and music,” coordinator Erika Yamauchi said. “More and more visitors turn up every year, and half of them are non-Japanese. They come to learn about Japan — and for the food.”
The festival, first held 15 years ago, has morphed into a massive event that attracts participants from Japanese communities in Paraguay, Argentina and Peru.
“The essence of the festival is gastronomy and the culinary diversity of Japan,” said Nelson Maeda, president of the organizing committee. “But the main objective is to further the integration of the Japanese and Brazilian communities. This year, we marked the 104th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil.
“We are very well accepted by the Brazilian community and so want to reciprocate by opening our doors to locals.”
Some 60 percent of Japanese immigrants live in Sao Paulo state. Parana and Matto Grosso also host big communities.