Second-generation Japanese-Brazilian Masaru Nelson Matsubara is coaching soccer in Kobe, the port city where the first ship carrying emigrants set off for Brazil more than 100 years ago.
The 64-year-old was born in the southern state of Parana, Brazil. While studying at college to become a sports instructor, Matsubara spent two years at Sapporo University in Hokkaido, where he played soccer.
He was shocked by the wide gap in skills between Japanese and Brazilian players. For example, he found that as a midfielder he saw very little of the ball because his teammates just kept booting it up to the forwards. Though hardly fluent in Japanese, he constantly tried to tell his teammates about the importance of passing the ball.
Matsubara and his family moved to Japan in 1988, when he became a coach for a children’s team in Sapporo. Other clubs he later worked for included a high school in Sapporo, a company team in Okayama and the youth team of the professional Vissel Kobe club.
He continued coaching young players even immediately after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which ravaged Kobe. Some of his players later made it to Japan’s national team.
Matsubara’s wife, Marina, and three daughters found it difficult to settle amid language and cultural differences, with the daughters feeling unsure whether they were Japanese or Brazilian.
The family’s experiences prompted Maria to set up an organization in 2001 to support Brazilian residents in Kansai.
Matsubara and his wife now provide study support to Brazilian children, including teaching them Japanese customs.
“There are children who lose the opportunity to receive education as they move back and forth between the two countries due to changes in their parents’ circumstances,” Matsubara said.
“Our daughters have been supported by Japanese people and what we are doing is nothing to brag about.”