Paraguayan Ambassador to Japan Isao Taoka still remembers the first things he saw when he arrived in the South American country in April 1958.
Isao Taoka, Paraguay’s ambassador to Japan, looks back on the 70-year history of Japanese emigrants in the South American country during a recent interview at his embassy in Tokyo.
YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
Hospitals and schools were built with aid from Japan, while JICA experts collaborated to improve soybean strains and advised farmers to experiment in no-tillage cultivation.
Efficiency and productivity of soybean production made rapid progress, and life became less demanding.
Taoka eventually became a central figure in the Japanese-Paraguayan community as head of the local agricultural co-op association, and later was elected mayor of La Paz. He was assigned as ambassador to Japan in 2004.
In 2002, Paraguay exported 2.34 million tons of soybeans, ranking as the fourth-biggest exporter of the commodity after the U.S., Brazil and Argentina.
The Japanese emigrants played a key role in developing Paraguay’s soybean industry, Taoka said.
“Forty percent of the soybeans exported from Paraguay were made by Japanese emigrants until at least a decade ago,” he said, adding that what started with the first generation of Japanese-Paraguayans planting soybeans to make miso and soy sauce has grown into the backbone of the country’s economy.
Many emigrants succeeded in other agricultural markets, including Hiromichi Maehara from Hiroshima, who grew wealthy through poultry farming and whose business now accounts for more than 60 percent of the eggs sold in Paraguay, Taoka said.
In 2003, the emigrants in the settlements built by the Japanese government averaged more than $40,000 in annual income, compared with the Paraguayan average of $935.
Through their achievements, Japanese emigrants have also gained a reputation in Paraguay as hardworking and sincere.
“The taxi drivers always ask me if I am from Japan — and when I tell them yes, they treat me very well,” Taoka said.
Regarding future Japan-Paraguay relations, Taoka senses a new era beginning.
“We strongly feel the need to return the favor to Japan, because Paraguay received huge help from the Japanese government. We are considering what we can do in return to show our gratitude.”
With the substantial contributions of the Japanese-Paraguayans to the country’s economy, there will be a celebration to mark the 70th year anniversary of emigration on Sept. 8 in Paraguay.
“The first generation of emigrants still remembers the pain and the difficulties of the early years, but they are now able to smile and say, ‘it was the right choice to move to Paraguay.’ That is what the 70-year anniversary will be about,” he said.
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