SAO, PAULO – Japanese who immigrated to Brazil many decades ago have overall been a success, but now as they move deep into their twilight years they are facing mounting problems, including communication problems with their offspring.
The community of Japanese-Brazilians is now 16 million strong, after starting with a group of 781 Japanese who arrived in the South American country in June 1908.
Japanese immigration was suspended during World War II but resumed from 1952 to 1973, during which some 60,000 Japanese arrived.
The postwar immigrants included 2,508 unmarried young men who came to Brazil between 1955 and 1968 under the Cotia Youth Immigration program for agricultural development in the state of Sao Paulo, and other locations. The average age of these men is now 78.
The average age of postwar Japanese immigrants is now over 60. Many have trouble communicating with their grandchildren and other young people because they can’t speak Portuguese well.
Japanese is used every day at a nursing home for 41 people aged between 66 and 95 near the port of Santos, where most Japanese immigrants arrived. The residents in the home are Japanese immigrants or nisei.
“I have no relatives in Brazil anymore and don’t want to cause any trouble by returning (to Japan) at my age,” said Chiemi Dogakiuchi, 91, one of the residents at the home, which was established about 40 years ago.
Dogakiuchi, who came from Hiroshima Prefecture, emigrated to Brazil with her husband and twin daughters in 1954, and the family made a fortune selling eggs and tomatoes. But after outliving her husband and daughters, she was cheated out of her money.
Dogakiuchi moved to the nursing home because “I wanted to live the rest of my life (speaking) in Japanese.”
Most of the residents at the home speak both Japanese and Portuguese.
But “when they fall sick, they speak only Japanese,” said a 45-year-old volunteer care worker from Japan.
The home is headed by Masayoshi Ibusuki, a nisei Japanese-Brazilian who speaks to the residents in Japanese and to staff members in Portuguese.
Ibusuki, 47, is experiencing a problem shared by a large number of Japanese-Brazilians who used to work in Japan — a communication gap between them and their children.
Ibusuki’s father, Tamotsu, 81, emigrated to Brazil in 1956 and married Hisayo, 78, who applied for a program arranging marriages between Japanese immigrants.
The couple found success in the agricultural industry and built a large home. But the Brazilian economy began to stall in the 1980s.
Ibusuki and all three of his siblings went to Japan, attracted by the prospect of earning three times what they were getting in Brazil at the time.
He went on to earn more than ¥6 million a year as an interpreter and marketing executive at companies in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures.
In 2010, Ibusuki returned to Brazil with his wife and children, after the economy began to recover.
Kelvin is Ibusuki’s 17-year-old first son, who moved to Japan when he was 1 and spent his school life in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, until his second year at a junior high school. He is more comfortable with English than Portuguese, while Japanese is effectively his native language.
Though Kelvin now speaks with his friends in Portuguese, he never uses the language at home.
He “may be making a protest” because he wanted to stay in Japan but had to return to Brazil with the family, Ibusuki said.
Kelvin has many Japanese manga and video games in his bedroom. Now in high school, he also reads Japanese novels owned by his grandparents and collects information about Japan through the Internet.
“He says, ‘I don’t care,’ whenever we ask him questions,” Ibusuki lamented.
But when asked about his hopes for the future, Kelvin, after some thought, said he wants to return to Japan.
Meanwhile, Juniti Saito, 72, the commander of the Brazilian Air Force, stressed the bright side of being a Japanese-Brazilian in the South American country.
Born to immigrant parents, Saito said “being of Japanese ancestry is an asset in Brazil” because “Japanese people’s earnestness, hard work and serious child-rearing are highly respected in Brazilian society.”
“Brazil is a country where even children of immigrants can move up the ladder purely based on ability and effort,” Saito said. “I am proud that I can command our country’s air force.”
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