OIZUMI, GUNMA PREF. – Japan’s nearly 200,000-strong Brazilian immigrant community lives in pockets scattered across the middle of the country, clustered around auto parts factories and warehouses where they have jobs.
To reach them, Brazilian companies have adopted mobile businesses, sending vans around the countryside selling traditional pastries, Portuguese-language magazines and other goods from home.
Perhaps most visible are the blue and yellow vans from state-owned Banco do Brasil, which often park near the local Brazilian supermarket in the towns they visit.
“I can do my banking and shopping together on my day off,” said 30-year-old Kaline Lissa Kaneko, who works at a windshield wiper factory in Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.
Many Brazilian immigrants — nearly all of whom are descendants of Japanese who moved to Brazil decades ago — have accounts at the bank, so they find it easier and often cheaper to send money home rather than opening a new account at a Japanese bank or going through an online service.
Japan saw a big influx of Brazilian immigrants after it revised immigration laws in 1990 to encourage second- and third-generation descendants of Japanese emigrants to Brazil and their family members to work here. They peaked at over 313,000 in 2007 before Japan offered them incentives to repatriate amid the global financial crisis, and fell to under 174,000 in 2015.
Their numbers are now bouncing back, helped by higher-paying jobs and an acute labor shortage in Japan. They qualify for special descendent visas that allow them to work full-time, and their numbers could rise further if Japan extends the qualifications to include fourth-generation Japanese descendants.
Most workers are paid by the hour and do not want to lose time on weekdays to do their banking during traditional banking hours.
“It is very important for the community to have an easy access to this type of service, especially on weekends or holidays,” said Lilian Terumi Hatano, an associate professor of sociology at Kindai University in Osaka and the daughter of Japanese immigrants to Brazil.
Japan is Banco do Brasil’s biggest retail market outside Brazil. After paring back its traditional brick-and-mortar branches in the country from seven to three, a mobile banking service made sense for the company.
Such itinerant banking services are common in developing countries but rare in Japan and other wealthier countries.
Roving vehicles offering Brazilian merchandise have served Japan for decades, Hatano said, selling pastels, a traditional fried pastry with assorted fillings, as well as imported food and magazines.
“Our community is not concentrated geographically,” said Marco Farani, a consul-general of Brazil in Tokyo, so such roving services “are an effective and convenient way of reaching out the Brazilian community in Japan.”
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