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Brazilian-Japanese Still Struggling to Integrate

SNA (Tokyo) — “Give birth to at least three kids” was the solution proposed by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshitaka Sakurada to address Japan’s population decline, and although his ill-chosen words were widely mocked, the underlying issue of demography is a serious problem for Japan. In the 1980s, Brazilians of Japanese heritage immigrated to the country as an initial attempt to meet the demographic challenge, but the policy resulted in only a mixed success, creating an ethnic community that still struggles to be a full part of Japanese society.

Japanese began large-scale emigration to Brazil in 1925, but much later, in the 1980s, Japanese nationals who had moved to Brazil were encouraged to return to Japan as laborers. When they arrived, however, they faced the unexpected reality that they were no longer truly Japanese in culture and outlook.

Daijo Takayama, a young volunteer at Cathedral International in Ushiku city, Ibaraki Prefecture, states, “I believe that a lot of Brazilians who grew up in Brazil and came here struggle to adjust to the culture. The mentality of ‘black and white’ and the idea of rules, and even the food a lot of them feel lacks flavor,” he notes.

According to Takayama, these Brazilian-Japanese tend to cling to their South American heritage: “I think these things and the church offers the community essential elements for maintaining Brazilian identity. Japan is the complete opposite, so it is crucial to keep that identity alive to survive here.”

The lively Brazilian church in Japan has become not only a safe haven for the community but also a foundation. Cathedral International, for example, offers both a place for prayer and a venue for integration into Japanese culture. Church services include strong doses of Brazilian culture, such as singing, cuisine, and language.

Douglas Marcelo, the Brazilian Pastor in Ushiku, explains, “It’s a church and a family. We don’t prioritize religion; our motto is a ‘family and a church.’ The biggest loss that a foreigner feels when they reach a new place like Japan is their family.”

One important service the church can provide, he notes, is simply to offer the physical space that is often lacking in private homes: “Japanese homes are very small and you should not make loud gatherings in parks and in public at night. The church gives room for people to be united and eat, sing, and celebrate our faith and culture.”

From Marcelo’s point of view, there are spiritual rewards as well. “I feel like the church can present to the Japanese culture a sense of selfless giving. From what I see the Japanese struggle to accept help. They struggle to understand the concept of giving without getting anything in return,” he says.

Even with the ability to keep one’s native culture alive in the new lands, it is also crucial to integrate into Japanese society. Marcelo states, “This friendship between Japan and Brazil is only going to strengthen Japan as a place of strong tradition. Globalization is crucial.”

He feels that these efforts can be a success: “Manners are very important to Japanese culture. As long as the immigrants arrive with respect, and they honor the traditions, they’ll be received with open arms,” he believes.

To assist this integration process, his church offers integration courses. Marcelo notes, “We have classes at the church that teach immigrants how to integrate. We offer support groups for people suffering from depression and loneliness in the absence of their families. We even have regional parties, where people can remember our culture and tradition.”

His church offers not only a community space for Christians, but an open invitation for non-Christians and Japanese people who are curious to learn about a new culture. Cathedral International also offers nights of churrasco (a barbecue party) where people sit together and eat traditional food.

Another major issue is the increase in so-called ‘haafu’ children who encompass both cultures and national identities.

Takayama, himself a ‘haafu,’ recalls, “When I arrived in Japan and gave my CV to a company for an interview, as soon as they saw my face they understood that I am a haafu, that I am mixed race, so they decided not to hire me. I say this just so you can understand the level of discrimination that existed, but I think slowly they are opening up more.”

The first and second generation of Brazilian immigrants have experienced differing realities. One of the major struggles which limited economic opportunities for Japanese-Brazilians is the language barrier. Takayama recalls, “The first generation suffered a lot. Their kids weren’t able to go to high school because their Japanese wasn’t good enough. Kids at fifteen years old had to take courses to work in factories because they didn’t have the opportunity that the others did with their lack of fluency in Japanese.”

Takayama emphasizes the many hardships that Brazilian-Japanese have faced: “We have been immigrants for many years. We haven’t had a voice. We haven’t had anyone to represent us. We are still treated like we’re citizens of the third class. Who works in the factories for the cars? It’s we Brazilians and other immigrants. Our hope lies in the second generation that studies here, speaks the language, and immigrants in high positions that can act as leaders and reach positions of influence in politics as well.”

Despite the many difficulties, he maintains his hope for the future. “Now the opportunities are growing…. the second generation that grew up here and went to school here are finding it easier to blend into both worlds.”

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