Japan in the heart of Brazil

São Paulo put on a display of Japanese culture to rival one of its carnival parades on Saturday in a procession attended by Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito.

A parade of military bands, traditional Japanese dance troupes, martial arts groups, drummers and brightly clad participants filed in front of the heir to Japan’s imperial throne and thousands of spectators.

The event, which took place under gray skies, was the climax of celebrations in Brazil marking 100 years of Japanese immigration.

An estimated 1,5-million Japanese descendants live in the country, most in and around São Paulo, making them the biggest Japanese community in the world outside Japan itself.

Prince Naruhito, dressed in a dark suit and tie, smiled and applauded at Saturday’s elaborate procession, which was held in the city’s Sambodrome where the traditional February carnival parades are put on.

Earlier in the day, he travelled to Santos, a neighbouring city on the coast, where he inaugurated a memorial commemorating the first 781 Japanese who arrived in the port there on June 18 1908.

Those first immigrants worked on São Paulo’s coffee plantations. Later arrivals followed, and the community integrated into the greater, already varied Brazilian society—while retaining some Japanese traditions and customs.

Today, the signs of the inflow are everywhere. Sushi bars, Japanese language courses, Japanese newspapers, martial arts, calligraphy and other aspects of Japanese culture abound, with a concentration in São Paulo, where a thriving Japanese enclave lives in the centre of the city.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who gave the prince a high-protocol welcome on Wednesday, said their two countries shared a “human dimension” thanks to the immigrants.

That joint history was not always smooth. In World War II, Brazil sided with the allies, treated its Japanese community with suspicion and even confiscated some of their assets to support the war effort.

At the end of the war, and for some years afterwards, a secret movement called Shindo Renmei sowed terror among Japanese “traitors” in Brazil who dared believe the reports that Japan had been vanquished.

Those scars are healed now, though, and the Brazilian-Japanese live harmoniously within Brazil.

More than 300 000 of them have returned to Japan to pursue work opportunities, making them the third-biggest foreign community in that country.

Trade between the two countries used to flourish in the 1970s and 1980s, but flagged when Japanese when through its recessions. It is now picking up, and last year amounted to $8,9-billion, equally split. That is double the $4,5-billion recorded in 2002.

Direct Japanese investment in Brazil in 2006 was $647-million—well below the amounts recorded in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Japanese recession.

Prince Naruhito was to leave for Rio de Janeiro on Sunday and from there go to Los Angeles on Wednesday before returning to Japan.—AFP



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