Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Gregory Cochran asked about Japanese-Brazilians, and I noted that they seemed to share a similar trajectory to Japanese-Americans: welcomed as cheap farm labor, but not stuck there for generations.

Wikipedia’s list of notable Japanese Brazilians is heavy on the artists (singers and models) and athletes (martial artists and footballers).

That doesn’t bode well, but then Cochran found this LA Times piece about the nikkei there:

Two nikkei — in Japanese, the name means “of Japanese lineage” — have been ministers in Brazil’s federal government, and one is currently a key adviser to the minister of finance. Three are members of the national Congress, including Antonio Ueno, now in his sixth four-year term.

Many nikkei have achieved remarkable economic success, too, especially in agriculture. The Cotia agricultural cooperative was founded by Japanese immigrant farmers in 1927, and today it is Brazil’s largest agricultural enterprise. About 70% of the fruits and vegetables consumed in metropolitan Sao Paulo are produced by nikkei farmers, according to Cotia executive Minoru Takano.

Other Japanese-Brazilians, like Fujio Tachibana, have excelled in business and finance. Tachibana, 76, started as a laborer on a coffee plantation in 1932, then became an office assistant in a Japanese company that helped recruit and settle new immigrants. Later he was transferred to the company’s bank in Brazil.

“I didn’t know anything about banking,” Tachibana recalled in an interview. “They taught me, and I learned.”

Today he is chairman of a banking and investment conglomerate with more than 8,000 employees and 18,000 shareholders. About 60% of the employees and 85% of the shareholders are Japanese-Brazilian.

With each generation, the Brazilian nikkei have become better educated and more prosperous in a country where ignorance and poverty are the fate of the vast majority. According to one survey of Japanese-Brazilians, more than 80% consider themselves middle class or above.

Until 1945, fewer than 50 persons of Japanese descent had graduated from the University of Sao Paulo. Currently, 13% of the university’s 30,000 students are nikkei. Japanese-Brazilian students account for about 20% of the enrollment at the Polytechnic Institute, Sao Paulo’s best engineering school.

At the Bandeirantes Institute, one of Sao Paulo’s most prestigious college preparatory schools, an estimated 25% to 30% of the students are descendants of Japanese.

I’m beginning to think there’s something different about Japanese-Brazilians…


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    Fun fact, Brazil has with 1,5 million the largest Japanese population outside of Japan itself, followed closely by the USA with 1,2 million.

  2. Mike in Boston says:

    The fraction of Japanese in Peru is, I think, even smaller, yet one of them made it to the presidency only to end up in the hoosegow. I admit I didn’t follow the Cathedral propaganda of the time.

    I worked with a young Japanese-Peruvian woman for a short time. On the way to lunch one day some Hispanic guys called out something in Spanish while ogling her. She swiveled around, one arm akimbo, and fired off a reply in, of course, perfect colloquial Spanish, to the effect that they would never in their lives be so lucky. Their jaws nearly hit the sidewalk.

  3. Toddy Cat says:

    Lots of people think that Alberto Fujimori, the guy that you’re talking about, saved Peru from a fate worse than Cambodia at the hands of Shining Path, the deranged Communist terror group. The Cathedral accused him of “Human Rights Violations” (of which he was probably guilty) and he got pitched by Cathedral minions in Peru for having the temerity to actually defeat a Commie insurgency. Or at least that’s my take.

  4. Victor says:

    The cream always rises to the top.

  5. Magus Janus says:

    One of the top schools in the country, Chapel (in SP), had so many Japanese Brazilians that we use to joke around and call it Japel.

    I also think if you look at crime indices you’ll find Japanese Brazilians barely commit any, much like in the US or at home.

Leave a Reply