Why Are There So Many Japanese in Brazil?

Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, with over 2 million Japanese descendants contributing to the country’s melting pot culture. The unique history behind this dates back over 100 years.

The First Japanese Settlers Arrived in São Paulo on June 18th, 1908

This day is now celebrated annually in Brazil as National Japanese Immigration Day, commemorating the arrival of the first 790 Japanese immigrant farmers and their families. They had signed up to work on Brazil’s booming coffee plantations through an immigration treaty between Japan and Brazil in 1907.

The Japanese immigrants brought advanced agriculture techniques with them like irrigation systems and crop rotation, helping transform Brazil’s coffee industry. Over the next few decades, over 190,000 more Japanese immigrants would arrive in Brazil, with over 75% settling in São Paulo state where the coffee production was centered.

Many immigrants eventually became owners of coffee plantations themselves. Their success stories led to the commonly used phrase “japonês garantido” (trusted Japanese) in Brazil. Japanese Brazilians gained a reputation for integrity, hard work, and valuing education.

Japanese Influence Expands Across Brazil

By the 1960s, most Japanese Brazilians were living in cities rather than rural areas. Lacking resources, first- and second-generation immigrants often started small businesses in sectors like clothing services and produce vending. These allowed minimal startup costs and language requirements.

Over time, Japanese Brazilians penetrated more aspects of Brazilian life like architecture, politics, medicine, and the arts. They also introduced staples to the Brazilian diet like fuji apples, strawberries, mint, tea, ramen, and more. The biggest Japanese cultural hub formed in the Liberdade neighborhood of São Paulo.

Intermarriage between Japanese descendants and non-Japanese Brazilians also increased. Despite Japanese descendants being less than 1% of Brazil’s population, over 28% now have some non-Japanese ancestry. For the fourth generation “yonsei”, 61% come from interracial marriages.

Lasting Influence Between Japan and Brazil

There remains much cultural and economic exchange between the countries. Brazil has the largest Japanese population overseas while Japan hosts the second largest Brazilian immigrant group. There are Brazilian newspapers, TV channels, music styles, and even Tokyo’s biggest carnival parade in Japan.

In 2008, Japan’s Prince Naruhito visited Brazil to celebrate 100 years since Japanese immigration began, drawing huge crowds of Nikkei followers. The shared history between Japan and Brazil persists today through the over 2 million Japanese descendants now woven into Brazilian culture.

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