The story begins in 1888, when Princess Isabel decrees the Golden Law, abolishing slavery in Brazil. Coffee production in this period was the great economy of Brazil and especially in São Paulo, but the farms worked with slave labor and with the abolition of slavery came the idea and the need to bring labor from immigrants.
During the same period, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world for a period of more than 200 years during the EDO dynasty, ruled by the Tokogawa family, and there were no wars, epidemics and emigrants. Japan’s problem was that, being an archipelago, it would soon become saturated with overpopulation and that was what happened at the end of the 19th century. With the opening of its borders to foreign trade, many farmers suffered from unemployment due to the mechanization of agriculture, others lost their land because they could no longer pay the taxes that were collected in cash and no longer from their production, so they migrated to large cities that ended up being saturated with miserable workers.
The problem is that before in Brazil only migration of European citizens was allowed, because due to prejudice, the idea was to ‘whiten the population’. Only in 1890 did President Deodoro da Fonseca sign a decree allowing the immigration of people from Africa and Asia, but only with the permission of Congress. Already in 1892 Law No. 97 was passed, which allowed this process without restrictions.
Despite the beginning of planning on immigration between the two countries, in 1897 there was a crisis with overproduction of coffee and the price fell sharply, recovering only in 1901 and Brazil again encouraged immigration of Japanese to work on coffee farms. In 1905, Japan’s Minister Fukashi Sugimura visited Brazil to write a report for the Japanese authorities, the Minister was well received and welcomed and thus reported on the country in a positive manner. Thus began the preparations for the arrival of the first ship with Japanese immigrants that arrived in Brazil on the ship Kasato Maru on June 18, 1908 in the port of Santos bringing with it 781 Japanese.
However, the arrival in Brazil was not as expected by the immigrants, because despite having a negotiation agreement between the two governments for immigration, the labor agency was carried out by private companies that live based on profits. The Brazilian propaganda to encourage immigrants was that coffee was easy to pick with your hands, it was the “tree that gave gold” due to great productivity and that the contractors would give housing, but without specifying the housing conditions, because they needed to make it attractive to the Japanese. Then, they soon saw that they wouldn’t get rich enough to return to their country of origin, another difficulty was the adaptation with the climate, alimentary habits and the way of life in general, besides the prejudice.
However, after years, some families ended up saving enough to buy their first land here, moreover, the immigration contracts were made with the family, meaning that the Japanese could not come here single or alone it was necessary to come in couples and with children. These factors ended up perpetuating the stay of the Japanese in Brazil.
The first impression of Brazilians for the Japanese, despite the prejudice, was quite surprising, this because the Japanese came here from lower social classes and the Brazilians thought they would be dirty and miserable people and when they arrived here even the lower classes of Japanese were extremely clean, organized and educated.
Some even brought pen and paper which at that time was considered a luxury for a manual laborer. Although everyone had educated dignity, prejudice still existed in most of the population and the media spoke ill of the government that wanted to bring them.
Due to the isolation in the countryside to work on the farms, they lived more or less as they did in their home country, formed communities around here with Japanese schools for their children and continued to speak Japanese, many did not even learn the Portuguese language while living here. After the Kasato Maru, several other ships came to Brazil bringing thousands of immigrants who later dispersed to several states of the country forming colonies and spreading the culture of their people.
FREITAS, Eduardo de. Imigração japonesa no Brasil. Mundo Educação, 2018. Disponível em: <https://mundoeducacao.bol.uol.com.br/geografia/imigracao-japonesano-brasil.htm>. Acesso em: 22 mar. 2020.
KAWANAMI, Silvia. Imigração japonesa no Brasil. Japão em Foco, 2008. Disponível em: <https://www.japaoemfoco.com/imigracao-japonesa-no-brasil/>. Acesso em: 16 abr. 2020.
Text by Alexandre Lima de Oliveira