Monday, December 8, 2008

Japanese Brazilians

Professor Morimo of Chuo University wrote to me that he ordered my translation of the book Dear Miss Breed for his multicultural education class. I appreciated the endorsement. He published a book in June this year titled, The Theory and Practice of the Studies of Japanese Immigration from Publisher Akashi Shoten.

Professor Morimo also suggested I send a copy to Kokei Uehara, President of the Brazilian Society of Japanese Culture. I followed his advice. A few days ago, I received a photograph of President Uehara holding the book I sent and felt very honored.

According to a book written by Yasunori Maruyama, Professor Emeritus of Komazawa University, The Strength of the Japanese Brazilians over 100 years (2008), the life of President Uehara is the embodiment of the Japanese immigrant saga. He left Okinawa when he was 9 years old, accompanied by his uncle and families on board the vessel Santos, in order to join his elder brothers who immigrated four years earlier. Kokei was the youngest of 8 children. (They had not seen their parents because of the war and their father died in Okinawa during the war.) His brothers had cotton and coffee farms in the City of Olympia, 500 kilometers from Sao Paulo.

While engaged in farming to help his brothers, Kokei was sent to school. Kokei excelled in school, conquering the language handicap. Medicine was his preference, but his brothers who had supported him, suggested "pursue engineering or back to the farms." Thus he chose fluid mechanics at Sao Paulo University and had a chance to work with a French research team. It was recommended that he study at the Sorbonne University. After graduating, he designed dams, including the Itaipu dam over the Parana River. He was sent to UNESCO as a Brazilian representative from 1976 to 1979. He taught at Sao Paulo University for many years. He was chosen as the most popular professor in the engineering department for 13 consecutive years.

He served as the chairman of the Japanese Immigration Centennial celebration of the Japanese immigrants to Brazil. When His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito visited Sao Paulo, President Uehara served as the guide to the Prince. He visited Tokyo in April this year and gave a talk at Hotel Okura. Ryukyu Shimpo reported that he said he would construct the Japan-Brazil Composite Center as the place most young men would like to take their lovers and where people can learn the Japanese culture from making Miso soup to enjoying the Noh Play. The center will be a twin-tower building of 20 floors, with a total space of 93,600 square meters, costing 70 million dollars. This project, however, is reportedly held in abeyance at the moment.

The Japanese immigrants totaled 250,000, combining 180,000 in pre-war days and 70,000 in post war days. Currently, Japanese-Brazilians total one and half million in Brazil.


In 2000, I had a chance to tour the Itaipu dam. The dam's structures stretch almost 9 kilometers and reach a height of more than 200 meters. The generating capacity is 12,600 megawatts - enough to supply both a quarter of Brazil's electricity needs and 90% of Paraguay. The reservoir is twice the size of Biwa Lake of Japan. It's a wonder of the modern world. I bought a Itaipu cap to wear on the day of the visit, and went around by an Itaipu courtesy bus. I remember the tour-guide emphasized their care for the environment and caution they exercised in protecting nature as is. There was a place where I straddled the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

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