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Asia

Japanese-Brazilians caught between two worlds

Many Brazilian migrant workers of Japanese ancestry lost jobs in Japan during the global economic crisis. The Tokyo government offered to buy them one-way tickets home. But back in Brazil, many now want to return.

Nipo-Brasileiro: The vegetable market provides jobs for many of Sao Paulo's Japanese community

Nipo-Brasileiro: The vegetable market provides jobs for many of Sao Paulo's Japanese community

It is noisy and very busy. Workers push carts stacked with pallets of vegetables out to the loading dock at Nipo-Brasileiro. This produce wholesaler has for decades provided jobs for Sao Paulo’s Japanese community, the largest outside of Japan. It has also helped out those who recently got laid off in Japan and returned home to Brazil.

Employees like 39-year old Reubens Maehara lost his job at a Yamaha automotive factory after six years. But he says, he didn’t want Tokyo to pay his way back, because he really wants to go back to Japan. He says: "If I took the money I’d have to wait three years to return. Now I can return whenever I want."

Difficulty in settling down

And Maehara is not alone, says Masato Ninomiya, president of CIATE, an organization that assists Japanese-Brazilians with working abroad. There are many people waiting for the recovery of Japan’s economy in order to go back. "People who stayed a very long time in Japan, they have some difficulties in adapting themselves again in Brazil," he explains.

Ninomiya says that salaries in Japanese factories are as much as four times higher than what workers can earn in Brazil. Also, the skills that many learned while in Japan don’t necessarily help with finding jobs in Brazil.

Learning Japanese

Brazilians with Japanese roots learn Japanese in order to go back to Japan

Brazilians with Japanese roots learn Japanese in order to go back to Japan

So CIATE offers Japanese language courses for those who still see better opportunities in Japan. A teacher stands in front of the class lecturing in Japanese. Students in the CIATE class, like 53 year old Claudio Kaboyashi, say coming back to Brazil after losing his job in Japan a year ago wasn’t what he expected.

"It's been difficult," he says, "I couldn’t get a job in Brazil, that’s why I am taking these Japanese courses, so when I go back there I can speak better and have a chance to get something there." Kaboyashi says he also wants to go back to Japan because his young daughter is still living there.

Rootless generation

And according to CIATE’s president, Masato Ninomiya, children are the biggest victims of this cross migration. He says because most Brazilian workers don’t speak Japanese, they don’t want to send their kids to Japanese schools and they can’t afford to enroll them in Portuguese language academies in Japan either.

Ninomiya expresses his fear: "They become adults and they are not educated in any language. Our fear is that many people become rootless - they are not Brazilians, nor Japanese. They are not educated in Japan or in Brazil." He says families that want to go back to Japan should consider what‘s in their children’s best interest first.

Sao Paulo is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan

Sao Paulo is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan

Waiting for a good opportunity

Back at the Nipo-Brasileiro market, 36-year old Luis Carlos Aragaki is about to clock out for the day. He also got laid off in Japan last year, but he's now back home with his daughter in Sao Paulo.

He says while the money was better in Japan, he’s in no rush to go back. Aragaki says: "If a good opportunity came up in Japan, I’d go back, but for now, I’m happy staying here."

Author: Jason Strother (Sao Paulo)

Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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