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The Multiple Identities of the Nikkei Community

The Dynamic Life of Migrants Between Brazil and Japan

The year 2008 has been characterized by celebrations of the centenary of Japanese immigration to Brazil and as the Year of the Brazil-Japan Exchange. The media in both countries have widely divulged the various events, but we can affirm that the Brazilian press has taken advantage of the occasion to divulge not only centenary-related stories but also to present stories about elements of Japanese culture of interest to Brazilians. Additionally, numerous books have been published on the subject.

If on the one hand a strong human bond was formed between the two countries through immigrants and their descendants up to the sixth generation -- totaling more than 1.5 million -- we cannot ignore the 330,000 Brazilians who find themselves in Japan as part of a phenomenon known as dekasegi. They have become one of the symbols of the presence of foreigners in that country, constituting the third largest contingent of resident foreigners. At summits gathering officials from both countries, there’s always some mention of the existing human bond between the two countries, formed by the Japanese and their descendants in Brazil and by Brazilians in Japan.

However, Brazilians have been facing problems since the first ones arrived in Japan. There have been problems related to labor issues, social welfare, children’s education, crime and juvenile delinquency, in addition to discriminatory practices, as well as psychological problems suffered by Brazilians while still in Japan or upon their return to Brazil.

When it comes to law enforcement issues, officials in both countries, as well as members of Brazilian communities in Japan and Japanese-Brazilians in Brazil have expressed concern regarding the flight of Brazilian criminal suspects who, after having committed some type of crime, escape to Brazil in search of eventual impunity under the protective mantle of Article 5, included in the Federal Constitution of 1988 – a strict clause that forbids the extradition of Brazilians to the jurisdiction of foreign states. There have been already five requests made by the Japanese government petitioning that Brazilian authorities arrest and try criminal suspects so as to condemn them in accordance with the clause on the extraterritorial application of the Brazilian Criminal Code.

There are also problems in regard to letters rogatory in civil matters, such as divorce cases, food-related issues, etc., for there are numerous difficulties when it comes to going after a defendant living in Japan as a result of constant address changes or wrong addresses.

Both governments have been trying to reach agreements in regard to social welfare issues, and civil and law enforcement cooperation, while attempting to minimize current problems. The negotiations dealing with social welfare were initiated by President Lula’s proposal to then Prime Minister Koizumi at the time of his visit to Japan in May 2005. Although talks have stretched for more than three years, there’s still no set date for their conclusion. We hope that all issues will be resolved so Brazilians can work without problems in that country, as it is estimated that one-third of the Brazilian contingent will remain indefinitely in Japan.

* Masato Ninomiya was a moderator in a presentation titled “Dynamic life of migrants between Brazil and Japan—Perspectives on Japan” at a Discover Nikkei Symposium—“100 Years of Japanese Immigration: The Multiple Identities of the Nikkei Community" in Sao Paulo on September 20, 2008.

© 2008 Masato Ninomiya

Brazil brazilians in Japan dekasegi migration

About this series

A series of articles from panelists at a Discover Nikkei Symposium—“100 Years of Japanese Immigration: The Multiple Identities of the Nikkei Community” in São Paulo on September 20, 2008.