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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 2

Sarah Barbour
David Howard
Thomas Lacroix
et al.

Intersecting Identities

A Question of Identity: Being Japanese in Brazil and Brazilian in Japan1

Adriana Capuano de Oliveira


After almost 100 years of Japanese immigration to Brazil, Brazilians of Japanese descent start to come back to the land of their parents and grandparents to begin a new migratory saga: the construction of a Little Brazil in Japan. This essay discusses questions of identity and the factors that triggered them as a result of these migratory processes. The majority of Brazilians emigrating to Japan are Japanese descendants who, absorbed into this new migratory process, go through various moments of reflection. When these Brazilians who are considered Japanese in Brazil move to Japan, they are confronted with the surprising experience of being identified as typically Brazilian, even though their physical characteristics are similar to the majority of mainland Japanese people. Confronted with seemingly reserved individuals, with whom they do not share habits, ideas or language, these immigrants go through the singular experience of recognising themselves as Brazilians. As they confront a population which is physically similar but culturally very different, they feel more foreign than ever.

Texte intégral

  • 1 I wish to thank Sarah Barbour for her editorial help in the writing of this chapter.
  • 2 The term dekassegui means ‘leave home to work abroad’. The origin of the term is Japanese and it wa (...)

1At the end of the 20th century, Brazil experienced a phenomenon known as the ‘dekassegui migration’ or ‘dekassegui movement’,2 an emigration of Brazilians of Japanese descent to Japan. Their ancestors had arrived in Brazil during the 20th century and endured social isolation, cultural clashes and persecution. This article discusses questions of identity and the factors that triggered them as a result of these migratory processes.

2In the last decades of the 20th century, Brazilians began to leave their country in search of better living conditions abroad. This movement reflects the social environment and the changes which Brazil was going through at the time. Brazilian emigration in those days has been described as unprecedented, for until then the country was considered an immigrant receiver. The majority of Brazilian groups emigrating to Japan are the dekassegui, Brazilians of Japanese descent. A closer look at their journey reveals the implications it has for a larger discussion of the process of cultural identity.

3According to Stuart Hall, cultural identity is founded on values shared by groups—real or fictitious—of same origin and whose history and legacy are common. In consequence, similarities are highlighted amongst the other factors that identify these groups as being kin.

Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power. Far from being grounded in a mere ‘recovery’ of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which, when found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.
(Hall 1990: 52)

4Identity in any migratory context is problematic because the criteria of what constitutes cultural identity, nationality and identity, nationality and belonging are constantly being reformulated. It can be observed to a greater degree with the dekassegui. Although they were born in Brazil, they do not correspond to what I would describe as ‘the identity pattern currently conveyed’, which refers to a series of events which occurred over the centuries with regards to the creation of a Brazilian nationality and its population. In fact, the Brazilian nation, as it is known, has emerged quite recently, dating only from the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.

5The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil in 1908. After settling more than a century ago in Brazil, these immigrants are still identified as the Japanese who live in Brazil, in Portuguese, nipo-brasileiros. Their inner selves will always carry the burden of belonging to two worlds, or, worse still, to none.

6The end of the 19th century saw a critical period for the formation of the nation state known today (Anderson 1989; Habermas 1995). In Brazil, the formation of a nation state faced similar challenges as other countries, such as identity crises and racial prejudice. Based on European models, a nation state was intrinsically related to racial criteria (Schwarcz 1993; Schwarcz 1987). During this time, studying the Brazilian nation meant considering its culturally diverse population. After three centuries of colonization supported by the work of African and indigenous slaves, Brazil emerged as a social structure based on black and mixed races. According to racial theories of the 19th century, Brazil was a problematic nation from the start because of this social structure. Since then, an impasse regarding the formation of the Brazilian nation was established.

  • 3 Oliveira Vianna (1883-1951) in his classic work about superior ‘lighter’ miscegenation and inferior (...)

7 Inspired by racial theories from Europe, authors such as Oliveira Vianna, amongst others, specified the problems of a nation made up of black and many other races. For them,3 a ‘healthy’ nation could only be established with the presence of the ‘white’, civilizing element. This line of thinking was one of the main reasons why Brazil wanted to encourage European immigration, to some, the Portuguese slogan was ’embranquecer’, translated as ‘get whiter and lighter’. The European migration did take place and had its peak at the end of the 19th to the 20th century, precisely when the idea of a national identity was itself problematic because of the presence in the population of what some considered ‘degenerate races’.

  • 4 In Portuguese: Casa Grande e Senzala (1933).

8What was considered the problematic nature of national identity in Brazil was only addressed at the beginning of the 20th century’s third decade. In his work, ‘The Masters and The Slaves’ (1933),4 Gilberto Freyre introduces a new concept of Brazilian national identity by inverting the notion that Brazil was a failed nation as a consequence of the obstructive presence of black and mixed races. He turns what was considered a negative value into a positive feature that made Brazil distinct from other nations because of its rich cultural diversity, a harmonious blend of three original races.

9Although some consider the concept of national harmony a collective illusion, for the purpose of this article it is important to point out that it was this concept of nationality that provided a solution to the failed nation’s deadlock. This theory has been extensively consecrated and disseminated, establishing a strong standard of comparison in the Brazilian set of values, as a nation and as a community. Consequently, the country’s national identity was based on the concept of a nation constituted by three original ethnic groups, namely, the Caucasian Portuguese colonizers, the native indigenous people and the African slaves. Within this established structure of the nation, any figure that did not belong to the basic three ethnic groups or to the elements derived from them (mixed races) could not be part of the Brazilian national identity because that identity was based on racial criteria. Therefore, the Japanese race and their descendants could not be naturally accepted as Brazilian, or as what was believed to be Brazilian. This idea was propagated internally and abroad.

10This phenomenon, the non-acceptance of a certain group of individuals, was also due to other characteristics of the Brazilian society. Once born in Brazil, the Japanese descendants have the legal right to be considered as Brazilian citizens as indeed they are, not only because they were born in the country, but also with regards to their behaviour and their culture. However, even today, due to the fact that these descendants have Asian physical features similar to Japanese citizens, the isolation of these communities in Brazil have caused them to marry individuals within their own ethnic group so being identified only as ‘Japanese’. In Brazilian society, as well as in the Japanese communities themselves, this fact is negligible and remains practically unnoticed. Even though they have been born in Brazil, speak Portuguese and behave culturally as Brazilian citizens, this population is simply considered as Japanese, no matter which generation they belong to or how culturally removed they are from Japan today.

11To my understanding, this phenomenon is a consequence of the strong, fundamental nature of Brazilian society: a social structure based on racial characterisation according to a three-race structure, black, white and Indian. The situation of the Brazilian black population can be used to illustrate this argument. In Brazil, an individual’s ethnic background is defined by physical characteristics (phenotype) and not by different criteria, e. g., blood or cultural ties as in other countries like the USA. Oracy Nogueira, perhaps the first Brazilian scholar to study race in Brazilian society, divides what he identifies as racial prejudice into two types (78–79). The first one is the ‘origin prejudice’, which can be found in the USA. Its fundamental characteristic is that it adopts the classification of racial criteria through the genetic history of the individual, even when the person no longer carries the physical traits of a particular ethnic group—such as skin colour. The second type of racial prejudice found in Brazil is the ‘prejudice by mark’, by which individuals are classified according to their physical characteristics. The ‘racial perception’ of these individuals is based on how dark or light their shade of skin is, then classifying them as ‘black’ or ‘white’ accordingly. As a result, the African descendants, regardless of their generation, who have physical characteristics associated with their particular ethnic group, such as their skin colour, would still be able to overcome the barrier posed by racial classification being considered as ‘tawny’ or even ‘white’ in Brazil. An individual’s social status often acts as a facilitator for this classification process.

12Within Brazilian society there are descendants of the same ethnic group who belong to different racial groups depending on their appearance. Oracy Nogueria focused on the black population and their descendants in the same way that this article analyses the problems faced by the Brazilians of Japanese descent, who, in my opinion, are categorised using the same system of racial classification by Brazilian society. In a family with two siblings, for example, one can be considered Caucasian while the other will carry the Japanese ‘stigma’, just as the African descendants can be considered as Caucasian while others will be seen as ‘black’ or ‘mixed race’ individuals depending on their physical traits, not their cultural or genetic characteristics. In Brazil today and even before the 19th century, however, all African descendants are simply seen as individuals with dark skin who belong to the Brazilian nation because miscegenation is accepted as a defining feature of Brazilian society. Freye’s positive notion of national identity based on ethnic harmony of three groups was well received and helped ease the discomfort of a country built on black slavery.

13As stated by Freye, Brazilian identity has ‘three legs on the table’; blacks, whites and Indians, and the presence of the Caucasian people has also been critical to the creation of this national identity. Ethnic classification depends on external attributes, not cultural ones, so Caucasian immigrants’ children and grandchildren, although culturally distant from Brazil, may not face the same sense of exclusion as the Japanese descendants. Slavic, Russian and Arab immigrants, for example, have been accepted as Brazilian citizens and as part of the white population since they first arrived, in spite of the fact that their parents and grandparents were as culturally different as the Japanese from what was considered the norm in Brazilian society.

14The acceptance of the Japanese descent Brazilian citizens is highly questionable because their physical traits do not correspond to the nation’s pattern (the myth of the three original ethnic groups). As long as the phenotype criteria prevails over other ethnic aspects, these individuals are confined to a situation of being Japanese in a Brazilian universe, even if generations have come and gone and their lifestyle bears little resemblance to that of their ancestors in Japan. Brazilian society, as a whole, does not treat these individuals as equals, and the immigrants do not consider themselves as such either. This situation does not exist for the other immigrants described above.

15Furthermore, the discussion concerning the permission for Asian immigrants, Japanese and Chinese, amongst others, to enter Brazil has been tense from the start. As indicated earlier, given that a ‘healthy’ nation could not be built with African and Asian immigrants, many obstacles were created to discourage their entry into the country. According to the 19th century racial theories discussed above, why should a nation allow the inclusion of yet another ‘degenerated race’ into a society which is already troubled by these characteristics? The ‘yellow’ element, as it used to be named, was not a desirable addition to the composition of Brazilian identity. This can be clearly demonstrated by the first legal act of the Brazilian Republic, dated from 1890 (a year after the proclamation, in 1889), concerning the regulation of the ‘Immigrants Localisation and Entrance Service’:

First Article—the entry of individuals from abroad via the ports of the Republic, who are capable of working is permitted unless they have been convicted of any crime in their home countries. This excludes the African and Asian inhabitants, who may only be admitted by order of the National Congress, according to specific conditions which will be issued in each case. (Decree 528, from 28th of June 1890—unofficial translation, for reference only)

16During this time Brazilian society was involved in some controversy concerning the admission or non-admission of African and Asian immigrants. Intellectuals, politicians, physicians and farmers, as well as other Brazilians, debated whether or not to accept these types of workers and discussed the problems that could arise by the admission of these immigrants into a country already degenerated by the presence of black and mixed races. These polemics encapsulated the prejudice against the Japanese and Asian populations in general, characterizing the difference in treatment that these individuals received from the beginning.

  • 5 The designation of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century as the period of ‘grea (...)

17Consequently, while European immigration was desirable and encouraged, due to the eugenic ideals disseminated by the Brazilian government at that time, African and Asian immigration was not encouraged. Japanese immigration was subject to fierce opposition and racial abuse until their admission was officially granted. This opposition, which other immigrant groups did not have to endure, resulted in the creation of another important particularity: the timing of the Japanese immigration. The migratory flows from Japan were much later in comparison with other movements, which occurred during this period of ‘great migrations’5 to Brazil. For instance, while the German immigration started at the beginning of the 19th century (1818-1824), the Japanese arrived at the beginning of the 20th century (1908), almost a century later, making them the last group of immigrants to be received in Brazil.

18With regards to Japanese society, the historic period in which the immigrants left their country is also of importance and played a crucial role in this migration. The Meiji Restoration that started on the 1st of January 1868 (Honda 1986: 64) brought important structural changes to Japan. The isolation period was over and the Japanese society suffered significant transformations, which in turn, forced the country to renounce the old feudal state and give place to new, more modern forms of social organisation, entering the international market and adopting the capitalist regime. However, as expected, this transformation was not straightforward. Due to Japan’s social structure, predominantly rural until then, the country suffered severe changes which had an irrecoverable impact in their society. In 1884, Japan’s first emigration agreement was signed with Hawaii. After that, a great number of Japanese citizens left the country (Ohashi 1991: 5). The Japanese population paid a high price for the aggressiveness of Meiji’s imposed reforms, and the Japanese government sought to minimize the effects by issuing a robust set of emigration policies. Due to the Meiji reform Brazil would only be part of the scenario in 1908, one of the last countries to establish a migratory flow with Japan.

19Immersed in the spirit of the Meiji era, the Japanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil were filled with radical nationalist ideals, a fanatical belief in Japan’s superiority. The immigrants’ intention was to set up a colony that was a true extension of Japan. The Japanese authorities and the elite fervently shared this idea; they encouraged and financially supported such projects (Castro 1994: 26). Japanese settlements started to spread in Brazil, especially in the states of São Paulo then Paraná. The Japanese government and the colonisation companies manufactured equipment for the emigrated population and provided them with an enviable infrastructure. Schools with Japanese teachers taught the Japanese language and values to their children, even though they were born in Brazil. The government and ruling class in Japan developed ways to preserve Japanese culture in Brazil and thus to maintain ‘Japanese dominance’ in the overseas Japanese colonies. These immigrants did not see Brazil as a new place to live or bring up their children. Their children grew up with the same ideals dictated by the invincible Japanese Empire, as it was known at the time. A protected ‘colony’ was a way of maintaining the Japanese standard of living in distant lands, a means of making it possible for the Japanese subjects to have a better standard of living in Brazil than in Japan.

20The additional presence of Japanese immigrants in Brazil aggravated the existing difficulty of cultural integration, highlighting the major differences between the two countries which resulted in the formation of an isolated, excluded group. Furthermore, the Japanese were familiar with racial prejudice attitudes. If the Brazilians saw the Asian immigrants as an inferior race, the Japanese felt the same about the Brazilians, for they had lived in isolation from the rest of the world for almost 300 years during the Shogunate period, fearing they would be ‘contaminated’ (Ohashi 1991: 5).

21The ‘spirit of return’ was a strong ideology that the immigrants brought with them to Brazil as a result of extreme patriotism during the Meiji period. They believed that there was no reason for them or their children to adapt and adjust to a country like Brazil, and their stay was not supposed to be definitive. For these Japanese, the isolation of their immigrant group was a more coherent way to preserve their Japanese culture through the generations and their government supported this position.

22However, the idea of Brazil being a temporary place to live and the expectation held by Japanese immigrants that they would return to Japan was overtaken by historical events out of their control. The Second World War was a turning point in the lives of the Japanese population in Brazil. The influx of Japanese immigrants suffered a tremendous impact and came to a halt between 1942 and 1952. During those years, the Japanese individuals who had settled in Brazil had to deal with not only the cessation of the flow of immigrants, but also with the trauma of Japan’s defeat. Particularly distressing to their community were the abandonment of the Japanese government and the persecution by the Brazilian authorities.

23 The period of the Second World War was extremely difficult for the Japanese living in Brazil due also to the antagonism between the two nations. In Brazil, Getúlio Varga’s dictatorship (1930-1945) imposed an immigrant assimilation model on the nation’s standards, which included all immigrant groups living in Brazil. These groups lost their recently acquired freedom and began to experience sanctions imposed by the government with regard to use of their national language or other cultural expressions, for example. A mandate from April 18, 1938 forbade the presence of foreign associations, significantly relied upon by the Japanese. Such measures affected all the immigrant groups dwelling in Brazil. However, given the historic situation of the Japanese discussed above, these restrictions had particularly severe repercussions in their community.

24From a situation of cultural isolation and safety inside their own colonies, these immigrants were thrown into a status of illegality in the Brazilian territory. Their children’s upbringing could no longer adhere to the customs of Japanese culture which would have prepared them to return ‘home’. As the most recent immigrant group to arrive in Brazil, the Japanese were the least integrated into Brazilian society, a society so culturally different from their own. The Brazilian government’s restrictions thus put a great deal of pressure on this population. As difficult as Varga’s persecution was to bear, Japan’s defeat in the war proved even more difficult. For the Japanese, such an outcome was unthinkable as their Empire was considered invincible. As importantly, a defeat in war meant that the Japanese government would no longer be able to support its Brazilian colonies, and that they would consequently fall into abandonment. A general sense of disillusion swept over these immigrants who had believed in Japan’s absolute supremacy for many years.

25Accepting their country’s fate provoked significant changes in the Japanese immigrants’ mindset. Brazil began to represent a possible homeland, a place where they could belong again, and the idea of a definitive permanency started to develop as a viable alternative. If Japan’s defeat on the Second World War introduced the concept of Brazil becoming a permanent homeland, the existence of a new generation of Brazilian born ‘Japanese’ people, called nisseis, broadened this perspective even further. Before the war, these children had received the support of an infrastructure designed to provide education and socialisation according to Japanese values. However, soon after the war, this rigid structure was unable to survive. As mentioned earlier, under the dictatorship of Gertulio Vargas he initiated the ‘nationalization campaign’, ordering that every school in Brazil must only teach Portuguese. By 1939 it was against the law and a punishable offence to speak another language other than Portuguese in churches, community associations even in the immigrants’ own homes. Although their parents demanded that they remain ‘Japanese’ at home, the children were under pressure to follow the Brazilian government’s new rules and integrate into Brazilian society. Eventually by the end of the war all isolated Japanese communities had been subject to forced assimilation within this society. Second generation Japanese in Brazil began to adopt Brazilian cultural practices and accept the idea that Brazil could be their homeland. Given that Brazil had positioned itself as a victorious nation, the prospect of staying permanently there caused the Japanese immigrants to allow themselves to become more deeply integrated into Brazilian society.

26However, one question remains unanswered: if Brazilian identity was accepted by Brazilians of Japanese descent after the outbreak of war, why are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these immigrants born on Brazilian territory still referred to ‘The Japanese in Brazil?’ by the majority of Brazilians. I believe that the answer to this question is related to the racial criteria implanted in the Brazilian identity, as described earlier, and that this phenomenon can be put in perspective when looking at another migratory process, which took place almost one century later. The so-called ‘dekassegui movement,’ Brazilians of Japanese descent emigrating to Japan, inaugurated a new stage of growth in the migratory relationship between Brazil and Japan.

27The Brazilian emigration as a recognized historic event started at some point between 1984 and 1987. During the 1980’s, Brazil went through a bitter and extensive economic recession. There was a general feeling of frustration and disillusion in the population. After the eagerly awaited democratic opening, their living conditions and comfortable lifestyles began to deteriorate on a daily basis. This crisis hit hard the larger sectors of the economic social structure, particularly the Brazilian middle class which included a majority of the emigrant population.

28The children of the first Japanese immigrants had acquired better social positions than their parents in Brazilian society in the decades following the Second World War. The mutual support of individuals within the colonies and the family structure that constituted this model of immigration from the start had been instrumental to the great social mobility of this population. The Brazilian economic expansion after the Second World War, which peaked in the 1970’s with the ‘economic miracle’, also played an important role in the improvement of the immigrants’ social status. All these factors helped to nurture and maintain a favourable environment for the social ascension of the Japanese immigrants and equally so for their descendants (Cardoso 1972).

29However, at the end of the 1970s and through to the 1980s Brazil was in economic crisis, as were many parts of Latin America. Many Brazilians began to emigrate to Europe looking for work. In the late 1980s the country welcomed Japanese industry, particularly the automotive and electro-electronic industries which boosted their economy. The result of this extensive economic expansion meant a reduction of unemployment in the working classes and higher standards in the education system.

  • 6 MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) Statistics Bureau, Japan statistical yearbook(...)

30A new migratory movement was established after the first contacts were made between Japanese citizens working in these industries and their descendants in Latin America. Brazil, in particular, had the largest influx of Japanese immigrants and companies; it is still home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Between 1908 and 1993 Brazil had received 242,643 Japanese immigrants. According to both Brazilian and Japanese sources during the 1980s, the Japanese economic situation had improved.6 This encouraged the first small flow of Brazilians to emigrate to Japan, and this number grew extensively over the years. Many Japanese Brazilians went to Japan as contract workers due to economic and political problems in Brazil. Working visas were offered to Brazilians in 1990, by the Japanese government encouraging more immigration from Brazil. This immigration reached its highest level around 1991.

31The Brazilians who are considered ‘Japanese’ in Brazil are confronted with the surprising experience of being identified as ‘typically Brazilian’ when they move to Japan. Even though their physical characteristics are similar to the ones of the Japanese people, they are confronted with reserved, discrete individuals, with whom they do not share customs, ideology nor the most obvious cultural aspect of all: the language. These immigrants encounter a population physically similar, but in this situation they recognise themselves as Brazilian with even their smallest gesture and therefore feel more ‘foreign’ than ever. Brazilian individuals ‘self-perception’ can be a painful process. Some of these emigrants who lived their whole lives in Brazil and considered themselves Japanese felt frustration and disappointment, mainly towards the Japanese society itself, for its blatant denial of this identity crisis.

32The dekassegui migration leads to a moment of reflection about cultural identity, for it initiates a comparison between two groups of physically similar individuals who are culturally very different. The dekassegui begin to realize that they belong to two worlds and paradoxically to none. One’s identity is fluid and flexible, and concepts such as identity and nationality ‘are not unchangeable, nor perennial’ (Rúben 1986: 87), they change and are recreated according to the context presented. Depending on the situation, Brazilians of Japanese origin, whether living in Brazil or in Japan are able to inhabit both worlds, even if they do not feel they belong completely to either. Today in Brazil, to be ‘Japanese’ or to be ‘seen’ as Japanese can be advantageous. Many Japanese descendants take advantage of the fact that they have a ‘double identity’ and position themselves as Japanese or Brazilians according to the context. It could be argued from an economic point of view that after Japan became a leading economy in the world, the ‘Japanese’ label acquired a much more positive connotation in the Brazilian society than the one held at the first half of the 20th century.

  • 7 It is interesting to observe how the nikkei (the Japanese community in Brazil) press refers to the (...)

33In Japan, the Brazilian emigrants are simply seen as ‘Brazilians’; there is no other classification order for them because the migration process itself provided a means of identification. Back in Brazil, the ‘outsider’ status of Japanese immigrant remains and occasionally questions of identity arise for them when they leave Japan to return to Brazil. Members of the older generation of the Japanese community in Brazil tend to identify themselves in relation to their differences from rest of the Brazilian population.7 These differences can be associated with other factors, e. g. the phenotype criteria, as discussed above.

34A Japanese descendant who dedicated her studies to this question says:

The problems which do not allow the Japanese descendants to fully adapt to the Brazilian society are associated to their difficulty in assuming their own identity. By having an identity, people recognise themselves as different from some but, at the same time, equal to others. One of the reasons why it is so difficult for the nissei men and women to conquer their identity in Brazil, may be the fact that they cannot be considered as equal to the others. They know they are different from some people, but they cannot accept that they are also the same as all the others. (Oshiro 1986: 157)

35This difficulty for the Japanese descendants to accept themselves as equals in Brazil is influenced by views from conservative sectors of Brazilian society reminding them that they are different.

36In Japan today there is an active and thriving Brazilian community, and Brazilian cultural production is seen in most aspects of daily life (food, language, lifestyle etc.). Ironically, the people responsible for this cross transfer to Japan of Brazilian culture and community are the emigrants, the dekasseguis, who are regarded and classified as Japanese in Brazil. Therefore, would it not be more appropriate to call them Brazilians? These key points certainly provide an incentive to re-evaluate the paradigms that refer to the identity of an individual established by phenotype. At present, there are 210,000 Brazilians living in Japan. It is uplifting to see that the main instigators in positively transforming the relationship between Brazil and Japan are these emigrants. These people bring far more than financial resources to Brazil and take to Japan much more than their capacity for hard work. Perhaps most importantly, these emigrants have recognized a place they can call home and have brought cultural diversity and richness with their own unique and powerful blend of Japanese physique with Brazilian spirit to a traditionally homogeneous society.


Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Nação e Consciência Nacional. São Paulo: Editora Ática, 1989.

Cardoso, Ruth Corrêa Leite. Estrutura Familiar e Mobilidade Social — Estudos dos japoneses no estado de São Paulo. São Paulo: University of São Paulo (USP), 1972.

Castro, Marco Luiz de. Entre o Japão e o Brasil: A Construção da Nacionalidade na trajetória de vida de Hiroshi Saito. University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Campinas, 1994.

Freyre, Gilberto. Casa Grande e Senzala: Formação da família brasileira sob o regime da economia patriarcal. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio Editora, 1975.

Habermas, Jürgen. O estado-nação europeu frente aos desafios da globalização — o passado e o futuro da soberania e da cidadania. Novos Estudos Cebrap 43 (November 1995).

Hall, Stuart. ‘Cultural identity and diaspora’, in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: a Reader, Williams, Patrick and Laura Chrisman, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Honda, Harry K. ‘Japoneses e asiáticos nas Américas’, in O Nikkei e sua americanidade: Temas apresentados na III Convenção Panamericana Nikkei (III Copani). Ohno, Massao, ed. São Paulo, 1986.

MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications). Statistics Bureau. Japan statistical yearbook. Tokyo Statistics Bureau, 2012.

Nishijima, Shoji and Peter Smith. eds. Cooperation or Rivalry? Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996.

Nogueira, Oracy. Tanto Preto quanto Branco: Estudos de relações raciais, T. A. Queiroz, ed. São Paulo: Basic Library of Social Sciences, 1985.

Ohashi, Gisela Kei. O trabalhador japonês no Brasil: Desde o início da imigração até o dekassegui. (mimeo). São Paulo, 1991.

Oshiro, Hideko. ‘Pequeno Simpósio sobre a mulher nikkei’, in O Nikkei e sua americanidade: Temas apresentados na III Convenção Panamericana Nikkei (III Copani). Ohno, Massao, ed. São Paulo, 1986. (Accessed on 10/09/2013).

Ruben, Gillermo Raúl. ‘Teoria da identidade: Uma crítica’, in Anuário Antropológico, University of Brasília, Tempo Brasileiro. Brasília, 1986.

Schwarcz, Lilia Moritz. Retrato em Preto e Branco: Jornais, escravos e cidadãos em São Paulo no final do século xix. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1987.

Schwarcz, Lilia Moritz. O Espetáculo das Raças — cientistas, instituições e questão racial no Brasil 1870-1930. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1993.

Schwartz, Gilson. ‘Perspectivas das relações Brasil-Japão’, in O Desenvolvimento das relações Brasil-Japão à luz da expansão econômica da região Ásia-Pacífico, Ninomiya, Massato, ed. São Paulo: Kaleidos-Primos, 1996.

Vianna, Oliveira. Populações Meridionais do Brasil: Populações Rurais do Centro-Sul. Belo Horizonte/Niterói: Itatiaia Limitada/Ed. Universidade Federal Fluminense (EDUFF), 1987.


1 I wish to thank Sarah Barbour for her editorial help in the writing of this chapter.

2 The term dekassegui means ‘leave home to work abroad’. The origin of the term is Japanese and it was used to refer to the Japanese people who had to leave the northern region of Japan to the central part of the Honshu island, towards the cities of Tokyo and Osaka, during winter time.

3 Oliveira Vianna (1883-1951) in his classic work about superior ‘lighter’ miscegenation and inferior ‘darker’ miscegenation; Sylvio Romero (1851-1914) in his thesis on dilution of black and indigenous blood through European immigration, Nina Rodrigues (1862-1906) who defended the idea that blacks and mulatos (mixed race) were more likely to be accused of criminal activity due to racial ‘degeneration’, Renato Kehl (1889-1974), defender of Francis Galton’s ideas, spreading eugenic theories in Brazil, responsible for Eugenic Bulletin and the Brazilian Eugenic League, indoctrinating ideas of sterilization and marriage control for the ‘degenerated’ races.

4 In Portuguese: Casa Grande e Senzala (1933).

5 The designation of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century as the period of ‘great migrations’ to Brazil seems to be widely accepted. However, it should be noted that the arrival of the majority of Africans to Brazil is not considered as a migratory flow, as they were captured and enslaved there. The word ‘immigrant’ itself is frequently associated with the idea of freedom to work, which is the exact opposite of slavery.

6 MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) Statistics Bureau, Japan statistical yearbook Tokyo: Statistics Bureau, 2012; Schwartz, G. ‘Perspectivas das relações Brasil-Japão’ in: Masato Ninomiya. (Org.). O desenvolvimento das relações Brasil-Japão à luz da expansão econômica da região Ásia-Pacífico. S.Paulo: Kaleidos-Primos, 1996; Shoji Nishijima; Peter H. Smith. (Org.). Cooperation or Rivalry? Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996.

7 It is interesting to observe how the nikkei (the Japanese community in Brazil) press refers to the Japanese descendants in its articles. Concerning events which occur in Brazil, the headline will certainly be ‘nikkei have done this...’. If the news are about an event in Japan, it is possible that the title will read ‘Brazilians have done this...’. There is in a well-known newspaper, produced by the Japanese community in Brazil: Notícias do Japão (from the Portuguese, ‘News from Japan’), with a section entitled ‘Brazilians in Japan’ and not ‘Nikkeis in Japan’.


Universidade Federal do ABC, UFABC, Brazil
Graduated in Social Sciences at São Paulo University (Universidade de São Paulo—USP, Brazil, 1993). She has a Master’s Degree on Sociology by State University of Campinas (Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Unicamp, Brazil, 1997) and a PhD on Social Sciences by the same University (2004). She was a Visiting Scholar in 1998 at University of California at San Diego (UCSD), participating in the course of Cultural Encounters between Latin America and the Pacific Rim at the Center of Iberian and Latin American Studies (CILAS). At present, she is a Professor at Federal University of ABC (Universidade Federal do ABC, UFABC, Brazil) teaching Theoretical Sociology and Sociology of International Relations for the past ten years. Her main research fields are: international migration, Brazilians living abroad, cultural identities, nationalisms and national identities, international relations. She also participates in the Postgraduate Program on Social Sciences and Humanities at the Federal University of ABC.

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