Why are there so many Japanese in Brazil?

I was having a play around at WolframAlpha recently and did a quick search for “Japanese language” and got the results below. The figure that I found most surprising was for one country in particular – Brazil – so I dug around some more to find out why.

Am I the only one who wasn’t aware of the Japanese-Brazilian connection? If not, then hopefully this fills in the blanks for you.

Top 8 Japanese Language Speakers

Country # of Speakers
Japan 126 million
United States 805,000
Brazil 400,000
Canada 43,000
Mexico 35,000
United Kingdom 12,000
Australia 12,000
Taiwan 10,000

NB: 1993 – 2008 speaker estimates (WolframAlpha)

The History

Following the abolition of slave labour by the Brazilian government in the mid-19th century and the end of subsidised immigration from Italy in 1902, the Brazilians looked towards Asia to bolster the flagging labour forces they needed to run their coffee plantations.

With their options dwindling, the previous ban on Asian immigration was reversed and in 1907 a treaty was signed between the Brazilian and Japanese governments to grant the Japanese the right to live and work in Brazil.

The initial 790 immigrants were mostly farmers, who were forced to look outside of Japan for work due to severe poverty brought on by heavy land taxes and other changes imposed following the demise of the centuries long feudal system.

Lured by the promise of employment, a further 15,000 Japanese made the move to Brazil from 1908 to 1914, with most Japanese-Brazilians (日系ブラジル人) settling in and around São Paulo, where most of the coffee plantation work was available.

Japan’s entry in to World War I was the impetus for subsequent waves of migration, which from 1917 to 1940 totalled more than 164,000.

Decades later, Brazil is now home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan with the most recent official figure nudging just over 1.4 million.

So when you’re next walking down the street and a stranger asks you why there are so many Japanese speakers in Brazil (ブラジル), you’ll know why (^_^)

Words To Learn

Kanji/Kana Meaning
日本 (にほん) Japan
アメリカ America (USA)
ブラジル Brazil
カナダ Canada
メキシコ Mexico
イギリス United Kingdom
オーストラリア Australia
台湾 (たいわん) Taiwan
日系ブラジル人 (にっけいブラジルじん) Japanese-Brazilians
移民 (いみん) emigration, immigration
外国人 (がいこくじん) foreigner

** Historical figures used from Wikipedia in this article.

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adelaide.ben1 5 pts

An interesting article... and good to see it re-freshed. The sad thing about this is that whilst there are large numbers of Brazilians in Japan (mostly as labour), they were the first to get the heave when the GFC came (about the time this post first hit the street). It's interesting that in Japan, whilst it's apparently illegal to employ and unskilled foreigner (really?... I wonder how many have been arrested on that one), the government has instigated a "foreign trainee" program that allows small business to "train" unskilled foreigners for below-award-rate pay. Slight double standards.

zonjineko 5 pts moderator

adelaide.ben1 Yeh definitely seems to be some double standards, Ben. I think the Nigerians would agree with that to from what I have read.

I actually knew this one because I sometimes read the Mainichi daily news and they did a story a couple of years ago about the 100 year anniversary. of the first trip.

Thanks guys glad you liked it. I'm from Australia - also couldn't believe there are only 12,000 Japanese speakers here - guess we're all too lazy down here to learn it! (^_^)

A good article. This is also why there are so many Japanese people in Peru as well, and why there are so many Brazilians living and working in Japan.

Thanks for sharing the facts. I thought Hawaii has most Japanese coz most of them dream to live there

I knew~ :D
But I guess it's because I'm from Peru and the same happened here back then when a lot of Japanese came to South America. And nowadays, the largest inmigrant communities in Japan are from Brazil and Peru, isn't it kind of ironic? /O/

More about it here: http://www.conncoll.edu/academics/departments/transnat/history/pbhist.html

Thanks for all the info~

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