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Thursday, June 19, 2008

RETRACING ROUTES

'Nikkei' craft own unique ethnicity, samba to manga


Staff writer

Igor Inocima's face filled with contentment as he described the achievement of introducing the culture of manga to Brazil, where his grandparents emigrated to some 80 years ago.

Igor Inocima
Foreigner in his own land: Igor Inocima recounts his experiences as a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian during an interview last month in Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

"Our company began the sale of Japanese manga comic books in Brazil in 2000, and over 500 editions have been released so far," said Inocima, marketing manager for Sao Paulo-based J.B. Communication Ltd.

The company, which has grown into Brazil's largest manga publisher, on average releases a new title every three days.

It has succeeded in taking over a share of Brazil's comic book industry, which was dominated by American imports, including Marvel and DC, the creators of superhero icons Spiderman and Batman.

"Today, manga's fan base is not limited to Japanese-Brazilians," Inocima, who now lives in Tokyo, told The Japan Times in a recent interview. "Local teenagers are reading our comics and enjoying the culture."

This month's centennial celebration of Japanese emigration to Brazil comes at a time when the hardships of plowing through the jungle and overcoming the language barrier are things of the past.

Today, the descendents of those pioneers are refining their presence half a world away, blending their Japanese legacies with Brazilian culture to craft an ethnicity of their own.

Inocima's JBC is also in charge of organizing the Brazilian preliminary round of the World Cosplay Summit, an annual event that gathers manga fans from around the world to Japan for a costume competition in which they dress as their favorite "anime" (animation) characters.

The company arranges 15 auditions across Brazil, with a total of 300 participants competing to represent their country in the competition.

Brazilians have proved to be world-class aficionados, with the national team crowned the 2006 world champions at the WCS for dressing as two angels from the anime series "Angel Sanctuary."

"Japanese-Brazilians and Japanese culture are accepted without much prejudice in Brazil," Inocima explained, pointing out the country's multiethnic nature. "Except for being labeled as incapable of dancing samba, there isn't much discrimination against Japanese-Brazilians like myself nowadays."

Born in Sao Paulo in December 1980, Inocima is a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian, people often referred to as "nikkei" Brazilians.

Igor Inocima poses with his mother and brother
Piece of history: Igor Inocima (right) poses with his mother and brother in front of a replica of the Kasato Maru, the ship that brought the first batch of Japanese emigrants to Brazil 100 years ago, in the port of Santos, Sao Paulo, in 1987. PHOTO COURTESY OF IGOR INOCIMA

His grandparents were originally from Hokkaido and Niigata Prefecture.

"Those hired by coffee plantations upon arriving in Brazil were comparatively lucky. Some were told to chop their way through jungles and plow their own farms," Inocima said. Many of the original emigrants lived in houses built from mud and wood and were not provided proper medical care or language support.

Desperate to escape poverty, Inocima's parents moved to Sao Paulo to study medicine and economics. Inocima was also eager to make the best of his educational opportunities, studying in the United Kingdom, Norway and Japan.

The 27-year-old acknowledged some nikkei struggle to find their identity, growing up in Brazil or Japan as the second and third generations of the pioneering emigrants.

"Uncertain with their background, there are nikkei youths who have an identity crisis," he said.

But for him, it wasn't much of an issue.

"The simple fact is that I am a descendent of emigrants from Japan to Brazil. Fortunately, it didn't take much time for me to grasp that I am a pure Brazilian now."

Since 2005, Inocima has been living in Japan and working at JBC's Tokyo office, which publishes Tudo Bem, a weekly Portuguese newspaper for nikkei in the country.

Living in his grandparents' native land, he said the nikkei, especially the children who came here, experience hardships adapting to the country, where they are often wrongfully labeled as dangers to society and unsociable.

Following the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in 1990, foreigners of Japanese descent were given easier access to living in Japan because of a labor shortage. Some 310,000 Brazilian nationals, mostly nikkei, now reside in Japan.

However, in contrast to the nikkei who have struggled to establish their status here, some of the 1.5 million nikkei in Brazil, including Iwataro Saito, a lieutenant brigadier in the Brazilian air force, have succeeded in contributing to Brazilian society.

That gap is reflected by the centennial celebration, Inocima said, pointing out that the Japanese aren't as enthusiastic about the occasion as the nikkei are in Brazil.

Inocima suggested the nikkei's struggles here are partly a result of the Japanese government's insufficient preparation of schools and a lack of incentives for nikkei children back in 1990. That limited the kids' chances to evolve as members of Japanese society and obtain better jobs.

Thus the nikkei created their own, self-contained, infrastructure in cities including Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture. "They feel comfortable with where they are. Many don't feel the need to socialize with Japanese," Inocima said.

But from his own experience, he added, efforts to absorb Japanese culture are essential to creating mutual understanding and friendships.

"Japan and Brazil have grown so close, despite our geographical distance. I hope the two countries keep strengthening their ties" in the next 100 years of bilateral friendship, he said.



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