Sunday 13 October 2019

Portuguese and Samba in "Shockingly" Multicultural Shizuoka

Welcome to Shizuoka - Bem vindo a Shizuoka
My last post introduced the rugby fever currently sweeping Japan and despite some games being cancelled due to the typhoon - as I sit writing the heaviest wind and rains in 60 years are shaking the windows - the passion remains unabated. This is in no small part down to the "stunner" or "shock" in Shizuoka, when Japan incredibly managed to beat the world number two, Ireland. With a nod to that game, today's post will introduce Shizuoka, famous for soccer, green tea, and Mount Fuji. I will especially focus on Hamamatsu, the largest city in the prefecture located on the coast and famous for the Nakatajima Sand Dunes, a breeding ground for loggerhead turtles.

Servitu Brazilian import shop
As a researcher specialising in Japan's non-Japanese residents, Hamamatsu is especially interesting due to its large Brazilian population - the largest in Japan - especially Brazilians of Japanese descent or Nikkeijin (日系人). Indeed, about a third of foreign residents in the prefecture are Brazilian, with some 25,000 in Hamamatsu. Their presence is largely due to the motor companies like Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha, which were founded and/or have headquarters in the city. In other words, there is plenty of work in the small to mid-size car-part factories which supply these major auto companies.

The interesting thing about the Nikkeijin is that they were allowed to come to Japan and work freely on special semi-permanent teijū (settlement) visas following a revision to the Immigration Law in 1989. This was unusual because at the time (indeed until April of this year) blue-collar workers (tanjun rōdōsha =単純労働者) were not, in principle, allowed to work in Japan. However, a special exemption was made for the descendants of Japanese (and their families) who had emigrated to South America in the pre-war period. The thinking was that because they had Japanese "blood" they would integrate smoothly and pick up the language quickly. Thus, the Nikkeijin became one of two side-door/back-door guest worker programmes (the other the jisshūsei or trainee/interns) who were used to address Japan's increasingly critical manual labour shortages (while maintaining the country's "no-immigration" principle). Following the Lehman shock in 2008, many Nikkeijin were laid off and the government instigated a return programme to help/encourage them to go back to Brazil. Today, the Nikkeijin "experiment" is typically viewed as a failure in government circles due to the lack of integration into Japanese society.

Festa Samba - thanks again to L for the amazing pics!
Despite the negative government perception, Shizuoka (and especially Hamamatsu) boasts a rich multiculturalism rarely found in other parts of Japan. As seen above, signage in Portuguese is common and often even more prominent than English. Moreover,
Brazilian supermarkets, import shops, and restaurants are plentiful. Finally, there are incredible cultural events such as the recent Hamamatsu Cup "Festa Samba" held last week. The homepage lists seven Samba teams from both inside and outside the prefecture, often a mixture of Brazilians and Japanese whose goal is to build a bridge between the two countries. In a country where multiculturalism is often described as "cosmetic" it is extremely refreshing to see such a vibrant, open, and prejudice-free cultural exchange. Seja bem-vindo a Shizuoka!