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A Japanese poster drumming up immigration to Brazil Historic Museum of Japanese Immigration

39. The Japanese in Brazil

Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, with over 1.5 million nationals or naturals of Japanese ancestry living there. Significant numbers of Japanese began arriving in Brazil early in the twentieth century. By 1940, the country had about a quarter million Japanese immigrants and their descendants, most of them concentrated in the coffee plantation region in the state of Sao Paulo.

Assimilation was difficult. It was a completely different country with a different language, religion, customs, climate, and food. So quite a few reacted by becoming hyper Japanese, embracing their birth country’s traditions, mores, and nationalism, with a fervor exceeding that of those actually living in Japan. In the 1930s, Brazil’s government embarked on a course of forced assimilation, which effectively banned Japanese language media. Since many Japanese could not speak the local Portuguese, they were effectively cut off from news beyond their immediate immigrant community.