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COPANI & KNT (2007)

An Era of Innovation: The Nikkei Contribution to the Knowledge Pipeline - Part 1

48th Convention of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad and 14th Convention of Pan-American Nikkei
"Going back to the basics of the Nikkei community abroad and promoting the development and role of the community"


Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good morning to you all. As just introduced, my name is Kotaro Horisaka and I work as a professor in the Faculty of Foreign Studies of Sophia University in Tokyo. Since June last year I have been serving as one of the board of directors of the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad.

My field of specialization is the political economy of Latin America, with a particular focus on Brazil. During the course of my research on Latin American themes I have maintained an interest in emigration of Japanese, the Nikkei communities in Latin America and also Nikkei who have returned to Japan to find employment. That being said, it is certainly not the case that I am a specialist in Nikkei affairs and I was hesitant to take on the role of a director of the Association. However, when I thought about the world as it is today, in which not only information and finance, but also the movement of persons and cultural aspects are rapidly and very noticeably becoming integrated under the banner of so-called globalization, I could not help but wonder that the dynamics of Nikkei communities throughout the world would also undergo change once again. It was with such thoughts in mind that I took on the position of director, with the hope that any knowledge I may possess could be useful to the members of the Association.

The Pan-American Nikkei Association was established in 1981 mainly through the efforts of second generation Japanese living in the Americas. The Convention of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad and the Convention of Pan-American Nikkei have come to be held jointly and I think it can well be said that this event very clearly reflects the changing times in which Nikkei find themselves. This Convention is only the second time the Association has held the event outside Japan, the first time being 39 years ago in May 1968, when the 9th Convention was held in Hawaii in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of emigration to the state. The message that this joint Convention will send to Japan and to the wider world, will, I believe be of great significance.

Bearing this point in mind I have given the title of my keynote address the title of “An Era of Innovation: Nikkei Contribution to the Knowledge Pipeline.” In Japanese what we term “chi ” can be translated as “wisdom” or “knowledge” in English. Likewise, “wisdom” in English translates as “sabedoria ” in Portuguese. Nikkei communities for many years have positioned themselves as “bridges” linking Japan with the wider world. It is only natural that such a role will continue to be perpetuated. However, the role of the Nikkei should not stop there—in an era of innovation, in which human knowledge is required throughout the world, I believe that the “wisdom” the Nikkei have accumulated both in Japan and in their adoptive countries of residence, and the “Japonês ,” “Japonés ,” or “Japanese” ethnicity of the Nikkei could be returned to the knowledge pipeline in a mutual, two-way interactive flow. This is the issue I would like to present for your consideration today.

As to the kind of people that would take on this role, I believe that the theme of the convention “Going back to the basics of the Nikkei community” provides a pointer, for the image that immediately presents itself is that of the pioneering emigrants, who through their own efforts opened up a new and unknown world.

1. Convention of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad: A Mirror Reflecting History

In preparing for this keynote speech, I took a fresh look at the history of the Convention of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad. This is the 48th Convention, but if you count back the years, the first Convention was held exactly 50 years ago in May 1957. This discrepancy between the number of Conventions and the number of years since its inception is due to the fact that the first two Conventions were held every other year. The legacy of the Convention can certainly be seen as mirroring the history of Nikkei communities over the fifty-year period of its existence.

The 1st Convention was opened under the title, “Commemorating Accession to the United Nations: Convention of Amity Among Nikkei Abroad.” The period was an epoch-making one: six years had passed since the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and in the previous year, 1956, Japan had acceded to the United Nations, signaling its recovery from the defeat of war and its rehabilitation in the international community. On a personal note, this was in actual fact also the period when due to my father’s job posting I took passage on one of the emigrant ships and made my first steps on Brazilian soil. The origins of the 1st Convention lie in efforts of the Licensed Agency for Relief in Asia (LARA), an organization established immediately after the war by a United States Christian organization and labor unions to provide assistance to Asia. Nikkei in both North and South America cooperated in donating to these so-called “LARA supplies” and extended a generous hand of assistance to Japan, which had suffered so much through the war.

The 1st Convention was thus the result of many Diet members' efforts to express their gratitude for these assistance activities by Nikkei communities. It is said that at the Opening Ceremony the leaders of both houses of the Diet, important Cabinet members, Diet members, governors and representatives of business circles were all in attendance. For Japan, which had become a “world orphan” due to the war, it is not difficult to imagine the strength of the heartfelt feelings of gratitude to know that they were not alone in the world, but that there were also Nikkei communities abroad.

Of course, while the Japan side was grateful to the Nikkei, the Convention also served other compelling purposes, including the policy goal of further invigorating emigration as an outlet for the excess population, and gaining the cooperation of Nikkei abroad in expanding trade and bringing in tourists. Emigration in the post-war period had begun in 1952.

Time constraints prevent me from detailing other individual Conventions, but by the time of the 47th Convention last year, a grand total of 17,247 Nikkei had attended over the course of the Convention’s history. This figure does not include Japanese attendees resident in Japan. I wonder how you judge the attendance figure of 17,247 Nikkei: would you say it is large or small?

This figure includes Nikkei students who were studying in Japan, and also those people who have regularly attended the Convention. Despite this, over the 47 times it had been held, Nikkei have gathered in Japan, sometimes in small numbers (130 being the smallest attendance in 2003) and at other times in larger numbers (1,012 being the largest attendance in 1970). That they have gathered in Japan and engaged in exchanges of opinions is of no small significance. The number of participating countries has been five in the smallest year (the year in which the Convention was held outside of Japan for the first time, in Hawaii), and in 2001 the largest-ever number of participating countries was 21. These figures exclude Japan and on average we find that each year 367 Nikkei from 12.8 countries have attended the Convention.

As I have followed the changing times, I have noticed three points that I would like to share with you.

The first is that since 1999 and the advent of a new century, the number of attending Nikkei has fallen considerably. On the other hand, the number of participating countries has increased. Over the eight Conventions from the 40th to the 47th, the average Nikkei attendance has been 206 persons. This is just over half the average attendance of Conventions up to the 40th. On the other hand, the average number of participating countries has reached 17.3 over the last eight Conventions, a 50% increase on the average for Conventions prior to that. It can be said that each year the Convention is held it also reflects the global situation, including that in Japan, and also the economic conditions of Japan and other participating countries. However, I also think that these figures reflect “generational change” within the Nikkei communities, together with the geographic dispersion of these communities.

A second point I would like to make concerns the location in Japan of the organizer of the Convention, the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad. The history of the last half-century has been one where the Association established itself as a “window” on or “contact point” with Japan for Nikkei living abroad. However, on the other hand, since the 1990s, given the international situation, changes in Nikkei communities abroad, and the ripple effect of administrative reforms in Japan itself, the Association has been seeking out a new role it could play in line with the changing times.

From 1962 when the 3rd Convention was held the Convention of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad became an annual event. From the 5th Convention in 1964 the “National Governors’ Association” was added, and the President of the National Governors’ Association came to serve as the Chairperson of the Association. From the 6th Convention in 1965 it became customary for a member of the Imperial Family to attend, and in 1999 on the occasion of the 40th Convention, Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress graciously attended. I also recall the repeated requests from Nikkei representatives for a Center for Nikkei and Japanese Abroad to be established in Tokyo as a forum for exchange.

However, from around 1990, when large numbers of Nikkei began to come from the countries of South America, including Brazil, in search of work in Japan, the environment surrounding the Association underwent considerable changes. In the period of prolonged economic stagnation in Japan that has come to be termed as the “lost decade,” both companies and government alike engaged in structural reforms and support for the Association that had been underpinned by Japan’s economic growth came to be unsustainable.

In addition, it was also decided at this time that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which had operated for many years as an assistance organization for immigrants overseas, even after mass emigration had concluded, would entrust many of its programs and projects to the Association, to deal with affairs affecting Nikkei abroad in a specialized manner. Current the Association is operating 20 such projects under commission from JICA, among them the management of the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum. Regrettably the Japanese Confederation for Migrant Families Abroad was disbanded in 1999, and this was probably a reflection of the changing times. On the other hand, in 1991, SAITRAN (Servicio de Asesoria e Informacion para Trabajadores Nikkeis) was established as a consultation and support center for Nikkei working in Japan. In addition in 2004 the Inheritance Japanese Language Center was established, and in 2005 the Kokusai Nikkei Net Council was launched.

What I would like to say here is that although the Association may have been originally established as a contact point with Japan for Nikkei abroad, it is now in a position that unless it can respond to this era of globalization, or in other words unless it can demonstrate a convincing “raison d’être” to justify its continuation to both the Nikkei abroad and the people of Japan, it will be unable to function adequately. I very much hope that the participants at this Convention will provide us with the benefit of their wisdom on this point.

A third point I would like to mention after having looked at the path trodden by the Convention over the years is that the stance of the participants has changed from one of making “requests” to making “resolutions.” The Convention is held every year and as well as providing a forum for social interaction among Nikkei, it has also functioned as a forum for Nikkei to make requests of Japan. The first time such requests were adopted was at the 3rd Convention in 1962. If I summarize the content of those requests, they included: (1) the establishment of an overseas center; (2) promotion of emigration; (3) financing for emigrants; and (4) public relations about Japan through Nikkei organizations. As time has passed by, those requests have been supplemented by further requests, including support for elderly first and second generation Nikkei, recognition of atomic bomb victims living abroad, improvement of the working environment for Nikkei in Japan, consideration for Nikkei living in the Philippines and North Korea, and the implementation of overseas voting by the Japanese government.

Above all, what has been requested at almost every Convention is enhanced Japanese language education, and in recent years the importance of Japanese language education that caters to and is aware of the needs of third generation Nikkei and beyond has been linked with the issue of inheritance of identity among Nikkei and as such the request for Japanese language education has gained more attention.

From the 45th Convention in 2004, in addition to “requests” the Convention has also adopted “resolutions.” The four major resolutions out of a total of six adopted at the 47th Convention are as follows:

    (1) We draw lessons from the Nikkei community and Japanese migration abroad and will turn these into new development and prosperity in the Nikkei community.

    (2) We will promote the proactive participation of the younger generation as Nikkei in the Nikkei community. We will aggressively encourage the new generation to take over as the core of various organizations, and aim to strengthen them.

    (3) We will give our fullest energy to Japanese language education for Nikkei.

    (4) We recognize that Nikkei workers in Japan make a large contribution to Japan’s prosperity, and they strengthen the bond between the mother country of Japan and the Nikkei community. We will make further efforts to grapple with the various problems that arise when working in Japan and make work simpler and more stable.

There were two “requests” adopted at the 47th Convention: “Cooperation and assistance for the centenary celebration of Japanese immigration to Brazil,” and “promotion of participation in overseas voting.” When you consider that in Conventions since 1995 it used to be the case that there always more than 10 “requests,” the reduced number of requests in recent years demonstrates a clear change in the stance of the Association.

I think this displays a transition in the dynamics of the Convention, moving from one that is hosted by Japan at which Nikkei from abroad are the “guests” and starting to change to one in which the Nikkei themselves take a major role. A regular feature of the Convention is the Representatives Meeting and every year since the 45th Convention in 2004 the Chairperson of that meeting has been a Nikkei representative from abroad. In addition, two years ago at the 46th Convention a “Youth Conference” was established. I think this trend also links in with the joint holding of the Convention with the 14th Convention of Pan-American Nikkei.

I think that just like a new wine for which new wine skins have been started to be prepared, so too do the joint Conventions on this occasion hold historic significance as a vehicle to make participation easier for the younger generation in Nikkei communities.

Part 2 >>

© 2007 Kotaro Horisaka

community COPANI copani 2007

About this series

This is a series of reports and presentations from the Joint Convention of COPANI & KNT held July 18 - 21, 2007 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.