Discover Nikkei

Part 1: Vivid memories of Otaka - Tsunehisa Atsushi (from Naze)

In 1908, Japanese people began to migrate en masse to Brazil. Ten years later, in 1918, people from Amami, Kagoshima Prefecture also began to migrate to Brazil. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of this. On February 25, 2018, at the Amami City Learning and Welfare Festival held at the Amami Cultural Center, I held an "Amami Brazil Emigrants Discussion Session" to introduce people who migrated from Amami to Brazil, and displayed video interviews and panels of people from Amami who are now living in Brazil.

While some visitors commented that they felt close to Brazilian immigrants, such as "I have relatives who went to Brazil" or "I have neighbors who returned from Brazil," one visitor's comment caught my attention: "There were also abandoned Brazilians in Amami."

Were the Brazilian immigrants "abandoned people"? In this year marking the 100th anniversary of the Amami immigration to Brazil, I wanted to reconsider what the Brazilian immigrants were from the Amami perspective.

* * * * *

Atsushi Tsunehisa (Photographed by the author in September 2017)

Atsushi Tsuneshige (76) from Naze, Amami City, moved to Brazil with his family when he was 15 years old. Atsushi's older brother was planning to move to Brazil as part of his extended family, but his father said, "If you go to Brazil, I'll quit my job and go with you," so he quit his job and moved to Brazil with his family. Atsushi had just entered Oshima High School (Naze, Amami City, commonly known as "Otaka") at the time, but he had to drop out of Otaka in the first semester. That's why he said, "I only felt regret for the first 10 years after coming to Brazil." At that time, he felt, "There's a valley in the field, and I've fallen into it. There's a sheet covering me, and my classmates are looking at me through a hole in the sheet. Even if they say, 'Hey! Shige, are you okay? Climb up!', I can't climb up because of the disparity."

The "Monument to mark the 90th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil" was erected in 1998 (photographed by the author in 2015).

After moving to Brazil, he returned to Amami twice. The first time was when he was 49 years old. His classmates held a class reunion for him, saying, "You're the only one from your class who has gone abroad, so please let us know about the news abroad." At the reunion, Atsushi felt a huge disparity in the "standard of living" between him and his classmates. He had just gotten married, had no assets and was struggling to make ends meet, but from his perspective, his classmates were well-educated, had good jobs and were living stable lives. It was frustrating.

Returning to Brazil, he worked hard at business, saying, "I will never again think of Japan." When his business was on track and his life was stable, he returned to Amami once again. He was 61 years old. Another class reunion was held, but at 11pm, he saw his classmates hurrying home, saying, "I have to work tomorrow," and felt sad, thinking, "In Brazil, it's still early evening, 11 or 12 o'clock." He had already become comfortable living in Brazil.

"(Moving to Brazil) is not a bad thing for everyone. I think it depends on the time and the situation, and it's hard to put it in one word," says Atsushi.

Whenever we talk about Amami, the topic of "Otaka" always comes up. For Atsushi, the three months he spent in Otaka are his most vivid memory of Amami. In June 2017, I gave a lecture on Amami immigrants to Brazil at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. Many people connected to Amami came to listen to the lecture. Later, I received a postcard from one of the attendees, with his impressions written on it. It said, "This makes me think of Atsushi, who was my senior." This year marks 60 years since Atsushi went to Brazil. Even now, there are people who remember "Atsushi of Otaka."

*This article is reprinted from the Nankai Nichinichi Shimbun (April 19, 2018).

© 2018 Kato Saori

Amami Brazil Honshu Japan Kagoshima Prefecture migration Tsuneshige Toku
About this series

In 1918, the "Amami women" began to migrate en masse to Brazil from the Amami Islands, located between Kagoshima and Okinawa. Exactly 100 years later, in 2018, various exchange projects were held in Brazil and Amami to commemorate the "100th anniversary of Brazilian-Amami immigration," and new exchanges have begun with an eye toward the next 100 years. This article introduces the Brazilian-Amami immigration, which has not been mentioned in traditional Brazilian immigration history, with additions and revisions to an article that I serialized in the Nankai Nichi Nichi Shimbun from April to May 2018.

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About the Author

Born in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. A second-generation Amami native whose mother is from Kakeroma Island in the Amami Islands. Since 2009, he has worked as an exhibition guide at the JICA Yokohama Overseas Migration Museum, and developed an interest in migration history. In March 2014, he completed his master's degree at the Kanagawa University Graduate School of History and Folklore Studies. From 2015, he studied abroad at the University of São Paulo in Brazil for one year. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Kanagawa University Graduate School. He is conducting research on the theme of Amami migration.

(Updated January 2019)

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