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Celebration of International Nikkei Day in Brazil

Celebration of International Nikkei Day in Brazil
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International Nikkei Day is celebrated on June 20th. This year, due to the world situation, the celebrations took place in other formats.

In the city of São Paulo, the date was included in the official calendar of commemorative dates and events through Law 17.169/2019. According to the legal text, "with the objective of debating and encouraging the preservation of the tradition and cultural values of the Nikkei Society, so that it is possible to transmit the legacy of the pioneers of Japanese Immigration in Brazil."

The Brazilian Society of Japanese Culture and Social Assistance (Bunkyo), through the Projeto Geração (Generation Project), organized a live broadcast over the internet, which featured cultural attractions and testimonials from representatives of the Brazilian Nikkei community.

“The celebration of International Nikkei Day in Brazil can generate some reflections,” says Ricardo Nishimura, 43 years old, Sansei, chairman of the Japan-Brazil Kakehashi Commission, a division of Bunkyo responsible for the Geração Project and for the organization of the event. "Awareness about the word 'Nikkei' and its meaning; understanding that the 'Japanese' stereotype in Brazil refers to the Nikkei, which can represent the sum of two cultures: Japan and Brazil; reconnecting or strengthening the Nikkei connection to Japanese culture and the importance of maintaining it; revive the pride of being a Nikkei; and encourage non-Nikkei sympathizers of Japanese culture to celebrate this date together,” he adds.

The event had the participation of people from different regions of the country and also from Japan, the United States, Peru, and Argentina. They performed songs, traditional dances, stage magic, stand-up comedy, and many more attended the live chat.

Backstage of live broadcast of the event.

“My perception is that most Nikkei in Brazil, except those who are engaged in local community activities, are unaware of the Nikkei community in other countries. So, when presenting Nikkei artists from other countries on International Nikkei Day, we took the public on a tour of the Nikkei community outside Brazil,” explains Alexandre Kawase, 40, Sansei, event coordinator.

For the realization of the event, several Nikkei associations in Brazil gathered for debates and recording of testimonies and cultural presentations. “The pandemic and the situation of social confinement led people to adapt to the home office scheme and to communicate through virtual meetings. All members of the organizing committee were already well adapted to this new reality. This gave us more agility and flexibility to schedule work meetings and coordinate the activities of the organizing committee,” explains Kawase.

“This virtual mode also allowed us to make an event that was, in fact, international. We were able to access artists from Peru, Argentina, Hawaii and Japan. From reports from YouTube and Facebook management tools, we found that we had audience in several countries. We had the testimony of individuals, which perhaps would not be possible in a face-to-face event. In addition, we mobilized a group of supporters from different cities in Brazil, which was essential to obtain such audience,” he adds.

Eight values

The event was largely guided by the presentation of eight values that characterize the Japanese-Brazilian community. The debates to reach the final result began in 2018 and involved representatives of the Nikkei community. “Seventeen meetings were held in 10 different cities: São Paulo, Londrina, Curitiba, Manaus, Campo Grande, Presidente Prudente, Promissão, Maringá, Porto Alegre and Salvador,” Kawase points out.

“Regarding the discussion of the eight values, we had the fundamental and strategic participation of Professor André Saito, advisor to the Brazilian Society for Knowledge Management. Through Knowledge Management techniques, we applied workshops with the participation of more than 500 people across Brazil,” says Nishimura.

Geração Project held workshops to discuss Nikkei culture in Brazil.

The workshops basically started from life stories in which was noticeable the influence of Japanese culture. From them, keywords related to the values, principles, and traditions of Japanese culture were identified. Finally, the most striking and of everyday use words were chosen.

“With the selected values, a commission formed by specialists in Japanese language and the Kakehashi Japan-Brazil Commission started the process to separate the most relevant values and their meanings, thus reaching the eight Nikkei values in Brazil,” completes Nishimura.

The eight values highlighted are collectivity, integrity, perseverance, respect, learning, kindness, responsibility, and gratitude.

Familiar element

The values attributed to the Nikkei community were also the basis of inspiration for the creation of the event's visual identity.

Logo design was inspired by bamboo.

“Regarding the creation of the logo, I was inspired by the feeling that the first Japanese immigrants had when leaving to a totally unknown world. The bamboo was the only familiar element,” explains Gilmar Nashiro, 62, Nisei, director of NK2 Branding & Design company. “As I went deeper into researching on bamboo, I noticed that its virtues had a lot to do with the values practiced by the Nikkei community.”

The company often works with the Nikkei community, developing visual communication for events and companies.

“As a designer, I have great influence from Japanese design. So, I tried to show the bamboo in a subtle way, but with personality. All the graphic elements were carefully thought out, as Japanese do. Everything they do, they consume first with the eyes. In addition to the fidelity of the colors, the position of the leaf symbolizes balance, and the letter 'A' in white is also an arrow pointing upwards, indicating the movement towards the great goal of life," adds Nashiro.

Attention

The Nikkei community is occasionally criticized for its supposed feeling of superiority over other social groups. The subject was discussed at the event.

“By extolling these values, deep down, we are talking about virtues practiced by the Japanese-Brazilian community. From an outsider point of view, it might sound like self-praise, which was not our intention. For this reason, we invited non-Nikkei individuals who had remarkable stories related to Japanese culture to make some statements too,” says Kawase.

“In the planning stage of the event, we were aware to identify important issues that should be clarified during the transmission. One of them was precisely that of not making an impression of superiority. Our view is that the eight values presented are universal, not exclusive to the Nikkei community. In other words, we recognize that other ethnic groups also practice these values. The difference is that each ethnic group practices a different set of values and also manifests them in different ways,” Kawase adds.

Another criticism that, at one time or another, is directed to the Nikkei is to neglect their Brazilian side. “Another important issue that was debated is the fact that it implies that we are more proud of our ‘Japanese side’ than our ‘Brazilian side.’ Professor Clóvis de Barros recalled that 'it is essential that we know that we are all Brazilians' and 'the Nikkei understand their responsibility and, as Brazilians, spare no effort to build a more fair country, a more dignified country, a better country.' [The businesswoman] Chieko Aoki pointed out that Nikkei has a double DNA, Brazilian and Japanese, and highlighted the qualities that we inherited from both sides,” Kawase continues.

Brazil and Japan

The dekasegi movement is an important factor in shaping the identity of Brazilian Nikkei. Although not every Nikkei has this experience, it is safe to say that the vast majority have a relative or friend who had worked or is currently working in Japan.

“I arrived in Japan in 1988. Many wanted to stay temporarily and return to Brazil, however, today, many are already long-term residents and may no longer return,” says singer Joe Hirata, 52, Sansei.

The opportunity to experience two cultures is often attributed to Nikkei. Living in Japan for a while can bring a new perspective to this aspect. “I believe that anyone who moves to Japan ends up discovering that we are like any other Brazilian; we are part of this mixture of races that is Brazil, but we carry a large learning baggage from our parents and grandparents, a very traditional and older Japanese culture, a little different from the current culture in Japan. Those who had lived in Japan are able to understand deeplier this daily life among the Japanese people. Today, I am more confident in saying who I am and what I can make with the best of both cultures,” says Joe.

“Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was called ‘Japanese’ and I always had the dream of becoming a singer in Japan because I thought it was my country. When I pursued that dream and arrived in Japan, I discovered my true identity. I am a Brazilian Nikkei with pride, but, above all, a Brazilian,” Joe states. “I didn't fit myself in the customs and thoughts of the Japanese. I respected them all, but I always tried to mix the systematic way of Japanese with the Brazilian's ability to adapt.”

In 1993, Joe Hirata took first place at the NHK Nodojiman, becoming the first foreigner to achieve victory in the well-known freshman contest. “When I participated in NHK Nodojiman, I was always called ‘Nikkei Burajirujin.’ That was how they saw me and that is what I really am: a Brazilian Nikkei,” he highlights.

Newkei

The term “newkei” was used in the event to designate non-Japanese descendants who are interested and, in some way, experience Japanese and Japanese-Brazilian culture.

“In 2018, I talked to a diplomat from the General Consulate of Japan in São Paulo regarding discussions about extending the term 'Nikkei' to non-descendants of Japanese who are fans of Japanese culture, based on the understanding that this is an important group for the maintenance of Japanese culture. I agreed that it is indeed an important group, but, in my view, the term Nikkei, by definition, is linked to the fact that the person is of Japanese descent and that it might be strange to extend it to non-descendants. I suggested that it would be more appropriate to think of a new term to represent this group,” explains Kawase.

“Months later, still in 2018, I participated in an essay contest on the theme ‘Causes and consequences of Japanese immigration in Brazil,’ organized by jurist Kiyoshi Harada to encourage young people to research the history of Japanese immigration in Brazil. When writing the essay, I remembered that conversation with the diplomat and then I coined the term ‘newkei,’” Kawase adds.

In fact, the presence of non-descendants in language courses, cultural activities and events related to Japanese culture is remarkable and progressive. “The participation of non-descendants in the activities and events of the Nikkei community is very important. We see that the Japanese phenotype will not be maintained for many generations and, in this way, we realize that the Nikkei values can be elements that can be passed on from generation to generation, leading together with the awareness of the importance of maintaining Japanese culture,” Nishimura says. “This process of experiencing the everyday life Nikkei values can be used by non-Nikkei sympathizers of Japanese culture, and, in this way, they are increasingly inserted into Nikkei associations.”

Singing in Japanese, Portuguese...

Towards the closing of the event, the group Juntos em Um Só Coração (Together in Only One Heart) sang the song “Ue wo Muite Arukou,” originally released in Japan in 1961 by singer Kyu Sakamoto. The group was formed by 20 singers, including Nikkei and non-Nikkei.

Twenty singers from many different places in Brazil performed “Ue wo muite arukou.”

“The idea came up during a conversation with [singer] Isa Toyota (from Campinas-SP) and with [singer] Lika Kawano (Salvador-BA) at the time when the pandemic started. At the time, we were talking about the sad consequences of Covid-19, realizing many anguished, sad, depressed people, suffering a lot from the losses. Then the idea arose to do something to bring positivity, love, faith and hope to everyone,” says Takeshi Nishimura, 36, Nisei, group coordinator for this event.

During the broadcast, there were songs sung in Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, and English, both original compositions and covers. “I believe that this represents the universality of music. Music involves feelings and sensations, goes beyond borders and cultures. I feel this integration of Nikkei very strongly when I come across non-descendant friends singing and dancing Japanese songs or playing taiko, learning and teaching Japanese,” says Takeshi.

“[About songs sung in different languages] It is the statement that we are born in our country of origin and, even with our Asian traits, we have the right to interpret our country's music as much as anyone else. We proudly preserve the culture of our ancestors, but we shall not forget that we must strive to conquer our space in our home country. If we did not do so, if we only sang Japanese songs, maybe we would be saying, though the eyes of other ethnic groups, that we are Japanese, not Brazilians, foreigners,” evaluates Joe Hirata.

Continuity

The organizing committee of the live broadcast to celebrate International Nikkei Day in Brazil plans to continue its activities in the future.

“The Geração Project continues with the objective of disseminating Brazilian Nikkei values and thinking about how concepts can be applied in people's daily behavior. For that, we will count on educators and other professionals to generate this connection. In addition, the meetings of the Geração Project continue because, throughout its application, we realized that the workshops themselves proved to be an excellent exercise in reconnecting people with their stories, values and principles, and to arouse even greater interest among non-Nikkei sympathizers of Japanese culture,” concludes Nishimura.

Further information:

Link for the Celebration of International Nikkei Day in Brazil (YouTube, in Portuguese)

About Geração Project (in Portuguese)

Essay about “Newkei” (in Portuguese)

 

© 2020 Henrique Minatogawa

Brazil community culture Geração Project International Nikkei Day nikkei values