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The Nikkei Community in Uberlândia: Dispersed or Uninterested?

I was born in São Gotardo, a Brazilian city in the interior of Minas Gerais, where there is still a large presence of Japanese descendants. It is a city in national reference known for the production of carrots, potatoes and garlic. Among these producers, most are Nikkei who have contributed and diversified activities in the countryside—in addition to generating many jobs in this region.

I remember there was a nihonjinkai that featured festivals like the Undokai and Hana Matsuri, where Japanese immigrant families gathered. I remember that there were also the baseball, softball and nihon gakkō championships where my two older brothers studied, reconciling with regular school. Even the baseball team from São Gotardo went to participate in a South American championship in Chile. I believe they won, because everyone went home happy.

I moved from São Gotardo very young, around the age of five. However, I remember that the Japanese community there was very strong, with influence in terms of sports and culture. It was evident even in city politics, with two ex-mayors being Nikkei.

My family moved to Uberlândia, where there was still no kaikan at that time. My parents, along with other families of Japanese descent, started to get together on weekends to talk, play Gētobōru, sing karaoke and eat typical Japanese foods.

My father singing at karaoke in the mid-2000s. Source: Personal collection

Over time, the kaikan became official and was renamed Aniudi (Nikkei Association of Uberlândia). In that association they offered Japanese classes, in which I studied for four years with Takeshi Sensei. Once a month, there was a yakisoba festival and a gastronomic fair that brought together national and international foods at the Municipal Market—as well as members who played Gētobōru and Softball.

There was a time when the City Hall of Uberlândia provided a field to play Softball and, in addition to Japanese descendants, many non-descendant university students also went to train. The Uberlândia team participated in national tournaments. After a while, the City Hall took over the field and gave the team another space. However, it was so far away that many people gave up. The Gētobōru camp was on the land of one of the Nikkei who participated in the kaikan. It was a private field and several people got together to play, especially the older ones who were very assiduous.

This association suspended its activities around 2011, as some older members have passed away while others have moved away. Currently, families of Japanese descent are scattered, with no interest in fraternizing and maintaining deep ties with other Nikkei.

There are some people from Uberlândia who travel to the city of Araguari where there is a kaikan; there, they get together and play Yakyuu and Gētobōru. They participate in regional championships, and I remember going to this association a few times. There are also some Nikkei from Uberlândia who participate in Seicho-No-Ie, which is a Japanese way of life.

There are other people who travel to Caldas Novas, which is in the State of Goiás, around 174km away from Uberlândia. In this city of Goiás, there is a hotel founded by Nikkei that offers events aimed at the Japanese colony. This establishment offers Yakyuu, Gētobōru and Tennis tournaments. I only went to this hotel once and on that specific date there was no such event, but I found it interesting that the buffet had several typical Japanese foods.

Other cities, outside Minas Gerais, where the Nikkei from my city go to participate in nihonjinkai events are Goiânia, Guaíra and Fernandópolis. These are municipalities within a radius of up to 400km from Uberlândia. I never had the opportunity to visit these locations, but I know that they are communities where participants interact and develop many activities in favor of the Japanese colony.

Another organization that I have never been to, but I know that there is a Japanese-Brazilian group that is very active, is in the city of Belo Horizonte in the capital of Minas Gerais. In this kaikan there are cultural and artistic activities, such as Taiko, traditional Odori dance and Kendo. In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, I went to Campo Grande, where my mother's family lives. There, the Japanese community is very present; just to give you an idea, Soba is a typical dish that became a historical and cultural heritage in 2006.

Among the Nikkei communities in Minas Gerais that I know, I think São Gotardo is one of the most active and influential groups. Its representatives are from the second, third and even fourth generations of the Nikkei who started it. So they kept the traditions alive. I believe that here in Uberlândia, as it is the second largest city in the State of Minas Gerais, people are busier, and schedules do not match. Depending on where they live, it is either too far away or the spirit of leadership is probably lacking and they are uninterested.

There is a WhatsApp group for the Japanese community in Uberlândia with approximately 147 participants, including spouses, Nihonjin and Japanese descendants. However, they basically advertise Japanese restaurants in the city. At the beginning of the group’s formation, between 2018 and 2019, they had three meetings in different Japanese restaurants. Some participants had just returned from Japan and felt the need to get together and share stories; but unfortunately, that was all.

It's a shame; long before the time of the pandemic, social distancing was already taking place. I hope that despite everything, we can preserve Japanese culture and, above all, Japanese values ​​in our region and for future generations.


© 2022 Meiry Mayumi Onohara

biographies Brazil Hawaii Japanese Americans Minas Gerais Nikkei São Gotardo Uberlândia United States
About the Author

Meiry Mayumi Onohara received a degree in Letters and Accounting from the Federal University of Uberlândia, Brazil, and she is currenly a Master's student in Accounting at the same university. She is a Nisei on her father's side and a Sansei on her mother's side. Her father is from Saga-ken and her mother's family came from Kobe. She used to be a Portuguese language teacher, but today she manages the family business.

Updated May 2022

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