Yes, you read that right. There are about a million and a half people of Japanese descent in Brazil and most of them live in Sao Paulo province. We were lucky enough to be taken to the Japanese section of the city and we enjoyed the atmosphere, the food and the shopping. So, how did this special population come to live in Brazil? Well, at the turn of the 19th to 20th century slavery had already been abolished in the country and there was a great shortage of labor for the coffee and sugar farms. There was a large influx of Italian workers in the 19th century but living conditions and salaries were so poor that eventually the Italian government forbade subsidized immigration to Brazil. By this time the feudal system in Japan had collapsed and there was great poverty and unemployment. The economy was faltering and Brazil looked like a solution for many workers. Unfortunately, the plantation owners still maintained a sort of “slave/worker mentality” and the Japanese workers had a very hard time. More problems arose when Brazil declared war against Japan in 1942. As we saw in Canada during the Second World War, naturalized citizens of Japanese origin were suspected of being spies and interned in many cases.
Fortunately the second and third generation have been able to emerge from the social and economic shadows of the past. We know that many countries that present an image of tolerance still maintain racist currents. However, the vibrancy and size of the Japanese sector of Sao Paulo is a sign of the health and prosperity of the population. We enjoyed shopping at the kiosks and shops and eating a delicious lunch of traditional food. I feature a picture of an artist who was sketching work at an outdoor kitchen. We even saw him the following day in a popular park where we went for a bike ride! What were the chances of that in a city of about 20 million people?