Participating Scholars
Masato Ninomiya

Project Description


Institutional Participants



Staff and Advisors

English Japanese
Spanish Portuguese

Japanese American
National Museum

Professor Masato Ninomiya is a naturalized citizen of Brazil who was born in Nagano, Japan and immigrated to Brazil when he was five-years old. He holds a professorship in the Law Department São Paulo University and is a visiting professor in Japan at Tokyo University and Keio University. He is the Director of the Japanese Brazilian Immigration History Museum (Museu Histórico Da Imigracão Japonesa No Brasil) and Vice President of the Japanese Brazilian Cultural Center (Sociedade Brasileira De Cultura Japonesa) in São Paulo, Brazil. Dr. Ninomiya is also a practicing attorney, an author of numerous books and professional articles, and a well-known community leader in Brazil who is involved in the improvement of Brazilian workers' conditions in Brazil and Japan.

Research Proposal Abstract
The Dekasegi phenomenon from the Brazilian Perspective

According to Professor Masato Ninomiya, there were approximately 250,000 Brazilian dekasegui working in Japan in December 1997. The dekasegui phenomenon of Japanese Brazilians migrating temporarily to Japan in search of work started in the mid-1980s and peaked in the mid-1990s. Particularly after 1993, when the Japanese economy had entered a recessionary period, social problems among this group have grown more serious as many dekasegui workers lost their jobs. Dr. Ninomiya, who is the President of the Center for Information and Assistance for Brazilian Workers Abroad (Kokusai Shurosha Joho Engo Senta/Centro de Informacao e Apoi ao Trabalhador no Exterior) has had first-hand experience in addressing the series of social problems faced by this group. His study will focus on the social aspects of this phenomenon which will complement the research of Edson Mori which focuses on the economic effects of the Brazilian dekkasegui in Brazil and Japan. Dr. Ninomiya will further investigate the reasons and circumstances of the dekasgui's migration to Japan. What are their life conditions and adjustment processes in Japan? What kind of organizations do they form? And what happens to them upon their return to Brazil?

"A Study on the Situation of the Japanese Brazilian Temporary Workers in Japan for the Past 10 Years: Problems They Faced, Especially the Education of Their Children"

While the 80th commemoration of the Japanese immigration to Brazil was festively cerebrated in Brazil, the dekasegi phenomenon had been already started. Japan was in the middle of the “bubble” economy so there was a strong demand for menial labor that the Japanese did not want to be engaged. They were called 3K job (kitsui, kitanai, and kiken, or hard, dirty and dangerous). On the other hand, Brazil was experiencing hyper-inflation, which recorded over 2,000% in 1988. It also had high unemployment rate. So many Nikkei who could earn only $500-$1,000 per month wanted to go to Japan, looking for higher income.

The revision of the Immigration Law in Japan 1990 accelerated this tendency. The Law made it possible for the Nisei and Sansei and their spouses – even non-Nikkei – to work legally in Japan. Today, it is believed that there are about 250,000 Brazilian Nikkei in Japan, including those with dual citizenship. This is almost the same total number of the Japanese who had emigrated to Brazil before and after World War II. This is the second largest number, following the Korean nationals and almost the same number as the Chinese nationals in Japan. Both in Japan and Brazil, these workers have been the subject of conversation among politicians, businessmen and scholars. In my opinion, the “dekasegi” phenomenon is one of the three greatest evens in Brazilian-Japanese history, along with “Kasato Maru” and World War II. Especially, since the dekasegi phenomenon is still undergoing and its effect is infinite.

There are distinctively positive and negative effects in the dekasegi phenomenon. First, regarding the positive effects, in Japan, the Brazilian Nikkei could obtain a level of income that they cannot in Brazil. They can bring home their savings to purchase real estates such as houses, cars and other durable consumer goods. Or they can start a new business. By living in Japan for a few years, learning Japanese culture and language, they could also contribute to reactivate Brazilian Nikkei society in the future. Also, they bring Brazilian culture, such as language, sports, and art and entertainment, to Japan and introduce them to the Japanese people.

Second, regarding the negative effects, many families were broken because one spouse left for Japan to work while the other spouse remained in Brazil. There are work-related and other problems such as injury and illness at work, traffic accidents (death and handicapped), crimes (offenders and victims) and unemployment due to the recent “burst of bubble.” This suggests that there are actually more negative effects than positive. The Information and Assistant Center for Brazilian Workers Abroad (CIATE) in São Paulo, which had an original purpose of establishing official recruiting system, is now inundated with consulting and counseling on various issues, including pension system in Japan.

Among these compiling problems, what is most important is education of their children. Earlier, as happened to returning children from abroad, Brazilian children encountered kind of ijime or bullying, non-existent in Brazil, which came from their lack of Japanese language skills or from being racially mixed. Recently, it is believed that bullying is being subsided because of the efforts made by teachers, counselors at municipalities, hiring interpreters and volunteer activities. Also, students started to show more understanding about foreign students. However, there are other problems. For example, one can see articles in the media about the delinquency problem of Brazilian Nikkei students.

The cause of these new problems is believed to lie in the rejection of school by the Brazilian Nikkei students. In fact, children up to 10 years or so adapt relatively easily to the school, including language problem. Older children are incorporated into the class of their age, despite their language handicap. Many students cannot keep up with the classes. They seem to find the school uninteresting and finally stop going. It needs to be taken into consideration that “obligatory education” applies only to the Japanese nationals but not to foreigners. In any case, it is certain that children and students who stopped going to school tend to have nothing else to do and start to be engaged in delinquent activities.

Another problem is that students who came to Japan below age 10 are losing Portuguese or do not want to study Portuguese. This concerns Brazilian Embassy, Consulates, educators and parents. Several solutions are attempted such as airing Brazilian educational programs on Japanese Portuguese channel, and giving Brazilian school certificate to those who pass a screening exam based on Brazilian school curriculum. Among such efforts, it is noteworthy that in the spring semester of 1999, Pythagoras School, located in the city of Bello Horizonte, Minas Gerais, established its Japanese school in Ooizumi Machi in Bunma, where Nikkei Brazilian population is concentrated.

Japanese immigrants used to consider that teaching Japanese to their children was the “raison d’etre” of the Japanese. However, as assimilation progressed, new generations are losing Japanese. The third generation rarely speaks Japanese. It is natural that the fourth generation cannot speak any Japanese. How should we understand the phenomenon in which the children of Brazilian workers in Japan are losing Portuguese or are reluctant to learn their own language. These Brazilian students will go back to Brazil in a few years. If, then, they can speak only in Japanese and cannot communicate in Portuguese, it will be a great concern to the Nikkei society.