Sources for Nikkei Documents in Brazil

Recently, a new project aiming at collecting and publicizing documents and books related to nikkei (descendants of Japanese emigrants) in Brazil was launched: “Digital Humanities: digitization and preservation of Nikkei community documents.” The project is led by professors Eliza Tashiro Perez, Nina Hirata and Silvio Miyazaki from the University of São Paulo. More than preserving the memory of Japanese immigration and its role as part of Brazilian society, the project aims to organize a widely accessible digitized document bank, which will enable interdisciplinary research, focusing mainly on unpublished documents or those that were very limited in their publication from the Nikkei community.

The history of Japanese immigration to Brazil officially began in 1908 with the arrival of the Kasato Maru ship in the port of Santos in São Paulo. Since then, several waves of immigrants arrived in Brazil, most of them bound for farms, many to work on coffee plantations. Immigration in family groups was the prevailing format. It wasn’t long before the Japanese organized associations and joined together in common activities – Japanese language education for children, poetry clubs, parties and religious celebrations, among others. These communal activities produced books, prints and other documents that are almost inaccessible because of their rarity. Many of them were destroyed during the beginning of the 40’s, when Brazil and Japan became enemies in the context of World War II and it became forbidden to have (and circulate) printed material in Japanese in Brazilian territory. After the war ended, the migratory flow restarted, new documents were produced in the many Japanese communities, and the number of these documents kept growing with the development of nikkei associations.

Thus far, the project has partially surveyed research materials and publications from Japanese-Brazilian organizations. (If you are interested in newspapers as sources for studying Japanese diaspora, take a look at a previous post on the Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection). The increased visibility of these materials may generate new studies on a broad range of topics. On the Links page the project shares three websites:

1) Acervo da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil (“Collection on Japanese Immigration in Brazil”). An initiative by the Paulo Kobayashi Institute, this collection was started as one of the projects of the Association for the Centenary of Japanese Immigration in Brazil to commemorate the centenary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the country. With the end of the Association’s activities in 2008, Mr. Masao Daigo, Mr. Michio Onishi and Mr. Tsutomu Ishida have kept running the collection until 2022. This collection originally had two groups of sources divided according to language (Japanese or Portuguese). The Japanese group is called “Burajiru Imin Bunko”(“Books on Japanese Immigration to Brazil”) and the Portuguese group is called “Acervo Literário da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil” (“Literary Collection on Japanese Immigration in Brazil”). These groups can be found at the two additional websites listed by the “Digital Humanities: digitization and preservation of Nikkei community documents” project. The Acervo da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil’s website includes a modest collection of texts, photographs, artworks etc. categorized according to different themes and downloadable in PDF format.

2) Acervo Literário da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil (“Literary Collection on Japanese Immigration in Brazil”). This collection consists of 36 items. Even though it is described as a literary collection, there is a wide range of sources that can be found herein including photo books. The South America album, for example, brings together many pictures from different places mainly in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru with text in Portuguese and Japanese. It includes varied pictures of families, plantations, stores, and social events and will be useful to those searching for visual materials. Those who are interested in modern media representations of Japanese immigration can access a Portuguese translation of the NHK Japanese drama Haru and Natsu – the letters that never came (ハルとナツー届かなかった手紙). Another interesting item in the collection is the book Exhibition of Contemporary Japanese-Brazilian Painters (1995), a bilingual publication with paintings and bios. In any case, to see the full range of documents available I recommend visiting the collection’s website. The website lists these materials allowing visitors to view or download them in PDF format. The website offers little functionality beyond this.

3) Burajiru Imin Bunko (“Books on Japanese Immigration to Brazil”). This collection consists of 160 items and is the part of the project containing publications in Japanese. There is a contents page which allows the user to navigate to different topics ranging from rekishi (“history”) to nōgyō (“agriculture”) to haiku. Even zuihitsu (“personal essays”) and tanka can be found in this collection:

I was particularly interested in a collection of Japanese lesson books from the 60’s catch, as well as the Koronia bungaku volumes – or “literature of the colony.” There is even a Koronia Man’youshuu, a compilation of poems with more than 800 pages whose title alludes to the distinguished Japanese literary work. Again it is worth visiting the collection’s website to understand its true scope. As with the Acervo Literário da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil, the website is effectively a list of materials which can be viewed or downloaded in PDF format. There is little functionality beyond this although the addition of a contents page allows from swift navigation by topics.

As suggest above even though the contents are rich, there are some spots that need to be developed in order to make it easier to find information on these various collections. There is no English version of the websites, so it is necessary to be proficient in Portuguese or Japanese (and preferably both) to better profit from these collections. Besides, even though an index (or, in Japanese, a 目次 mokuji) is provided from the Burajiru Imin Bunko, there is no search engine to help us find more specific information such as specific words or expressions within the documents. In spite of these limitations, those engaged in studying Japanese diaspora, especially to Brazil, will find diverse and interesting thought-provoking material to explore on these websites.

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