How many Japanese Brazilians speak Japanese

Brazilian food culture is booming in the Japanese city of Nagoya

In Nagoya's central shopping district, Osu Kannon, there is an abundance of trendy vintage clothing, fancy bargains and eclectic international goods. And the warm scent of Brazilian fried chicken wafts from the humble Osso Brasil.

The Osso Brasil serves juicy, tasty chicken and offers Brazilian pastels (fried dumplings), cheese bread, rice, burgers, french fries and salsa for lunch and dinner. The Osso Brasil is an important representative of Nagoya's up-and-coming culinary scene. Because Brazilian food is booming.

Most of the Brazilians live in Nagoya

The majority of the approximately 270,000 Brazilians in Japan live in Aichi Prefecture and its neighbors Shizuoka and Mie, mainly in Nagoya and the industrial cities of Toyota, Toyohashi and Hamamatsu.

"A lot of Japanese Brazilians came to Japan 25 years ago and there was a huge demand for Brazilian ingredients," says Noriko Imamura, manager of Osso Brasil. "So we initially opened up as a Brazilian grocery store, but realized that our customers wanted a place to eat next door, so we opened a restaurant."

189,000 Japanese immigrated to Brazil between 1908 and 1941 when the country needed workers for the coffee plantations and many Japanese lived in rural poverty.

The situation turned in the late 1980s when Japan faced a serious unskilled labor shortage amid its booming economy and Brazil found itself in recession. It was these Japanese Nikkei Brazilians that Japan allowed to immigrate to the country.

"Policymakers needed unskilled immigrants and believed that Japanese Brazilians were ethnically similar to Japanese and would adapt more quickly culturally," says Takeyuki Tsuda, a professor at Arizona State University who studies Brazilian history, sociology, and economics Japan studied.

Brazilians are one of the largest groups of immigrants

According to Tsuda, although Japanese Brazilians are well educated and middle class in Brazil, they could earn five to ten times their Brazilian income as unskilled foreign workers in Japan. In 2000, Brazilians were the largest immigrant group in Japan after the Chinese and Koreans.

"But in the end, the Japanese Brazilians were culturally much more strongly Brazilian and were treated like foreigners who are socially alienated in Japan," says Tsuda.

These differences often lead to discrimination from Japanese neighbors, leading to complaints that they do not speak Japanese, are too loud in homes and in public, and do not obey community rules.

The Japanese government quickly changed its attitudes towards Brazilian immigrants, going as far as to financially induce them to leave Japan when the 2009 financial crisis struck.

"We built a life in this country, we worked hard, we paid our taxes and now the government is throwing us out of the country instead of helping us," said an employee of the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information at the time Center.

Brazilian flavors and authenticity

One positive outcome of the ongoing Brazilian immigration over the past 20 years is the development of a Brazilian food scene in Japan, particularly in Nagoya.

“In a big city like Nagoya we have seen over the years that more and more Brazilian restaurants are starting to open. And with more food, we also saw more customers, ”says Tiago Hane, owner of Churrascaria Ipanema, a Brazilian barbecue in Nagoya's Sakae nightlife district.

Hane opened Churrascaria Ipanema in 2019 after working in other Brazilian restaurants for over 10 years. He moved to Japan for the first time at the age of 8 and cites his deep connection with both cultures as a motivation for opening a restaurant.

Together with Sapucai and Planeta Grill in Nagoya, Esquina’s Restaurant and GrinGourmet Restaurant in Toyohashi, and Vila Brasil and Churrascaria Choupana in Hamamatsu, Hanes Barbecue is one of around a dozen highly rated Brazilian restaurants in Japan.

“I want to bring Brazilian flavors and atmospheres closer to people and help Brazilians in Japan to feel nostalgic and connected to Brazil,” says Hane.

The Brazilian restaurants in Nagoya tend to highlight authenticity by creating a colorful Brazilian vibe and shopping in local Brazilian specialty shops.

Main locations like Sapucai and newcomers like Churrascaria Ipanema focus on the traditional Brazilian barbecue - a grand aisle that includes unlimited refills of colorful salads, cheese breads, seasonal fruits, rice, beans and of course meat.

Japan as a multi-ethnic country

Traditional Brazilian flavors are more salty and spicy, made with dendé oil (red palm), chili peppers, garlic, cumin and cinnamon. "I want everyone in Japan to be able to experience the Brazilian vibe, music and flavors," said Hane.

Osso Brasil sticks to the Brazilian recipes for its chicken dishes, but has sometimes localized itself with versions of popular items such as hamburgers and beef wokkladen.

"We found that authentic Brazilian flavors can be too salty for the Japanese," says Imamura. "Since our employees are Japanese-Brazilians, I think they find the perfect balance between Japanese and Brazilian culture."

The Osso Brasil and the Churrascaria Ipanema have the same mission. They want to offer Brazilian culture and flavors to the Brazilian Nikkei community and become a tempting kitchen option that shares the delights of Brazil.

"We hope that the Japanese will appreciate our restaurant with its ethnic, Brazilian atmosphere and its Brazilian flavors," says Imamura.

Many Brazilians find a new appreciation for Brazil. "You strengthen your nationalistic feelings as Brazilian foreigners in Japan," says Tsuda.

The ever-bustling corner of Osso Brasil in Osu Kannon, surrounded by Vietnamese, Turkish, and Indian restaurants, feels like a future vision of a multi-ethnic country.