the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Japanese Brazilians pre and post war

Something interesting I read tonight:

This article deals with the main religious transition that accomplished the
redefinition of Japanese Brazilian identity after the Second World War. State
Shinto was the main world view of the Japanese immigrants in Brazil until the
1950s, playing a key role in the Japanese resistance of Brazilian acculturation
process and in the cognitive dissonance that resulted in the Shindo Renmei
movement. The Catholic Church began its proselytizing inside the Japanese
community in the 1920s, initially attending to Japanese Catholics and the nisei.
After the Second World War the Church participated in the clarification campaigns
against Shindo Renmei. With the collapse of Shinto nationalism the
missionary activities were especially directed towards the nisei and for that the
incorporation of Japanese Catholic symbols proved highly effective. The combination
of Japanese and Brazilian Catholic elements represented the development
of a hyphenated religiosity, facilitating the trend of Catholic belonging
and at the same time offering some cultural continuity.

keywords: Japanese Brazilian — Shinto State — Shindo Renmei — Japanese
Catholicism — Nikkei

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35/1: 13–38
© 2008 Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture

Rafael Shoji

The Failed Prophecy of Shinto Nationalism

and the Rise of Japanese Brazilian Catholicism


Rafael Shoji is a Japan Foundation Fellow at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture,
Nanzan University. This research was supported by Japan Foundation and by CNPq
(National Council for Scientific and Technological Development) in Brazil.
The invention of fumie (literally, pictures to be stepped on) is credited
to two shogunal commissioners of Nagasaki, Mizuno, and Takenaka,
between the years 1626 and 1633. Utilized until the nineteenth century
and transformed into an end-of-year ritual in Nagasaki, fumie were effective
instruments for the identification of Christians. All suspected Christians were
requested to desecrate Christian sacred images, especially images of Jesus Christ
and the Virgin Mary. Around three thousand Japanese Christians preferred
martyrdom, and many were exiled as prisoners. Little more than three hundred
years after its use in Japan, fumie were again imposed on the Japanese, a
minority in Brazil, in order to identify people that believed that the Japanese
had won the Second World War (kachigumi). Members of nationalistic movements,
kachigumi were responsible for terrorist activities that had shaken São
Paulo society after the Second World War.

At least half of the Japanese Brazilian community participated directly or
contributed financially to the most important of these movements, the Shindo
Renmei (League of the Subjects Way) a group that promoted the view that the
Japanese had won the Second World War, and that threatened and even murdered
Japanese people in the group that divulged the opposite view (makegumi).
About thirty thousand Japanese were interrogated or arrested during that
period (Morais 2000, 331), many having been obliged to step on the figure of
the Japanese emperor and a Japanese flag as a way to show that they were not
involved with the nationalistic movements and their terrorist acts. Having been
educated from the end of Meiji Era through the beginning of Showa Era, the
majority of the Japanese in Brazil had learned to cultivate the Japanese spirit
(yamato damashii), to believe in the divinity of the emperor, and if necessary to
die for him and for the Japanese imperialism that was to result in the Greater
East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (daitōa kyōeiken).

The use of fumie in Brazil indicates the inversion of values imposed on the Japanese
in Brazil, aimed at the forcible abandonment of nationalistic Shinto. Before
the Second World War, the spiritual formation of the Japanese was directed to
Shinto ideology, and Japanese schools in Brazil were quasi-religious institutions
promoting this worldview. In this sense Shindo Renmei aimed at the continuity
of Japanese nationalism after the process of cognitive dissonance passed through
by the community after Japan's defeat (Maeyama 1997). This dissonance was
caused initially by linguistic isolation and abandonment by Japanese government
representatives and later by the hope of return to Japan or of new immigration
to the Japanese colonies that were expected after the Japanese victory.
shoji: shinto nationalism | 15

Some studies on the Japanese in Brazil hold that the Japanese had almost no
religious practices before the Second World War, apart from emperor devotion
and certain improvised Buddhist funerary rites. Almost all Japanese immigrants
affirmed that they left religion behind because they expected that their stay in
Brazil would be short (Handa 1987). This general view had a strong influence
on immigrant self-perception and on studies of Japanese religions in Brazil. The
Japanese at that time were educated by Japanese schools to understand State
Shinto as being simply Japanese education, not religion. The ambiguities of that
time blurred the recognition of State Shinto as religion (Hardacre 1989, 36;
Shimazono 2005, 1085), and even now this is a complex issue in political and
scholarly studies (Shimazono 2005, 1081–85). At that time the Japanese State
tried to promote the idea of religious liberty, while propagating State Shinto
through education (Hardacre 1989, 39–40; Shimazono 1089–92).
Nevertheless the immigrants' formation and Shindo Renmei represented a
closer continuity to State Shinto education, as received in Japan and later temporarily
reinforced by the cognitive dissonance caused by the war. Following
a broader definition of State Shinto, Shimazono (2005, 1094) states that "The
advantage of understanding State Shinto with a broad meaning with a certain
organized system is that it would facilitate reexamining the history of religions
in modern times within the entire historical perspectives of Japan." This reinforcement
of a broader concept of State Shinto also leads to a reexamination
of the Japanese Brazilian history since "State Shinto had exerted wide and great
influence not only on the religion but every detail of peoples consciousness in
living" (Murakami 1970, cited Shimazono 2005, 1083). The Japanese State was
not transplanted to Brazil, but the Japanese migrant workers (dekasegi) in Brazil
alone, educated at Japanese schools at the beginning of the twentieth century,
sustained the religiosity of Imperial Shinto even after the Second World War.
Conversion to Catholicism is often seen as a posterior process of social
accommodation promoted by acculturation. In this view, the majority of Japanese-
Brazilians, who were positioned between Japanese and Brazilian religions,
chose somewhat passively to become Catholics, implying strategies of social
acceptance, for example, new ties to a Brazilian Catholic godfather (Maeyama
1973a and 1973b; Nogueira 1991). Catholicism was not the state religion of Brazil,
but at that time was considered the national religion, as a result of four centuries
of monopoly in the religious market. Based on the historical archives of the
Catholic Church in São Paulo and on the records of the proselytizing activities
realized by the Catholic missionaries, this article will argue that this Catholic
turn among Japanese Brazilians began earlier than normally stated and was not
so dependent on a sharp distinction between Japanese and Brazilian religions.
After the dissolution of Shindo Renmei and with the establishment of a Nikkei
identity, nationalistic Shinto came to be progressively replaced by Catholicism
as the main group religion. Representing an ongoing social integration since
16 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35/1 (2008)
the 1920s, this change of religious group was catalyzed by the existence of a
Catholicism directed and promoted by Japanese before the Second World War,
especially because of Japanese Catholic immigrants and the second generation
of Japanese (nisei). They formed elements of the clarification campaign against
Shindo Renmei and were the first to begin the religious participation expected
by the Brazilian society, though combining Japanese and Brazilian Christian

Issei: State Shinto Immigrants in Brazil

It is possible to observe two great Japanese immigration waves to Brazil, the first
before the Second World War (around 190,000 immigrants) and the other from
1952 to 1967 (around 58,000 immigrants). The areas of concentration were the
states of São Paulo (70 percent) and Paraná (12 percent). The education received
by the first wave of immigrants was greatly impacted by State Shinto.1 Since the
Imperial Rescript on Education of the Meiji Emperor in 1890, State Shinto was
promoted through the educational socialization of all Japanese.
The main factor in Brazil motivating immigration was the need for agricultural
labor, especially after the interruption of slave traffic in 1850 and the liberation
of slaves in 1888. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Brazilian
economy was in expansion, mainly due to the relative high price of coffee in the
international market. The necessity of labor for coffee farming stimulated immigration
to Brazil, mainly from Europe, which began with waves of Portuguese
immigration starting in 1842 and German immigration in 1852. From the 1880s
on, the number of Italian immigrants quickly grew. Between 1890 and 1899, Brazil
received around 690,365 Italian immigrants, the majority of which had São
Paulo as their final destination. In 1900, the Italian government prohibited immigration
to Brazil, suggesting that new immigrants were being treated like slaves.
In Japan, industrialization and transformations during the Meiji Era provoked
an intense crisis in agriculture and scarcity of land. For the Japanese
government, one of the solutions was emigration, with the intention of starting
in Japanese foreign agricultural colonies able to supply Japan with agricultural
products (Lesser 2000, 155). Simultaneously, the USA restricted Japanese immigration
in 1907, with the "Gentlemen's Agreement," hindering the entry of Japanese
to Hawaii and the continent (Yanaguida and Alisal 1992, 102).

In the 1920s the Japanese agricultural crisis intensified, which contributed to
the growth of rural poverty in Japan. An additional cause of this economic crisis
1. The phases of this new ideology creation were summarized in Hardacre 1989, 21ff. State
Shinto is essentially understood here as a modern reinvention of tradition that emphasized selected
elements in the name of the unity of the Japanese people. It sustained political centralization,
through the assumption of the emperor's divinity, and the imperialist expansionism that caught
Japan in the Meiji Era. On early developments, already noting the reinvention of a religious tradition
and its transmission through schools, see Chamberlain 1912.
shoji: shinto nationalism | 17
was the earthquake in Kanto in 1923, which destroyed a large part of Tokyo and
Yokohama (Yanaguida and Alisal 1992). As a result, the Japanese government
offered great incentives for emigration beginning in 1924. Simultaneously, the
United States, a desired destination for many immigrants, definitively prohibited
Japanese immigration. In Brazil, the need for immigrant labor persisted due
to the continued migration of Italians from rural to urban areas. Brazil also had
an interest in commerce with Japan, something which was negotiated in conjunction
with the acceptance of new immigration quotas (Lesser 2000, 171).
These favorable factors produced an intense wave of immigration to Brazil.
Approximately 56 percent of all Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil between
1925 and 1935, establishing themselves mainly in agricultural occupations in the
state of São Paulo.

Due to these favorable conditions for Japanese immigration to Brazil, agreements
were ratified between the Japanese and Brazilian governments for the
regulation and reception of immigrant workers in Brazil. One of the main
conditions was that immigration had to be family orientated with each family
having at least three people able to work, but this restriction was frequently
side-stepped by the formation of "fictitious" families, established only for immigration
permission. At that time, family in Japan was strongly organized by a
traditional household system (ie), in which the oldest son was responsible for
the administration of family property and ancestor worship. As a result, often
only younger sons immigrated to Brazil (Maeyama 1973b, 420–25). Given the
fact that the agricultural crisis in Japan was one of the main reasons for immigration,
the majority of immigrants were farmers.

After a while, some of the Japanese reached higher social levels by working
in agriculture as small land owners, many of them colonizing new regions
in the west of the state of São Paulo. The Japanese government, interested in
on-going immigration, tried to recommend the cultural adaptation of immigrants.
In spite of that, Japanese immigrants never intended to stay definitively
in Brazil. Their hopes were still to prosper rapidly and then return to Japan. This
general attitude towards a temporary stay explains much of the immigrant's
resistance with regard to cultural adaptation. Japanese immigrants generally did
not concern themselves with learning Portuguese or integrating into Brazilian
society—something that did happen with other nationalities. Communal effort
was centered in maintaining cultural customs as they were practiced in Japan.
Because immigration to Brazil was family-oriented, normal community
growth was possible. Children were raised like Japanese, especially in rural areas,
and the community created their own schools, which became the main center of
the community activities (Lesser 2000, 167).2 The schools represented attempts
2. Saito (1980, 82) establishes a contrast with Japanese immigration to the USA, which did not
have these familial characteristics. The peak of Japanese immigration to the USA occurred earlier
18 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35/1 (2008)
to maintain and propagate the education that the immigrants themselves had
received (Comissão 1992, 211–15; Demartini 2000). Despite the precarious
conditions of the Japanese settlements, the Japanese language and the emperor
worship characteristic of Shinto nationalism were tentatively taught there. In
1927 the Educational Association of Japanese in Brazil was organized by the
Consul General in São Paulo (Zaihaku Nihonjin Kyōikukai). It was replaced in
1929 by the Association of Parents of Students in Japanese Schools in São Paulo
(Zai São Paulo Nihonjin Gakkō Fukeikai). In some cases the Japanese community
could organize public schools in association with the Brazilian government,
trying to combine the Brazilian curriculum with a Japanese education. From
1936 on, the Japanese Government offered more direct financial support to these
schools through the Association of Japanese Education Dissemination in Brazil
(Burajiru Nihonjin Kyōiku Fukyūkai).

Japanese education was characterized by nationalism after the Meiji Period,
which resulted in a ritualized interpretation of Japanese ethnicity through the
emperor cult and a sense of common origin. In Brazil communal relations
based on Shinto nationalism assumed great importance, given geographic separation
from the traditional Japanese household (ie) and local corporate groups
based on household alliance (dōzoku) in Japan (Maeyama 1973a, 244). Takashi
Maeyama detected the presence of fictitious relationships with a ritualized
interpretation of ethnicity in the image of the Japanese emperor as a tutelary
kami for all Japanese in Brazil (Maeyama 1973b; Maeyama 1983, 185).
State Shinto was indeed the worldview of the Japanese immigrants before
the war. This situation can be analyzed using Marxist theory as the effects on
a superstructure when structure is eliminated through immigration. Without
their social and economic support systems, Buddhism and shrine Shinto lived on
more in immigrants' memories than in their social and religious organizations.
In fact there was little possibility for the establishment of shrines as occurred
in Asian Japanese colonies (Hardacre 1989, 95–96) and Micronesia (Shuster
1982). On the other hand, the attempted continuation of the received civil religion
and the social implications of State Shinto ideology in the new environment
characterized the first stage of the group experience. Schools acted as the
main community centers and temples of this civil religiosity, being responsible
for the socialization of the children in the spirit of the existing State Shinto. As
in the Japanese setting at that time (Hardacre 1989, 108–11 and 121–24; Shimazono
2005, 1089–92), many schools continued to express respect and promises
of obedience before the emperor's picture. The Imperial Rescript on Education
was solemnly read as a holy scripture and nationalistic rituals were tentatively
organized in accordance with Japanese holidays. Self-perceptions as temporary
and, as a result, the immigrants were less influenced by the nationalist education that prevailed in
the Taisho and Showa Eras in Japan. The expansion and stronger influence of State Shinto began
after 1905 (Hardacre 1989, 23).
shoji: shinto nationalism | 19
immigrants generated an attempt to preserve the State Shinto worldview. Education
was aimed to promote yamato damashii, although in a foreign environment
(Maeyama 1973b, 436–38).

At the political level the community leadership depended largely on diverse
associations controlled by the Japanese Consulate General in São Paulo, which
acted as an umbrella organization. Japanese immigration was in fact strongly
subsidized by the Japanese government as a state policy and the Japanese government
contributed to the maintenance of immigration companies and local
associations (Comissão 1992, 137). Relations outside the community were often
stimulated only by economic activities and by that which was strictly necessary
for social acquaintance. In reaction to the closed nature of the Japanese Brazilian
community, Brazilian politicians criticized what they considered Japanese
resistance to acculturation. Despite their recognition of the importance and economic
contribution of the Japanese community many Brazilian politicians were
apprehensive and feared the growing influence of Japanese imperialism in Asia.
In fact, the immigrant worldview based on Japanese nationalism was in many
senses the direct opposite of the melting pot ideology that was being developed
in Brazil at that time. Starting in the 1920s, aesthetic and cultural tendencies
began to reconsider the importance of African and Indian native cultures for
Brazil. According to writer Mário de Andrade, the ability to incorporate foreign
elements, moderating and utilizing these elements in concert with the national
culture, reflected the anthropophagous character of Brazilians. These ideas arose
first from Modern Art Week in 1922, but were later intensified through the academic
work of the anthropologist Gilberto Freyre, who highly valued Brazil's
mixing of races. He established a trend and an anthropological school that still
exist in Brazil.

Mestiço thinking insisted on the necessary assimilation of Japanese in the Brazilian
melting pot. The resulting nationalism strongly influenced the cultural and
educational program of dictator Getúlio Vargas's government. As formally enacted
into law in 1938, 30 percent of the residents in every city had to be Brazilians and
no single foreign nationality could represent more than 25 percent of the inhabitants.
Moreover, all educational books used in schools had to be in Portuguese and
school directors had to be Brazilians. These elements had as their aim a new Brazilian
identity, defending a growing Brazilian nationalism based on assimilation.
As a result, although the nonexistence of a Brazilian identity had earlier been


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