Around the World in 80 Hours #10: The Japanese Brazilians

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As I've mentioned the main reason why Eric Chiang​ and I are on this adventure is to turn much of the material and experiences we're gathering into a new feature (Around the World) for his upcoming book, Economics: Principles for a Changing World 4e. At this point, I want to turn to turn to some economic issues that we've already planned on including in the book (I can say this with authority now that I'm the editor Smiley Happy).

Bet you didn't know that Brazil has the largest population of people of Japanese descent outside of Japan - approximately 1.5 million. Just a weird fact? 'Course not. We're all about economics here. The reason why has everything to do with labor and our old pal, coffee.

Check out this Japanese daruma doll our cab driver from the airport had on his dashboard:

japanese doll.JPG

Back in the early 1900's, Brazil's main export was, you guessed it- coffee. At that time coffee was just starting to become extremely popular and its demand was increasing exponentially. Brazil needed labor to work its coffee plantations. This is around the same time that fuedalism in Japan formally ended, and all of the sudden a major labor force was looking for work. In 1907 Brazil and Japan signed a formal immigration treaty, and when both World Wars curtailed any european labor available for the coffee plantations, the Japanese immigration numbers boomed:

japanese immigration.JPG

That's just part of the story though, notice how immigration numbers fall off in the 60's. This is because Japan's economy took off after the US occupation ended and there was no longer an incentive for the Japanese labor force to emigrate.

One of the unique things about the Japanese population in Japan is the depth to which they've been assimilated into the culture here (some would argue forceably). Much of the population is 4th or 5th generation by this point, no longer speaks Japanese, and identifies as Brazilian (though as you'll see, there are still many cultural markers of their heritage. Today, we trekked out to the Liberdade area of São Paulo, where much of this group is concentrated, to witness the first hand effects of a shift in the labor market:




Up next, graffiti, inflation, and then South Africa!