Brazilian culture, Olympic roster highlight ties to Japan

    rio de janeiro (ap) — With Olympic medals starting to roll in, Brazilians looking to toast their success might try a sakerinha. yes, it’s a real drink: a fusion of Japanese sake and the national cocktail, the caipirinha, which is as completely Brazilian as samba and the sun.

    Though few visitors who flood the country for the summer games may know it: Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, with some 2 million Brazilians whose ancestry traces back to the Asian nation.

    Reading: Japanese brazilian olympic athlete


    many arrived in the early 20th century as poorly paid farm laborers working on coffee plantations in southern brazil. the population then was overwhelmingly black or brown, and the Japanese were recruited, along with European immigrants and others, as part of a government policy to “whiten” the country. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to ban slavery, in 1888.

    Japanese roots have long been found in the roster of Brazil’s Olympic teams, past and present.

    charles koshiro chibana, a second-generation japanese-brazilian, is one of the best judoka in the country and was trained in japan, where the sport was born. “I made a lot of friends in Japan,” he said, “and I always feel at home there.”

    chibana, who lost his first match on Sunday to eventual bronze medal winner Masashi Ebinuma of Japan, says Portuguese is his first language, but he speaks Japanese at home with his parents. “I always learn about Japan,” she said.

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    mahau camargo suguimati, who will compete on monday, is a brazilian-born hurdler who trained and studied for much of his life in japan, primarily in saitama prefecture, not far from tokyo. Paula Harumi Ishibashi, captain of the Brazilian women’s rugby sevens team, was born in Sao Paulo but has her roots in Japan.

    six-time Olympic table tennis player Hugo Hoyama is a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian; he is training the brazilian women’s team in rio. and Japanese-Brazilian Chiaki Ishii won Brazil’s first Olympic medal in judo at the 1972 Games. She was born in Japan but emigrated to Brazil after being unable to make his homeland team.

    many of those who don’t compete also have a foot in both countries.

    geraldo omachi, a mining engineer, works as a japanese-portuguese translator for the rio organizing committee. Omachi said his parents left Japan in the 1960s in search of more space and what he called a more open way of living. he calls his own life “combined”. he loves to eat rice, but only Japanese rice, with his Brazilian black beans.

    “I guess I’m more Brazilian, but I have a lot of me that is very Japanese,” said Omachi, who speaks Portuguese at home with his children and wife, whom he described as “Brazilian-Brazilian, part native and part descendant of slaves.”

    Three decades ago, in the midst of a booming economy in Japan, many Japanese-Brazilians moved there to work in auto plants or high-tech industries, taking advantage of passport and residency rights.

    Oizumi, a few hours northwest of Tokyo, has one of the largest Brazilian communities in Japan. Brazilian restaurants and supermarkets abound, while convenience stores sell foods like farofa (roasted cassava), black beans, and the beloved Brazilian sweet peanut pacoquita. malls often have signs written in Japanese and Portuguese telling shoppers where to return their carts.

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    shizuka luiza ameku was born in brazil, has a japanese passport and has divided her life between the two countries. she often feels torn between cultures too.

    “Sometimes I feel lost,” she said. “Sometimes they tell me I look Japanese, but in some places they say I’m not Japanese, I’m Brazilian.”

    ameku is working on the olympic games helping the japanese tv station nhk find rooms, make reservations and order food. Her mother and her father emigrated from the island of Okinawa, in southern Japan, to Bolivia and then to Brazil.

    Four languages ​​resonate in her parents’ home: Japanese, Okinawan, Portuguese, and Spanish.

    “It’s a very crazy language that we speak, a bit like our origin,” he said. “We start with one and end with another.”


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