Celebration for 80th Anniversary of Japanese Emigration to Amazon

30 Sep, 2009

On September 20, the memorial ceremony was held, well, in sort of grand style in Manaus. (The Tomé-Açu settlement had their anniversary on Sept. 16, while people in Belem celebrated the anniversary on Sept. 18. These events had been planned on staggered schedules so as to enable people living in the respective areas to take part in the events held at both locales. You need to take into account the time required for traveling between these places. You would take a bus to travel 400km between Belem and Tomé-Açu, and go by air to negotiate the distance of 1300km between Belem and Manaus. The vastness of the Amazon basin must be beyond the imagination of anybody who has never been here.)

A shrine gate. The modest building peeking through the trees in the background is an aquarium.

In Manaus, there was a commemorative ceremony held at the assembly hall of the Western Amazon Japan-Brazil Society, followed by a floral tribute to a war memorial. In the evening, a big memorial dinner party was given. All of these events were attended by more than 400 people, of which 260 were delegates from various settlements in other provinces including Sao Paulo, and a few dozens of visitors from Japan and over 100 Japanese residents living in the Manaus area.

While the city of Manaus embraces around 2000 Japanese-Brazilians, including those of the second and third generations, plus about 100 business people from Japan, the percentage of local attendance at these anniversary events represented only 5%. That is why I purposely wrote "in sort of grand style" at the beginning of the article. I personally wished there had been at least a 10% attendance, 200 of local Japanese residents.

Well, I understand that quite a lot of the locals were unable to attend the anniversary due to the requirements of their bread-and-butter jobs; however, when it comes to those expatriate Japanese business people stationed here, they could have concerned themselves a little more about events like this, particularly in view of the fact that their business more or less rides on the coattails of the 80 years trailblazing by their fellow Japanese immigrants. Since the anniversary fell on Sunday, quite a few of those expatriate businessmen, as if defiantly, went off for a golfing or fishing weekend, although all of them knew about the ceremony but were only unable to understand its historical meaning. I do not blame them for that at all. I mean it. I just have misgivings about the deterioration of moral responsibility on the part of the corporate managers who have selected/dispatched such undiscerning subordinates to represent their company.

The visiting party from Japan comprised a young legislator, who also represented the Japan-Brazil Legislative Association, and a proxy on behalf of the governor of Fukuoka prefecture---a province that has sent a large number of settlers to Brazil in the past. Those veteran Japanese legislators who had rendered considerable service to boosting exchanges between the two countries lost their seats in the most recent elections across the board. It is a pity that the anniversary could not secure the attendance of any of those politicians familiar with the circumstances of Japanese immigrants in Brazil.

Said visiting party brought messages from the crown prince and the prime minister of Japan, which were read out by the members of the party; however, Prime Minister Aso had been ousted from power by that time, and therefore his message rang hollow somewhat, despite the fact that it had been prepared in Japan while he was still in office.

Aside from the political implication, the anniversary events also included traditional oral Japanese storytelling (Kodan) performed on the festival eve by Takarai Kinbai, a master performer, and a lecture given by Kazuma Yamane, a non-fiction science journalist, and a live performance by a professional singer, Kazufumi Miyazawa both on the anniversary day.

To my disappointment, however, I was told that the itinerary of the 260 delegates from other provinces had not scheduled to pay a visit to my Museum due their limited budget and time. But since the Museum is located in the vicinity of the war memorial, or rather as I have acknowledged myself and the Museum to be a self-appointed keeper of the war memorial, I arranged to host a free community open house at the Museum with offers of free chilled oolong tea so that those coming to pay floral tribute to the war memorial would be able to come by for comfort stop. Then, it turned out that almost everybody who visited the war memorial on that day DID call in at the Museum, and in the end, the water use in the bathroom far exceeded the supply capacity, making all of us panic!

Incidentally, I had placed a contribution box in one corner of the Museum, just in case some people might want to express their gratitude in material form. The result? About 20 people chipped in a total amount equivalent to Yen 2150.

Is that a lot or too little? I'll leave it up to my reader's judgment.

A plasma TV set contributed by Panasonic Brazil, which is installed in one of the corners of the Museum to show videos and slides that I have shot of various species of Amazonian fauna and flora.

Penned on Sept. 22, 2009

Shoji Hashimoto

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