This was inspired by a recent post over at Randy McDonald's blog. Randy linked to an article mentioning the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Japanese immigrants in Brazil. That was back in the days when Japan was a poor, developing country that was exporting immigrants because it had too many people. (A hundred years, hey? My grandfather was about Alan's age then. There are people alive today who remember it.) And today there are something more than a million ethnic Japanese in Brazil.
This brought me back to my days on Saipan, in the Marianas Islands. I don't talk about the Marianas much on this blog. Well, I lived there for seven years in the 1990s, and it was pretty interesting. It's... gulp... ten years since I left. Still keep in touch with friends, but yeah, Saipan was a while ago.
But anyway: back when I lived in the Marianas, I was sitting at the beach one day with some friends. Now, like most beaches on Saipan, this one had several hundred tourists and maybe half a dozen locals: us.
In those days the tourists were all Japanese. (I understand that today it's more a mix, with lots of Koreans and Taiwanese and even some mainland Chinese too.) The Japanese tourists were pretty much of a piece. Men wore baggy shorts. Women wore one-piece bathing suits with floral prints. A few younger, more daring sorts might wear Speedos or two-pieces, but even these were pretty conservative. People went down to the water, splashed a little, then sat on beach towels.
And then we saw this one girl.
She was wearing a small bikini that was bright, flourescent yellow. And she just... walked different. Not like a Japanese at all. She sort of undulated. Even without the outfit, she'd have stood out. With the outfit, she caused a visible ripple as she walked down the beach: heads turning to stare, then turning back, then sidelong glances.
Sure enough: when we went over and introduced ourselves, she was Japanese-Brazilian. (Okay, when I went over. I was downright gregarious, back in the day.) She came right over and sat beside us -- which, right there, was pretty un-Japanese; a Japanese from Tokyo would have needed some chatting up first -- and between my limited Japanese, her limited English, and my friends' Spanish, we were able to talk pretty freely.
She was born and raised in Brazil, but had come back to Japan to look for work. Mid-1990s Japan was already feeling a labor shortage, and even third- and fourth-generation immigrants still spoke and read Japanese perfectly. And jobs in Japan paid well.
And what did she think? Well, the money was very good, yes! But it was cold in winter and grey much of the rest of the year. The clothes were drab and bulky and the food was bland. People were stiff and not very friendly and looked at her sort of askance because she didn't act quite right. And, honestly? nobody in Tokyo could dance worth a damn. (I am not making any of this up.) It wasn't so bad that she wouldn't stay a while, but she was definitely not going to settle there -- she'd work another year or two, build up some more cash, and then head back to Brazil: home.
Later our (all-male) group had a lively debate: one side saying "DAMN she was gorgeous OMG that girl was HOT" and another saying "No way, she looked exactly like the other tourist girls -- it was the outfit and the moves -- put her in one of those drab floral singles and have her sit still and you'd walk right past her."
She had to fly out that evening, so it never was resolved.
Anyway, that's my Japanese-Brazilian story.