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Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return Migration in Transnational Perspective


This project examined the ethnic ?return? migration of the Japanese Brazilians from Brazil to Japan as unskilled migrant workers and their cultural encounter with the Japanese. Although the Japanese Brazilians are of Japanese descent, most of them were born in Brazil and have become culturally Brazilianized. As a result, they have become Japan's newest immigrant minority with a population close to 300,000. I conducted over twenty months of multi-site fieldwork, first in two Brazilian cities with Japanese Brazilian communities and then in Japan, where I worked in a factory with Japanese Brazilian immigrant workers and Japanese laborers as a participant observer. Interviews were conducted in two Japanese cities with Japanese Brazilians, as well as with Japanese workers, residents, employers, and government officials.

The issues this project addressed include the impact of ethnic return migration on the minority status, ethnonational identity, and adaptation of the Japanese Brazilians, as well as their conceptions of home and homeland. Although they are a socially prominent and culturally respected ?Japanese? minority group in Brazil, when they migrate to Japan, they suddenly become an ethnically and socioeconomically marginalized ?Brazilian? minority group subject to Japanese ethnic prejudice and discrimination. In response to their negative reception in their ethnic homeland and the unfavorable cultural perceptions they develop of the Japanese, the Japanese Brazilians experience a resurgence of Brazilian nationalist sentiment and actively assert and display their Brazilian ?counter-identities? in their daily practices and ethnic performances, which enables them to resist assimilationist Japanese cultural pressures. In addition, the project situated the Japanese Brazilian immigrants within a broader understanding of Japanese ethnic and national identity by analyzing how mainstream Japanese react negatively to them and how this reinforces Japanese ethnonational sentiments.

Research Team
  • Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda, Principal Investigator

Funding Sources
Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship ($55,000)
Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Predoctoral Grant ($9,000)
UC Berkeley Center for Japanese Studies fellowship grant ($5,000)
Social Science Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies dissertation write-up fellowship ($5,000)
Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies fellowship grant, University of California at San Diego ($35,000)

Publications & Presentations

Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda (2003)

Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return Migration in Transnational Perspective. New York: Columbia University Press. Abstract PDF

Race and Xenophobia in Japan: The Case of Japanese-Brazilians (January 31, 2006, Worldview, NPR Chicago).

Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda