Transoceanic passage brought nearly 200,000 immigrants from Japan to Brazil between 1908 and 1941. They were often geographically isolated as workers on coffee plantations, and thus able to maintain their Japanese linguistic and cultural identity, despite being “like drops of water into a bucket” who disappeared into the continental vastness of the country, as Ishikawa Tatsuzō wrote in his novel Sōbō (The emigrants, 1935). A new imagined community likewise took root in the Japanese-language immigrant newspapers that published locally produced serial fiction.
Jacobowitz’s presentation analyzes two stories by Sugi Takeo, a frequent contributor to the Burajiru Jihō newspaper, that represent settlers forced to wrestle with the meaning of being Japanese in Brazil. In “Café-en o uru” (Selling the coffee plantation, 1933) a Japanese family is forced to sell their land due to the predations of soldiers from the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932. Sugi’s “Tera Roshiya” (Terra rossa, 1937), meanwhile, derives its title from the red clay soil that made São Paulo State the heart of the global coffee trade. In both works it is ironically the moonshine sellers who see steady profits from every race and type of immigrant laborer, while the Japanese newcomers who naively dream of riches by bringing coffee to the market reap only a bitter brew of poverty for their efforts.
Seth Jacobowitz is Assistant Professor of Modern Japanese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages & Literatures and affiliate faculty in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at Yale University. He is the author of Writing Technology in Meiji Japan: A Media History of Modern Japanese Literature and Visual Culture (Harvard Asia Center, 2015) and the Edogawa Rampo Reader (Kurodahan Press, 2008). He is currently writing his next book, Brazil in the Japanese Imperial Imagination: Immigrant Literature and Transnational Modernity, 1908-1941. He will be Simon Visiting Professor to University of Manchester in May-June 2017 as he is also co-authoring a book on prewar Japanese science fiction and scientific discourse with Dr. Aaron W. Moore in the History Department there.
This is an East Asia Center event, cosponsored by the departments of Spanish and Portuguese and East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies, as well as the Reinventing Japan Research Focus Group, the Graduate Center for Literary Research, and the Latin American & Iberian Studies Program. The image is by Handa Tomoo.