The problem blends with the transit of migrants who cross the region in search of the American drea...
SÃO PAULO, Brazil – The global economic crisis, natural disasters and the strengthening of the Brazilian economy are the main factors that have motivated about 100,000 Brazilian workers living in Japan to return to their home country.
These workers, the descendants of Japanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil in the early 20th century, began leaving Brazil for Japan in the 1980s in search of better working conditions.
By July 2008, there were 310,000 Brazilian dekassegui in Japan, according to Brazil’s Foreign Ministry. The term is used in Japan to refer to people who leave their home country to temporarily work in another nation.
Following three decades of high immigration levels, this figure fell to 215,134 by September 2011, according to the Consulate General of Brazil in Tokyo.
The global economic crisis is cited as the main reason for the return of Nipo-Brazilians to their homeland.
“The crisis left a lot of workers unemployed, while others lost their overtime,” says Jorge Takano, the president of Kenren, which represents 47 Japanese provincial associations in Brazil. “From a financial standpoint, staying in Japan wasn’t worth it.”
In 2009, after three years in the Japanese city of Kakegawa, Cristina Toshi Onita, 33, returned with her husband and three children to the municipality of São Bernardo do Campo, in São Paulo.
“When we got our first paycheck in Japan, we thought it was a lot of money,” she says. “But it was an illusion because the cost of living there is very high.”
In Kakegawa, Onita worked 13 hours a day in a factory that made motors for air conditioning units.
When the country was hit by the global economic crisis, overtime was reduced, and living in Japan became no longer feasible for the Onitas.
“If we’re working just to make ends meet, I definitely prefer Brazil,” says Onita, who only plans to return to Japan as a tourist. “Living close to family makes everything easier.”
The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 and the growth of the Brazilian economy to become the sixth-largest in the world also influenced these immigrants to return to their native country.
The economic situation in Brazil is “relatively better” than that of Japan, said Teichum Hiramatsu, the president of the Brazilian Dekassegui Association (ABD).
Headquartered in Curitiba, Paraná, the ABD works to reintegrate dekassegui into the Brazilian labor market.
The ABD handles about 80 cases monthly by telephone, email and at the organization’s headquarters.
“At the start of the 1990s, a dekassegui was an individual who would come back with savings and the dream of starting a business,” says Hiramatsu, pointing out that there has been a change in the dekassegui profile due to the low wages and high cost of living in Japan. “The ones who have come back more recently don’t have money to start their own businesses. They are looking for work.”
Junji Abe, president of the Brazil-Japan Parliamentary Group in the National Congress, says he is not often sought out by the Japanese community in Brazil.
“The situation for the dekassegui in Brazil can be considered to be good,” he says. “We haven’t received information of their facing major problems.”
In January 2011, the Ministry of Labor opened in São Paulo the Information and Support Center for Workers Returning from Abroad (NIATRE) to make dekassegui transitions to Brazil as smooth as possible.
NIATRE helps Brazilians returning from throughout the world to obtain documents, resolve legal issues, open companies and re-enter the labor market.
Among the most common problems registered at NIATRE are the difficulties children have in learning Portuguese and adapting to school life in Brazil, the need for professional counseling for young people over the age of 18 and the difficulty adults have in entering the Brazilian labor market after years of living abroad.
The challenge of readapting
Returning is always harder when it is done out of necessity, says the ABD’s Hiramatsu.
In many cases, the children of dekassegui were born in Japan and face difficulties upon returning to Brazil.
Founded in 2008, Projeto Kaeru helps the children of dekassegui integrate into school life in Brazil.
After classes end, the students are given language and behavioral guidance at 16 schools in the city of São Paulo or at the headquarters of the Educational and Cultural Solidarity Institute (ISEC).
Projeto Kaeru has handled more than 4,500 cases the past two years.
“As it happens with all immigrants, there’s always this impression that what you had before was better than what you have now, that the other side of the ocean was more beautiful,” says Kyoko Nakagawa, the coordinator of Projeto Kaeru. “That frustration leads them to return to Japan.”
Carlos Kakuhama, 46, might become one of those cases.
Recently married and with a mortgage, he accepted an uncle’s invitation to move from Blumenau, a city in the state of Santa Catarina, to Nagoya, Japan, in 2006.
With the intention of staying for a maximum of three years, Kakuhama worked 85 hours a week in an auto parts factory, commuting by bicycle to save money.
In 2007, he had to return to Brazil for family reasons.
But he’s still trying to establish himself professionally.
“Unfortunately in Brazil, if you’re over 35, you’re considered old. At the factory where I worked in Japan, there were old men who were nearly 100,” says Kakuhama, who is a partner in a behavioral training microbusiness but is having trouble landing clients. “I hope that the situation with my company improves by the second half of the year because I really want to stay in Brazil.”