Brazilian culture, Olympic roster highlight ties to Japan
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) With Olympic medals starting to roll in, Brazilians looking to toast their success might try a sakerinha. Yes, that's a real drink - a fusion of Japanese sake and the national cocktail, the caipirinha, that is as thoroughly Brazilian as samba and sun.
Though few visitors flooding into the country for the Summer Games might know: Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, with some 2 million Brazilians tracing their ancestry back to the Asian nation.
Many came early in the 20th century as poorly paid agricultural workers who labored on coffee plantations in southern Brazil. The population then was overwhelmingly black or brown, and the Japanese were recruited, along with European immigrants and others, as part of a government policy to ''whiten'' the country. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to ban slavery, in 1888.
Japanese roots have long been found up and down the roster of Brazil's Olympic teams, past and present.
Charles Koshiro Chibana, a second-generation Japanese-Brazilian, is one of the country's best judo athletes and has trained in Japan, where the sport was born. ''I've made many friendships in Japan,'' he said, ''and I always feel at home there.''
Chibana, who lost in his first match Sunday to the eventual bronze medal winner, Japan's Masashi Ebinuma, claims Portuguese as his first language but speaks Japanese at home with his parents. ''I always learn from Japan,'' he said.
Mahau Camargo Suguimati, set to compete Monday, is a Brazilian-born hurdler who trained and studied for much of his life in Japan, mostly in Saitama prefecture not far from Tokyo. Paula Harumi Ishibashi, captain of Brazil's women's rugby sevens team, was born in Sao Paulo but traces her roots to Japan.
Six-time Olympic table tennis player Hugo Hoyama is a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian; he's coaching the Brazilian women's team in Rio. And Japanese-Brazilian Chiaki Ishii won Brazil's first Olympic medal in judo at the 1972 games. He was born in Japan but immigrated to Brazil after he failed to make the team in his homeland.
Many of those not competing also have a foot in both countries.
Geraldo Omachi, a mining engineer, is working as a Japanese-Portuguese translator for the Rio organizing committee. Omachi said his parents left Japan in the 1960s looking for more space and what he called a more open way to live. He calls his own life ''combined.'' He loves to eat rice - but only Japanese rice - with his Brazilian black beans.
''I suppose I am more Brazilian, but I have a lot of me that is very Japanese,'' said Omachi, whose speaks Portuguese at home with his children and wife, whom he described as ''Brazilian-Brazilian - part native and the descendant of slaves.''
Three decades ago, amid a booming economy in Japan, many Japanese-Brazilians made the move there to work in car plants or high technology industries, taking advantage of passport and residency rights.
Oizumi, a few hours northwest of Tokyo, boasts one of Japan's largest Brazilian communities. Brazilian restaurants and supermarkets abound, while convenience stores stock foods like farofa (toasted cassava), black beans and the beloved Brazilian peanut confection Pacoquita. Malls there often have signs written in Japanese and Portuguese telling shoppers where to return their carts.
Shizuka Luiza Ameku was born in Brazil, has a Japanese passport, and has split her life between the two countries. She often feels torn between cultures, as well.
''Sometimes I feel lost,'' she said. ''Sometimes I'm told I look like a Japanese, but in some places they say I'm not Japanese, I'm a Brazilian.''
Ameku is working at the Olympics helping the Japanese television network NHK find rooms, make reservations and order food. Her mother and father emigrated from Japan's southern island of Okinawa to Bolivia, and then to Brazil.
Four languages reverberate in her parent's home: Japanese, Okinawan, Portuguese and Spanish.
''It's a very crazy language we speak, a bit like our background,'' she said. ''We start with one, and end with another.''
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