Research on the Japanese in Latin America has become increasingly specialized during the past decade. While some of this research is becoming redundant, particularly on the experience of the Issei and Nisei generations during World War II, this study by Hideaki Matsuoka provides fresh insights regarding the religious views of recent generations of Japanese Brazilians. Matsuoka, an anthropologist educated at the University of Tokyo and the University of California at Berkeley, conducted the bulk of his research in São Paulo during the early 1990s. He argues that new Japanese religions such as World Messianity have arisen during the past century because of crises in Japanese society, especially World War II. These destructive events required spiritual and emotional renewal. One of the most important of these new religions was Ōmoto, a millenarian belief that proclaimed the need for the complete renewal of the world. World Messianity's founder, Okada Mokichi, drew heavily upon the teachings of Ōmoto. The early twentieth-century importance of Ōmoto among a core group of Japanese-Brazilian immigrants laid the groundwork for World Mes-sianity's appeal after World War II in Brazil.
The appeal of World Messianity in Brazil is substantial in the São Paulo region, particularly among the middle and upper middle classes. Attempts to proselytize in the favelas have not met with success. Still this religion has been remarkably welcoming of what Matsuoka calls "non-ethnic Japanese." Although founded by a Japanese man and administered by a religious hierarchy that is largely "ethnic Japanese," this religion boasts more diversity than any other new Japanese religion in Brazil. Unlike many Brazilian folk religions, World Messianity prohibits the idea of spirit possession and instead places great emphasis on self-cultivation of spiritual qualities. One of the most important aspects of its appeal for nonethnic Japanese in Brazil is its strong emphasis upon healing both the body and the spirit.
This religion, like most others in Brazil, has benefitted from the decline of Catholic Church membership over the past 50 years. Matsuoka does a fine job of explaining how World Messianity fits into the complex milieu of religions now embraced by Brazilians instead of Catholicism. He contrasts, for example, how the Afro-Brazilian folk religions, Umbanda and Candomblé, have decidedly different followings than the Japanese new religions. This is as much an issue of race and class as it is a reflection of spiritual outlook. In this vein, although Matsuoka presents only four case studies, they prove quite useful for understanding the motivations of World Messianity's followers. One informant, for example, was attracted to the religion's reputed healing qualities for her son, and his illness abated. On the other hand, another viewed World Messianity as one of the few religions in Brazil that actively emphasized helping others.
This is an informative book but, as an historian, I think that Matsuoka could have clarified the role of the new religions in Brazil with some discussion of the social and spiritual state [End Page 403] of pre-World War II Japanese immigrants in Brazil. Isolated in their colonias in the interior of São Paulo state, they were separated from their cherished homeland, and with it Buddhist and Shinto sacred places. Many of these Issei were thus spiritually lost and they turned to emperor worship in place of more traditional beliefs. This led to significant suffering and even violent factionalism in the Japanese-Brazilian community in the aftermath of Japan's defeat in World War II. The author also fails to discuss the impact of the exodus of at least 350,000 members of the Japanese-Brazilian population to Japan beginning in the late 1980s and continuing to this day. Seeking a better economic future, these new immigrants have altered the dynamics of the Japanese-Brazilian religious communities dramatically. These additions would have strengthened an already important addition to the literature on religious and social diversity in Southern Brazil.