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Reviewed by:
  • Brokered Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Migrants in Japan, and: Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return Migration in Transnational Perspective
  • Roger Goodman (bio)
Brokered Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Migrants in Japan. By Joshua Hotaka Roth. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2002. ix, 161 pages. $42.50, cloth; $16.95, paper.
Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return Migration in Transnational Perspective. By Takeyuki Tsuda. Columbia University Press, New York, 2003. xx, 431 pages. $54.50, cloth; $27.50, paper.

In 1988, there were a mere 6,000 South American Nikkeijin registered in Japan. By 1990, there were over 70,000; by 1992, 185,000; and since 1994, there have been well over 200,000, meaning that around 15 per cent of the total Japanese Latin American population now lives in Japan. The extraordinary story of the influx of Nikkeijin into Japan has been told many times [End Page 465] over the past decade and has been the source of innumerable theses, articles, and books both inside and outside Japan.1 Joshua Hotaka Roth's and Takeyuki Tsuda's books, however, are far from being just the latest in a long line of publications. With the benefit of hindsight, long immersion in the field, and a high degree of theoretical sophistication, both these books bring the study of this community right into the mainstream of anthropological research.

The story of the Nikkeijin's return to Japan began in the heyday of the Japanese bubble economy in the late 1980s. Up to 50 Japanese companies a week were going bankrupt—not, as today, through lack of orders, but through a lack of workers to fulfill the orders they were receiving. Japanese youth were not only too few in number but also too middle class in their aspirations to want to do jobs that were considered dirty, dangerous, and badly paid, work described, with the Japanese penchant for neat slogans, as 3-K (kitsui, kiken, and kane ga nai). Into this void flowed a rapid and steady stream of cheap laborers from the Middle East and Japan's Asian neighbors. They were eager to work and eager for the wages that were still many times what they could earn at home even if, on average, those wages constituted only 60 per cent of what Japanese workers could expect to earn for doing the same job. Whereas in the mid-1980s, it was still rare to see a foreigner in Japan who was not a businessman, an English teacher, or a tourist, by the late 1980s, it was commonplace to see turbaned Sikhs on building sites, to meet groups of Chinese or Korean employees of subcontracting firms returning from work, and to see literally thousands of young Iranian men on any Sunday exchanging information and services in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park.

For several years, there was a curious standoff between employers and immigration officials over these workers: they were certainly not invisible (and indeed the government would routinely put out figures detailing exactly how many illegal workers there were in Japan, where they were concentrated, and in what sectors of the labor force they worked), yet nor were they given any rights in terms of employment, health insurance, or length of stay. Eventually, however, as debate over such workers reached a crescendo at the very end of the 1980s, and under pressure from a range of international and domestic human rights and labor organizations, the Japanese government was forced to confront the issue and attempt to regularize the situation. This it did in part by opening the way for any Latin American who could demonstrate having at least one Japanese grandparent to come and work in Japan legally. Given the parlous economic situation in Latin America [End Page 466] at the time, and in particular in Brazil, the subsequent huge influx described above should not have been unexpected. But why was this population singled out for special treatment, especially when there was already a large number of workers in Japan only too keen to be allowed to stay and with whom employers seemed to be reasonably satisfied?

The official reason given for inviting the Nikkeijin back to Japan was, as both authors relate...


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