Some 190,000 Brazilian nationals lived in Japan at the end of 2012, according to the Justice Ministry. Although an estimated 100,000 or more people have returned to Brazil since the so-called Lehman Shock of 2008, Brazilians form the fourth-largest population among foreign residents in Japan after 650,000 Chinese, 530,000 Koreans and 200,000 Filipinos.

The number of Brazilian residents began to increase in 1990 when a legal revision allowed Japanese-Brazilians of up to the third generation to work in Japan. More than 60 percent or about 120,000 of the Brazilian population in Japan therefore reside in five prefectures having a large number of auto plants and related manufacturers -- Aichi, Shizuoka, Mie, Gunma and Gifu.

While language and cultural barriers have limited many Brazilians from actively engaging in the wider Japanese community, younger people, fluent in Japanese, have come to play active roles in a variety of fields since around the start of the current century.

Paulo Issamu Hirano, a 35-year-old third-generation Japanese-Brazilian resident in Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, is one of them, publishing a free newspaper to promote an area called "Brazil Town" in Oizumi in the prefecture, which has many Brazilian restaurants and other shops.

"I want to build closer ties between (Brazil Town) and Japanese people," Hirano said, referring to the quarterly paper he began publishing four years ago under the Brazilian title of "Bem-vindo!" which means "welcome" in Portuguese.

While operating a design office, Hirano began the publication to lure Japanese people to Oizumi, as a large number of Brazilian residents lost jobs and returned to Brazil after the Lehman Shock. Helped by his 40-year-old wife Luciene, also a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian, Hirano now publishes 15,000 copies of the quarterly, up from an original 7,000.

"I would like to offer accurate information on the two countries' cultures and lives so that (readers) can compare values and make judgments," he said.

With the immigration of Japanese from Gifu Prefecture to Brazil starting in 1913, an almanac was completed last year on the 100th anniversary under the leadership of Marcelo Watanabe, a 35-year-old third-generation Japanese-Brazilian in the city of Gifu.

The almanac, written in both Japanese and Portuguese, consists of three volumes -- history of immigrants from the prefecture, stories on people and groups active in the two countries, and introduction of 12 young Japanese-Brazilians including Watanabe.

Studying the history of immigrants, Watanabe was surprised to know their bitter experiences such as working from 4 a.m. every day and losing many loved ones to malaria. In Japan, they were called abandoned people while they were seen as enemies during World War II because Brazil sided with the Allies, he learned.

"I am what I am because they (immigrants) overcame hardships," Watanabe said.

Watanabe especially put emphasis on the third volume, hoping that young people would learn something from the 12 people for their future. The 12 include people working in Japan and studying at college in Brazil.

Watanabe came to Japan in 1991 and enrolled as a sixth grader at an elementary school when he was 13 years old as he did not understand Japanese well enough. He studied hard and was licensed as a certified administrative procedures specialist after graduating from Gifu University. He now helps immigrants renew visas among other procedures at his office in the Gifu prefectural city of Minokamo, which has a large Brazilian population.

"I've come to where I am thanks to support from people around me," Watanabe said. "It's my turn to return the favor."

A pop music group of five teenage Japanese-Brazilian girls, Linda Sansei, made a debut in April 2013 and performed at the Tokyo Idol Festival, a major annual event featuring live performance from idol groups, in the summer of last year.

On the eve of the event, "I was so excited that I couldn't fall asleep until 3 a.m." the following morning, Mutsumi, a 13-year-old member of the group, recalled.

Linda Sansei has come to draw attention as an idol group from a regional location because all members, with an average age of 14, were raised in Gunma Prefecture. The group is eager to perform at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil in June.

Ricardo Sugano, 27, is a sumo wrestler fighting under the name of Kaisei. He came to Japan from Brazil in 2006 to become a professional sumo wrestler at the Tomozuna stable.

Training was tough but he never thought of quitting because "I really wanted to come to Japan and knew that I couldn't become strong without working hard," he said.

Sugano said his target for now it to be promoted to the "sanyaku" top three ranks beneath "yokozuna," or grand champion, for the first time.

Though Sugano is fluent in Japanese now, he could not speak it when he came to Japan.

"I listened very attentively to master Japanese for the sake of myself," he said.

Asked to give a message to fellow Japanese-Brazilians living in Japan, Sugano said, "I hope they will become more active in various fields by mastering Japanese and getting involved with Japanese people."
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