Wednesday, 21 April 2010


I didn't know until recently that South America is home to many Japanese communities. The communities flourished as early as the beginning of the 20th century as a result of the South American countries' effort to work closely with the Japanese in advancing their agricultural sector. This is noteworthy because the Japanese are not known to venture out in large number to foreign countries, compared to the Chinese or Indians.

Today South American Japanese are comfortably at home, assimilated while still holding on to the identities that defines them as Japanese. Brazil is now home to the biggest Japanese outside Japan. In Brazil-maru, novelist Karen Tei Yamashita takes us back to 1925, when a ship of hopeful immigrants makes it way to a new world entirely alien to them.

This situation brings up a very important question, "When a community is first starting out, what should it concerns itself first?" With limited resources and very few people, some agenda have higher priority than others. How would money, for example, be allocated? If we recall the Sirah, when Rasulullah SAW arrived in Madinah (or Yathrib at the time), he immediately build the masjid. The masjid functions not only as place of worship but also as the centre of governance and administration, learning and a venue to address social needs. One well-planned institution can solve many of the community's issues at once.

In the novel, the community leaders discussed at length how should the community be developed. I find it interesting that they believed some area should be cleared to allow the children to play baseball. I wonder if the penghulus of our kampungs was concerned about the children's needs when they first settled.

As novel, the community is only a stage where the real story is played out by several important people in it. The first to tell the story is Terada Ichiro, who was child when the he and his family boarded the Brazil-maru and practically grew along the community itself. They chose a area called Esperan├ža, a place reasonably near to other other Japanese immigrant farming communities, although they were largely invisible. Ichiro was the character I sympathised with the most.

Throughout the story one name stands out the most. Uno Kantaro. Charismatic even since he was a young man and just a few year older than Ichiro, Kantaro seemed destined to become a pivotal figure in the community's history. It's not surprising to see someone like him to rise in his society, especially when he's showing a lot of leadership potential. What's interesting was seeing how loyal the community was to their leadership, even when the leaders are making bad decisions.

Brazil-maru made me think about how a community, and eventually society and civilisation, develops. We are here in this society because of the actions and decision of the previous generations. They had very little idea about how their lives would impact us, as are we totally ignorant about how our lives might impact the lives of our children and grandchildren. Time and place may differ, but we are still sailing on the same ship.


ieka said...

mendalamnya maksud perenggan terakhir tu.. :)
bak kata upin&ipin: betul betul betul.. jadi, marilah.. let's vote for a change! he he he

unclejoe said...

interesting... where can i get this book... i noticed that there are many Japanese immigrants in Latin America but i did not notice there are also big number in Brazil... knowing, Japan is situated close by the continent and can be reached faster by anticlockwise sailing kan? long time ago have you been heard that alberto fujimori, he is one of the Japanese ancestor too who lived in Latin America and became a leader...

unclejoe said...

buku ni novel ke? it is not only about the language and literature may be,not only about the story and perhaps related to sociology, anthropology and psychology...and all about logos...logis... terjemahan from spanish ke?

r.o.l. said...

I wasn't trying to make any political statement actually :-)

I did try to work former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori into the post but I couldn't make it gel well with the rest of the post. He is of Japanese descent and is now said to be hiding in Japan, wallahua'lam.

Brazil-maru is a novel and you said it very well, it's about sociology, anthropology and so on, I wish I had thought of it myself hahaha. I like it as a kind of a historical case study, but not as a novel because towards the end it begins to sound like another Western novel: sex, cultural disintegration, post-modernism thoughts etc. I really wished it had something different to offer. I found it at Pay Less Books, which kind of like a Reject Shop/second hand book store. I'm not sure it can be found easily nowadays. Maybe some libraries have it.

ieka said...

:) understood.. saje-saje usik.. hehe
tapi sebenarnya negara kita pun dah menunjukkan banyak krisis kepimpinan atau krisis- tak-cukup-pemimpin berwibawa.. just terfikir.. betul, statement akhir zaman - byk yg jahat dari baik.. tapi perlukah kita berhenti berjuang di dalam hati.. (sbb nak berjuang kat luar tak mampu/tak cukup berani kan.. hehe)dan berkompromi utk hidup.. (oh ya, ni soalan retorik bukan berunsur politik juga ye :) )

r.o.l. said...

Saya pun terfikir benda yang sama. Bagaimana keadaan masyarakat kita lagi 20-30 tahun. Cuma saya lebih cendurung dengan pendapat bahawa ini adalah masalah rakyat lebih daripada masalah pemimpin. Satu, pemimpin datangnya dari kalangan rakyat. Dua, pemimpin diangkat oleh rakyat. Tiga, pemimpin ditaati rakyat, meskipun pemimpin itu zalim. Mungkin tak ramai yang setuju dengan pendapat ini. Wallahua'alam.

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