A labor shortage during the economic boom of the late 1980s produced a change in visa laws to let in descendants of Japanese emigrants. But if officials figured the immigrants would blend easily back into Japanese society, they were disappointed.
Today, Japan's 302,000 Brazilians are its third-largest foreign minority after Koreans and Chinese. Watanabe and the other foreigners of Oizumi are the human legacy of that policy.
Instead of a chain of schools to absorb the newcomers into Japan, the reverse seems to be happening.
In 1999 the Brazilian education company Pitagoras opened a school in Ota, a town neighboring Oizumi, to improve the foreign children's Portuguese and prepare them for a possible return to Brazil. Japan now has six Pitagoras outlets.
Maria Lucia Graciano Franca, a teacher at the Ota school, said many of the workers' children speak neither Portuguese nor Japanese well and have trouble fully adjusting to life in Brazil or Japan.
"They go back to Brazil, they stay for a while, and they come back here," she said as children practiced dance moves for a school concert. "And the ones who stay in Japan follow the same route as their parents - they work in the factories."
The grown-ups are torn too.
21 January 2007
Another Profile of Japan's Brazilian Workers
Associated Press reporter Joseph Coleman recently talked to a few people in Oizumi, home of Japan's largest Braziltown, in international Ota City in Gunma Prefecture just north of Tokyo, and just across the river from the recent Outlier haunt of Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture. It's no surprise that the children of the immigrant workers seem to be having trouble fitting into either culture.