Kasato Maru

Centenary of Japanese immigration offered centuries of teaching

As much as someone who speaks to you or reads about the peculiarities of Japanese behavior, it is only in personal contact that one can see the great differences in the Japanese way of thinking and relating to others.
For me, the big test was in 2008, when the centenary of the arrival of the ship Kasato Maru to the Port of Santos was celebrated, marking the beginning of Japanese immigration in Brazil. I had contact with Japanese of the gem and I saw, a few meters away, the prince of the oriental country. It is in the details that we can see the differences between our tropical way of life and the secular traditions of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Kashima, “Asagiri” and “Umigiri

Japanese punctuality

The centennial program started with the arrival of three large Japanese vessels (the ships “Kashima,“ Asagiri ”and“ Umigiri ”), on the morning of June 18. They docked with British punctuality, exactly at 9 am, the same time that Kasato Maru docked at warehouse 14, in 1908, bringing on board the first 781 Japanese, after 52 days of travel.

To get to Santos, the boats went around the world in the opposite direction made by Kasato Maru. Unlike the pioneer ship, which came to Brazil in a westerly direction (passing by the coast of Africa), the squadron crossed the Pacific Ocean, made a stop in Hawaii, and arrived at the coast of northeastern Brazil after passing through the Panama Canal, in Central America.
Santos was just one stopover on a Japanese Navy training trip, which left Tokyo on April 15 and passed through 13 ports in 10 countries, covering a total of 30,000 miles, and returning to Japan on September 18. . On board, 730 crew members (170 of them recently graduated or in training officers).

Two of the ships were open to public visitation over the weekend. Before, on a Wednesday, the 18th, Kashima was opened to Brazilian journalists. And this visit revealed the differences in Japanese behavior.

Economical and formal
In a large room on the school ship, there was only a large table of approximately 10 meters, with two chairs. Seated, the commander of the ship, Rear Admiral Chikara Inoue, and the translator seconded by the Japanese Consulate. On the other side of the table, standing, about a dozen journalists. The press conference with the commander took place in a formal tone, with emphatic, objective and economic responses.

The translator gave an absolutely laconic tone to the interview, using cold push-ups at all times: “It was asked…”, “it was answered…”.

Although in a restrained tone, the commander said it was difficult to express in words the feeling of arriving at the port where, 100 years ago, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil. He spoke about the effort of the first immigrants to arrive and that Brazil was a “very striking” country, due to the “beautiful natural” scenarios, like the ones he saw in Recife and Rio de Janeiro. He revealed that he had no relatives who had emigrated to Brazil and said that his main reference to Brazilian culture was football. Inoue stated that the celebrations not only mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first immigrants, but the beginning of another century of Japanese immigration history in Brazil.

In a solemn tone, the translator announces the end of the meeting: “The interview is closed. The commander thanks everyone for their presence and asks for permission to leave because he has other duties ”.

Inside Kashima
Next, the journalists were taken to visit the “Kashima” facilities, under the supervision of the vessel’s subcommander, Osishiro Sakai. Before answering each question, I paused for a long time and answered them with economic phrases. He showed some apprehension about the possibility of the group breaking up.

The details of the ship impressed journalists, unaccustomed to warships – even more so from the Japanese Navy. Right at the entrance, a small altar showed the importance of religiosity for the crew.

In the command tower, there was a chair lined with showy red fabric — Commander Chikara Inoue’s exclusive location. On shelves, several books, maps and other publications. One was a kind of catalog of warships from other countries, written, of course, in Japanese ideograms. On a clipboard, a map and a calculator with keys with Roman numerals and, of course, ideograms.

On the deck, a binocular guaranteed the visitors’ fun. Through his lenses, it was possible to see in detail a child flying a kite in the Prainha slum, on the other side of the estuary channel, in Guarujá. Or, looking towards the side of the city, between the gaps of the buildings, a ship leaving the bar. Or workers working on the roof of a building, near Sabesp’s water tank, on Avenida Pedro Lessa.

When asked about Kashima’s firepower, Osishiro says he is not authorized to give this type of information. I asked, then, when was the last time that a ship went into action, in a real combat. He replies that since the Second World War a Japanese vessel has not been involved in a battle. “But the relationship with China is not the most friendly,” I replied. The officer smiled slightly and said, “Japan is a peaceful country.”

At the end of the visit, on the main deck, sailors were rolling out a red carpet. But it was not for us, but a preparation for the dinner guests that would be served in the evening …

The boy from Kyoto
It was at a commemorative event at the Armazém 14 in Porto, where Kasato Maru had docked 100 years before, that I met Takanobu Sakagami, then 23, a reporter for the “Nikkey Shimbum” (newspaper produced in São Paulo, in ideograms, for Japanese colony), highlighted to cover the centennial celebrations in Santos.

Japanese from Kyoto, he had been in Brazil for less than a year. Despite having studied Portuguese in Kyoto, I had some difficulty understanding and being understood in the language.

In addition to the difficulty with the language, Sakagami appeared to be completely lost and chose me as his safe haven to try to understand what was going on around him. We accompanied the ceremony together, which includes a series of speeches and the opening of a monument to mark the date. At the end, a generous banquet was served, with typical Japanese foods and a lot of sake – after the duty was done, evidently I balked and came home rolling from eating so much and drifting a little.

I asked Takanobu if the sushi and sashimi served at that event were as good as those made in Japan. He made a brief silence and replied:
– It’s tasty, but it’s different.
– How different? Does it taste stronger, weaker …?
– The one from Japan is more raw!
– Like this? Both are raw, raw is raw …
– Sushi made in Japan has more taste.

Real presence
The next day, the main event took place in Santos that marked the centenary of Japanese immigration: the inauguration of the imposing sculpture designed by the artist Tomie Ohtake on the platform of the submarine outfall, with the presence of the Japanese prince Naruhito.

A strict security scheme was set up: military, civilian, federal police, plainclothes guards. Everything so that nothing went wrong, due to the presence of the prince.

The guests would follow the ceremony from a distance, on an awning installed about 100 meters from the sculpture. Journalists were given a playpen, further away.

I was lucky: as I didn’t know about this distinction, I went in, without being barred, and I was among the authorities: the mayor, the artist Tomie Ohtake, the architect Ruy Ohtake, representatives of the Japanese community, the commander of the PM, the Firefighters, councilors, secretaries, deputies…

I only realized that I was where I was not supposed to be after seeing photo-reporter Leandro Amaral being stopped when he tried to come and talk to me.

The prince arrived (in a Honda, of course) and, getting out of the car, his back was turned to the photographers and videographers. He just turned to them quickly and gave a restrained wave. To get to the ceremony stand, he faced the place where I was standing, allowing me to take a sequence of photos with ease. It was like hitting a penalty.

The inauguration was quick. The prince followed the protocol and left. Plastic artist Tomie Ohtake, 94, was surrounded by journalists and did not hide her emotion. So much that he exchanged the balls and answered some questions by mixing Portuguese with Japanese.

I met Takanobu again at the end of the ceremony – him and his unmistakable smile. We exchanged contacts and mutual wishes for good luck and said goodbye: “Sayonara!”

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