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Kotaro Torii

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Migrated society and globalization

Kotaro Torii
Associate professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Knowledge Engineering, Intelligent Information Science, Sports Science

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“Emigrate to South America”

These were the words from an emigration promotion poster in the late Taisho Era. The country shown on the poster, Brazil, currently has the largest number of ethnic Japanese than any other country. Having begun with the first emigration in 1908 of more than seven hundred people onboard the Kasato Maru, there are now about 1.5 million Brazilians of Japanese descent. In contrast, the number of Brazilians living in Japan, having peaked at more than 300,000, has fallen to below 200,000.

Besides people, goods, money, and information that make up the society, the fifth element that we need to recognize in globalization is the “migrant communities.” Instead of carrying out an exclusive internationalization by creating friendship groups that incorporate migrant communities, we should nurture and take advantage of this outstanding historical asset in our economic system for the sake of globalization, which is something not all countries have. The word “migration” brings to mind a number of factors such as race and the history of migration policy, but I would like to talk about its relation to the study visits to Brazil conducted as part of my seminar.

The important factor for globalization

My specialization covers, broadly speaking, the fields of information science, knowledge engineering, and neuroscience. At first I used to develop business process systems with mainframe computers, but later I became more interested in the information processing mechanisms of the human brain, so this was the direction my research took. While continuing electrophysiological experiments on brain sections of our fellow mammal, the rat, I came to the surprising conclusion that “a close network is the starting point of growth.” This reinforced my belief that the world of neurons seen in a water-immersion lens was, as the predestination of a living body, also applicable to the development of human societies and economic systems.

The nervous tissue begins to function once there is a network developing, but recently it has become clear that neural transmission is not necessarily limited to one direction. We now know that the recipient of information in a network simultaneously returns information. In the same way, the networks in the process of globalization are not limited to a one-way passage of information.

In globalization and internationalization, equally important for communication ability is the handing down of the accomplishments of the past pioneering efforts in a network (a migrant community rooted in a larger community). Any country, not just Japan, should be able to learn and benefit from its migrant societies. With this concept in mind, I take my young seminar students over to Brazil as part of their studies.

Ethnic Japanese communities

People, goods, money, and information – we have media for transferring all of these, but we can only understand our migrant communities if we visit them. A fortnight is not long enough to know all about Brazil, which is 23 times bigger than Japan, but we do visit as many local companies, universities, and ethnic Japanese communities as possible. Last year, we visited the three cities of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Sao Paulo.

In Rio de Janeiro, my ten students felt nervous about their inability to understand Portuguese, but from the beginning of the joint seminars at a local university they were able to exchange their thoughts freely. While gradually picking up some Portuguese through English, they were later able to hold discussions in English. It was the same in Sao Paulo, where they confidently talked with students of one of the leading South American universities. At the end, they played a softball friendly match against their host university. The venue was a vast sports ground owned by the ethnic Japanese community, and the students were surprised to hear Japanese exchanges between the opposing pitcher and catcher. If you research the university faculty, it is obvious from their family names that they include many ethnic Japanese teachers. These examples illustrate how deeply rooted and well regarded the Japanese community is in the area.

I will leave out the details of the course, but I asked my students for their impressions, once their initial excitement upon returning to Japan had cooled off. They replied that, having seen for themselves the degree and significance of the impact the ethnic Japanese community has had on the country, their regions, and even on Japanese companies in the area, they had gained a perspective and understanding of how this "fifth element" is aligned to globalization.

What is needed for globalization

The contribution of Japanese migrants to Brazil’s agriculture, such as through the agricultural development of the barren cerrado soil, has earned them a high level of recognition and trust, and the Japanese home learning system has been recognized and widely accepted because of their diligence. At our study location in Salvador, we visited the site where Hideyo Noguchi, although not an immigrant, conducted his research for a time. While listening to anecdotes about Professor Noguchi handed down from his colleagues at that time, we proudly noticed an engraving dedicated to him on a building of the local university. However, when people in Japan talk about globalization, I sense a lack of awareness of such wonderful assets and achievements produced by our forefathers.

The long-established ethnic Japanese Brazilians are already mostly third or fourth generation, and changes have appeared in their Japanese linguistic and cultural surroundings. Symbolic of this is Sao Paulo’s East Asian district. Formerly known as the Japanese quarter, it is home to Osaka Bridge, Mie-ken Bridge, and even a large Shinto torii, but its previously abundant Japanese-run stores have decreased in number. My students are all shocked by this scene, but while there is still a tide of Japaneseness we should be very aware from a strategic point of view that the migrant community can greatly help in Japan’s globalization. To this end, we hope for the creation of a new student exchange system and the like that is conscious of the fifth element, combined with the removal of visa restrictions between Japan and Brazil.

Kotaro Torii
Associate professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Knowledge Engineering, Intelligent Information Science, Sports Science
Associate Professor Torii was born in Tokyo in 1960. He graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University in 1982. He completed a masters program in 1994 and PhD in Information Science in 1997 at the School of Information Science, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
He served as a research assistant at the School of Information Science, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and a lecturer, assistant professor and professor on the Faculty of Business Administration, Matsuyama University before taking up his current position in 2011. His current research projects are knowledge-intensive contents usage support systems, and Web systems related to sports training.