Brazil’s Truth Commission apologizes for persecution and torture of Japanese immigrants during World War II

Japonese immigrants in Brazil
Japonese immigrants in Brazil

Note from BW of Brazil:  Although the focus of this blog is exposing the experiences, triumphs and challenges of black Brazilian women and black Brazilians in general, the black experience in the western world often goes hand in hand with the experiences of other non-whites such as the indigenous communities throughout the Americans, Asian immigrants and others. Today’s post is a stunning example of this. Although the world may be well aware of events during and in the aftermath of the World War II era, little is known about the experience of Brazil’s Japanese community, which is the largest community of Japanese people outside of Japan. It’s been a long time coming, but Brazil has officially stepped forward and offered an apology for cases of torture and humiliation of its Japanese community after the surrender of the Axis powers in World War II. With the call for some form of compensation of Japanese descendants, the question must once again be raised: what about the pain and suffering of the Brazil’s black community that has endured 350 years of slavery and 125 more years of de facto racial discrimination and second class citizenship? As of right now, the case of reparations for black Brazilians has been denied. Maybe its time to take another look! Below is how the Japanese and Brazilian press reported on the Japanese situation.

The National Truth Commission has apologized for the racial discrimination that the Japanese community suffered in the hands of Brazil, a member of the Allied Forces during the Second World War. Rosa Cardoso, a lawyer at the commission, believes it’s time for Brazil to “ask forgiveness in relation to the Japanese.” Brazil is home to the largest Japanese ethnic population overseas, with 1.5 million immigrants including second and third generation descendants.

Cardoso revealed that there has never been any formal apology issued by the government of Brazil. During the war, especially following the attack on Pearl Harbor, thousands of Japanese were suspected of being spies or collaborators and ended up being either arrested or deported. Hundreds of Japanese schools were also closed, while speaking and writing in Japanese was prohibited. The Japanese community living near the coastline was forced to relocate, while those in northern Para State were forbidden to travel. “I apologize and ask forgiveness on behalf of all Brazilian citizens with a generous view of society because the background of this episode is racism,” Cardoso said.

Commission on "Cases of Torture and Death of Japonese Immigrants in Brazil, 1946-1947"
Commission on “Cases of Torture and Death of Japonese Immigrants in Brazil, 1946-1947”

The apology came 25 years after the United States and Canada made their respective acknowledgment and apology for discrimination and internment of Japanese immigrants in their countries. Even before the war broke out, the Japanese migrants already suffered discrimination when they first arrived in Latin America’s only Portuguese-speaking country. “The Brazilian elite have always been racist,” Cardoso admitted.

According to some survivors of the Brazilian torture, their loyalty was tested by being forced to step on a photo of Emperor Hirohito. Akira Yamachio, who was still a child during WWII, testified how his father and other Japanese prisoners were arrested and tortured in Anchieta in the State of Santa Catarina. “There inside [the penitentiary] there was persecution and torture,” he said. People were also ordered to take off their clothes and pass through a corridor of death.

Japonese immigrants in Brazil during World War II
Japonese immigrants in Brazil during World War II

“There was a lot of torture, discrimination and violence, legitimized by the nationalism of that period,” said Mario June Okuhara, who directed the movie Yami no Ichinichi. The film featured recorded testimonies of WWII survivors. He also thanked the truth commission for the apology, which he believes to be the beginning of the recognition of the violence against the Japanese community, many of which worked in coffee plantations. “This was silenced during the dictatorship and many have forgotten it, like they have forgotten to speak Japanese … Rescuing the truth about the arduous ordeal of the Japanese was a bold initiative.”

Meanwhile, author Fernando Morais believes that the next step of the apology should be compensation for the survivors and families of the victims. Morais has written a book about Japanese, Italian, and German migrants who suffered detention, torture, and killing during the Second World War. “Brazil should not only apologize. It owes money, a lot of money, to the Japanese community,” he said. “The confiscation of assets is well documented in the Centra Bank’s archives. Nobody ever got anything back.” The United States and Canada both compensated following their apologies in 1988.

Tokuichi Hidaka, now 87, recalls torture and persecution of Japanese community during WWII
Tokuichi Hidaka, now 87, recalls torture and persecution of Japanese community during WWII

Truth Commission apologizes to Japanese persecuted in postwar Brazil
• For Rosa Cardoso, behind the abuse at the time, is the ‘racism of the Brazilian elite ‘
• ‘Brazil owes more than excuses. It owes money,’ says writer Fernando Morais

On behalf of the Comissão Nacional da Verdade (CNV or National Truth Commission), lawyer Rosa Cardoso apologized to the persecuted Japanese in Brazil after World War II (1939-1945). In the two years that followed the defeat of Japan, 172 Japanese were arrested on Anchieta Island on the coast of São Paulo. On Thursday (October 10th) representatives of the Japanese community were heard by the national and state Truth Comissions and revealed cases of illegal arrests, torture and killings. For Rosa Cardoso, behind the abuse is the “racism of the Brazilian elites.”

“I want to apologize, yes apologize, and request forgiveness, on behalf of the Brazilian people, that portion of the enlightened, conscious Brazilian people, on behalf of all citizens who have a generous social vision on behalf of all human rights activists, organic or inorganic, because the background of this episode is racism. Brazilian elites have always been racist,” said Rosa Cardoso said during the session.

National Truth Commission apologizes on behalf of Brazil for treatment of Japonese community
National Truth Commission apologizes on behalf of Brazil for treatment of Japonese community

For the lawyer, racism marked elite relationships with the indigenous, blacks and immigrants:

“The discovery of Brazil came followed by waves of genocide against the Indian, who were considered inferior beings, followed by, blacks were also thought of as animals and merchandise. And then the immigrants too, particularly Asian immigrants. When war came, all these racist positions, yes racist, were reborn.

The session was organized by two committees of Truth and dealt with for the first time, the abuse of state power before the 1964 military coup. The filmmaker Mario Jun Okuhara presented testimony from people who were arrested, victims of torture, and reports of disappearances and deaths, like that of a 19-year old artist who was arrested with family and friends, because he was in a house listening to a Japanese radio.

Inside Truth Commission session on Japanese immigrants in WWII era Brazil
Inside Truth Commission session on Japanese immigrants in WWII era Brazil

At the end of the war, part of the Japanese colony in Brazil didn’t believe the defeat of Japan and got caught up in the country in a conflict between those who believed in victory and admitting defeat. In this climate, hundreds of Japanese were arrested and imprisoned, like Tokuichi Hidaka, accused of killing a “defeatist” Japanese officer. Now 87, Hidaka told about the torture and persecution also suffered by members of the colony who had taken sides.

“Brazil has a culture of shame. The history books speak of this victorious-defeatist conflict, but hides torture and death,” Jun Okuhara said.

By video, Japanese descendant Akira Yamachio said his father was arrested and tortured in Anchieta, as well as other prisoners:

“A little truth is better than silence. Inside (the prison) there was persecution and torture. They sent a person to undress and go through a “corridor of death,” and the prisoner was beaten.

The retired Shizuko Kambara, who was 16 at the time, said her mother was arrested because she took groceries to a family whose provider was arrested. Shizuko herself escaped being arrested because there was a mistake in the name and the police didn’t find her. She said her “crime” had been sewing “aviator type shirts with pockets” for other Japanese.

For Rosa Cardoso, the conflict between defeatists and victors occurred through the process of isolation that the Japanese and other immigrants suffered in Brazil:

“This conflict took place exactly because of this isolation, this censorship by Nipponese press at that time. So, the Japanese with no access to this information believed that Japan had won the war. And state officials, elites, subjected them to greater and undue humiliation. There was a conflict between these two positions, among the Japanese themselves, but there was no justification for the exploitation of this conflict, with horse hooves above them, torturing, humiliating and harassing this population.

The material collected by the State Commission of Truth, coordinated by Deputy Adriano Diogo, will be delivered to the CNV for the production of the final report of the commission.

At the closing of the session, Rosa confirmed that the apology was made on behalf of the Commission, but could not say whether there will be a formal document.

“Brazil owes money”

Author of Corações sujos (Dirty Hearts), about the conflict between Japanese victorists and defeatists in Brazil, writer Fernando Morais told Globo Thursday that in addition to cases of torture, abuse and deaths, Brazil confiscated property and money of immigrants coming from the Axis countries (Japan, Italy and Germany). During his research for the book, Morais reveals having access to Central Bank documents showing that the government set limits on the bank accounts of these immigrants, confiscating the excess amounts.

“Brazil should not only apologize. It owes money; and a lot of money to the Japanese community. In the archives of the Central Bank there is vast documentation on confiscation of assets of the Japanese and all the subjects of the Axis. Nobody ever got anything back,” affirmed Morais.

The writer argues that the Truth Commission should take the initiative to defend the interests of those immigrants. He agreed with the lawyer Rosa Cardoso, for whom the Japanese persecution occurred because of racism.

“There was racism, yes. And it was visible. The Japanese were called “goats”. There’s a scene in my book where a soldier cleans his boots with the Japanese flag. There was racism and prejudice. I find it very good to apologize,” said Morais.

To write Corações sujos, Fernando Morais says that he which collected numerous testimonies of humiliation and physical and psychological torture. One of the main forms of torture was “fumiê”, a technique in which the detainee is forced to spit or step on an important image for their country, such as the photo of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, to “prove” that they didn’t belong to the group of “vitorists.”

“The Japanese believed that Hirohito was not only the emperor, but a deity. Imagine what it meant to spit on his photo? The Japanese didn’t spit and would be arrested,” Morais said.

Source: Globo, Japan Daily Press

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Coracoes sujos!

    Amazing book!!!!!

    I am half japonese, anyone who has a japonese friend and have a little interest in history will know lots of sad stories!

    Which elite is not racist? Corrupted? And take advantage of their powerful position?

    The beauty is Japanese had conquer a space inside Brazilian society.

  2. This is long over due. I knew that Japanese Americans were interned after Pearl Harbour but didn’t not know that they faced a similar fate in Brazil.

    You are right of course when is Brazil going to apologise for slavery and racism? I am black British and I wish the British government would apologise for the slave trade and slavery. So many British families, individuals, British cities and towns got rich from the slave trade and slavery. However, what we learn at school is how we abolished the slave trade but not that we created it and dominated the trade for 150 years.

    Keep up the great writing. I really enjoy this blog.

    • Veeveebrown where and when immigrants were treated lovely?

      Good point of the British history….the diamond jubilee with all the diamond stolen from Africa and Asia.

      The British had to apologise to so many ethinias for their atrocities. For their racist constructions and genocides of languages, people, animals, everything.

      The development is a ferocious tool…..

      For sure they were the most violent and horrendous empire ever existed.

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