With the coming World Cup due to begin in June in Brazil increasing attention is being focused on this South American nation. But not many people know that there is a special relationship between Brazil and Japan. It is symbiotic with each nation benefitting from the other.
This relationship goes back to the beginning of the 20th century when there was a heavy migration of Japanese to Brazil. Slavery had just been abolished and the Japanese immigrants were seen as a good source of labor to replace the freed slaves as farm laborers.
Since then the new immigrants have assimilated into Brazilian society and today they total 1.5 million.
As time passed the effect of this integration inevitably extended to soccer or futebol, Brazil’s most popular sport.
Brazil is known as the home of soccer and the best example of the influence of the new immigrants on the sport is the elastico. This is a move found in the repertoire of Brazilian trickery in which the player flicks the ball to one side with the outside of his boot before immediately flicking it back in the opposite direction, bamboozling defenders in the process.
Famous practitioners of this move have been Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Robinho and the popular belief is that they inherited it from the great Rivelino, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 1970.
In fact it was patented by Sergio Echigo, a nisei- a child of Japanese immigrants who played club soccer for Corinthians in the 1960’s and who showed Rivelino how to do it. Echigo invented it and Rivelino perfected it.
In a country where there is an abundance of soccer talent it was hard for young Japanese Brazilian players to make a name for themselves in soccer.
Not surprisingly, some sought to return to Japan, others tried to ply their trade in third countries and those who remained at home never really made it to the top.
The most famous of these was Kazuyoshi Miura (Kazu) who immigrated to Brazil at age 15, became a professional footballer and a star but after 8 years returned to Japan where he played for the national team.
Others who returned to Japan were Marcus Tulio Tanaka who played for the national team and Noguchipinto who plays for a club.
A famous player who opted to play for a third country was Deco who played club soccer in Brazil before moving to Europe where he played for the famous Barcelona and for Portugal in the 2006 World Cup. He then returned to Brazil, played for Fluminense and recently retired.
Of those who remained in Brazil Sandro Hiroshi and Pedro Ken only got as far as playing for the Under 17 team in 1997 and for the Olympic team respectively.
While the movement of people at the beginning of the 20th century was from Japan to Brazil, at the end of the century the trend was in the opposite direction.
At this time numerous Brazilian players started to move to Japan, a rich land that had developed a thirst for the game.
One notable example of this was the great Zico who joined Kashima Antlers in 1991 as a player. He was hired to bring discipline and organization to Japanese soccer. He was an ambassador for the newly founded J-League and helped change the game from amateur to a professional game.
He was national team coach from 2002 to 2006 and as a mark of his contribution to Japanese soccer there are 2 statues of him and a museum in his honor in Kashima.
Zico helped to expand the game throughout the whole country and the players flourished. For example, Alex dos Santos who was born in Brazil and had moved to Japan at the age of 16 was so successful that he changed his nationality, made the national team and played in the World Cup in 2002 and 2006.
The policy of the clubs in the J-League is to have many Brazilians so that in the current season there are 29 Brazilian players for 14 of the 18 teams or 62% of all foreign players (Sportskeeda, J-League and the Brazilian influence; by Renato Andreoa, March 4, 2014).
The effect of this is that the Japanese game has a strong Brazilian influence. But this is by design and not by accident.
The Japanese developed a long term strategic plan called “J-League, a project for 100 years”, based on the Brazilian model i.e. a blend of technique, skill and excellence of play. This combined with the natural Nipponese style which is vertical and speedy, created the current brand of Japanese soccer (see Sportskeeda, J-League and the Brazilian influence etc.).
Today Japan is the most successful soccer nation in Asia and play the best soccer in the region. One pundit even says that Japan will win the next World Cup.
When the Japanese national team arrive in Brazil in June to compete in the World Cup it is as if they will land in a home away from home as 1.5 million Japanese Brazilians will be there to support them.
The question arises as to who they would support if Japan has to play Brazil. On one hand they see themselves as more Brazilian than the Brazilians themselves but on the other hand they have a deep commitment to their cultural roots. The answer is anybody’s guess but it is certain that we would be treated to a rich diet of sushi and samba soccer. I can’t wait.
Victor A Dixon
March 25, 2014