A Japanese in Brazil

In 1927, aged just 17, Haruo Ohara and his family emigrated to Brazil from Kochi in southern Japan. After arriving in the bustling port of Santos, they made their way into the agricultural interior of São Paulo where they worked as labourers on the renowned coffee plantations.

Soon afterwards, Haruo's parents were able to purchase their own land in what is now the city of Londrina, named after its original British settlers and persistent fog, just over the border in the neighbouring state of Parana. On this new family plantation, Haruo began photographing daily life, offering a fascinating insight into the world of the pioneering Japanese immigrants. 

'Son' by Haruo Ohara (1950) - Click  to see our curated PINTEREST BOARD

'Son' by Haruo Ohara (1950) - Click  to see our curated PINTEREST BOARD

Japanese migration to Brazil began in earnest in 1908, when the Brazilian government began an immigration policy to replace the largely Italian labour class that had been brought in to work the coffee plantations and farms after abolition.

Japanese immigration poster that reads - 'let's go to south america with families'

Japanese immigration poster that reads - 'let's go to south america with families'

In a blow to the Government's ambitions to seamlessly replace black slave labour with 'Europeans' - Brazil was one of the last countries to fully abolish slavery in 1888 - the Italians and other immigrants were quick to migrate from the rural hinterlands of São Paulo and into the more prosperous industrialising urban centres.

'Pausing for a REst' BY HARUO OHARA (1950) - CLICK  TO SEE OUR CURATED PINTEREST BOARD

'Pausing for a REst' BY HARUO OHARA (1950) - CLICK  TO SEE OUR CURATED PINTEREST BOARD

After the drastic changes in Japan during the Meiji period, the Japanese diaspora had become significant and the two governments came to an arrangement to settle Japanese immigrants in the South East of Brazil. The first ship of immigrants - the Kasato Maru -  docked in Santos in 1908.

Today, Brazil is home to the largest community of Japanese descendants outside of Japan. These Nipo-brasileiros, as they are called, have played an important role in forging the Brazilian national identity during the 20th Century. Furthermore, they have influenced the development of many local crafts and skills, including that of almost vanished Brazilian tailoring, which has only recently been revived. 

'Time' By HAruo Ohara (1948) - CLICK  TO SEE OUR CURATED PINTEREST BOARD

'Time' By HAruo Ohara (1948) - CLICK  TO SEE OUR CURATED PINTEREST BOARD

Despite having his land confiscated by the state during the second world war and turned into what is now Londrina airport, Haruo went on to become one of the most important photographic chroniclers of the Japanese immigrant experience in Brazil. A curated selection of his work can be seen on our Pinterest board.

After Haruo's death in 1999, his extensive collection of photographs, once thought lost, were donated to the Instituto Morreira Sales in Rio de Janeiro. 

To celebrate the centenary of Japanese immigration, Londrina film maker Rodrigo Grota produced a stylised short delving into the lens of Haruo.

Furthermore, Tizuka Yamazaki, director of acclaimed epic film Gaijin - Os Caminhos da Liberdade, documenting several generations of a fictional Japanese immigrant family in Brazil, collaborated with the Instituto Moreira Salles to analyse the stories behind Haruo Ohara's unique imagery.