These Japanese not only came to the Amazon, they also created a planting system that recovers depleted soil and, at the same time, generates food all year round... a technique capable of transforming large deforested areas into lush agroforests - and which made Tomé-Açu a example for those looking for alternatives to the destruction of the Amazon.
Roots in the Amazon: History of Japanese Immigration
In the 1920s, when Japanese families started arriving here, the idea was that they would stay for a few years, save some money and then return to Japan, but that didn't happen for a good portion of those people. They stayed here until the end and died in Pará. This is the story of a community that put down roots in this part of the Amazon.
“Japan is a small country compared to Brazil. We had no prospect of acquiring anything in the future. My parents decided to come to Brazil because it had a lot of land.” At 96 years old, Hajime Yamada is the last living person to be part of the first wave of Japanese who arrived in Tomé-Açu, in 1929.
Challenges and Overcoming
The arrival of the Japanese was not without challenges. Living in precarious conditions, they faced not only the region's natural difficulties, such as malaria, but also the consequences of the Second World War. During this period, they were considered enemies of the Brazilian state, facing restrictions and surveillance.
The end of the war brought relief mixed with the pain of the destruction of Hiroshima, Hajime Yamada's hometown. “I'm from Hiroshima. Atomic bomb made a lot of people crazy. Broke everything. When the bomb exploded, it burned our skin. I think if I had stayed there, I would have died too. Then I thanked God for coming here to Brazil.”
Prosperity, Crisis and Renaissance
After World War II, the Japanese community of Tomé-Açu prospered, constructing buildings and boosting local development. However, the 70s brought fusariosis, a pest that decimated black pepper plantations, ending a cycle of prosperity.
Buddhism, central to Japanese culture, also lost strength, leading many to migrate to Japan. The search for economic alternatives led to the adoption of innovative agricultural practices, marking the rebirth of the community.
Agroforestry and Sustainability
The revolution on Japanese farms brought a new cycle of prosperity to Tomé-Açu and contributed to the region's environmental recovery. Ancient Japanese techniques, combined with sustainable practices learned from riverside dwellers, gave rise to a planting system that transformed deforested areas into lush agroforests.
In this agricultural method, there is no place for pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Species diversity is valued, and insects are considered allies in the balance of the ecosystem. Michinori Konagano, born in Japan and living in Brazil since he was two years old, is an example of this new approach. He shares his knowledge and seeks to inspire other farmers to adopt sustainable practices.
“I see this huge amount of people in need, right? We need to feed this population. So why not pass this knowledge on to everyone? Independent of Japanese colony. That’s my private thought.”
A Sustainable Future
Even with the uncertainty about future generations maintaining the agricultural tradition, the Tomé-Açu community is determined to preserve and revitalize the Amazon. The transformation of deforested areas into food forests is a testament to the Japanese community's power of adaptation and resilience in this unique piece of the Amazon.
This text was written based on the BBC News Brasil report below.