This article explores the role of cookbooks in supporting the creation of new eating habits and identities during the Japanese immigration to Brazil. When Japanese immigrants first arrived in Brazil in 1908, the local food represented a major barrier to their acclimation in the new country. Unknown ingredients and disgust for popular seasonings like pork fat and garlic prevented Japanese immigrants from preparing familiar meals and caused drastic changes to their diets. After nearly three decades improvising meals, Japanese immigrants started to better incorporate Brazilian ingredients into their eating habits when an alliance between the Brazilian and the American governments in 1937, and Japan’s defeat in World War II pressured them to adopt Brazil as their new home country. As Japanese immigrants internalized a new mindset focused on making Brazil their permanent home, cookbooks written by immigrants not only taught them how to use Brazilian ingredients, but also reflected immigrants’ improvements in building a higher-quality lifestyle. This article analyzes cookbooks written by Japanese immigrants in tandem with private diaries and recipes to examine the complex process of creating new eating habits as well as new Brazilian Nikkei identities.

For many Japanese Brazilians, a combination of foods from multiple cuisines in the same meal—like Japanese-style white rice; beans seasoned with garlic and pork; salad flavored with soy sauce; miso soup; french fries and grilled meat—is typical for lunch or dinner. Yet when Japanese immigrants first arrived in Brazil in 1908 to work in the coffee farms of São Paulo’s Midwest, food represented a major barrier for their adaptation to a new lifestyle because Brazilian food had excessive amounts of oil and fat, which were not commonly consumed in Japan. To make the situation even more difficult, Japanese immigrants did not have any knowledge or experience with cooking using ingredients found in Brazil before their arrival (Nogueira 1984, 156). Indeed, Japanese immigrants to Brazil experienced major difficulties in figuring out how to use Brazilian ingredients to create new eating habits, and the history of their adaptation to such ingredients has yet to be told through their own perspective.

This article examines cookbooks written by Japanese immigrants like Sato Hatsue’s Jitsuyōteki na Burajiru Shiki Nippaku Ryōri to Seika no Tomo (A Companion to Practical Brazilian-style Japanese Cuisine and Confectionery; hereafter A Companion), first published in 1934, as well as private notes and recipes from immigrants to argue that as Japanese immigrants incorporated a new mindset focused on making Brazil their new home country, the content of cookbooks reflected their progress in improving their lifestyles and in developing new identities as Brazilian Nikkei.1

Nikkei is the term used to refer to Japanese emigrants and their descendants who have created communities around the world. A 2017 census conducted by the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad (Kaigai Nikkeijin Kyōkai) estimated that Brazil has the largest population of Nikkei with nearly two million people (Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, 2017). As Japanese immigrants built communities around the world, the process of reinterpreting cultural elements from the new country created a symbolic social construction defined as the Nikkei identity (Discover Nikkei n.d.). In other words, as Japanese immigrants incorporated cultural elements of Brazilian daily life such as education, clothing, and food, they were automatically developing a Nikkei identity in the same process.

An individual’s identity can be said to involve two components: the self and the social identity. The self is the internal development aspect of an individual based on their own perspective and experiences in a social environment. On the other hand, the social aspect of an individual’s identity comprises the individual’s accordance with cultural norms and social roles (Tsuda 2003, 9–10).2 However, in migration movements, the process of integration into a new society can be aggravated by cultural differences between the new and the home countries (De Carvalho 2002, 52–53). In this sense, cookbooks teaching Japanese immigrants how to use Brazilian ingredients acted as functional tools supporting the creation of immigrants’ new social identities as Brazilian Nikkei.

Creating new eating habits using unfamiliar ingredients and cooking methods can be an arduous task. However, cookbooks written by and for specific immigrant communities can facilitate the acclimation process in the new country because these provide ways to cook familiar meals and express identity under the pressure of assimilation (Albala 2012, 235). Yet cookbooks do not solely represent a description of what people from a specific time and place ate. Instead, recipes can reflect their author’s aspiration and expectation of what the reader would like to know (229). In other words, analyzing cookbooks written by Japanese immigrants can reveal the role of food during the acculturation to a new lifestyle in Brazil and the development of a new Brazilian Nikkei identity. Understanding how cookbooks emulated immigrants’ mindset of making Brazil their new home country can provide insights not only into the experiences of Japanese Brazilians but also on the ways that food and people cross borders and reshape their identities in other contexts.

Scholarship in English on Japanese immigrants commonly focuses on the economic and political relationships between Brazil and Japan during the early twentieth century to address the Japanese immigration to Brazil.3 Yet discussions regarding immigrants’ acclimation process in Brazil remain scarce in the literature in English. The first section of this article presents the chronology of Japanese immigration to Brazil. It explains the origins of the immigration project, the scenario Japanese immigrants encountered in Brazil upon their arrival, and the circumstances that pressured Japanese immigrants to adopt Brazil as their new home country. An analysis of Japanese immigrants’ eating habits during the first decade of immigration describes difficulties they had in consuming and purchasing Brazilian ingredients as well as alternatives to improve their diet. The second part of this article, then, analyzes four editions of Sato Hatsue’s A Companion published in 1940, 1951, 1963, and 1971 in tandem with immigrants’ private recipes and diaries to examine the importance of food in the adaptation to a new lifestyle in Brazil. An investigation of etiquette lessons and recipes illustrates how Japanese immigrants incorporated influences from multiple cuisines into their eating habits and the role of Japanese-style food during the development of new Brazilian Nikkei identities.

The Early Japanese Immigration to Brazil

Japanese immigration was not the first immigration project bringing foreigners to work in Brazil. Until the mid-nineteenth century, enslaved Africans composed the large majority of the workforce in Brazilian plantations. Yet due to the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the quick expansion of livestock in the south states and coffee plantations in São Paulo’s Midwest, the Brazilian government started to facilitate the entrance of immigrants to supply the demand for workforce in these areas. As a result, increased numbers of Germans and Italians immigrated to Brazil during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, German and Italian immigrants differed from the Japanese in terms of motivation because they traveled to Brazil with a mindset focused on making Brazil their new home. Therefore, even though Germans and Italians experienced initial difficulties in adapting to Brazilian foodways, their motivation to stay permanently in Brazil allowed them to rapidly succeed in creating new eating habits combining elements from Brazilian and European cuisines (Willems 1946, 228; De Ruggiero 2018, 127). As an example, in addition to cassava, rice, beans, dried meat, and corn bread, German immigrants gradually managed to cultivate and produce familiar foodstuffs like potatoes, rye, and smoked meat after a short period of experimentation with soil and climate conditions in Brazil (Willems 1946, 229). For Italians, the similarity of popular ingredients like wheat flour and tomatoes as well as the commercialization of imported products such as olive oil, cheese, and wine in cities close to Italian colonies facilitated the adaptation to new eating habits (Vendrame 2018, 280).

The decline of European immigration to Brazil and the increase of population in Japan in the early twentieth century created an opportunity for the Brazilian and the Japanese governments to develop an immigration project between the two countries (Normano 1934, 55). To evaluate and test the working and living conditions in coffee farms, the Japanese government sent two immigrants to Brazil in 1906 (Nogueira 1973, 93). Even though the testing report emphasized the poor living and working conditions on coffee farms, the Japanese and the Brazilian governments decided to ignore the report and prioritize the immigration project as a solution for the increased population in Japan and the lack of workforce on coffee farms. As a result, the Brazilian government signed a contract with the Imperial Emigration Company (Kōkoku Shokumin Kaisha) in Tokyo and established a Friendship Treaty to facilitate the entrance of Japanese immigrants to work in São Paulo’s coffee farms in 1907 (93).

Ignoring the testing report severely affected the recruitment offering work in Brazil because the immigration propaganda in Japan did not provide any information regarding the poor living and working conditions in Brazil (Handa 1987, 59). When the Japanese ship Kasato Maru arrived at Santos harbor in 1908 bringing the first families of immigrants to work in the coffee farms of São Paulo’s Midwest, the scenario encountered in Brazil was not what they expected. Precarious living and working conditions as well as difficulties in communication due to differences in language resulted in conflicts in farms and immigrants often refusing to work (Nogueira 1984, 154). To make matters more difficult, the expectation of returning to Japan after making a fortune in a short period of time led immigrants to take out high-interest loans in Japan to pay for the trip to Brazil. However, saving money was impossible in the first years of work because farms were unproductive and immigrants had to spend their capital to supply basic needs for survival like food and household furnishings (Handa 1980, 76). With large debts in Japan and not being able to save money in Brazil, Japanese immigrants found themselves in a severe financial situation.

Japanese immigration to Brazil experienced a first major change in 1917 when private emigration companies like the Overseas Development Corporation (Kaigai Kōgyō Kabushiki Kaisha or KKKK) took a decisive role in the immigration project. Emigration companies started to negotiate and purchase land from the government of São Paulo to place immigrants as landowners. Important colonies in São Paulo like Registro and Iguape emerged in lands purchased by the KKKK (Sakurai and Coelho 2008, 19). The Japanese government also expanded its involvement with the immigration project, and the establishment of a Federation of Emigration Societies in the Provinces of Japan named BRATAC (Burajiru Takushoku Kumiai) in 1928 increased the number of Japanese entering Brazil from 32,000 between 1908 and 1924 to over 140,000 registered between 1925 and 1935 (21). Through BRATAC, the Japanese government purchased large tracts of land in São Paulo and Paraná states to place new immigrants as landowners, and some of the most important colonies of this period such as Pereira Barreto and Bastos are results of the federation’s actions (22).

A second major change in Japanese immigration occurred when immigrants discarded their original plans to save money and return to Japan to start fully incorporating Brazilian habits, including food, into their lifestyle. The establishment of an alliance between the Brazilian and the American governments in 1937 caused xenophobia toward Japanese immigrants during World War II. The Brazilian government adopted the United States’ hostility toward Japanese communities because the government feared the possibility of an attack from inside national territory. As a consequence, the Brazilian government forbade the use of Japanese language in newspapers and public spaces, and immigration to Brazil was interrupted until 1952 (Sakurai and Coelho 2008, 24). More important, however, the Brazilian government pressured Japanese immigrants to abandon their Japanese citizenship and adopt Brazil as their new home country. The pressure from the Brazilian government and Japan’s defeat in World War II led Japanese immigrants to make profound adjustments to their behavior and gradually changed the image of Brazil from a temporary to a permanent home (Nogueira 2000, 51).

First Immigrants’ Notions of Identity and Eating Habits

Unlike European settlers, Japanese immigrants did not expect to stay in Brazil for a long period of time. For some immigrants, traveling to Brazil was a temporary sacrifice to allow Japan to recover from issues like overpopulation and limited resources (De Carvalho 2002, 55). Yet for the majority of immigrants, work in Brazil was an opportunity to make a fortune in a short period of time that would allow them to rebuild their lives upon return to Japan. Prior to the trip to Brazil, the prediction was that immigrants would be able to pay for all trip expenses in just six months of work on coffee farms (Daigo 2008, 20). The mindset focused on returning to Japan prompted Japanese immigrants to prioritize maintaining a connection with their mother country instead of incorporating Brazilian cultural aspects like language and food. In this sense, the social structure of colonies helped Japanese immigrants isolate from Brazilian and other immigrant groups because it provided social support to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers (De Carvalho 2002, 54). Indeed, since the majority of European immigrants shared a cultural background based on Latin-Catholic principles, Japanese immigrants’ classification as a non-Catholic group segregated them from locals and other immigrants’ groups (54). Yet difficulties with food allowed Japanese immigrants to overcome social and language barriers and socially interact with other immigrants because they wanted to learn from them how to use Brazilian ingredients (Saito 1961, 93).

The first decade of Japanese immigration (1908–18) was the most critical period in terms of nutrition and eating habits. Immigrants were unable to bring foodstuffs from Japan like rice, soy sauce, and seaweed because the Brazilian government forbade the entrance of products that could be commercialized in Brazil (Nogueira 1973, 190). Immigrants frequently managed to carry seeds of vegetables, expecting to cultivate them during their days off. However, their lack of farming knowledge and differences in soil and climate conditions resulted in frequent crop failures (Handa 1980, 135). Incapable of bringing and cultivating familiar foodstuffs, Japanese immigrants had to cook using ingredients provided by the government or sold on coffee farms.

After arriving at a coffee farm, Japanese families received from the Brazilian government an initial supply of basic foodstuffs consisting of Brazilian-style rice, beans, corn and wheat flours, dried meat, dried cod, pork fat, oil, pasta, coffee, salt, and sugar.4 In addition, markets inside farms had other items available for purchase such as garlic, onion, cassava, and sometimes dried sardines (Saito 1961, 93). However, the majority of ingredients were completely new for most Japanese immigrants, except for their familiarity with dried fish, and using them to prepare a familiar meal was a nearly impossible task. At first, Japanese immigrants attempted to use Brazilian ingredients by imitating what other workers prepared, but they disliked the result due to the strong smell of pork fat, especially in recipes like rice seasoned with pork fat and garlic (Nogueira 1984, 156). Moreover, buying additional ingredients in the farm’s market was also difficult during the first decade of immigration. Handa Tomoo (1906–1996) arrived in São Paulo’s Midwest in 1917 and moved to the capital in 1921 to study art. Handa frequently visited coffee farms due to his interest in portraying the life of Japanese immigrants in paintings. In his memoir Memórias de um Imigrante Japonês no Brasil (Memories of a Japanese Immigrant in Brazil), Handa reported that during one of his visits to coffee farms, he witnessed a situation in which a Japanese woman, the market employee, and an interpreter were talking and gesticulating for a long time trying to understand what the woman wanted to buy. After making several frustrated attempts, the woman left the market and decided to try again another day. She wanted to buy vinegar (1980, 44). Stories reporting difficulties in buying simple ingredients like vinegar were not uncommon. In fact, helping immigrants buy food was among the interpreters’ worst nightmares and they often avoided the task by saying they could not offer any support (44). With difficulties in eating and purchasing Brazilian ingredients, Japanese immigrants adopted drastic changes to their eating habits. As a result, the meals of Japanese immigrants became severely low in nutrients due to the lack of fruits, vegetables, and animal protein. The example below illustrates the basic meals of the first group of Japanese immigrants:

  • Breakfast

    • Coffee

    • Rice or dough dumplings cooked in hot water

  • Lunch at the coffee plantation

    • Rice or dough dumplings softened in cold water

    • A small portion of dried cod

  • Dinner

    • Savory soup made with dough dumpling and pork fat (Handa 1980, 74).

The combination of precarious nutrition and heavy work in the coffee farms resulted in health problems such as anemia. In an attempt to improve their diet, Japanese immigrants sometimes experimented with awkward inventions using foraged ingredients, such as cooking the seeds of a wild plant named picão (Bidens pilosa) as soused greens (ohitashi).5

Another major issue in adapting to new eating habits in Brazil was the lack of rice. In São Paulo’s Midwest, workers commonly ate beans with corn or cassava flours instead of rice (Saito 1961, 95). Therefore, buying new supplies of rice in coffee farms’ markets was expensive. To save money, Japanese immigrants first decided to consume rice four times a week, but it did not take long before rice was completely replaced by boiled dough dumplings made of corn and wheat flours (Nogueira 1984, 157). In addition to using corn and wheat as a substitute for rice, Japanese immigrants dried green papayas and chayote to make Japanese-style pickles (tsukemono) and cassava was deep-fried to be consumed as snacks or used as a filling for dumplings (Mori 1998, 52).

Although green papaya pickles may sound awkward, not all of the inventions were a complete failure. Immigrants living on farms managed to produce alternative versions of soy sauce and fermented soy bean paste (miso) using pinto beans (Mori 1998, 52). In point of fact, Japanese immigrants living in Santos used a mixture of pinto beans and soy beans to produce soy sauce on an industrial scale, and by 1915 it was available for purchase in São Paulo. However, the information regarding the availability of Japanese seasonings in São Paulo never reached immigrants living in the Midwest. Only when they moved to or visited São Paulo did they learn about its existence (Handa 1980, 155). The production of Japanese seasonings such as soy sauce and miso marked a major change in Japanese immigrants’ eating habits. After nearly a decade of improvising ingredients and dishes, the production of Japanese seasonings allowed immigrants living in the capital of São Paulo to cook more Japanese-style dishes in their daily meals (Saito 1961, 95–96).

Differences between Japanese and Brazilian cuisines represented a major difficulty during the acclimation to Brazil. Since Japanese immigrants did not want to expend additional capital trying to learn how to use Brazilian ingredients, they constantly attempted to reproduce Japanese dishes with any resources they had on hand (Handa 1987, 91; Nogueira 1984, 157). In this sense, the presence of other families such as European or veteran Japanese immigrants in farms facilitated acclimation to Brazilian eating habits because the social interaction with other immigrants allowed new immigrants to learn how to use Brazilian ingredients from them (Mori 1998, 53–54). Yet since Japanese immigrants negotiated the employment in coffee farms before the departure from Japan, they did not know beforehand who their future neighbors in the destined farm would be. Indeed, the experience of adapting to Brazilian ingredients was not identical for all Japanese families. While families assigned to well-established farms benefited from veteran immigrants who taught them how to use Brazilian ingredients, Japanese families working in farms receiving immigrants for the first time had more significant difficulties as they had to learn how to use Brazilian foodstuffs on their own.

Creating New Eating Habits

As Japanese immigrants gradually changed their image of Brazil from a temporary to a permanent home, cookbooks written by immigrants such as Sato’s A Companion reflected immigrants’ progression in adapting to a new lifestyle in Brazil. Sato Hatsue immigrated to Brazil in 1924; and in 1934, she founded the Santa Cecilia Cooking School (Santa Seshirya kappō gakkō) in São Paulo. The school was famous within the Japanese community in the capital and the Midwest for teaching young Japanese women about etiquette and especially how to cook using Brazilian ingredients. A Companion originated as an instructional material for Sato’s classes and multiple editions of the book were published during her years as the main instructor of the school. Moreover, many volumes traveled to the Midwest as young women returned to the countryside after graduating from the school. In 1971, due to ill health, Sato decided to retire from the Santa Cecilia Cooking School, and an effort to spread her knowledge beyond the classroom resulted in the first bilingual edition of A Companion, published in Japanese and Portuguese in the same year.6

An analysis of the content of A Companion reveals more than recipes using Brazilian ingredients. In the introductory chapter for the editions published in 1940 and 1951, Sato presented a discussion about the variety of Western foods in Brazil. She explained that Western food was not something new in Japan at that time because Japanese people who lived abroad commonly prepared it at home, and people who could afford eating out regularly pursued dining in Western-style restaurants as a hobby. However, Sato acknowledged the variety of influences from different countries in Brazilian cuisine, stating that “in Brazil there is the influence of multiple countries like Germany, Italy, America, Portugal, and England, and, therefore, the presence of many different foods” (Sato 1940, 3).

Sato contended that the majority of Japanese immigrants disliked the excessive amounts of oil and fat used in Brazilian cuisine. Yet she explained that recipes presented in A Companion were the result of years of culinary research on how to prepare Brazilian food without excessive oil and fat and had the objective to improve the culinary skills of the reader (Sato 1940, 5). In addition, Sato stated that similar to Japanese cuisine, Brazilian cuisine had ordinary dishes that any reader could prepare using simple ingredients in a regular kitchen. She suggested that Japanese immigrants living in Brazil could use a combination of Japanese and Brazilian dishes to prepare a “comforting meal that all members in the family would enjoy” (5).

Sato’s introductory chapter also included instructions on table manners aimed at teaching readers how to behave properly in public situations such as eating out and attending a celebration like a wedding. In the edition of 1940, explanations about table manners focused on teaching the reader how to arrange the table using Brazilian tableware and how to behave when eating in a restaurant. However, in the 1951 edition, Sato expanded the etiquette section to include instructions on how to behave properly in banquets and formal festivities such as weddings (Sato 1940: 3–4; Sato 1951, 3–5). The introduction to the editions of 1940 and 1951 illustrates two important aspects regarding Japanese immigrants’ construction of a new lifestyle in Brazil. First, Sato aimed to undermine the prejudice against Brazilian food and, more important, she claimed that preparing Brazilian cuisine was not much different from preparing Japanese cuisine. Second, her emphasis on etiquette illustrates a concern in teaching immigrants how to behave properly in public spaces such as restaurants and banquets, which suggests an increase in immigrants’ social activities and wealth in Brazil over time.

The introductory chapter for the editions published in 1963 and 1971 present considerable further modifications. Rather than attempting to persuade the reader to prepare Brazilian food, Sato emphasized the gradual development of the cultural exchange between Brazil and Japan. She wrote, “Since food plays an important role in creating and enhancing bonds between both countries, I am happy to provide guidance for Japanese families living in Brazil” (Sato 1963, 1). However, the major modification concerned table manners. In addition to instructions regarding appropriate behavior in restaurants and formal celebrations, Sato provided guidance on how to offer a feast for family and friends. Moreover, Sato also offered suggestions of menus with multiple dishes for different occasions:

  • Menu for a banquet with dishes selected from the book

    • Roast beef and potato salad

    • Tomato soup

    • Shrimp pie

    • Steak with grilled onions

    • Rice

    • Cream roll cake

    • Coffee

  • Brazilian menu for daily meals

    • Rice

    • Beans

    • Steak

    • Stir-fried kale

    • Cassava

  • Japanese menu

    • Fish cake (kamaboko)

    • Deep-fried shrimp on skewers (ebi no kushikatsu)

    • Sashimi

    • Squid and seaweed salad dressed with vinegar (sunomono)

    • Chicken and yam stew (tori to satoimo fukumeni)

    • Grilled red sea bream (tai no yakizakana)

    • Clams with sesame seeds (kai no goma ae)

    • Savory egg custard (chawanmushi)

    • Rice

    • Sweets

    • Fruits

  • Menu for a wedding ceremony

    • Wedding cake

    • Roasted chicken

    • Shrimp salad with mayonnaise

    • Shrimp pie

    • Brazilian-style fried chicken dumplings (coxinha)

    • Two varieties of sandwiches (ham, spinach, shrimp, etc.)

    • Three varieties of canapés (walnuts, cheese, pate, etc.)

  • Menu for a feast with Japanese and European dishes

    • Sashimi

    • Fish cake (kamaboko)

    • Roasted chicken

    • Stuffed shrimp

    • Chicken pie

    • Sushi—rolled sushi (makizushi), egg sushi (tamago-zushi), fish and octopus hand-formed sushi (nigirizushi), and deep-fried soy bean curd with sushi rice (inarizushi)

    • Sandwiches (ham, cheese, sardine, etc.)

    • Octopus and cucumber salad dressed with vinegar (sunomono)

    • Decorated cake

    • Bean paste dessert (yōkan)

    • Coconut-filled chocolate

    • Stuffed plums

    • Fruits

    • Cookies (Sato 1963, 353–60; Sato 1971, 397–404)

The variety of dishes suggested in the aforementioned menus indicates an evolution in Japanese immigrants’ eating habits in several ways. First, it reveals that by 1963, Japanese immigrants were familiar enough with Brazilian and European dishes to the point that they were able to reproduce those dishes using Brazilian ingredients. Second, the division in menus for daily meals and festivities demonstrates that immigrants were eating better on a regular basis and suggests that they could, occasionally, afford preparing fine dishes for special occasions. It does not mean that all readers of A Companion could afford using expensive ingredients. However, since Sato used A Companion as an instructional material for her classes, the addition of elaborate recipes might represent Sato’s expectation of what her students wanted to learn. Therefore, the fact that Sato included these recipes in later editions of the book suggests that she believed that the notion of what readers expected from a fine dish changed over time.

The collection of recipes from all four editions of A Companion reveals how the use of Brazilian ingredients reflected immigrants’ progress in building a new lifestyle in Brazil. For example, in the 1940 edition, when the idea of adopting Brazil as the new home country was still in its early stages, recipes using low-cost ingredients like less desirable parts of cattle such as the kidney, the liver, and the intestines frequently appeared throughout recipes of the book (Sato 1940, 5–7). However, as Japanese immigrants gradually adjusted to the idea that Brazil was their new home country and their economic status improved, dishes and ingredients from European cuisines also became part of Japanese immigrants’ eating habits. Indeed, the culinary exchange with immigrants from other countries like Italians and Germans greatly influenced the composition of Japanese immigrants’ meals. For example, Handa noted that Japanese immigrants only ate Italian bread because they learned how to make it from Italian immigrants (Personal diaries 1950, box 2). Moreover, Handa’s records also demonstrate that the culinary exchange with Italian cuisine exceeded the limits of the state of São Paulo. During a visit to a Japanese colony in Mato Grosso do Sul state in 1955 he had pasta with tomato sauce, white rice, beans, and roasted chicken served for the same meal (Personal diaries 1955, box 1).

As Japanese immigrants became more familiar with dishes from other nationalities, they increasingly purchased ingredients to prepare them. Suzuki Teijirō (1879–1970), one of the leaders of the immigration company in São Paulo, noted that in 1961 Japanese immigrants living in cities regularly purchased and consumed products like pasta, tomato paste, parmesan cheese, sponge cake, ham, ice cream, and biscuits (Personal diaries 1961, box 3).

The collection of recipes in later editions of A Companion reflects immigrants’ familiarity with recipes from European and Brazilian cuisines. Table 1 illustrates a comparison between the number of recipes presented in each edition of A Companion based on ingredients, cuisine, and occasion. Results demonstrate how the number of recipes using less desired parts of cattle like liver and kidney gradually declined, while recipes of Brazilian and European cuisines appeared in increased numbers. Indeed, starting in the 1963 edition, Sato commonly presented recipes using the name of the dish in its original language like lasagna (lazanha), Portuguese-style cod stew (bacalhoada), and São Paulo–style couscous (cuscus paulista). In addition, although shrimp was an expensive ingredient that constantly appeared in A Companion, the increased number of recipes from European and Brazilian cuisines influenced the quality of ingredients, and other expensive ingredients like lobster and champignon appeared with more frequency in later editions of A Companion. The increased number of recipes for celebrations like cakes, sweets, and snacks commonly served in Brazilian parties further suggests that immigrants had improved their economic and social standing to the point that they could host festivities and banquets. The inclusion of recipes using expensive ingredients in later editions reinforces the idea that the content of A Companion reflected immigrants’ development of a higher-quality lifestyle. Even though it is not possible to know if all readers could afford expensive ingredients, the presence of elaborate recipes suggests that, for Sato, these dishes represented the new levels of higher social standing that immigrants could achieve or aspire to.

Table 1

Number of recipes in multiple editions of A Companion according to ingredient, cuisine, and occasion. Table created by author.

Year of publicationKidney, liver, and the intestinesBrazilian cuisineEuropean cuisineShrimpLobsterChampignonSnacks, cakes, and sweets for celebrations
1940 20 13 15 18 16 
1951 17 18 19 21 64 
1963 12 25 21 21 121 
1971 23 18 20 107 
Year of publicationKidney, liver, and the intestinesBrazilian cuisineEuropean cuisineShrimpLobsterChampignonSnacks, cakes, and sweets for celebrations
1940 20 13 15 18 16 
1951 17 18 19 21 64 
1963 12 25 21 21 121 
1971 23 18 20 107 

Japanese immigrants improved their economic situation by moving to cities. As a consequence of urbanization during the 1930s and 1940s, many Japanese immigrants moved from farms to São Paulo and other cities looking for better educational and employment opportunities for their children. In the early 1940s, about 99 percent of Japanese immigrants were classified as farmers, but in 1958 farming was the major occupation of only 59 percent of first-generation Japanese immigrants (Suzuki 1971, 94–95). The participation of Japanese immigrants in industrial and commercial activities reflects the exodus from farms to cities during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1934, Japanese immigrants employed a total of 405 workers in sixty-two factories producing soy sauce, sweets, and furniture among other commodities. In the commercial business, Japanese immigrants owned about a thousand laundries in São Paulo in 1934, but the number jumped to over four thousand laundries in 1958 (Comissão 1992, 334, 541; Maeyama 1973, 262).

Pictures of dishes from different editions of A Companion illustrate immigrants’ social and economic progress as well as the creation of hybrid menus combining dishes from multiple cuisines. The decoration of the wedding cake (bolo de noiva) in the top left of figure 1 from the 1951 edition supports the idea that immigrants could afford expensive banquets for celebrations. Moreover, the Christmas cake (bolo de natal) in the top right of figure 1 illustrates that Japanese immigrants incorporated Brazilian celebrations into their lifestyle. In menus for special occasions and daily meals, the hybrid menus created by Japanese immigrants used white rice and miso soup among other non-Japanese dishes. In other words, rather than signature dishes emerging from the mixture of cuisines as implied in the idea of hybridization, Japanese immigrants created hybrid menus with dishes from multiple cuisines in the same meal. The top left menu in figure 2 from the 1971 edition illustrates such hybridization. Sato’s suggestion of menu combines dishes from Italian cuisine like ravioli and spaghetti with meatballs with dishes from Chinese cuisine like dumplings (shūmai) and yakisoba. Moreover, the presentation of dishes in tables decorated with flowers, wine, and different tableware reinforces the idea that recipes and menus presented in A Companion reflected the social and economic development of Japanese immigrants in Brazil.

Figure 1:

Pictures of cakes from the 1951 edition of A Companion.

Photograph by Eric Funabashi © 2021

Figure 1:

Pictures of cakes from the 1951 edition of A Companion.

Photograph by Eric Funabashi © 2021

Figure 2:

Pictures of dishes from the 1971 edition of A Companion.

Photograph by Eric Funabashi © 2021

Figure 2:

Pictures of dishes from the 1971 edition of A Companion.

Photograph by Eric Funabashi © 2021

A New Brazilian Nikkei Identity

Many Japanese immigrants experienced concerns regarding their own social identities because they were neither Brazilian nor Japanese, and yet they were both at the same time (Handa 1987, 806). Interactions between prewar immigrants and postwar immigrants illustrate the conflict within immigrants’ social identity. Although prewar immigrants envied newcomers’ white skin and good Japanese, they claimed, in disappointment, that newcomers did not share the same Japanese identity as them because they lacked the pride of being Japanese (De Carvalho 2002, 62, 70). Indeed, the encounter with postwar immigrants escaping a Japan in ruins not only destroyed prewar immigrants’ dreams to return to Japan but also affected the pride of prewar immigrants, who endured a low social position as a temporary sacrifice to support Japan’s economic recovery (59).

As prewar immigrants abandoned their plan to return to Japan, they started to encourage their children to pursue education to the university level as a mean to achieve social advancement (Nogueira 2000, 51). Under a new objective focused on achieving social promotion within Brazilian society, Japanese immigrants encouraged their children to forget Japanese language or pretend they never learned it. They also embraced Brazilian culture like language, food, and religion to join Brazilians and European descents in middle-class Brazilian society (De Carvalho 2002, 64–65).

As Japanese immigrants incorporated the idea of staying in Brazil permanently, the collection of Japanese-style recipes presented in A Companion evolved from improvised ingredients to complex dishes. Table 2 illustrates how Sato separated Japanese-style recipes into chapters according to different cooking methods like fish cake (kamaboko), stews (nimono), deep-fried dishes (agemono), salads dressed with vinegar (sunomono), and Japanese sweets. Moreover, the introduction of new recipes and chapters like pickles (tsukemono) and grilled dishes (yakimono) in the 1951 edition demonstrates Sato’s concern in expanding cooking methods and the variety of dishes. The 1971 edition has fewer recipes in comparison to earlier editions because it presents the collection of best recipes from all previous editions selected by Sato herself before her retirement from the Santa Cecilia Cooking School.7

Table 2

Number of Japanese-style recipes in multiple editions of A Companion. Table created by author.

Year of publicationGeneral recipesFish cakesStewsPicklesSalads dressed with vinegarDeep-fried dishesGrilled dishesJapanese-style sweets
1940 39 40 22 35 26 
1951 43 13 48 16 20 19 16 47 
1963 51 55 21 18 11 43 
1971 44 45 13 12 31 
Year of publicationGeneral recipesFish cakesStewsPicklesSalads dressed with vinegarDeep-fried dishesGrilled dishesJapanese-style sweets
1940 39 40 22 35 26 
1951 43 13 48 16 20 19 16 47 
1963 51 55 21 18 11 43 
1971 44 45 13 12 31 

Similar to the evolution witnessed in Brazilian and European recipes, an analysis of Japanese-style recipes reveals improvements in the quality of ingredients. While the 1940 edition focused on recipes improvising low-cost ingredients prepared in Japanese-style such as flaked fish topping (soboro), pine nut stew (fukumeni), and beef kidney on skewers (yakitori), starting with the 1951 edition, the number of recipes improvising low-cost ingredients declined and complex dishes like sukiyaki and tempura appeared more frequently. The same evolution pattern is observed in recipes of Japanese sweets. Rather than basic instructions teaching how to cook beans with sugar to prepare red bean paste (anko), from the 1951 edition, anko was a basic component to elaborate recipes like sweet bean cakes (manjū).

It is worth noting that many recipes of deep-fried dishes, pickles, stews, and grilled dishes could be classified as Brazilian or European cuisines if it was not for Sato’s decision to use a Japanese name to include them among Japanese-style recipes. For example, the grilled red sea bream (tai no yakizakana) recipe does not have any particular characteristic in terms of ingredients or cooking method to distinguish it as a dish from Japanese cuisine. It was Sato’s decision to use a name in Japanese and classify it as a Japanese-style recipe instead of using, for example, a name in Portuguese (pargo grelhado) and present it in another chapter of the book. In other words, Sato used cooking methods that Japanese immigrants were familiar with to classify a recipe as a Japanese recipe. By allowing immigrants to create a connection with Japan through the preparation and consumption of Japanese food while living in Brazil, recipes of Japanese-style dishes using Brazilian ingredients enhanced the idea that food from the home country supported Japanese immigrants’ construction of a Brazilian Nikkei identity.

Private recipes from Japanese immigrants reflect the importance of reproducing food from the home country in Brazil. Seo Ichie arrived in Brazil in 1928 to work in coffee farms near the city of Campinas (about 100 km from São Paulo) and attended Sato’s school during the 1940s. Although her personal notes do not reveal exactly which year she attended the Santa Cecilia Cooking School, she used the edition from 1940 as material for classes.8 Seo’s notes (figure 3) have a large variety of Japanese-style recipes like thick handmade wheat noodles (teuchi udon) and savory egg custard (chawanmushi) that did not appear in the 1940 edition of A Companion (Ichie Seo’s collection of private recipes archived by Massako Sato n.d.). The increased number of Japanese-style recipes in Seo’s notes and her attendance at the Santa Cecilia Cooking School suggest that Sato recognized the importance of Japanese-style dishes to immigrants because she was teaching students how to prepare Japanese dishes using Brazilian ingredients with recipes that would appear only in later editions of A Companion

Figure 3:

Udon recipe from Seo’s private recipes.

Photograph from the author’s collection.

Figure 3:

Udon recipe from Seo’s private recipes.

Photograph from the author’s collection.

The knowledge regarding the use of Brazilian ingredients spread within the Japanese community independently of the use of Sato’s book or classes. Different from Seo’s recipes, the collection of recipes from Oki Toyoshigue was not associated with Sato’s A Companion or the Santa Cecilia Cooking School. Oki was a former member of the Japanese army and he arrived in Brazil in 1938 to work in coffee farms in Piratininga (about 350 km from São Paulo).9 Even though Oki never attended classes at any cooking school, the presence of recipes like flaked cod topping (bacalhau no soboro) and fish cake (kamaboko) among his private recipes (figure 4) reveals one man’s interest in learning how to prepare Japanese dishes using Brazilian ingredients (Toyoshigue Oki’s collection of private recipes archived by Takeko Sawada n.d.). In other words, the fact that both male and female immigrants had interest in cooking with Brazilian ingredients suggests that other lessons in cooking schools such as etiquette and table manners were equally attractive as learning how to prepare Japanese dishes using Brazilian ingredients.10 In this sense, A Companion provided readers who could not afford attending cooking schools with a written reference for etiquette and cooking lessons.11

Figure 4:

Fish cake (kamaboko) recipe (on the right) from Oki’s private recipes.

Photograph from the author’s collection.

Figure 4:

Fish cake (kamaboko) recipe (on the right) from Oki’s private recipes.

Photograph from the author’s collection.

Two booklets printed in Presidente Prudente (about 550 km from São Paulo) named Burajiru Shiki Tsukurikata Ryōri no Tomo (A Companion to Preparation of Brazilian-style Cuisine), authored by Harada Takenosuke, reveal another man’s interest in Japanese-style recipes (Harada n.d.). Harada’s booklets share similarities with Sato’s book beyond the title, as they are a collection of recipes using Brazilian ingredients to prepare Japanese and Brazilian dishes. It is, unfortunately, not possible to know if these booklets have any connection with Sato’s works since they lack a year of publication and name of publisher; and the handwritten information on the cover suggests that these booklets were a publication for a small audience such as members of an association or a small Japanese community in the countryside. Regardless of the lack of information about the publication, Harada’s work echoes the idea that male immigrants also propagated knowledge in reproducing Japanese-style dishes using Brazilian ingredients. Moreover, the presence of recipes like fish cake (kamaboko) and directions on how to cook rice for sushi suggests that orientations to prepare fine dishes were more popular among Japanese-style dishes.

Being able to reproduce Japanese dishes using Brazilian ingredients became fundamental to Japanese immigrants developing their new Brazilian Nikkei identities. The changes in the Japanese-style recipes presented in multiple editions of A Companion demonstrate that Japanese-style dishes evolved from a resource to improvise a meal and save money to supporting the creation of a new identity as Brazilian Nikkei while enjoying a higher-quality lifestyle in the new home country. In addition, the presence of Japanese-style recipes using Brazilian ingredients among private recipes of male immigrants who never attended cooking classes indicates that young Japanese women or readers of A Companion were not the only audience interested in learning how to reproduce Japanese cuisine.

Conclusion

Brazilian food represented a major barrier to Japanese immigrants upon their arrival in Brazil in the early twentieth century. The variety of dishes comprising meals of Japanese Brazilians in the present day represents immigrants’ arduous process of learning how to use Brazilian ingredients and, more importantly, adopting Brazil as their new home country.

Japanese immigrants’ initial mindset, focused on making money to build a new life upon their return to Japan, caused a social identity crisis because their resistance to Brazilian social and cultural aspects prevented them from integrating with Brazilian society. Even though learning how to cook with Brazilian ingredients allowed Japanese immigrants to interact with other immigrants, it was the combination of pressures from the Brazilian government in the mid-1930s and Japan’s defeat in World War II that prompted Japanese immigrants to adopt Brazil as their new home country and fully incorporate ingredients and dishes from multiple cuisines into their eating habits. This analysis has demonstrated how cookbooks written by immigrants reflected Japanese immigrants’ mindset as they abandoned the original plan to return to Japan and gradually internalized the idea of building a new life in Brazil.

The development of information about table manners in later editions of A Companion demonstrates an evolution in immigrants’ social activities and economic level as instructions changed from proper manners in public spaces like restaurants to instructions on how to offer a feast for family and friends. In addition, the inclusion of menus with suggestions of Japanese, Brazilian, and European cuisines demonstrates that immigrants had not only incorporated dishes from multiple cuisines into their eating habits, but they were also capable of reproducing those dishes using Brazilian ingredients.

As immigrants became more familiar with Brazilian ingredients, Japanese-style recipes of more complex dishes using expensive ingredients like lobster and beef appeared with more frequency in later editions of A Companion while the number of recipes improvising low-cost ingredients declined. Furthermore, as Japanese immigrants adopted a new Brazilian Nikkei identity, the large presence of Japanese-style recipes using Brazilian ingredients within immigrants’ private recipes emphasizes the importance of food to maintain a connection with

Japan while incorporating Brazilian social and cultural aspects into their lifestyle.

The evolution in the content of four editions of A Companion published between 1940 and 1971 demonstrates how cookbooks are more than a collection of recipes. As this analysis explained, learning how to use Brazilian ingredients represented an improvement in immigrants’ lifestyle as well as a tool to maintain a connection with their mother country as they assumed a new Brazilian Nikkei identity. Even though learning how to use local ingredients could be considered as a natural step in the process of creating a new lifestyle in Brazil, the association of food with immigrants’ identities abroad disconnects food from its basic function to provide nutrition, and gives it a new role in crossing borders and shaping identities.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers and Eric C. Rath for their invaluable feedback that greatly contributed to improve this manuscript. I also would like to thank Shigueyo Sawasato, Massako Sato, and Takeko Sawada for sharing their recipes and cookbooks which made this article possible. Finally, I would like to thank Celia Oi and the staff at the Centro de Estudos Nipo-Brasileiros for their support during my research in São Paulo.

Notes

1.

For Japanese names, this article uses the Japanese style with the family name before the given name. Cookbooks and private recipes used in this article were lent to me by friends and family. Because these materials are valuable family memorabilia, I returned all of the cookbooks and recipes to the families after consulting them.

2.

This article focuses on the social aspect of Japanese immigrants’ identity based on their acclimation to new ingredients and eating habits. For a detailed analysis of immigrants’ development of self-identity in Brazil, see Tsuda 2003; De Carvalho 2002.

3.

For additional literature in English regarding the Japanese immigration to Brazil, see Sims 1973; Survey Committee of Brazilian Nikkei 1964; Lesser 2013.

4.

In contrast to the typical short grain rice eaten in Japan, Brazilian rice is long and thin. However, the main difference is that, when cooked, Brazilian rice becomes fluffy rather than sticky.

5.

Picão is a small wild plant commonly found in farms and green areas of São Paulo’s Midwest. Picão seeds are black and thin looking like small dark toothpicks or needles and they easily stick to clothes. Therefore, the easiest method to collect picão seeds was cleaning clothes after a day of work at a coffee plantation. The term ohitashi refers to a cooking method in which boiled greens are seasoned with stock (dashi), soy sauce, and sweet liquid flavoring (mirin). However, none of these seasonings was available in Brazil at this time (Handa 1987, 90).

6.

The introductory chapter for the 1971 edition describes it as a “compilation of recipes” from multiple editions of A Companion (Sato 1971, 1). The use of Portuguese and Japanese languages side by side suggests an intention to make the book more accessible to readers outside of the Japanese community or to descendants of Japanese immigrants who cannot read Japanese.

7.

The translator explains that the 1971 edition aimed to “honor Professor Hatsue Sato’s dedication in offering guidance to homes of Japanese families” (Sato 1971, 2).

8.

Massako Sato, personal communication with author, July 2019. Sato Massako is Seo Ichie’s daughter.

9.

Takeko Sawada, personal communication with author, June 2019. Sawada Takeko is Oki Toyoshigue’s daughter.

10.

During a personal conversation with my grandmother many years ago, she told me that since her father had an embarrassing situation during a formal dinner, her mother encouraged all daughters to attend a cooking school to receive lessons on etiquette and table manners.

11.

Takeko Sawada mentioned she received a copy of the 1963 edition of A Companion as a wedding gift (Takeko Sawada, personal communication with author, June 2019).

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