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Last Japanese-language daily in Brazil, fighting for survival, looks to overseas readers

Copies of the Nikkey Shimbun, Brazil's only remaining Japanese-language newspaper, are seen on July 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Taichi Yamamoto)
Nikkey Shimbun President Raul Takaki, who is trying to turn the fortunes of the Japanese-language newspaper around, is pictured in Sao Paulo on July 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Taichi Yamamoto)

SAO PAULO (Mainichi) -- Brazil's last surviving Japanese-language newspaper, the Nikkey Shimbun, is in danger of collapse.

The newspaper's core readership of first-generation Japanese immigrants to the South American country is slowly shrinking, while its ad revenue has been suffering badly since late March this year, due to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Nikkey Shimbun was created in 1998 through the merger of two other papers serving the Japanese-speaking population. Before and after World War II, some 250,000 Japanese people moved to Brazil. Now, the mainstay of the community of an estimated 1,900,000 is made up of third- and fourth-generation Japanese-Brazilians, who generally don't speak Japanese well enough to read the paper. As for the generation that made the trans-Pacific trip, there are thought to be only around 50,000 left.

The falling number of first-generation Japanese immigrants has already claimed one Japanese-language paper, the Sao Paulo-Shimbun, which folded in 2019. That left the Nikkey Shimbun, with its official circulation of 10,000 copies, the last Japanese daily standing in Brazil, and it, too, continues to be in financial trouble.

And then came the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Nikkey earned ad revenue by carrying information on community events, including those put on by Japanese-Brazilian associations based on each group's geographical roots in Japan. However, these events became impossible under the social and economic restrictions imposed in late March to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Brazil has over 1.8 million official coronavirus cases, and more than 70,000 people have died of COVID-19 -- both totals second-highest in the world after the United States. Every corner of the country is in a furious fight against the disease.

The heart of the Japanese-Brazilian community is in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city. There, social and economic restrictions over the pandemic were loosened somewhat in early June, but the community has no prospects of meeting the conditions for holding an event. Furthermore, if infections or the stress on the medical system worsen once more, strict rules may be reapplied.

Nikkey Shimbun Editor in Chief Masayuki Fukasawa is seen in Sao Paulo on July 10, 2020. Fukasawa hopes people living in Japan will subscribe to the paper. (Mainichi/Taichi Yamamoto)

"After subscription fees, ad money is our biggest source of revenue, and that has been at nearly zero," said Nikkey Editor in Chief Masayuki Fukasawa, 54.

During World War II, when Brazil was one of the Allied Powers fighting Japan, the authorities here banned foreign language newspapers, forcing every Japanese title to either close down or suspend publication.

After the war, when information in Japanese was scarce, the Japanese-Brazilian community split into two camps: the "losing team" that accepted that Japan had been defeated, and the "victory team," which believed their home country would ultimately triumph. The two groups eventually came to blows, and at least 20 people were killed in the fighting.

One of the Nikkey's predecessor papers was established in 1947 with a goal to provide the Japanese community with reliable information in their own language. Now, due to the shrinking numbers of first-generation Japanese immigrants and the novel coronavirus, it is facing its greatest crisis since its founding more than 70 years ago.

The Nikkey is putting its hopes for survival in a plan to grow the paper's readership outside Brazil, including among Japanese-Brazilians now living in Japan. The daily also has a web and a PDF version, which are both available online. The paper carries news not just on the Japanese-Brazilian community but about Brazilian politics, economics, general society and other various information.

"We are a way for Japanese-Brazilians in Japan to get to know their home country and their roots," commented Fukasawa. "I'd also like Japanese people working in companies related to Brazil to read the paper."

Subscription details can be found at: https://www.nikkeyshimbun.jp/membership (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Taichi Yamamoto, Sao Paulo Bureau)

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