The Nikkei Scholarships: Dreams Come True Project was established to give descendants of Japanese emigrants the opportunity to come to Japan and deepen their knowledge of a particular field so they can serve as leaders as leaders tackling problems in their communities back home.
A Myriad of Dreams
The descendants of Japanese emigrants, called nikkei in Japanese, have made a name for themselves abroad as athletes, musicians, actors, astronauts, businesspeople, politicians, and numerous other occupations. Today, there are reportedly 2.6 million people of Japanese descent living outside Japan. Nikkei born and raised overseas can serve as a valuable resource in international cooperation and exchange, drawing on skills from two different cultures.
The Nikkei Scholarships: Dreams Come True Project is designed to enable people of Japanese descent to study in Japan and acquire the skills and experiences needed to contribute to their communities back home. The scholarships are targeted at young people between the ages of 18 and 35 who have a concrete plan to use what they have learned in Japan to serve their communities. Indeed, one thing that sets the program apart from others is the selection of applicants based on what they plan to achieve, rather than just academic excellence or financial need.
The wide range of topics covered under the program is another noteworthy feature. The diverse array of fields includes everything from medicine and engineering to fashion, animation, hair design, and dance; and the institutions chosen range from vocational schools to university graduate schools. The scholarships cover a maximum term of five years. Initially, the program mainly targeted Latin American countries, but eligibility was extended to include the Philippines in 2009 and Indonesia in 2010.
Tackling Problems in Nikkei Communities
“I applied for this scholarship because I thought it would let me grow as a person,” comments Hana Yamanaka Evaristo Silva, a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian. In 2009, Yamanaka came to Japan after graduating from a high school in São Carlos, a city located in the state of São Paulo. She is now a third-year student at Sophia University’s Department of Education. “I came here to pursue a comparative study of Japanese and Brazilian public schools,” she explains. “People say the income gap in Japan is growing, but the gap is still larger in Brazil. In terms of its compulsory education system and other features, Brazil can learn a lot from Japan.”
Yamanaka is already considering what she can do to contribute to her community after returning home. “The number of Japanese-Brazilians returning to Brazil began to rise after the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008, which triggered a period of prolonged economic stagnation in Japan—and shot up further after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. There are now many children in Brazil who are unable to fit in because they attended public school in Japan, only speak Japanese, and are more comfortable with Japanese ways of doing things. This has made it hard for them to adjust to life in Brazil. The gap between them and their parents, who speak only Portuguese, is difficult to bridge. Many feel like there’s no place for them at school or at home. My first aim in confronting such problems is to figure out what I can do to help.”
Seeing to the Needs of Smaller Communities
Another scholarship recipient, Carolina Tiharu Kuriyama, a second-generation Japanese-Brazilian, plans enroll as a doctoral student at International Christian University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2013 to research the problems faced by children of Brazilian migrant workers in Japan. A native of the city of São Jose dos Campos, in the state of São Paulo, Kuriyama attended graduate school in Brazil and then got a job related to corporate social responsibility with Banco Itaú (now known as Itaú Unibanco after its 2008 merger with Unibanco). She came to Japan in 2010.
“For my research, I’d like to focus on relatively small Japanese-Brazilian communities, like Kakegawa in Shizuoka Prefecture and Eichizen in Fukui Prefecture,” Kuriyama explains. “Brazilian support networks and public programs exist in larger communities, but it’s more difficult to get people to lend a hand in smaller communities, and some kids end up committing crimes because of the pressure they’re under. I can’t solve the problems on my own, but I think I can make a difference by raising awareness of these communities. My intention is to spend as much time I can in those places.”
Bonds Among Exchange Students
Nikkei Scholarships marks its tenth anniversary in 2013. Since its inception, five to ten scholarship recepients have come to Japan each year, for a total of around 70. Fumiko Nakai, a project manager of the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, which organizes the scholarship program in collaboration with the Nippon Foundation, notes that the “program is distinguished above all by the work put into deepening bonds among the students,” as she explains:
“In the past, ethnic Japanese students didn’t form networks with students from other Latin American countries. But two years after the Dreams Come True Project was inaugurated, students took the initiative in setting up the Nippon Foundation Nikkei Scholars Association (NFSA). Today, the organization holds two workshops each year and dispatches staff to Japanese-Brazilian schools in Japan to teach demonstration classes. After the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the students went to stricken areas to help remove debris. After their return home, former program particpants stay in touch and are involved in nikkei community affairs. Japan occupies a special place in their hearts. Personally, I think that the creation of this network alone makes the program worthwhile.”
Former Participants Are Active in Nikkei Communities
In 2008, after spending two years in Japan, second-generation Japanese-Brazilian Fernando Kuniyoshi returned home, and today is active as a professional taiko drummer. Kuniyoshi chose the Nippon Taiko Foundation as his base for studying Japanese techniques for drum performance, production, and repair. Since returning to Brazil, he has organized taiko classes and re-skinned old instruments in need of repair in various locations around Parana, his home state. He has also done volunteer work at favelas, or slums in the outskirts of cities, where he presented children with taiko drums made from old tires so they could encounter the beauty of this percussion instrument.
Gustavo Shiguetoshi Kishimoto
Gustavo Shiguetoshi Kishimoto, a Japanese-Peruvian, spent five years in Japan researching methods for early detection of gastric cancer at the National Cancer Center and Dokkyo Medical University, before returning to Peru in 2011. Indigo carmine is commonly used in Japan as a dye for gastrointestinal endoscopy and plays an important role in early detection of tumors. In Peru, however, this dye is expensive, making widespread adoption impossible. Through his research, Kishimoto found that the juice of Peruvian-grown purple corn could be used as a substitute for indigo carmine. Kishimoto’s discovery is playing a major role in early detection of cancer and tumor resection, since the corn dye is cheap and affordable. At present, he works at Policlinico Emmanuel, a hospital run by a Japanese-Peruvian organization in the capital Lima, while also assisting an educational loan program for Japanese-Peruvians that he had used as a student.
Photographs by Hans Sautter