Photo/IllutrationAn album, top, featuring photos showing Japanese immigrants’ voyage to Brazil and other scenes, as well as Japanese immigrants’ passports issued in the 1930s and 1950s, are shown at Museu Historico da Imigracao Japonesa no Brasil, a museum in Sao Paulo themed on Japanese-Brazilians. (Akiko Tada)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

SAO PAULO--More than 100,000 items documenting the lives of the first Japanese immigrants to Brazil over a century ago are deteriorating in quality, putting their preservation for posterity and future research prospects at risk.

Although the operator of Museu Historico da Imigracao Japonesa no Brasil, a museum here themed on Japanese-Brazilians, is working to digitize its collection as this year marks the 110th anniversary of the Japanese immigration to Brazil, the work has not advanced smoothly due to shortages of funds and labor.

To help it overcome the challenge and preserve the historically important articles, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have sent a donation to the museum as parts of efforts to provide encouragement for local Japanese-Brazilians.

Brazil is home to the world’s largest population of Japanese immigrants, with 1.9 million people of Japanese origin currently residing in the nation.

The museum is located in the building of the Brazilian society of Japanese culture and social assistance in the Liberdade district here, where many Asians live.

On display at exhibition rooms measuring 1,600 square meters in total on the building’s seventh to ninth floors are a document associated with the 1895 Brazilian-Japanese Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, a model of the Kasado Maru, the vessel that carried the first Japanese immigrants to the Port of Santos, a reproduction of a cottage where Japanese pioneers lived, and many other items.

The exhibits attract sightseers and local students among others.

But the museum faces an emerging problem: immigrants’ voyage records, Japanese newspapers issued both before and after World War II, individuals’ notebooks and photos have been deteriorating over the years.

Each page of those vulnerable materials needs to be scanned so the documents, along with their added explanations, can be converted into a digital format. But little digitization work has been conducted to date.

Lidia Reiko Yamashita, 68, a second-generation Japanese-Brazilian who serves as deputy chairman of the steering committee of the museum, expressed her strong sense of crisis.

“Unless showpieces are digitized as quickly as possible, it could become impossible to study them due to deterioration, resulting in the loss of their value as historical materials,” she said.

Under the plan, the museum will digitize all its items in the future to build digital archives searchable and accessible for anyone around the world.

However, as it owns Japanese newspapers before and after the war, which total more than 400,000 pages, and many other documents, the digitization process is expected to take a vast amount of time.

IMPERIAL FAMILY SUPPORT

Fortunately for the museum, it has friends in very high places. When it opened in June 1978 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese emigration to Brazil, Akihito and Michiko, then crown prince and princess, attended its opening ceremony.

After ascending to the throne, the imperial couple visited there again in 1997, and their three children have also dropped in at the museum.

Portraits of Akihito and Michiko, painted when they were the crown prince and princess, are shown at the exhibition space on the facility’s ninth floor.

Crown Prince Naruhito, who visited there in 2008, handed a donation to a museum official in line with the emperor and empress’s desire “to do something concrete to help the community of Japanese immigrants.”

The fund is to be used for constructing the archives.

“I am pleased that imperial family members remember the existence of Japanese immigrants here,” said Yamashita. “I want to work hard to pass down the history of Japanese-Brazilians.”

For more information, visit the museum’s website at (http://www.museubunkyo.org.br).