Hitting the play button, a lively BGM starts to play and a brief introduction of the podcast begins. None of the conversation between the two young Brazilian Japanese–Samy and Jorge, is scripted. Instead, they only share the theme beforehand, and the details of what they are going to talk about will be revealed only after they press the record button. Friends since their college days, the two talk and laugh incessantly. “Our motto is to stay natural,” they said, answering our questions in a relaxed and candid manner during the interview.
“Live Kyoukai-sen”, which literally means to live on the boundary, is a podcast delivered by Samy and Jorge in Japanese, just launched on April 12, 2021. Topics are mainly related to people who have roots in both Japan and other countries, the so-called “Ha-hu (ハーフ：half Japanese)”.
“Although it may seem like a problem unique to the Hahu people, when you look at the structure, I think a number of Japanese people share the same problem in essence,” Samy said. “We want to provide an opportunity for everyone to think positively about themselves,” added Jorge. By talking about everyday life from both of their perspectives, they hope to bring about awareness and foster dialogues.
Beyond “Black or White” thinking–being on the edge enables you to think further
The title of the podcast was inspired by the book “Representations of the Intellectual” by Edward Said, whom Samy greatly admires. Said describes the societal role of intellectuals is “to represent a message or view not only to, but for, a public, and to do so as an outsider”–never panders to power or confines himself to a narrow area of expertise, but always thinks critically from the standpoint of the minority.
Drifting “on the boundary” between countries or outside of anywhere, they could say “No” when the situation arose… Said’s words overlapped with their own backgrounds.
Rather than questioning whether Japan or Brazil is better, they believe that standing on the boundary allows them to look at the essence of the problem from a micro perspective. All the podcast episodes convey insights through a casual talk, and while the themes are mostly half-Japanese related topics, they are all relevant and universal to anyone in society.
“I only had a suspicion”–the shocking encounter
The podcast had its roots in their time as students, when they talked all night until morning. They discussed current affairs together with other friends, and since many of them were business administration students, they spent a lot of time studying and discussing the subject. “We also just talked about love too. We would get together every Friday night and talk through the night,” the two laugh as they recall, saying “We just loved having dialogues”.
Samy, who now runs a pop-up sandwich store to bring hot sandwiches from Latin America to Japan, meets Jorge, who currently works for an IT company to change education through IT, when they are both 19 years old.
At that time, Samy had no Japanese-Brazilian friends around him and was seeking for someone who shared the same identity as his. He discovered Jorge’s existence by chance on social networking sites. Instantly intrigued by Jorge’s cheerful personality, Samy sent him a DM on inviting him to an event of the student organization he was running at the time.
At that time, Jorge was actively working inside and outside the university to become a successful businessman, a dream he had had since childhood. When he received a message from Samy, “I was scared (of the sudden contact), so I ignored it for a long time”, Jorge confessed. After ignoring it for a while, he contacted Samy, but only for sales purposes.
Suddenly, he sent me a DM saying “Do you know ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’? Jorge was trying to sell me something”, Samy cracks as he remembers. When the two of them met for the first time, however, the two young souls both with Brazilian background, clicked immediately.
After graduating from college, they called each other for the first time in a long time. Talking about various topics as they did back in time, they came to feel, “It might be interesting to make this public.” Thanks to this, we are now able to listen to their light-hearted and in-depth talk on interesting social topics that can only be done between old besties.
“Sensationalist” and “Theorist”–as they call themselves, the interview revealed their distinctive personalities. However, what connects their hearts is not just their bilingual skill: the confusion over the cultural differences between the Japanese society and home, the struggle to wander “on the boundary”.
“A journey to discover who I am”–Fluctuation of identity during childhood
Jorge came to Gifu Prefecture from Brazil with his grandmother when he was two years old. His parents had already arrived in Japan as migrant workers. As he began to attend nursery school, he gradually began to notice the differences in his surroundings. “There was something that shook me up inside. I think that was the real beginning of my life as ‘Jorge’,” he recalls.
His childhood was still going on without any major problems, until he entered elementary school. At the closed environment, the landscape changed drastically. The people around him began to question the side of him that was “Brazilian”. His friends who had been close to him in nursery school became distant. “I would be treated like a freak or got into quarrels often,” Jorge explains.
“Who the hell am I?” the never-ending question tormented the little Jorge. “I didn’t know how to express myself, and I struggled with the cultural differences between my family and society.”
However, rather than worrying about how someone else thinks, feels, or sees about him, Jorge tried to express himself as he is and did what he wanted to do. As he shifted his focus to himself rather than others, Jorge gradually regained confidence.
Samy, who describes himself as “the complete opposite of Jorge,” came to Nagoya from Brazil at the age of 4, following his parents who also had come to work. He had been doing relatively well in his personal and social relationships, but one day in the 3rd grade of elementary school made him question about his identity.
While in a quarrel with his friend, Samy was told to “go back to his own country”. “I had always thought that Japan, where I lived and was most familiar with, was my country”. Since then, he stopped writing his full Brazilian name in the exams, to avoid sounding like a foreigner.
Joining the soccer team in middle school, he was hailed as a “Brazilian”, expected to do exceptionally well. Therefore, he joined the baseball team which is known to have a super strict Japanese spirit, even serving as captain in the end. “At the time, I think I was desperately trying to be Japanese,” Samy recalls.
However, because of this unconscious attempt to become “a full Japanese”, his mother tongue started to fade away, unable to answer his parents in Portuguese at home.
While in high school, Samy was again teased about his name because he was the only student whose full name was written in Katakana. However, he came to a realization this time: “when I try to hide my identity, people would poke fun at it, so I began to open up my Brazilian identity and make everyone laugh”. He found that this stabilized the way people looked at him, and he began to be able to show and accept his roots.
Our struggles should resonate with everyone
In his book, Yoshitaka Lawrence Shimoji, a researcher on the social history of “Ha-hu” people in Japan, points out that the direct voices sent out by half-Japanese people have become an important way to visualize the problems of racism and prejudice that have long been made invisible in Japanese society.
“The structure of discrimination against them (people with diverse roots) has been inherited in modern society without being fully understood,” Shimoji explains. They are praised when it affects the national interest or the market’s interest, but opposed whenever “Japanese-ness” is required. The meaning of Ha-hu in Japan, subject to the ambivalent and arbitrary responses of society, is still unstable and complex.
In addition, Shimoji points out that confronting society’s delineation of Ha-hu and the difficulties they face in daily life as a result of this is “a direct reexamination of what the ‘Japanese-ness’ truly refers to.
Samy also believes that problems and thoughts, which at first glance seem to be unique to Ha-hu are not limited to them in terms of structure. Using a comparison between Japanese and Brazilian society as an example, Samy and Jorge both believe in the importance of understanding things from a bird’s eye view, rather than being fixated on black-or-white dichotomies.
They told us that from san bird’s eye view, Japanese society’s “intolerance” of the new and different is inextricably linked to the good side of protecting public safety and avoiding destroying indigenous cultures and customs, and the bad side of discriminating against foreigners in employment and housing contracts or causing suicides due to inability to endure strict social rules.
On the other hand, Brazilian society, as a nation of immigrants, is tolerant of time and rules, unambiguous and easy to understand, but it is also unsafe. In the opinion of Jorge, a self-claimed “sensationalist”, Japan is a “cold” society and Brazil is a “hot” society. Too cold is not cozy, but too hot can cause problems–A balance is important, Jorge pointed out.
Growing up, there were always comparisons to be made, not only between countries, but also between families and schools. It’s a struggle, but it also leads to growth,” Samy said of the benefits of having multiple roots. Jorge, on the other hand, says that it is easy to lose subjectivity in the midst of comparing everything.
To avoid ending up with pity–digging into the dialogue with a pop angle.
Some of the episodes have serious themes, such as “choosing a nationality” or “facing the loss of the self,” but all of them are narrated with a lot of laughter, and you can listen to them without feeling awkward. However, there was one episode that was abandoned.
“When we recorded it under the title “On Discrimination,” it became too heavy and we both shut up talking about it”. They couldn’t talk about discrimination in the “light-hearted and fun” concept of the podcast, which two of them have continued in previous episodes.
As a national policy, Brazilians of Japanese descent are accepted as a labor force, but no measures are taken to address the current problems such as barriers to education and employment, adaptation to Japanese society, discrimination, and retirement security. To make things worse, they are not even recognized by society.
“The only people who can change this ongoing situation are the Japanese people who have the right to vote,” Samy said. “If we don’t make people aware of this reality and get them interested, nothing will ever change”.
Everyone has prejudice. But if you recognize them, you can change your perspective and broaden your horizons,” Jorge said.
There is a great amount of “negative power” in negativity. While this power can be a driving force for change, the two believe that in order to have people sustainably listen to the podcast and share the world that Ha-hu people see with positive feelings, they must not lead the audience to stop at the level of pitying.
“If we talk about discrimination and suffering, we can’t just finish by saying, ‘Ha-hu people are pitiful’. With such a heavy approach, only people who can consume those “high calories” will listen in the end, not everyone. In order to delve into the general public, I think it is necessary to bring out the depth in a light approach”.
There may be invisible “boundaries” even in the society we live in without thinking about it. The light-hearted talk between the two of them provides an opportunity for people with any roots, background, thoughts, or culture to look at their world from a new perspective. We hope to get more and more hooked on the mysterious “depth” of their talk in the episodes to come.
Story by Yasutaka Tamura / Translation by Kaori Kohyama
Samy：A fourth generation Japanese-Brazilian born in Sao Paulo in 1993. Sammy is the owner of the sandwich shop “C’est la base”, which he frequents throughout Japan with a focus on catering and pop-ups as a way to increase the frequency of contact with various cultures.
Jorge：’93 Third generation Japanese-Brazilian, born in Brazil. After working as a career consultant and sales manager for more than 4,000 people at an IT education venture in Shibuya, he was engaged as a launch leader of new business sales. His motto is “Live like the sun☀️”.
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