The Japanese Language as Representation of Self: Ideology and Social, Cultural, and Economic Performativities

Author: Adachi, Nobuko (Illinois State University)
Speaker: Adachi, Nobuko
Topic: Language, community, ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


No visitor is ever able to walk through the São Joaquim district of the Brazilian city of São Paulo without hearing the flowing rhythms of the melodious Portuguese language; the visitor is almost reminded of the gentle strains of bossa nova music. However, if the our casual stroller lingers for a moment they might notice that these sounds are not only Portuguese but oftentimes Japanese, though perhaps not in the typical accents found in Tokyo or Osaka. For São Joaquim is one of the main “Japantowns” in South America. Nor are these feelings restricted only to urban areas: When one takes the bus to the countryside, in several hours they will find not only small smatterings of old Japanese settlements, but also whole Japanese communities as well. In fact, one may feel as if they were visiting a Japanese farm village of the early twentieth century. In one of such Japanese village, there is an almost self-sufficient farming commune called, Kubo. Kubo was founded in 1935 and today is the home of almost a hundred people. In this presentation I will look at how the Japanese language is used at the Kubo farm. There, Japanese is the only language spoken, as it has been for some four generations. However, in many significant ways Kubo’s Japanese is different from that in Japan. For example, in Japan women are thought to speak softly while men are direct and less polite. But in Kubo it is the men speak who speak softly and closer to the standard form of the Japanese language spoken in Japan, while Kubo women speak with an accent that might be called arai kotoba (“abrupt speech”). Japanese visitors often comment on this, and attribute it to Kubo women’s lack of language knowledge or cosmopolitan experiences. Yet such women use polite forms when they write. I argue then that their form of language usage is a key representation of the ideology of the commune. I will examine how this ideology—a humanitarian farming philosophy largely based on traditional Japanese practices of the 18 th and 19 th centuries—has shaped the language usage on the farm. I also argue this language maintenance is closely tied not only to notions of Japanese-Brazilian identity, but also to an ethnicity-based “capital” system that allows the farm to survive an flourish in an globalized transnational world.Ok now sitting down to fix it

Keywords: Kubo, Japan, Women, Japanese-Brazilian, Japantown