My Japanology / Vibrant architecture reflects modern Japan

Tsuyoshi Yoshioka/The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ambassador Andre Correa do Lago speaks about bilateral relations with Japan at the Brazilian Embassy in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

The Japan News Brazil, rich in natural resources, advanced technology and robust democracy, is Latin America’s heavyweight. The nation has long been an influential actor in world affairs. Hosting the Rio de Janeiro Olympic and Paralympic Games despite political turmoil demonstrated ambitions to expand its reach even further. With Japan, Brazil has established a strong bond through the history of Japanese immigration. Brazilian Ambassador to Japan Andre Correa do Lago talked about paths for both countries to jointly become more active global leaders.

Q: Did you enjoy the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games?

Correa do Lago: I stayed here in Tokyo during the whole Games, because we were very interested to see how the Games were going to be received by the Japanese public and authorities.

This commitment [by Brazil to host the Games] was taken a few years ago when the economy was booming and the government was very popular. As we got closer to the Olympics, we started to face a very severe economic crisis and political circumstances that were quite complex. That’s why so many people were so worried before the Games. It was very hard for us in the beginning to try to undo this perception.

But, as the Games started, and with the opening ceremony that was so fantastic, the mood changed completely. It was very interesting to see how the country could deal with all these challenges and provide a good and joyful Games.

The Empress very kindly said positive words about the Rio Games’ spirit. In her recent answers to questions by the press, she said that the Games had been held “with characteristically Brazilian notes, full of joy and bright cheer.”

The Games were very legitimately Brazilian. Brazil organized the Games showing the real Brazil. That’s why the [Brazilian] people got more and more excited. The volunteers were very natural. At no moment did we try to hide difficulties we faced, like inequalities and imperfect infrastructure.

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  • Tsuyoshi Yoshioka/The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Ambassador Andre Correa do Lago speaks during an interview.

‘Nippon’ chant in Rio

Q: How do you view Japan’s anticipation of the Tokyo Games?

A: The Rio Games had to be held with some kind of logic of a developing country, but in Japan people expect a lot. You did a wonderful Olympics in 1964 and you changed somehow the image of the country. This time you don’t need to change the image of your country, but people are expecting a lot in technology, comfort, public transportation, fun and all that.

Nowadays the public does not support very high expenses. But people expect a lot of creativity. Tokyo Gov. [Yuriko] Koike, who went to the Rio Games, was very surprised and impressed by the fact that many of the installations for the Games were provisional. She told me that, when she was leaving Rio the day after the closing ceremony, she already saw some infrastructure being undone. A series of buildings were in fact nomadic architecture. They were to be taken out of where they had been built, and to be rebuilt as schools or rebuilt in other neighborhoods for other functions. You don’t have white elephants. The costs were much lower in Rio than in other Olympics.

There was a very natural manifestation of the proximity between the Japanese and the Brazilians [during the Games]. The opening ceremony in Rio had the special homage to Japanese immigration in Brazil, putting it as one of the central forces for the creation of the Brazilian nationality. The Japanese delegation entered with the Brazilian flag. Brazilians were obviously in favor of Brazilian athletes, but as a second favorite delegation Japan was always on top. There were lots of Brazilians shouting, “Nippon, Nippon.”

Q: How did you come to encounter Japan?

A: I come from Rio. My father was a diplomat, and I lived in many countries but always in Europe and Latin America. The first time I was conscious about Japan was the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. My parents were very much interested in art, design and architecture. My first image of Japan was not of the traditional Japan but of the modern Japan. The first image I had of Japan was the national gymnasium designed by Kenzo Tange for the Olympics.

I developed a great passion for architecture. I have an enormous admiration for good architecture. Japan has a collection of amazing architects. If I have a hobby in Japan, it is to appreciate Japanese architecture. I’m studying a lot about traditional Japanese architecture and its links to modern and contemporary architecture. Contemporary Japanese architecture shows the best of Japan, which is creativity, technology, quality and diversity. There are very few countries that have at least 10 top architects today doing very different things. Contemporary architecture in Japan shows how diversity fits very well into the Japanese way of being.

Q: What was the significance of Brazilian President Michel Temer’s visit to Japan in October?

A: The visit was highly successful and symbolic. He had been president for less than two months when he came to Japan. It showed the priority that Brazil attributes to the relationship with Japan. The other side is the very positive response of the Japanese government in organizing his visit on such short notice. He had a very intense program that included [an audience with] the Emperor, a meeting and dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and an intense exchange with Japanese businesspeople.

There was a very strong economic message that President Temer wanted to bring. The message was that Brazil is always conscious of how Japan has been important for Brazilian development in recent decades. Some of the most revolutionary economic projects in Brazil were achieved thanks to Japanese cooperation and investments.

President Temer is promoting a series of changes in the Brazilian economy. The core message of his visit was that we want Japan to be a central partner in this effort. It’s a renewal of a partnership that has been very successful. In recent years, with the economic crisis and with some of the [Brazilian] government policies, Japan was not as comfortable as it used to be in investing in Brazil. I believe that this visit was a great change for this new phase.

Q: What roles do you expect many Brazilians of Japanese ancestry to play in bilateral relations?

A: The most fantastic characteristic of Brazilians of Japanese origin is that they are considered an essential form of being Brazilian. If you go to Brazil, people will think you are Brazilian. Their first reaction will be that you are a Brazilian because looking Japanese is one of the very strong ways to be Brazilian. Most of the Japanese went to work in agriculture in very isolated areas, but in one generation the Japanese community was everywhere, from civil servants to engineers and professors.

This integration symbolizes how much Brazil and Japan complement each other. They are very different countries, the most far away from one another as possible, but Brazilians of Japanese origin get all these qualities together and contribute enormously to the Brazilian personality.

This probably has a strong impact also on business. We have almost two million Brazilians of Japanese origin that very much support Japanese companies in understanding Brazil. They translate the Brazilian logic to the Japanese that have just arrived in Brazil.

Q: How are you assisting the Brazilians of Japanese origin who came to Japan to work?

A: It’s a phenomenon that has evolved a lot in recent years. We now have around 180,000 Brazilians living in Japan. Most of them came from Brazil with an idea of working for a few years and going back to Brazil. Many did so. In 2007, there were more than 300,000 Brazilians in Japan. Some of these Brazilians adapted very well to Japan. This new phase is quite similar to the life of the Japanese that immigrated to Brazil.

The issue of children and schooling is central. There are 45,000 Brazilians under 20 in Japan. We are very much focused on helping them integrate into Japan. Our efforts now are concentrating on having these children receive the best possible support to study in Japanese schools and universities, and contribute to the Japanese economy.

There are many challenges. These children normally have parents who don’t speak Japanese, or don’t speak it well. It’s difficult for them to do their homework because they don’t have support from their parents. There are many kinds of support that we have to create for them to be at the same level as the Japanese.

On the other side, we also want them to keep their Brazilian culture alive. So we are working on giving them some parallel schooling that will keep them with their Brazilian origin. We would love to have in Japan what happened to the Japanese in Brazil. Our objective is to support these children in competing among the Japanese with some added characteristics of their Brazilian origin.

Unity needed as nation

Q: What is your view on the current debate in Japan about opening the door to foreign workers?

A: It’s very difficult in Japanese culture to introduce an element that is not traditional in its formation. It’s the opposite situation of Brazil.

Brazil is the result of mix. In Japan, mixing will be somehow the exception. Brazil has succeeded in integrating very much different races, religions and origins. It’s very easy to be Brazilian. We are a very open society. We like new things. We think diversity is a value.

The exercise Japan is going to develop will be a very important lesson for many countries because the issues of immigration and multiculturalism are very much a contemporary issue. But in this area [of immigration and multiculturalism], Japan has been able to maintain an isolation that is not as contemporary as what you see around the world.

In the case of Brazil, we don’t have multiculturalism in the sense of everybody being different. It’s multiculturalism in the sense of creating unity. When any person arrives in Brazil, we want this person obviously to integrate into Brazil and respect the way of life. I think people have to respect very much the values of the country where they are going to live.

But at the same time, Brazil allows lots of flexibility in how you live. If you respect some of these basic values, you have a very easy way of integrating.

I think that [in Japan] there are some obstacles to that integration. But all these obstacles can be surmounted by keeping the obligation of everyone that moves to Japan to follow the central values of the country. But at the same time there has to be some kind of flexibility because they can bring something new.

The Olympics have been cited as an opportunity for Japan to become more multicultural. But it has to be a Japanese multiculturalism. Japan does not have to adopt what other countries think is multiculturalism. Japan is such a sophisticated society that it can develop its own way of being multicultural.

Q: What is your view on the Japanese government’s commitment to climate change issues?

A: Japan had an extremely efficient reaction to the oil crisis in the ’70s. Japan turned to other sources of energy, reduced its dependency on oil and became an extremely energy-efficient country. Japan did that before the negotiations on climate change. The additional efforts by Japan were much more expensive and difficult than those of other developed countries.

I think that this has somehow created a defensive position for Japan. You have seen that in the Paris Agreement. Japan was criticized by many NGOs for not being ambitious enough. Japan is probably going to find some very interesting answers to these questions. But for the moment, the international community is expecting more from Japan. I think the Japanese public is not so aware of that. This is an issue that is very exciting for me to exchange views with Japanese experts and the Japanese government.

BRICS is not ‘against’

Q: Brazil has established what is termed a “strategic global partnership” both with China and Japan. What is Brazil’s strategy for Asia?

A: Japan is our most traditional ally in Asia. It has had a central role in Brazilian development and there is a very natural relationship between the two countries.

China and Japan are very different countries on the world stage today. There are many elements on which we are much closer to Japan. For instance, one of the very important and politically central issues is our position regarding nuclear arms and the reform of the U.N. Security Council in the Group of 4 [comprising Brazil, India, Germany and Japan]. Brazil and Japan have chosen very clearly the path of peace and cooperation. Our common commitment to democracy, the rule of law and freedom of press is very strong. We want to make a much wider contribution to international affairs. We want to be seen as global actors. Prime Minister Abe has been on an amazing series of trips and is bringing Japan to as many issues as possible.

We are in BRICS with China, together with India, Russia and South Africa. Sometimes people think BRICS is against things. No, BRICS is not against anything but about bringing something more. We want to identify areas in which the large developing countries can contribute and find ways of having this voice heard around the world.

Q: What values does the BRICS bloc represent?

A: The essence of BRICS is economic. These are five countries that together have an enormous amount of people and tremendous potential to influence the world’s economy and evolution. BRICS has gained a political dimension, but it’s linked to the economic and demographic relevance of the group.

The great contribution of BRICS is to remind [the world] that the greatest part of the potential for economic growth lies in these countries. We need to see the world not so much as a traditional Western world where things are developed and produced and taken to the rest of the world. [We need to] think of the world while integrating the expectations, the worries and the challenges of the largest emerging countries.

Q: Brazil and India are emerging economies with long-term expectations to increase their influence on world affairs, while Japan and Germany are mature economies perhaps with less potential to expand their weight dramatically. The G-4 has not succeeded in bringing out tangible reforms of the U.N. Security Council. Do you think the G-4 can maintain itself in the long run?

A: Japan has been answering this question by communicating very clearly that its growth depends on its presence around the world. It’s true that Japan has [problems such as] a decreasing population. But the power of Japan and Germany is very much what they can do beyond their borders and populations. Sometimes we look at countries as if they were limited geographically by their space, but if you see the profile of the largest Japanese or German companies today, they are already way beyond their borders.

It’s very logical that we will have two large developing countries and two very important developed economies together [at the G-4], because they are all extremely committed to democracy, freedom, strengthening the multilateral structure, and the amazing opportunities of growth by working together.

What we have to think of is that this reform [of the U.N. Security Council] will make the U.N. better. As a diplomat from a country that believes very much in multilateralism, we want the U.N. to get better. We have to continue to really work in the direction of that reform. I think the G-4 can make an amazing contribution to improve the U.N., and obviously the world.

This interview was conducted by Japan News Assistant Editor Michinobu Yanagisawa.

Andre Correa do Lago was born in 1959. Having obtained a degree in economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, he became a diplomat. He has served Brazil’s missions in Madrid, Prague, Washington, Buenos Aires and Brussels. He was Brazil’s chief negotiator at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, known as Rio+20. Ambassador Correa do Lago presented his Letter of Credentials to the Emperor in November 2013.

(From November 4, 2016, issue)

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