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Adapting to Eat, Eating to Adapt: Food, Class, and Identity of Nikkei Brazilians in Japan

Time & Location

January 20, 7pm ET


The Japan Foundation, New York presents Illuminating Japanese Studies: Lecture Series with Former JF Fellows.

Since the Fellowship program began in 1972, there have been more than 1,000 American Fellowship recipients, who study a diverse range of research topics, from pre-modern history to pop culture and everything in between. This series will illuminate what exactly Japanese Studies can teach us, not only about Japan but about the world.

Join us for the seventh session titled Adapting to Eat, Eating to Adapt: Food, Class, and Identity of Nikkei Brazilians in Japan with JF Former Fellow Rumika Suzuki Hillyer, who will use food as a lens to explore the nuanced lives and experiences of Nikkei Brazilians, or ethnically Japanese Brazilian nationals, living in Japan. Nikkei Brazilians have been homogeneously characterized as dekasegi in academic literature, which is a term that refers to manual laborers who migrated to Japan during the 1990’s to bolster the country’s labor force during a period of industrial and economic growth. Drawing from qualitative, food-focused interviews with over 60 Nikkei Brazilians, including many who work in Brazilian food-related industries, this lecture shows that Nikkei-Brazilian food choices and preferences are not constructed autonomously, but are mediated by their unique encounters with ‘real’ Japanese food in their ancestral homeland as well as variables shaped by class, location, and social and cultural environments. In so doing, this lecture will challenge popular notions of dekasegi and reimagine the characterization of Nikkei Brazilians in Japan.

The discussion will be followed by a live Q&A moderated by Eric Funabashi.

Please share your questions through your Eventbrite RSVP. You may also participate in the discussion in the YouTubeLive chat during the livestream.



Rumika Suzuki Hillyer is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her research interests include sociology of food, class, identity, Nikkei Brazilians, migration, social capital, and ICT in media consumption. She was a 2020-2021 Japan Foundation Doctoral Fellow and a visiting research fellow at Waseda University Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies. Drawing from Bourdieusian approaches to social and cultural capital as well as 80+ interviews with Nikkei Brazilians in Japan, her dissertation explores the intersectionality of Nikkei Brazilians’ social class and foodways and their implications for Nikkei Brazilian identities. She currently teaches at the University of Portland as an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Work.

Eric Funabashi is a doctorate candidate in the History Department at the University of Kansas. His research interests include food, Japanese history, cookbooks, and gender relations. After receiving his B.A. in marketing and advertisement, Eric worked with sales, marketing, and customer services before returning to graduate school. He received his M.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of Alberta and at the University of Kansas; his dissertation investigates the role of domestic cookbooks in shaping and propagating concepts of femininity during the Meiji period in Japan.

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