Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert C. Smith

Committee Members

John C. Torpey

Monica Varsanyi

Takeyuki Tsuda

Subject Categories

Japanese Studies | Latin American History | Migration Studies | Race and Ethnicity | Sociology


Transnationalism, Diaspora, Incorporation, Japanese Brazilians, Japan, Brazil


This dissertation explores the varieties of Brazilian Nikkei’s – Japanese emigrants to Brazil and their descendants – transnational lives throughout a century of their migration history. I propose an interactive process approach to migrant transnationalism to understand the divergence of Brazilian Nikkeis’ transnational lives between their two homelands, Japan and Brazil. First, I focus on the four macro-institutional contexts: 1) positions and development patterns of sending and receiving states within the international state system; the infrastructural power of states, more concretely 2) the diasporic bureaucracy of sending states and 3) the incorporative power of receiving states; and 4) the mobilizing capacity of migrants’ networks and associations. I argue that the interactions among them yield varying modes of migrants’ transnational ties with the homelands over time. Second, I also draw attention to the processual nature of migrants’ agency that produces further variations of transnational lives. I conceptualize migrants’ agency as the dynamic relationship between a) social belonging that represents one’s sense of belonging to the relevant subcultures and b) possible selves that informs future pathways. Interacting with meso-level institutional contexts over time, migrants’ agency can generate variations in transnational lives even under the same configuration of macro-institutional contexts. In short, this dissertation shows how the interactions among the four macro-institutional contexts and the agentic dynamics over time produce varieties of Brazilian Nikkeis’ transnational ties and lives between Japan and Brazil. I claim that the analytical framework developed through the case of Brazilian Nikkeis in this dissertation can be helpful to guide other studies on migrants’ transnationalism and assimilation.

This dissertation employs case-oriented comparisons and focuses on three prominent episodes in Brazilian Nikkeis’ transnational history over a century. Chapter 1 compares Italian and Japanese migrants in early 20th century São Paulo and how the form and breadth of diasporic supports to the homelands differed between the two migrant groups. Chapter 2 compares two Japanese migrant communities in the hinterland of São Paulo and how they differently reacted to Japanese defeat in World War II. Finally, Chapter 3 compares four Brazilian Nikkei youths in contemporary Japan and how their life trajectories diverged widely including both an upwardly mobile incorporation into the mainstream Japanese society and an upwardly mobile return to Brazil. These case-oriented comparisons across the cases and each case along the way enable me to carefully analyze the divergence dynamics of migrants’ transnational lives working both at macro-institutional and micro-agency levels.