One hundred years ago, a wave of poor Japanese migrants settled in Brazil to work on coffee plantations. Today, their descendants number around one million. In the 1990s Japan offered the descendants of those migrants work visas and close to 300,000 Japanese-Brazilians came to their ancestral homeland. But now, due to the global economic downturn, many are heading back to Brazil.
Factories like this create car parts for Japan's automotive giants, like Toyota and Honda.
At many of them, the people operating the machines are Brazilians whose ancestors migrated from Japan decades ago. Most came to Japan over the past decade to take jobs many Japanese citizens shunned.
But as demand abroad for Japanese exports has dried up during the global downturn, these migrant workers are losing their jobs.
Twenty-eight-year-old Karina Tsunoda, who came from Brazil eight years ago to work in a factory, says she was laid off without warning.
"And my Japanese boss just told me, 'from Monday you are on vacation,' but on Tuesday, he told my manager, my Brazilian boss, that he had to dismiss me, so that's it, the next day he told me I was fired," Tsunoda said.
Because the majority of these Brazilian workers do not speak Japanese, they are faced with very limited employment opportunities.
Analysts say that many are left with no other option than to return home
Angelo Ishi is an associate sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo and is also a Brazilian of Japanese ancestry.
"It is like a big earthquake has affected the Brazilian community in Japan," Ishi said. "People estimate that 50 percent of Brazilians that were working in factories in Japanese factories, they were fired."
The effects of Japan's recession are visible in the businesses and schools that serve the Brazilian community.
The children of factory workers play in the gymnasium of their Portuguese-language school.
Thirteen-year old Bruno Oshiro says his classes are getting smaller.
He says many of his friends have left and more are going to leave. Their families do not have enough work now to live in Japan anymore.
The school's director, Aureo Magno Watanabe, says before the recession, there were around 150 tuition-paying students here. Now there are 35.
Watanabe says to keep his school open he plans to combine classes with another school in Nagoya. He says he is very worried about losing more students as families leave for Brazil.
But things might not be any easier for the migrants once they get back home.
Unemployment in Brazil hovers around eight percent. And Ishi at Musashi University says the type of low-skilled labor they have done in Japan will not help the migrants get jobs at home.
"He or she cannot search for some skilled job in the same conditions of people who have studied there and people who are looking for the same job there," Ishi said.
The recently laid-off Tsunoda says she has been thinking about what she will do if she leaves Japan for good.
"I really feel scared, and it's strange, because I will restart my life," Tsunoda said. "I will try to go to college and try to find a job there. The situation there hasn't changed. It's a little better now, but, I am sure it's not going to be easy. But I will try."
Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare says that thousands of migrant workers have applied to receive unemployment benefits. And to prevent their numbers from growing, the government is offering to buy laid-off workers one-way plane tickets back to Brazil.