Shindo Renmei - (臣道連盟 "League of the Subjects' Path" in Japanese) was a terrorist organization composed of Japanese immigrants in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, active in the 1940s. Refusing to believe the news of Japan's surrender in the end of World War II, some of its most fanatic members used violence against those who did. Shindo Renmei killed at least 23 people and wounded 147 others, all of them Japanese-Brazilians.
The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil in 1908, most intending to amass wealth and return to their birth country. They found a completely different country, with different language, religion, climate, foods, and customs; as they planned to return, they lived in relative isolation from the culture around them, few even bothering to learn Portuguese. As such, they were generally seen with suspicion by the general populace. Yet, by the 1930s, Brazil had the largest community of Japanese immigrants in the world.
The Estado Novo regime established by Getúlio Vargas, aiming to promote Brazilian nationalism, repressed the cultures of the Japanese and German communities. By the decree 383 of April 18, 1938, they were not allowed to take part in political activities, speak foreign languages in public, or teach them as the first language of their children. Radio broadcast in foreign languages was forbidden; publishing in foreign languages was only allowed in bilingual editions, the foreign language next to Portuguese.
At the time, almost 90% of the Japanese immigrants were subscribers of Japanese language newspapers, which shows a degree of literacy far above the general populace at the time. Decree 383, making bilingual editions obligatory, destroyed most such newspapers, as it made printing costs exceedingly high; as a significant number of Japanese immigrants could not understand Portuguese at all, this made exceedingly difficult for them to obtain any information from outside their communities.
When Brazil sided with the Allies in 1942, any communication with Japan was cut: the entry of new Japanese immigrants was forbidden, letters would no longer arrive, Japanese-Brazilians were unable to travel freely or live in certain regions, such as coastal areas, without a safe conduct from a police authority, and radio receivers were apprehended so that that people would no longer listen to short wave transmissions from Japan. Even bilingual newspapers were forbidden at the time.
Shindo Renmei was not the only, nor even the first "patriotic" organization founded by Japanese-Brazilians. Most such organizations provided mutual support for the community; none of them, except for Shindo Renmei, was ever involved in terrorist acts.
Keizo Ishihara, Margarida Watanabe, and Massaru Takahashi, Japanese Catholics, founded the Pia ("pious"), a charity in benefit of the poorer members of the colony, with the approval of the church and the Brazilian government. A former Japanese army colonel, Junji Kikawa, was active in the Pia. In 1942, after a violent altercation between Japanese and Brazilians in Marília, Kikawa founded Shindo Renmei, and campaigned for the Japanese community to commit acts of sabotage; he distributed pamphlets urging Japanese-Brazilian farmers to cease to produce silk (used then to make parachutes) and peppermint (menthol was used in the production of explosives). As Pia's directors opposed this campaign, Kikawa left Pia in 1944.
With the end of World War 2, Shindo Renmei refused to believe the official news about the Japanese defeat. Believing it to be nothing but American propaganda, they established new goals: to punish the defeatists, to spread the "truth" that Japan had won or was winning the war, and defend the emperor's honor.
In Shindo Renmei's eyes, the Japanese-Brazilian community was divided in two groups:
- Kachigumi, or "victorists", who believed the war was still going on, or that Japan had won. They were the majority, the least well-off members of the community, and those who still intended to return to Japan.
- Makegumi, or "defeatists", pejoratively called "dirty hearts", who had accepted the news of defeat. They were usually the wealthier members of the community, better informed, and better adapted to Brazil.
Compounding the confusion, a number of scammers produced fake Japanese newspapers and magazines with news about the "great victory" and started selling land in the "conquered territories". Others sold yen, the Japanese currency, nearly worthless at the time, to those who intended to return to Japan. This drove many kachigumi into bankruptcy, some even to suicide.
Shindo Renmei's members believed that the news regarding Japan's defeat were false, and they created a communication system to spread the "truth" that Japan had won. Underground Japanese-language newspapers and magazines pushing this view were published, and clandestine radio stations were established.
The group also wrote lists with the names of the makegumi who should die for betraying the emperor.
Kamegoro Ogasawara, owner of a dry cleaner's in São Paulo, coordinated the punitive actions. Many Japanese-owned boarding houses served as hideouts for the killers after their actions.
Shindo Renmei's killers, or tokkotai, were always young people. Before a murder, they sent letters to their intended targets, urging them to commit seppuku – ritual suicide by sword – so that they could "regain the lost honor". The letters started by saying: "You have a dirty heart, so you must have the throat washed." That means, to be cut by a katana.
Not one of those who received such a letter complied with the request. Thus, they were killed with firearms or katana.
From 1946 to early 1947, according to official data, Shindo Renmei killed 23 and wounded 147, all Japanese-Brazilians.
The killers often surrendered to the police soon after their crimes, explaining that they had nothing against Brazil or its people, and that they were not common criminals, for they killed only as part of their duty.
Repression and end
Tales of murder, especially by katana sword, spread fear among Japanese-Brazilians; the general populace, not directly affected, nevertheless was left with the impression that all Japanese were nationalist fanatics.
Bursts of violence against Japanese immigrants, belonging to Shindo Renmei or not, occurred, especially in cities in the countryside where they had large communities, such as in the region of Tupã, São Paulo. After two attacks by Shindo Renmei, and the murder of a Brazilian truck driver by a Japanese truck driver on July 31, 1946, a massive crowd in Osvaldo Cruz rioted and was willing to lynch any Japanese they found. The riot was contained only with the arrival of army troops.
The army and the Departamento Estadual de Ordem Política e Social (DEOPS - State Department of Political and Social Order) investigated the case in the states of São Paulo and Paraná. According to the police of São Paulo, 31,380 Japanese-Brazilians were suspected of having connections to the organization. DEOPS also investigated 376 Japanese-Brazilians. Ultimately, the leaders of Shindo Renmei and most of the tokkotai were arrested.
About 155 Japanese immigrants were to be banished from Brazil in 1946, but this never happened, and the time for punishment elapsed. Only fourteen tokkotai were convicted of murder.
After many decades, Shindo Renmei is still somewhat of a taboo among Japanese-Brazilian immigrants.
In popular culture
- Dirty Hearts, a film about the Shindo Renmei
- Gargantas Cortadas in IstoÉ Online (visitada em 17 de agosto de 2008)
- SUZUKI Jr, Matinas. História da discriminação brasileira contra os japoneses sai do limbo in Folha de São Paulo, 20 de abril de 2008
- LESSER, Jeffrey. "Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil". Durham: Duke University Press, 1999. Portuguese edition: Negociando a Identidade Nacional: Imigrantes, Minorias e a Luta pela Etnicidade no Brasil (São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2001.
- DEZEM, Rogério. "Shindô Renmei: terrorismo e repressão". São Paulo: AESP, 2000.
- MORAIS, Fernando. "Corações Sujos". São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2000.