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Santos (2) / Brazil

The City of Soccer, Coffee, and Beaches

Hideki Asakawa / Exportadora e Importadora Marubeni-Colorado Ltda.

My first encounter with a Brazilian person was in the form of a manga (comic book) character called Roberto Hongo. A former player (number ten) on the Brazilian national team, Roberto discovers the talents of Tsubasa Ozora, the main character of the Captain Tsubasa (also known as Flash Kicker)   comic that sparked the soccer boom in Japan. Roberto is a Japanese-Brazilian whose career as a member of the Brazilian national team is cut short when he suffers a detached retina. The setting is full of dramatic struggles, as Roberto makes his way to Japan after attempting suicide, and it was captivating and inspiring to me, as an elementary school student at the time. Naturally, as an impressionable kid, I started playing soccer, and the next thing I knew, I was chasing a soccer ball around all the time, right up until I graduated from university. I lose words when I think of my life whose adolescence was dependent on the influence of a comic, but I would say that there were a lot of kids in my generation who took a similar path.

And now that such a soccer lover is a resident of the soccer town of Santos. While it is not a metropolis on the order of Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, Santos is one of the cities where culture is most deeply rooted in the soccer Mecca of Brazil. Droves of men and women of all ages gather from out of nowhere on the vast beaches in the evening and begin countless matches on improvised courts. As I watch the footwork of the barefoot kids playing here, I can feel the vast difference from the extent of the range in Japan.

To speak of the local team Santos FC is to speak of the king of soccer, known as Pele, and the team is familiar for the active participation of the Japanese player Kazuyoshi Miura, known as King Kazu. It is popular for Santistas—meaning true-blue children of Santos, Santos fans—to walk to the home stadium that is nicknamed the villa. I often go to watch the matches, and there are matches with 9:50 kickoffs on weeknights, which is a big help for busy employees at a trading company.

Coffee is another aspect of Santos. The Port of Santos currently boasts the largest volume of cargo in South America, and as it originally flourished as port of export for coffee, you can feel the history of coffee in the streets everywhere. In one part of the Old Town—which has preserved the appearance of old as remodeling is prohibited—a large number of coffee companies are concentrated in a block of just some 100 meters in every direction, and coffee traders come and go every day. Marubeni Colorado where I work (a coffee trader, of course!) is also steeped in this history. When you open the window, the old coffee exchange tower is right before your eyes. Although its role as an exchange has already ended, the presence of the exchange is still strong as a vivid reminder of its former grandeur. I would love to age gracefully in just the same way.

There is actually a surprising connection between Japanese and Santos. Santos is where the first Japanese immigrants arrived after making their way to Brazil in 1908. With roots in the land of Brazil for over a century, there are said to be more than a million people of Japanese descent throughout the country. Although the immigrants faced considerable hardships after they settled in, they were extremely zealous about educating the next generation, many of whom are now engaged not only in agriculture, but also in the legal and medical professions as well. Thanks to the diligent efforts of these pioneers, people show respect when they meet Japanese, even to a person like me. I am truly lucky!

Lastly, since it is very difficult to describe the beach that stretches for over 5 kilometers with the largest front garden in the world, I eagerly invite those of you who are interested to come see it for yourselves—and don’t forget your swimsuits!
I had intended to introduce a bit of the lifestyle of the Santistas—with soccer as a part of their lives, with the romance of coffee, and with the intoxicating beaches—but I ended up devoting almost the entire report to my own story. Sorry about that!

Marubeni Group magazine "M-SPIRIT" VOL.66 (November, 2011)

  • The Old Town and the coffee exchange, with the ambience of Europe in the air
  • Santistas enjoying soccer on the beach

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