And this week, Princess Mako, the granddaughter of Emperor Akihito of Japan, trekked to Brazil to visit more than a dozen cities bearing symbols of Japanese heritage and to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the first pioneers' journey.
That first big group of 781 Japanese, mostly farmers, arrived at the port of Santos in São Paulo state in June 1908, aboard the cargo and passenger ship Kasato Maru.
Plagued by debt in the wake of Japan's industrialisation, the migrants hoped for a new life working on South American coffee plantations, which were facing a labor shortage.
"After the war, Japan was in a difficult situation. I came to Brazil at age 19, alone and full of hope," says Yoshiharu Kikuchi, 78.
Originally from Japan's north, he spent his first years in Brazil working the land, before moving to São Paulo in 1965. "Everything we got was hard won," he says. "I learned a lot here."
Today the nikkei are mostly well integrated into Brazilian society. But the first generations endured significant prejudice, especially in the early 20th-century tide of Western xenophobia aimed at the so-called "yellow peril."