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Asian Legacy in Peru

Peru graphic by Diana Vega
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Whatever you think Peru is, I assure you, it is far from what you expect.

It’s a country that celebrates the diversity not only of its fauna and geography but also its traditions and different migrant groups for the past 500 years.

Today I’m sharing a small story and historic facts for a community that sailed across the Pacific Ocean with a heart full of bravery and a bag full of ideas.

Peru (Image credit: Choji Itosu)
Peru (image credit: Choji Itosu)

Japanese migration to Peru

The Japanese migration to Peru began on April 3, 1899 via an agreement between the governments of Japan and Peru, as Japan was experiencing a demographic crisis, while Peru needed labor for work on the “haciendas” (big farms). In 1899, 790 workers arrived at the port of Callao.

Japan was experiencing a demographic crisis, while Peru needed labor for work on the “haciendas” (big farms).

These migrants opened a path of success and integration on the South American continent, whose contributions can be seen in politics, culture, business and the famous Peruvian food, which clearly expresses their confluence with the country of the rising sun.

Image credit: Choji Itosu

Japan chose Peru as the destination for its citizens in the middle of the Meiji era because it was the first country in Latin America with which they established diplomatic relations, and the empire sought to “westernize” its young farmers in a distant land in South America that was experiencing economic growth in its agricultural industry.

Four-year contracts

The first Japanese came with a four-year contract and the truth is that many of them did not return, either due to illness, death or because they built their lives around Peru. At that time a trip to Japan took 40 days at sea, and it was not an easy voyage. Many never returned, while others returned very late.

For example, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family came from Fukushima and never returned to Japan, nor did my grandfather from my father’s side — he came from Okinawa, as most Japanese families in Peru come from. He didn’t want to live in a place occupied by the U.S. Army in the wake of the Second World War that became the biggest military based in Asia, at that time.

The life of the first immigrants in Peru was, for many, of comforts and abundance compared to what they had in Japan, despite the fact that their first jobs were as laborers and houseworkers.

The life of the first immigrants in Peru was, for many, of comforts and abundance compared to what they had in Japan.

In just a few years, the Japanese community owned wineries, parlors, restaurants and other small businesses in the cities.

World War II and Peru

The Second World War slowed down this evolution and many fortunes and businesses disappeared, affected by massive deportations and confiscations caused by the breakdown of Peru’s diplomatic relations with Axis Alliance countries.

Peru (Photo credit: Choji Itosu)
Image credit: Choji Itosu

The history of the migration is divided in two parts, the first part being before the war and the second after the war. Before the war there was a lot of work and progress, while after the war the Japanese community was reduced to a few remaining families in Lima that, only until the early 1950s started to return back to Peru.

One likely explanation for the “Nikkei” success in Peru is that most of them come from Okinawa

Most of the Japanese migrants came from different parts of Japan, such as Osaka, Kanagawa, Hokkaido, Hiroshima, Gifu and Okinawa.

Peru (Photo credit: Choji Itosu)
Photo credit: Choji Itosu

One likely explanation for the “Nikkei” success in Peru is that most of them come from Okinawa, and as an Okinawan descendent I have to say this:

Okinawa is a wonderful, beautiful place full of warn weather, blue beaches and a food that is completely different from the Japanese stereotype; they have their own dialect called “Uchinaguchi” and are considered to be a friendly, happy people and perhaps that makes them live the longest in the world.

Overall, the best way to pay tribute to this community of travelers that decided to live and prosper in Peru is to contribute to the development of the nation that received them so well from the very beginning.

By Choji Itosu

Peru graphic by Diana Vega
Peru graphic by Diana Vega
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