Japanese Peruvians: the rest of the story

The recent Fujimori ruckus reminds us of the often-forgotten diversity in Latin America. Besides Native Americans (yes, they live in South America, too), there are about 90,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in Peru.

Japanese immigration to Peru started in 1899 with a boatload of 790 people, arriving in Callao to make a new living as sugar plantation workers. But, as in the United States and other American countries, immigration ended in the early 20th century, and a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment swept the country in the 1930s (when Fujimori’s family entered the country), culminating in mass riots in 1940. Although Peru waited until 1945 to declare war on Japan, the government froze Japanese assets immediately after Pearl Harbor, confiscated Japanese-owned property, and deported some Japanese individuals to U.S. concentration camps beginning in 1942. Even after the war, it was not until 1955 that assets were un-frozen, and Japanese could not enter Peru until 1960 (and were even then subject to strict quotas and eligibility requirements).

Of course, by then, the job market in Japan was much better than in Peru. But Peruvians in Japan were few and far between… until 1987, when Tokyo began issuing visas for ethnic Japanese in South America to return to Japan as workers (a practice called dekasegi). And the Peruvian population swelled in response: from 500 in 1985 to 10,000 in 1990. Despite the unimpressive Japanese economy of the 1990s, Peruvians in Japan quadrupled in number between 1990 and 2000. Brazilians grew by a similar proportion.

Now, there are 55,000 Peruvians in Japan, making them the #5 foreign nationality after Koreans, Chinese, Brazilians, and Filipinos. Since most are ethnic Japanese (or at least pretending to be), they are hard to distinguish from natives, especially when they speak the language and have Japanese names (as they commonly do). There are enough in the major cities that you’re likely to meet a few if you hop around enough bars and clubs.

So while Fujimori’s story is far from usual, finding a Japanese in Peru or a Peruvian in Japan is far from unusual.

5 thoughts on “Japanese Peruvians: the rest of the story”

  1. An additional thought on this subject, taken from a conversation with a Brazilian friend:

    [10:20] Joe: my stepmom used to work at MIA… they called brazil and argentina “the deeeeep south”
    [10:21] BF: its deep
    [10:24] Joe: yeah… it’s a wonder so many japanese people ended up there
    [10:24] Joe: there are probably still people on the boats
    [10:24] Joe: who have been at sea for like 80 years

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