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date: 14 July 2024

Japanese in Perufree

Japanese in Perufree

  • Patricia PalmaPatricia PalmaUniversity of Tarapaca - Campus Saucache, Ciencias Históricas y Geográficas
  •  and Pedro IacobelliPedro IacobelliUniversidad de los Andes, Chile


Japanese migration to Peru is embedded within the broader experience of colonization and migration that characterized the modern Japanese empire (1868–1945). Between 1899 and World War II, thousands of men and women moved to Peru’s central and northern regions to work in sugar and rubber plantations. After their contracts ended, many of them moved to Lima and other coastal cities in search of better economic opportunities, opening small businesses and sponsoring brides and members of their families to move to Peru. In the 1920s and 1930s, a vibrant Japanese community in Peru established newspapers and associations to create protection networks for newly arrived immigrants. However, the Japanese community also had to face anti-Asian sentiments, violence, and restrictive migration laws, which hardened during World War II. During the heat of US-Japan hostilities, nearly 1,800 people were abducted and then sent to the United States, where they were placed in American internment camps in Texas and Montana until the end of the War. In the postwar years, the Japanese community worked hard to change the negative image that many Peruvians had of them and made efforts to reconstruct their community. Today, the Nikkei community is dynamic. Members of the Japanese Peruvian community have received accolades for their arts, gastronomy, and political successes, among other fields.


  • History of Southern Spanish America
  • 1889–1910
  • 1910–1945
  • 1945–1991
  • International History
  • Social History

Japanese Migration to Peru (1898–1941)

The first few migrants from the Japanese archipelago to set foot in Peru participated in the Spanish trade between Manila and the Americas from the 16th century. While there are historical records of small groups from Japan (Spanish: “Xapón”) in the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru, the bulk of the modern Japanese community in Peru is a result of a historical process that had its migratory peak in the first decades of the 20th century.1

Japanese migration to Peru is embedded within the broader experience of colonization and migration that characterized the modern Japanese empire (1868–1945). The Japanese government began promoting migration to South America in the late 19th century. In total, the number of Japanese migrants to South America was roughly 240,000 people from the Meiji period (1868–1912) to the early Shōwa era (1926–1945). This transpacific migration flow was abruptly halted by the outbreak of the Second World War (1939–1945) and the Pacific War (1941–1945) and recovered its prewar vitality only after the end of the US-led Allied occupation of Japan in 1952. The extant literature has stressed the conditions that led to emigration from Japan, such as perceived “overpopulation” in the country, economic imperatives in a rapidly modernizing country, and the nationalist imprint of pro-migration ideologists, among others.2 As scholar Sandra Wilson and others have pointed out, in the late 19th century, there was a perception in scholarly circles that Japan was overpopulated and that this “produced both a land shortage and poverty. Internal and overseas immigration was proposed as a solution, and as a means of extending commercial rights and contributing to defense.”3

Japanese migration to Peru began in the late 19th century when descriptions of a paradise-like country with a mild climate and seemingly endless opportunities reached Japan. The propagation of these images of the Andean country resulted from the relationship between Augusto B. Leguía, a wealthy member of the Peruvian oligarchy, and Teikichi Tanaka, an agent for the Morioka Emigration Company (which was part of the Mitsui conglomerate) that facilitated migration to Peru.4 In the late 1890s, Leguía, then a manager in the British Sugar Company, was concerned with increasing the number of workers in the sugar and cotton industry in his native region of Lambayeque, Peru. He found in Japanese workers suitable substitute labor to replace the banned Chinese coolie trade and contacted Tanaka, his former classmate in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States. Then the Morioka Company arranged for a Japanese government representative to negotiate an immigration contract with Peru. The contract stipulated the emigration company’s responsibility for the wellbeing of the Japanese workers and the fees to be charged by the company to both Peruvian landowners and Japanese workers.5

The prospect of having a comfortable life in Japan after a short stint overseas drew the early migrants’ interest. Thus, in 1898 the first group of 790 Japanese men, between twenty and forty years of age, departed for Peru to work as contracted laborers in agro-industrial sugar-cane plantations on the Peruvian coast (female migrants arrived at Peru only during the second Japanese immigration wave in 1903). During the next twenty years, more than 18,000 Japanese people came to Peru, signing four-year contracts, which stipulated that after this time, workers were free to renew their contracts or leave the plantations.6 The contract also stipulated earnings almost double than what they could receive in Japan.

This first group of Japanese immigrants to Peru, including Morioka’s employees, arrived in 1899. However, the mentality of the Japanese migrants (dekasegi)—the plan to work, save money, and then return home—was rapidly confronted by the experience of harsh working conditions. Compared to Chinese coolies who faced slave-like working conditions, the Japanese enjoyed better living and working conditions. Despite this, many suffered from deception, disappointment, and sometimes mistreatment. Consequently, many of these early migrants fled from the coastal plantations and their Peruvian contractors or died from tropical diseases. A small group returned to Japan without the money they hoped to earn before the departure; most rejected the extension of their contracts and moved to the cities. There they could be independent and form their own businesses.7

Despite Japanese migrants’ negative experiences, future waves of Japanese migration to Peru were far from over. On the contrary, the relationship between the migration company and the local government improved when Leguía became Peru’s president (1908–1912, 1919–1930). Between 1898 and 1923, the Morioka Company brought about 85 percent of all Japanese migrants, mostly from the prefectures of Okinawa (20%), Kumamoto (14%), Hiroshima (9%), Fukuoka (8%), Yamaguchi (8%), and Fukushima (7.5%). In Peru, in the early years they lived mainly on the estates of the coastal valleys such as Caudevilla (Carabayllo), Estrella or Santa Clara (Ate), Puente Piedra (Chillón), Palpa (Chancay), San Nicolás (Supe), Huaito (Pativilca), Pampas (Chicama), Lurifico (Jequetepeque), Cayalti (Zaña), Pomalca (Lambayeque), Casa Blanca, and Santa Bárbara (Cañete).8 While some Japanese populations had been settling in the Amazon since 1912, by the end of the 1930s, most Japanese immigrants lived in Lima in the Callao area, while smaller groups were found in Chancay, Huacho, Ica, Ancash, and Lambayeque.9

It is worth noting that although tens of thousands of Japanese had migrated to the Americas during the Meiji period, migration to Peru and Brazil increased during the Taisho period (1912–1926), and South America overtook North America as their main immigration destination.10 The shift from the north to the south has been extensively studied and commonly explained as the consequence of racist Asian migration policies in the United States and other settler countries such as Canada. This view is anchored in the racist anti-Japanese attitudes in California at the beginning of the 1900s, which pushed a diplomatic agreement between Tokyo and Washington to restrict Japanese labor migration, known as the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907, later leading to the inclusion of Japan in the barred list of nations in the Immigration Act of 1924.11 Although it is evident that anti-Japanese legislation in the United States drastically reduced the number of new migrants to that country, it does not itself explain the shift in Japanese migration to South America.12

In Tokyo, the government—interested in protecting Japan’s reputation abroad—pushed for an organized and sustainable emigration from the islands in the late 19th century, which encouraged several emigration companies to set up special facilities to train the soon-to-be migrants in Yokohama. In the case of Peru, the Morioka and later the Meiji Shokumin Kaisha companies were in charge of sending over workers mainly to coastal farms. However, since 1907 the Meiji Company began to transfer Japanese workers to the Peruvian Amazon to work on rubber and coffee harvesting.13 In 1917 the Japanese government merged all immigration companies into the Kaigai Kōgyō Kaisha (Overseas Development Company) to centralize the emigration system’s administration. Moreover, the state encouraged migration and supported migration companies. For example, in 1921, they began to give direct financial assistance to the Kaigai Kōgyō Kaisha. The Japanese government also created various institutions to support and prepare migrants, such as the Kobe Emigration Centre (1927).14

There was a growing awareness on the part of Peruvian elites and landowners of the industrious character of the Japanese. Thus, Japanese migration to Peru can be partly explained by the conditions in Japan as well as the needs that existed in Peru. While traditionally Peru and other South American republics have preferred White European migrants, their diminution due to World War I and postwar conditions in Europe made Asian migrants more attractive for some American republics. For landowners in particular, the need for cheap labor for sugar and coffee plantations encouraged the acceptance of Japanese migrants. Moreover, Japan and Peru enjoyed excellent diplomatic relations. In 1873 they signed their first commercial and amity treaty and in 1909 opened diplomatic missions in each country. Nevertheless, the main means that led to the arrival of massive numbers of Japanese migrants was embodied by the Peruvian president at the time, Augusto B. Leguía, who exemplifies how the local government favored migration from Japan and the collaborative nature of Japanese immigration companies and their South American counterparts.

Many Japanese immigrants’ living and working conditions improved after being in the country for a few years. Beginning in the 1920s, some immigrants decided to move to larger cities, where they opened small stores. Others continued working in the fields but as independent workers who rented their own farms. In this context, the first wealthy Japanese emerged, and they became ranked among the most important foreigners in the country. Among them was Nikumatsu Okada, a Japanese immigrant who came to Peru to work as a farm laborer. After twenty years in the country, he leased a cotton farm in the Chancay Valley (La Huaca) and expanded his businesses in a moment when control of the haciendas had been reserved for the upper classes or for European or American immigrants. Okada would be one of many immigrants whose properties were confiscated and who were interned in US internment camps during World War II.15

The academic literature on the early decades of the Japanese community in Peru has stressed four principal aspects. First, a great solidarity existed within the Japanese community. The creation of various associations, such as the Japanese Barbers’ Association of Lima or the Peruvian-Japanese Association, helped to shape the community.16 The Japanese also established prefecture-based associations in Peru, such as the Okinawan Prefecture Association and the Hiroshima Prefecture Association. It should be noted that many Japanese migrants came from Okinawa prefecture, a formerly independent kingdom that had been colonized and incorporated into Japan.17

Secondly, the small number of Japanese women that arrived to the country were mostly “called” from abroad to marry migrants. Often referred to as “picture brides,” they were brought overseas to Peru through a matchmaking system called yobiyose. As a result of the lack of Japanese women, there was a high proportion of marriages between Peruvians and Japanese, which resulted in a mixed-blood population. As Moore states, literature on gender issues in the Japanese Peruvian community is extremely limited, and until World War II, gender roles within the Japanese community were influenced by Japanese society.18 The third aspect of the existing literature refers to the lack of integration between the Japanese and the Peruvian community. Peruvian society had little influence on the everyday lives of the Japanese. The first-generation Japanese immigrants (issei) developed a cohesive social unit, even establishing educational institutions for their community.

Figure 1. Japanese Peruvian family in Lima, circa 1935. Photo courtesy of Chūshirō Takahashi, private collection.

In sum, there was a vibrant Japanese community in Peru throughout the 1920s and 1930s that established newspapers, associations, and various support groups throughout the country. Many of these things were done to counter the increasing racism against the Japanese community in the first decades of the 20th century and to create protection and mutual-assistance networks for newly arriving immigrants. However, the fall of the Leguía regime in 1930 put an end to the impetus for migration and increased the population’s negative sentiment toward Asian immigrants, noted as the fourth aspect of the existing literature. The newly elected president Sánchez Cerro and his party Unión Revolucionaria were fascist sympathizers who immediately enacted a decree that hindered immigration. Two years later, the same government passed a law that required companies to have at least 80 percent Peruvian personnel, which mainly affected small immigrant businesses. By 1936, it limited the amount of Japanese to 16,000 nationwide, and in 1937 the president Oscar Benavides suspended the Peruvian nationality of children of foreigners born before June 1936. Thus, the lives of Japanese immigrants would become increasingly more complex over the years.

At the local level, racism affected the businesses and everyday lives of the issei and second-generation Japanese Peruvians (nisei).19 The growing Japanese presence in critical economic activities such as cotton and sugar production led to the increasing suspicion of Peruvian industrialists who pressured the Peruvian state to protect the textile and sugar industries from the “Japanese invasion.”20 Additionally, it raised a discourse supported by the press and some intellectuals against the Japanese and their prospering businesses in urban areas and Amazonian agriculture. Despite the attempts of the Japanese state to stop anti-Japanese publicity and protect their citizens, the 1940s would be marked by episodes of violence against this community.

Identity, Internment, and Resettlement during World War II

Two distinct phenomena explain the infamous internment policies and resettlement of Japanese and Japanese Peruvians during World War II: growing racist animosity against the Japanese in Peru and the US-led policy of controlling the citizenry belonging to the Axis powers during the Pacific War (1941–1945). As described earlier, the former crystallized various forms of xenophobic trends in Peru and the region, some of them rejecting Japanese expansionist policies in Asia. Also, the racial animosity, resulting from the urban concentration and relative success that Japanese migrants achieved in Lima, the capital city, presented them as convenient scapegoats for Peruvian economic downturns in the 1930s.21

From this point onward began the systematic persecution of all Japanese people, including Peru-born second-generation Japanese Peruvians (nisei).22 In Peru, and especially in Lima, anti-Japanese discourse turned from rhetoric to action in May 1940, when native residents of Lima (limeños) looted Japanese commercial establishments and residential places, causing material damage and the death of several Japanese Peruvians.23 These actions, initiated by students from the Guadalupe School and followed by various popular sectors, were justified by rumors that indicated the intention of an armed group of Japanese to undermine national sovereignty.24 Unfortunately, the government was slow to deny these unfounded rumors and the riots generated a division between Asians, who tended to be grouped into a single category. Chinese merchants posted the flag of China and the Peruvian one alongside it, to protect their businesses. Given the lack of protection from the Peruvian authorities, almost half of the affected families decided to return to Japan.25

The United States policy of controlling citizens from Italy, Germany, and Japan was embedded in the Pan-American wartime agreements, in which protections for American republics from external powers (the so-called “continental solidarity”) were put forward when the Peruvian government was negotiating the terms for concluding the Ecuadorian-Peruvian war of 1941. After the Japanese attack on the American fleet in Hawaiʻi, Peru under the president Manuel Prado (1939–1945) severed relations with the Japanese empire and tightly aligned the country to the United States. In further support of Washington, Lima also decided to break off diplomatic relations with the Axis powers in 1942 and took action against the Japanese. One of the first measures taken by Prado’s government was to freeze funds and assets linked to Japanese companies and individuals, who could not remove their investments from the country.26 In 1942, this legislation toughened, prohibiting the commercial and financial activities of those from Axis countries and the transfer of their businesses to nationals. Thus, the government began to confiscate properties in Lima and throughout the rest of the country. In the following years, the Peruvian government closed all Japanese-language publications and schools, prohibited all Japanese community meetings and the speaking of Japanese in public, and restricted freedom of travel within the country.

The rationale behind controlling the Japanese ethnic community in Peru and elsewhere was rooted in theories and fears about the existence of “fifth columnists” or covert agents in the Americas. In the case of the US embassy in Lima, the FBI oversaw American intelligence-gathering activities and blacklisted any suspicious-looking members of the nearly 30,000 Japanese people in Peru. As John Emmerson recounts in an autobiographical article, the embassy only had one staff member who was proficient in Japanese.27

In the heat of the US-Japan hostilities, nearly 1,800 Japanese Peruvians were abducted and then shipped to internment camps in the United States, especially to those in Texas, where they remained until the end of the war.28 Internments camps had originally been established to hold Japanese Americans and rapidly expanded to incorporate Japanese people from other parts of the Americas. However, Japanese Peruvians were the largest group of Japanese Latin Americans interned in the United States (70%), and nearly fifty percent of them were Okinawans.29 Once the war ended, the Japanese Peruvian community interned in the United States parted ways; some stayed in the United States, others were repatriated to Japan, and few returned to Peru, a country that enforced stricter rules hindering the arrival of Japanese people.30

“Carlos” Chūshirō Takahashi’s experience illustrates the process of integration and later exclusion of Japanese Peruvians.31 A nisei born in Trujillo in the 1930s who later moved with his family to Lima, Chūshirō had a typical childhood and attended a local school with children from many other ethnic backgrounds. His father, Sadae Takahashi, born in the Fukushima prefecture, migrated to Peru in 1917 and ran a Japanese grocery store in Lima. Unfortunately, Sadae’s store was targeted during the anti-Japanese riots of 1940, and he was arrested in 1942. About a week after Sadae’s disappearance, local police officers came to the Takahashi’s home and ordered the family to pack lightly and board a train. Their ultimate destination would be the Japanese internment camp in Crystal City, Texas, in the United States, where they could reunite with Sadae. The ordeal for Japanese Peruvians during the war continued after the military conflict. While Japanese internees were all released from the camps after the war, the Peruvian government rejected the return of the Takahashi family (like most other Japanese Peruvian internees), and because they were not American citizens and their entry in the United States was not “legal,” they could not remain in the United States and thus faced deportation. The only option for Sadae and his family was to return to Japan, along with many other Japanese. For Chūshirō, a native Spanish speaker who spoke almost no Japanese, the sight of a war-devastated Tokyo was his first experience with his “homeland” and the beginning of other hardships.

Integration and Consolidation of the Japanese Community, 1945–2000

The Japanese imperialist war in Asia and the Pacific ended catastrophically in August 1945. The nation’s economy was devastated, its main cities were in ruins, and the population was psychologically in tatters. The Allied forces took control of the country and soon began the titanic task of repatriating the roughly 6.5 million Japanese stranded in Asia and the Pacific.32 The postwar government slowly resumed migration through state-to-state contracts with several Latin American countries. Between 1950 and 1961, over 50,000 Japanese went to Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina. Although Lima and Tokyo resumed diplomatic relations in 1952, Peru missed the postwar wave of Japanese immigration. Anti-Japanese migration laws were still in place, forbidding the arrival of new Japanese migrants, and those living in Peru continued to face discrimination. Little by little, Peru began to ease its stance toward the Nikkei, residents of Japanese ancestry. In 1954, the Peruvian government provided compensation for the properties seized from Japanese Peruvians during the war and in 1960 relaxed immigration restrictions. However, the Japanese migration program virtually stopped sending migrants in the late 1960s during Japan’s economic boom; thus, Peru received few new immigrants from Japan in the post-WWII period.

While Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia faced the challenges of integrating newly arrived Japanese immigrants, in Peru, the Nikkei community that had survived wartime hostilities began a different shift altogether. The Japanese Peruvian community began to rapidly integrate into Peruvian society. According to a 1989 poll, the Nikkei were increasingly monolingual in Spanish to the point that their community newspapers were published in Spanish, and their children attended Spanish-speaking schools. However, this process did not exclude cultural blending. For example, many Japanese Peruvians ate Peruvian food but also ate Japanese food at least once a week or celebrated many Japanese festivals and rituals while identifying themselves as Catholics (over 90%).

In the postwar years, the Japanese community worked hard to change the negative image that many Peruvians had of them. As Benjamin Dumontier puts it, a key mechanism available for Nikkei to enter mainstream Peruvian society was presenting themselves on merit, based on educational and professional development, or status connected to economic affluence.33 After the war, Peruvian elites developed domestic policies to promote modernity, attracting foreign investment. Nisei embraced this discourse and worked to convince Peruvians to be allies in the country’s modernization. In addition, they reshaped their image, presenting themselves as honest, hard-working professionals, which allowed them to enter new spheres denied before, such as politics.34

In these years, Japanese Peruvians also made efforts to reconstruct their community. The Japanese colony re-established numerous associations and publications, which had a crucial role in their community before the war. Since the 1950s, important media in Spanish and Japanese resumed. For instance, the newspapers Perú Shimpo (1950), Sakura (1951), and El Nisei (1958), among others, promoted social, cultural, and sports activities within the community. Their publication in Spanish meant a message of openness and trust in Peruvian society.35 In addition to new publications, the colony founded the Taiheiyo Club (Pacific Club) in 1948, using sports to help with social integration. Some years later, they built The Union stadium, which continues to be a meeting place for the Japanese Peruvian community today.

Education played an important role in the re-establishment of the community. During World War II, twenty-two Japanese schools were closed, and many of them were confiscated by the state. During the postwar period, the community reopened those schools, basing them on Peruvian educational programs while also teaching Japanese. However, the closure of those schools greatly affected the language skills of second-generation Japanese Peruvians. By the late 1960s, nine out of ten Japanese Peruvians were not able to speak Japanese. In the 1960s, the government of the president Fernando Belaunde (1963–1968) compensated the community for the expropriated schools, and the community opened a Cultural Center and the Peruvian Japanese Association in the district of Jesus María.36 By the end of the 20th century, members of the Japanese Peruvian community had gained notice for their success in the arts, gastronomy, and politics, among other fields.

Nikkei and Peruvian Politics

As part of the rebuilding of their community after World War II, Japanese Peruvians began to participate in the public sphere by entering politics and working in the government as early as the 1950s.37 The first Nikkei who ran for political office did so in 1963. In 1980, a group of Nikkei ran in the municipal and legislative elections but were not elected. Ten years later, a nisei would win the country’s presidency: Alberto Fujimori Inomoto, the son of two Japanese immigrants from the Kumamoto prefecture in the 1930s. Historians such as Mary Fukumoto and Isabelle Lausent-Herrera agree that the election of Fujimori denoted positive feelings for Japanese immigrants. Fujimori’s slogan—“work, honesty, and technology”—represented the stereotyped image of a Peruvian nisei. Also, for thousands of Peruvians, the arrival of Fujimori to power harbored the hope of receiving Japanese investment when the country was going through a severe economic crisis.38

Fujimori’s ten-year government (1990–2000) was an authoritarian regime. In his first two years in office, he implemented a series of stabilization tactics (popularly known as the “Fujishock”), economic restructuring, and political reforms, which included a vast privatization program of public companies and austerity measures. In 1992, after two years in power, his government adopted an authoritarian stance, with a self-coup, the closure of Congress, and the drafting of a new political constitution in 1993, measures that allowed the state to have total power.39 Fujimori also went to war with the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla force, which virtually disappeared. He also took credit for a military assault that solved the hostage crisis at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in 1997, led by the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA). However, the return of social and political stability in Peru was at the expense of human rights. In November 2000, Fujimori fled to Japan, where he stayed for five years until he finally returned to Peru, forced to face justice for his violation of human rights and several cases of corruption.

Japan and Peru enjoyed a cordial diplomatic relationship before Fujimori came to power. However, as Rubén Berrios states, during the 1990s, Japan was very cautious in its closeness to Fujimori, considering that a political downfall would have consequences for the local Nikkei community and the Japanese image in the region.40 During his presidency, Japan provided large sums of economic and technical assistance to Peru. The departure of Fujimori from power strained the relations between the two countries. The two countries did not have an extradition treaty, and because Fujimori has Japanese citizenship, Japan was not obliged to send him back to Peru to face trial. His political legacy is still part of the debate in Peruvian politics; Fujimori’s children Kenji and Keiko have served as members of Congress, elected with large majorities. Keiko has also been a candidate reaching the final round for the presidency on three occasions (2011, 2015, and 2021).

The Nikkei Community in Peru on the Early 21st Century and Peruvians in Japan

In 1989, Japan’s immigration law changed and allowed foreigners of Japanese descent to work in Japan. Like the first Japanese immigrants in the Americas, the “returnees” were called dekasegi. These Japanese Peruvians went to Japan with the hope of making a fortune and then to return to Peru. Consequently, Japan received a flood of Japanese descendants from Latin American, mainly from Brazil and Peru, in search of work.41 Meanwhile, the economic crisis in Peru increased international migration. During Fujimori’s presidency, migration from Peru to Japan grew, motivated by the economic crisis in the country. In 1988, 684 Peruvians lived in Japan, in 1990 the number increased to 10,279, and in 2008 there was a peak of 59,723 Peruvians living on the Japanese islands.42 Much like the first Japanese immigrants to Peru, those immigrating to Japan wanted to work, save money and return to Peru. However, many of them decided to remain in Japan with their families. Jakeline Lagones held a series of interviews with second-generation Peruvian migrant workers in Japan. They revealed that many faced barriers to social mobility in Japan mainly because of language limitations, and most became unskilled factory workers.43

In Peru, diverse cultural elements have helped the Nikkei community integrate and become closer to Peruvian society, especially with youth from non-Nikkei backgrounds that are more open to cultural diversity. Japanese cultural centers organize festivals and classes in Japanese language, martial arts, and crafts, among other activities. Thousands of limeños receive medical attention at the Japanese Peruvian hospital and eat in Peruvian Japanese restaurants.44 Nikkei cuisine is one of the most visible cultural expressions of the Japanese Peruvian community in Peru. Culturally, Nikkei writers have had an important presence in the national narrative and in popular music.45 Poets such as Doris Moromisato and José Watanabe, the novelist Augusto Higa Oshiro, and the folk singer Angélica Harada Vásquez Kobayashi, better known as Princesita de Yungay, are part of an extensive list of Nikkei who have reflected in their works their identity and experiences with the Peruvian and Japanese cultures. Today Peruvians have a very positive perception of Japan. A survey conducted of nearly 500 Peruvians in May 2020 linked the perception of Japan and the Japanese to the appeal that technological innovation and cultural attraction (including manga and sushi) have in Peru.

Figure 2. Most common concepts associated with Japan in Peru (2020) We thank Dr. Francisco Urdinez, Center for Asian Studies, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, for kindly sharing the word cloud in this article.

Discussion of the Literature

Japanese migration to Peru has drawn scholarly attention (in Japan and the Americas) for many years. For a start, diplomats and policymakers were receptive to news of the Japanese experience in Peru and Brazil, and scholars interested in either Asia or Latin America published commentaries and research papers on the topic.46 In the 1930s, however, many publications in Spanish and English adopted an openly anti-Japanese tone. An example of this trend can be seen in Carleton Beals’s bestseller, The Coming Struggle for Latin America (1938), a book that crystallized various anti-Japanese ideas into one narrative. After World War II, scholars in Japan and the United States together launched a series of ethnographic studies of Japanese communities in Latin America. Scholars like J. Gardiner (1975) or James Tigner (1978, 1981), among other researchers, elaborated on the challenges and social and cultural successes the Japanese community has experienced. They highlighted the enormous economic, cultural, and social contributions they have made to their host countries. These earlier studies, mainly in English and Japanese, also inspired a whole generation of Japanese Peruvian researchers—most of them members of the Nikkei community—to survey the origins, consolidation, and presence of their ethnic group.

The early work of scholars such as Mary Fukumoto (1974), Amelia Morimoto (1979), and Jorge Nakamoto (1988) are good examples of this process. Since the last decade of the 20th century, a growing number of scholars have begun to examine the experience of Peruvians of Japanese ancestry, known as Nikkeijin, who migrated to Japan as foreign workers. The discrimination they have faced in Japanese society due to their cultural backgrounds has attracted scholarly attention. Scholarship related to Nikkeijin also falls under the domain of ethnic studies in Japan, closely associated with studies on experiences of other ethnic minorities in Japanese society such as Koreans and indigenous people.47 It should be noted that Japanese funds facilitated the training of Nikkei academics in Japan and supported the establishment of international research projects such as Discover Nikkei (on Japanese migrants and their descendants). Other institutions have also supported investigations of Japanese Peruvians, such as the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, which helped to edit two volumes on the subject: New Worlds, New Lives (2002) and the Encyclopedia of Japanese Descendants in the Americas (2002). The chapters on the cases about Japanese Peruvians were written by Raúl Araki, Amelia Morimoto, Doris Moromisato, and Steve Masami Ropp, among others.

At the turn of the 20th century, joining the boom of diaspora studies, there has been an increase in the books, articles, and theses in Spanish and English addressing various aspects of the Japanese Peruvian community in Peru and Japan. Diverse dissertations have studied the integration and persecution of the Japanese community in the years before World War II. Stephanie Moore (2009) has studied the politics of race in Peru and the Japanese experience from 1899 to 1942. Amelia Morimoto (2013) analyzed the role of the press in the 1930s in the Peruvian anti-Japanese campaign. José Luis Naupari’s thesis (2011) focused on Japanese persecution during World War II, and Gisella Shimabukuro (2006) wrote about postwar resettlement experiences in the United States, Peru, and Japan.

Regarding the reconstruction of post–World War II identity, Benjamin DuMontier (2018) has analyzed how Japanese Peruvians became model citizens. Another critical group of theses has explored the experience of Japanese Peruvians in Japan. Miki Kawabata (2011) has studied the complex adaptation process of immigrants from Peru in Okinawa. On the same line, Jakeline Lagones (2016) has analyzed the socioeconomic issues of the Nikkei in Japan, and Michio Sakamoto (2011) has discussed the socioeconomic impact of remittances sent to Japan.

Primary Sources

In Peru, the Peruvian Japanese Cultural Center (inaugurated in 1967) is one of the most important institutions that safeguards and diffuses the history of the Japanese in Peru. The cultural center houses the Museum of Japanese Immigration to Peru “Carlos Chiyoteru Hiraoka,” funded in part by the Japanese government. It was inaugurated in July 1981 in commemoration of the eightieth anniversary in 1979 of Japanese immigration to Peru. The museum hosts an archive with a variety of primary sources, including a database with the registration of all Japanese immigrants who arrived in Peru between 1899 to 1941, photographs donated by the community, and books about the immigration in Spanish, Japanese, and English.

State archives hold a variety of primary sources. The Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in Lima and Archivos Regionales hold migratory and general sources, from which it is possible to research the everyday lives of the issei and nisei in Peru. The AGN holds the Immigrant Books Registry, and many regional archives preserve immigrant books after the mandatory registrations in the 1930s. Archives in Lima and throughout Peru hold a wealth of other information, like civil and criminal records, business licenses, and notarial documents. The Succession Files detail a person’s assets at the time of their death and are an important source of information on immigrants’ economic trajectories. These files also contain people’s immigration, economic, and family records.

In 1971, the historian Humberto Rodriguez Pastor and other historians organized an archive called the Archivo del Fuero Agrario (today, Archivo Agrario). This documental fund hosted in the AGN includes information about the farms, many of which employed Japanese immigrants during the 19th century. In addition, the National Library of Peru holds printed primary sources such as manuscripts, journals, and newspapers on Japanese migration to Peru, as well as some newspapers written by members of the Japanese colony in Peru such as Perú Shimpo or the Bulletin of the Japanese Embassy, published from 1965.

The website Family Search constitutes, as Rebecca Horn states, the largest genealogical archival database in the world, which includes a wealth of resources about Peru and Japanese immigrants.48 The website has a digital collection of censuses, and parish and civil registers, which allow the study of social networks, demography, the settlement patterns of Japanese immigrants, and numerous other topics. Family Search also has an index of passenger lists, naming the Japanese individuals shipped to the United States during World War II.

The Diplomatic Archives of the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lima holds records of the diplomatic correspondence on Japanese immigration to Peru. In Japan, the Diplomatic Archives of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Tokyo) holds diplomatic papers and correspondence on Japanese immigration to Peru, including anniversaries of the arrival of the first migrants and general Japan-Peru diplomatic relations. Its catalogue can be consulted online.

In the United States, there are invaluable collections that contain research materials on the Japanese Peruvian internment during World War II. One of them is the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project (JPOHP), formed in 1991 by Japanese Peruvians. It has documented and preserved the testimonies of people taken from Peru who were interned in internment camps in the United States during World War II. In the Japanese American Historical Society Digital Archive, it is possible to access oral interviews in Spanish and English. Additionally, the California State University, Dominguez Hills, holds the Japanese American/Peruvian Collections, which include correspondence, documents, newspaper articles, official reports, and photographs of Japanese Peruvian internees.

In late 2020, the National Diet Library of Japan (NDL) released a search platform for aggregating metadata of digital sources called Japan Search. This portal website links the databases and catalogues of many university and regional libraries, the Japanese National Archives, museums, and other public institutions. For the Japanese in Peru, the engine connects several digital repositories (including the NDL) and facilitates the search of digitalized prewar and postwar material about Japanese migration policies and the studies on Japanese communities in the Americas.

The National Diet Library (in Tokyo) holds numerous printed primary sources on Japanese immigration to Peru, some of which have been digitized for online consultation. 

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) office in Yokohama hosts the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum with a small library and record office where historical newspapers, reports, and taped oral testimonies can be consulted. This material is useful for the study of postwar migration to the Americas, and it holds numerous primary sources on Kaikyoren, JEMIS, and other state and civil agencies for migration.

The Kobe University Research Institute for Economic Development and Business Administration houses at its library important primary sources on prewar Japanese immigration to Peru in its Central and Latin American Collection. It also contains the Newspaper Clippings Collection, which provides online access to historical newspapers; the search for the terms “Peru” and “migration” produced many historical articles.

The Kobe Center for Overseas Migration and Cultural Interaction, established in the building used to train prospective migrants to the Americas, offers a permanent exhibition on the migration process as well as a library.

Further Reading

  • Beals, Carleton. The Coming Struggle for Latin America. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1938.
  • DuMontier, Benjamín. “Between Menace and Model Citizen: Lima’s Japanese-Peruvians, 1936–1963.” PhD diss., University of Arizona, 2018.
  • Fukumoto, Mary. “Migrantes japoneses y sus descendientes en el Perú.” BA thesis, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1974.
  • Honma, Keiichi. Nanbei nikkeijin no hikari to kage: dekasegi kara mita Nippon [Lights and shades of South American Nikkeis: Japan seen from the Dekasegi]. Tochigi, Japan: Zuisōsha, 1998.
  • Iacobelli, Pedro. “James Tigner and the Okinawan Emigration Program to Latin America.” In Transnational Frontiers of Asia and Latin America Since 1800, Edited by Jaime Moreno and Bradley Tatar, 255–266. London: Routledge, 2017.
  • Iacobelli, Pedro, and Sidney Lu, eds. The Japanese Empire and Latin America. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2023.
  • Ichioka, Yuji. The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885–1924. New York: Free Press, 1988.
  • Iwasaki, Fernando. Extremo Oriente y Perú en el siglo XVI. Madrid: Mapfre, 1992.
  • Kawabata, Miki. “(Re)locating Identities in the Ancestral Homeland: The Complexities of Belonging among the Migrants from Peru in Okinawa.” PhD diss., University of London, 2011.
  • Lagones, Jakeline. “Challenge of Japanese-Peruvian Descendent Families in the XXI Century, Peruvian Dekasegi in Japan: Overview of Socio-Economic Issues of Nikkei.” PhD. diss., Nagoya University, 2016.
  • Lu, Sidney. The Making of Japanese Settler Colonialism: Malthusianism and Trans-Pacific Migration, 1868–1961. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.
  • Moore, Stephanie, “The Japanese in Multiracial Perú, 1899–1942.” PhD diss., University of California, 2009.
  • Moorehead, Robert. “You Can’t Go Home Again: Japanese Peruvian Immigrants and the Struggle for Integration and Identity in the Japanese Homeland.” PhD diss., University of California, 2010.
  • Morimoto, Rosa. “La campaña antijaponesa de la prensa de la década de 1930.” Master’s thesis, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2013.
  • Moromisato, Doris. “I Woman, I Man, I Nikkei: Symbolic Construction of Femininity and Masculinity in the Japanese Community of Peru.” In New Worlds, New Lives: Globalization and People of Japanese Descent in the Americas and from Latin America. Edited by Lane Hirabashi, Akemi Kikumura-Yano, and James A Hirabayashi, 187–204. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.
  • Naupari, José. La persecución a la colectividad japonesa en el Perú 1941–1945.” Master’s thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2011
  • Ragas, José. Los años de Fujimori (1990-2000). Lima, Perú: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2022.
  • Sakamoto, Michio. “El impacto socioeconómico de las remesas enviadas de Japón en la comunidad nikkei en Lima.” BS thesis, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2011.
  • Sakuda, Alejandro. El futuro era el Perú: Cien años o más de inmigración japonesa. Lima, Peru: Esicos, 1999.
  • Shimabuko, Doris. “Niveles de integración de los descendientes de la Colonia Japonesa a la Sociedad Peruana.” BA thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 1987.
  • Shimabukuro, Gisela. “Voices of Struggle: Japanese Peruvian Postwar Resettlement Experience in the United States, Peru, and Japan.” MA thesis, California State University, 2006.
  • Suzuki, Jōji. Nihonjin dekasegi imin. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1992.
  • Tigner, James L. “The Ryukyuans in Peru.” The Americas 35, no. 1 (1978): 20–44.
  • Tigner, James L. “Japanese Immigration into Latin America: A Survey.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 23, no. 4 (1981): 457–482.
  • Yanagida, Toshio, and María Dolores Rodríguez. Japoneses en América. Madrid: Fundación Mapfre, 1992.


  • 1. Mariano Bonialian, “Asiáticos en Lima a principios del siglo XVII,” Bulletin de l’Institut Francais d’Etudes Andines 44, no. 2 (2015): 215.

  • 2. Akira Iriye, “The Failure of Economic Expansion: 1918–1931,” in Japan in Crisis: Essays on Taishō Democracy, eds. Bernard S. Silberman and H. D. Harootunian (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974), 18.

  • 3. Sandra Wilson, “The ‘New Paradise’: Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s,” International History Review 17, no. 2 (1995): 251.

  • 4. Toshihiko Konno and Yasuo Fujisaki, Iminshi [Migrants’ History], vol. 1 (Tokyo: Shinsensha, 1984), 209–215. Leguía acquainted Tanaka when they attended the same boarding school in the United States.

  • 5. Amelia Morimoto, Los japoneses y sus descendientes en el Perú (Lima: Fondo Editorial del Congreso del Perú, 1999), 51–52; Konno and Fusisaki, Iminshi, 214; and Guillermo Thorndike, Los Imperios Del Sol: Una historia de los japonenes en el Perú. Visión del Perú siglo XX (Lima: Editorial Brasa, 1996), 29.

  • 6. Amelia Morimoto, Los inmigrantes japoneses en el Perú (Lima, Perú: Taller de Estudios Andinos–UNALM, 1979), 37.

  • 7. Ayumi Takenada, “Ethnic Community in Motion: Japanese-Peruvians in Perú, Japan and the U.S.” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2000), 40–41.

  • 8. Morimoto, Los inmigrantes japoneses, 27.

  • 9. For the number of emigrants and emigration companies see Harvey Gardiner, The Japanese and Peru, 1873–1973 (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1975), 33.

  • 10. Luis Rocca, Japoneses bajo el sol de Lambayeque (Lima: Comisión Conmemorativa del Centenario de la Inmigración Japonesa al Perú, 1997), 30–34; and Daniel Masterson with Sayaka Funada-Classen, The Japanese in Latin America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 113.

  • 11. Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America: A History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015), 373–390.

  • 12. Mieko Nishida, “Japanese Immigration to Brazil,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, September 26, 2017.

  • 13. Isabelle Lausent-Herrera, “La presencia japonesa en el eje Huánuco-Pucallpa entre 1918 y 1982,” Revista Geográfica no. 107 (January–June 1988): 97; and Morimoto, Los japoneses y sus descendientes, 84–85.

  • 14. Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Migrants, Subjects, Citizens: Comparative Perspectives on Nationality in the Prewar Japanese Empire,” Asia-Pacific Journal 6 (August 2008): 11.

  • 15. Humberto Rodríguez Pastor, “Poderío del peón y empresario Nikumatsu Okada en el valle de Chancay,” Investigaciones Sociales 20, no. 36 (2016): 49–51; and José Manuel Carrasco, “Un sol naciente en el Perú (1900–1945): Inmigrantes empresarios. Los casos de Nikumatsu Okada y Cintaro Tominaga,” Tiempo y Economía 7, no. 1 (January–June 2020): 161–165.

  • 16. Mischa Titiev, “The Japanese Colony in Peru,” Far Eastern Quarterly 10, no. 3 (May 1951): 229.

  • 17. Pedro Iacobelli, Postwar Emigration to South America from Japan and the Ryukyu Islands (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 29–44.

  • 18. Stephanie Moore, Gender and Japanese Immigrants to Peru, 1899 through World War II (Berkeley: University of California World History Workshop, 2010), 1.

  • 19. Dahil Melgar, “Amarillos, blancos y chinos: Discursos y prácticas de racialización y xenofobia sobre población de origen japonés en Perú,” Boletín de Antropología. Universidad de Antioquia 35, no. 59 (January–June 2020): 167–168.

  • 20. Franco Lobo, “En defensa del mercado interno: Importación japonesa y empresarios textiles en el Perú, 1929–1939,” Apuntes 47, no. 86 (2020): 101.

  • 21. John Emmerson, “Japanese and Americans in Peru, 1942–1943,” Foreign Service Journal 54, no. 5 (May 1977): 42–45; and Benjamín DuMontier, “Between Menace and Model Citizen: Lima´s Japanese-Peruvians, 1936–1963,” (PhD diss., University of Arizona, 2018), 8–12.

  • 22. Stephanie Moore, “The Japanese in Multiracial Perú, 1899–1942” (PhD diss., University of California, 2009), 198–259.

  • 23. DuMontier, “Between Menace,” 73–123.

  • 24. Thorndike, Los Imperios Del Sol, 66.

  • 25. José Naupari, “La persecución a la colectividad japonesa en el Perú 1941–1945” (master’s thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2011), 72–100.

  • 26. Morimoto, Los japoneses y sus descendientes, 104–147.

  • 27. Emmerson, “Japanese and Americans,” 40–47, 56.

  • 28. Ryan Yokota, “Ganbateando: The Peruvian Nisei Association and Okinawan Peruvians in Los Angeles,” in Transnational Crossroads: Remapping the Americas and the Pacific, ed. Camila Fojas and Rudy Guevara Jr. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 433–434; Luis Rocca Torres, Los desterrados: la comunidad japonesa en el Perú y la Segunda Guerra Mundial (Lima: Fondo Editorial Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2022), and Selfa Chew, “Internment of Japanese and Japanese Latin Americans During World War II,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, July 30, 2018

  • 29. Seiichi Higashide, Adios to Tears. The Memoirs of a Japanese-Peruvian Internee in U.S. Concentration Camps (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2000), 133–154.

  • 30. Edward Barnhart, “Japanese Internees from Perú,” Pacific Historical Review 31, no. 2 (May 1962): 174.

  • 31. Authors’ interview with “Carlos” Chūshirō Takahashi. We thank Shin Takahashi for facilitating this information.

  • 32. John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 48–53.

  • 33. DuMontier, “Between Menace,” 169.

  • 34. Benjamin DuMontier, “Life after Wartime: Constructing ‘Japanese Peruvians’ and Citizenship in Lima after the Second World War,” The Historian 82, no. 2 (June 2020): 190–192.

  • 35. Laura Carreño, El rol de la comunidad migrante japonesa en la transformación del proceso de integración a la sociedad peruana a lo largo del siglo XX (Bogotá, Colombia: Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2019), 36–43.

  • 36. Roxana Shintani, “Japanese Language Education in the Nikkei Community in Peru,” Waseda Global Forum no. 13 (2016): 81–85; Roxana Shintani, “The Nikkei Community of Peru: Settlement and Development,” Ritsumeikan Institute of Language and Culture 18, no. 3 (2007): 18; and Masterson and Funada-Classen, The Japanese in Latin America, 220.

  • 37. DuMontier, “Life after Wartime,” 185.

  • 38. Isabelle Lausent–Herrera, Pasado y presente de la comunidad japonesa en el Perú (Lima, Peru: IEP-IFEA, 1991), 73–74; and Mary Fukumoto, Hacia un nuevo sol. Japoneses y sus descendientes en el Perú: historia, cultura e identidad (Lima: Asociación Peruano Japonesa del Perú, 1997).

  • 39. Jo-Marie Burt, Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru Silencing Civil Society (New York and London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 159–242.

  • 40. Rubén Berrios, “Peru and Japan: An Uneasy Relationship,” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 30, no. 59 (January 2005): 105.

  • 41. Berrios, “Peru and Japan,” 118.

  • 42. Carlos Aquino, “Migraciones de peruanos a Japón,” Pensamiento Crítico no. 13 (June 2010): 11.

  • 43. Jakeline Lagones, “Hardships Experienced by Second-Generation Peruvian Migrant Workers in Japan: Interviews and Analysis,” Journal of Inquiry and Research 112 (September 2020): 138.

  • 44. Ayumi Takenaka, “Immigrant Integration through Food: Nikkei Cuisine in Peru,” Contemporary Japan 29, no. 2 (2017): 120.

  • 45. Ignacio Lopez-Calvo, The Affinity of the Eye: Writing Nikkei in Peru (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013), 93–159.

  • 46. The spatial division that Area studies brought into the Humanities and Social Science is particularly clear in this topic. In the early 1950s, for example, both the Hispanic American Historical Review and the Far Eastern Quarterly published articles about the Japanese in Peru.

  • 47. Michael Weiner, ed., Japan’s Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity (London: Routledge, 1997), for example, defines and analyzes Nikkeijin as an ethnic minority who share similar predicament with other ethnic minorities in Japan such as Koreans, Chinese, and the Ryukyuans.

  • 48. Rebecca Horn, “Digital Resources: FamilySearch,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, February 25, 2019