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Luis Kawano Iwasaki: witness of the era

The second generation of Japanese descendants – that is, the children of immigrants, known as 'nisei' – is marked by the imprint of one of the most disastrous periods in history. The experiences of those who lived through the hardships of a time marked by wars and conflicts and the formation of identities is undoubtedly a valuable source of information.

That is why between September and October 2008, the Museum of Japanese Immigration to Peru “Carlos Chiyoteru Hiraoka” undertook a campaign to collect testimonies from Nisei Peruvians.

Luis Kawano Iwasaki (Lima, 1930) was one of those who responded to the campaign's call. Here is the testimony of someone who has been president of Peru Kumamoto Kenjinkai on several occasions and is the current president of the Association of Former Students of the Former Japanese School of Lima (Lima Nikko).

Saru mo ki kara ochiru

Regarding my childhood, I remember a lot that when I was 4 or 5 years old, my mother took me to accompany her to Mrs. Margarita Uchiyama, who had a fashion academy. My mother was going to learn and with that she was able to support me, my sister and my father, who became ill with his lungs from working in a laundry and had to go to Cage 1 . At that time, all those who had lung problems were sent to Jauja.

I also acquired this disease at the age of 14, probably due to contagion from the family, but when I was 20 years old, isonicotinic acid was discovered, which was used to cure the lungs. They did the test with me, as a guinea pig.

In my childhood we spoke 70% Japanese, that's why I was raised under Japanese sayings. When my mother told me 'Go study', I said 'I already know everything'. But she insisted to me saying: 'Saru mo ki kara ochiru' , which means 'Even monkeys fall from the tree'.

And when I told him 'I'm hungry', he responded 'Hara hachi ni isha yaraku' : 'With 85% of your stomach you don't need a doctor.' Everything was based on just sayings. So, regarding those sayings, even though I was very slow, I always had that restraint, I didn't go too far.

Nikko File 2

At that time the teaching was 80% in nihongo (Japanese). The teaching was from Monbusho, that is, from the Ministry of Education of Japan, so I was raised like any child in Japan.

There are many people who sometimes find it difficult to have two cultures, but I am proud to have had two cultures. One is romantic like a Latin and tenacious like a Japanese.

Discipline at school was very strong. I remember that I had a shinnai with which to do kendo. And the same teacher gave me the shinnai when I misbehaved. But they prepared us for everything. For example, since there are many earthquakes in Japan, they taught us how we should behave. That's why when the 40' earthquake happened, the guys from Lima Nikko didn't fly out into the streets. We stood in the doorway, all holding hands.


But I remember that before the earthquake there was looting. That was in '40, I was 10 years old. During the looting, they took me from school in a car. We were locked up for about 20 days, and then a short time later there was the earthquake. People took to the streets to pray so that there would be no more looting. They believed that the earthquake was God's punishment for looting the Japanese. That also penetrated my soul, that evil should not be done.


Then came the war. In no country were the Japanese treated like here. Peru declared war on Japan and only signed the armistice in '58, when the war had ended in '46.

What hurts me most about this time is that at the funeral of my father, who died in February 1942, no one could go. The war had started two months earlier, on December 8, 1941, and the Prado government had ordered that no more than three Japanese could meet.

I went to my father's funeral. I took him from the hospital, I dressed him at that age! and I had to go in a carriage with only the driver and my father in the back.

I also remember that after a year and a half I went to Lima Nikko (the government expropriated the school). They had turned it into a reformatory and they turned the large patio where we played into a farm. I cried at that age seeing my school.

After leaving Lima Nikko crashed me horribly. I got sick, I went to Huancayo 3 . My mother supported us all there, but it wasn't enough. That's why I worked during the day and at night I studied at the Santa Isabel de Huancayo school. I was one of those who founded the Nisei Association of Huancayo.

Closing wounds

But the war is already an issue that should be closed, more than anything because there was compensation. Today's Japan is due to an American general, who entered Japan, who respected the Emperor and gave it what it is now, he gave the Japanese reform. Before, Japan was purely feudal, 280 families owned it. Today it is completely democratic, although the Emperor is respected, but it always has a prime minister who governs.

On the other hand, Peru had an aristocratic president like Prado, and perhaps even the Peruvians themselves, the townspeople, felt at that time that they were mistreated.

If there is resentment left? Maybe in some who are weak. But not me. It has been the avatar of war.

1. Jauja is a province in the department of Junín, in the central mountains of Peru.

2. The former Lima Japanese School (Lima Nikko) was founded in Lima in 1920 and was established as the most important educational institution in the Peruvian Japanese community, having a student body of 1,800 students. The school was expropriated during World War II.

3. Huancayo is another province in the department of Junín.

* This article is published thanks to the agreement between the Peruvian Japanese Association (APJ) and the Discover Nikkei Project. Article originally published in the APJ magazine Kaikan Informativo, No. 39, December 2008.

© 2008 Asociación Peruano Japonesa and Harumi Nako

generations Luis Kawano Iwasaki Nisei Peru
About the Authors

Harumi Nako Fuentes is a social communicator with a major in journalism from the University of Lima. She has worked in public and private institutions, as a teacher, press analyst, writer and editor of various publications. He has followed specialization courses in image and marketing and has a diploma in Cultural Management. She is currently head of Communications for the Peruvian Japanese Association (APJ), editor of Kaikan magazine and member of the editorial committee of the APJ Editorial Fund.

Last updated April 2019

The Japanese Peruvian Association (Asociación Peruano Japonesa, APJ) is a nonprofit organization that brings together and represents Japanese citizens who live in Peru and their descendants, as well as their institutions.

Updated May 2009

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