Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to!

Discover Nikkei at COPANI XV - Uruguay 2009

Transformation of the Nikkei Community in Peru - Part 1

My participation in this workshop, which deals with the transformation of the Nikkei community in Peru, is due to the kind invitation of the Discover Nikkei Program of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.  My presentation is part of the workshop on Japanese Immigration of the XV COPANI.

I want to clarify something before I begin, mainly that this presentation was originally going to take place with the participation of Amelia Morimoto, an indefatigable researcher and author of various books on Japanese immigration, truly a profound expert on the reality of the Peruvian Nikkei community.  Unfortunately, she was unable to be here today. I am going to have the difficult task of replacing her.

As I am not an expert on the topic, I’ll only make a brief summary of the historical events that gave rise to the wave of Japanese immigration and the events that have marked the destiny of Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Peru.

* * * * *


Japan left behind its isolation with the Treaty of Kanagawa that was signed on March 31, 1854, which ended the age of the shoguns.

A little more than a decade after the signing of this treaty, the Meiji Restoration began in 1867, with many important reforms that transformed and westernized Japan.

The beginning of economic development brought with it the need to provide Japan with raw materials, which added both to the nationalist sentiment that prevailed at this time and the growth of militarism.  As a result, Japan participated in a series of wars that led to a temporary expansion of its territory, but that in the long run impoverished the population, which was mostly rural and agricultural at this time.

The first war with China (1894-1895) gave impetus to Japanese expansion and colonialism, which then continued with another war, this time with Russia (1904-1905).  Almost ten years later, Japan participated in World War I (1914-1918) and later engaged a second war with China (1937).

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 pushed the United States to declare war on Japan and involved both countries in World War II, which had been fought primarily in Europe until then.

World War II had started two year earlier in 1939 when Germany invaded its neighbors; the war ended officially six years later when Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

However, despite the end to the fighting in Europe, three months later in August 1945, the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which caused more than 100,000 deaths.  This happened sixty-four years ago.

The vicissitudes that the Japanese and their descendants experienced are not themes that will be treated here. But it goes without saying that World War II played a decisive role in the transformation of the different groups of Japanese immigrants and their descedants.


Formal migration began in Japan in 1868 when the first Japanese left to work on Hawaiian sugar plantations.  This first foray into organized immigration, sponsored by private initiative, did not have good results and interrupted the flow of Japanese migration for more than two decades.

In 1885 approximately 30,000 Japanese left for Hawaii to work in the countryside, this time protected by formal contracts and a migration accord.

After 1885 thousands of Japanese left with similar work contracts for New Caledonia, Australia, Fiji, Guam, and other destinations in the South Pacific, as well as the Phillippine Islands.

Basically these Japanese migrants were neither settlers nor immigrants, but rather dekasegis who planned to returned home after working for a time in another country.  Unable to save the money to return to Japan, however, many of them remained in those countries, forming families and establishing the ancestral roots for those who today we know as Nikkei.

In 1893, under Japanese government sponsorship, the Colonization Society was chartered with the objective of establishing Japanese colonies in other parts of the world that would receive Japan’s surplus population.  In 1897 there was an attempt to establish a settlement in Mexico, which initiated the Japanese wave of immigration to the Americas.


Japanese migration to different countries of the world began more than 130 years ago.  Japan’s minister of foreign relations estimated that the total number of Japanese emigrants was approximately one million persons, of whom almost 80% migrated before World War II while the remainder did so after the war.

According to Foreign Relations Ministry statistics, at the start of this century, the Japanese community and its descendants in the Americas numbered about 3.5 million persons, of whom approximately 2.3 million are found in Brazil, 1 million in the United States, and the rest (about 200,000 folks) living in countries such as Peru, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, etc.

In the Americas, the official Japanese migration wave, which we can call immigration, began in 1897 with the arrival of 180 immigrants to Acapulco, Mexico.  In 1899 the arrival of the ship Sakura Maru to the Peruvian coast came with 790 immigrants on board.  In 1908 Japanese immigration to Brazil commenced with the arrival of 781 immigrants on the ship Kasato Maru; these Japanese immigrants came to Brazil to work on the coffee plantations.

In Bolivia some consider the year 1910 as the start of Japanese immigration there when 30 Japanese arrived, although the big wave of immigrants who arrived as settlers began after 1954.  In Paraguay Japanese immigration began in 1936 with the establishment of a settler colony.


The 1604 census taken in the city of Lima counted twenty Japanese.  We do not know how they arrived or for what reasons they traveled so far from home.

In 1873 a Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation was signed between Japan and Peru, which established the possibility of Japanese travel to Peru.

It is said that this treaty, similar to other treaties signed by Japan with other Latin American countries, reflected the Japanse government’s interest in giving its impoverished rural population the opportunity to emigrate, since much of the wealth during this time was concentrated in the large cities.  The peasants -- who were the least privileged class -- constituted a third of the population.

On the other side, Peru had a labor shortage on its sugar and cotton plantations.  At the time these products (sugar and cotton) were the raw materials needed for industrial development, which Japan was experiencing during this period.
Officially, Japanese immigration to Peru started with the arrival of the ship Sakura Maru in the Peruvian port of Callao on April 3, 1899, which started in Yokohama, lasted for thirty-five days, and carried 790 passengers. All of passengers were men between the ages of twenty and forty-five, and who hailed mostly from the prefectures of Niigata, Yamaguchi, and Hiroshima.

Not one passenger on the Sakura Maru disembarked at the port of Callao because all of the passengers were headed to the sugar plantations located in the northern parts of the country.  They disembarked at Ancón, Chancay, Supe, Salaverry, Pascamayo, and Eten.  Before arriving in its new destination, the Sakura Maru sailed to the southern port of Cerro Azul where the last passengers disembarked.

Four years later on July 29, 1903, the ship Duke of Fire arrived with 1,175 more immigrants.  Until 1923, when the contracts between the plantation owners and Japanese immigration companies were suspended, a total of eighty-two ships arrived at the coasts of Peru carrying a total of 18,258 Japanese citizens, of which 2,145 were women and 226 children.

Although eighty-two boats had arrived in Peru by 1923, which were protected by contracts that were formally negotiated, records also indicate the arrival of an additional 121 embarkations through 1939, the year that World War II began.  In total we know about 203 voyages.

In the first voyages, people from Kumamoto, Hiroshima, Fukushima, Yamagachi, Kagoshima, Niigata, and Fukuoka predominated.  After 1917, however, on the last thirty-two voyages, the majority were born in Okinawa. This point, as we will be able to see later, helps us to analyze the development of the Nikkei community in Peru. Today, the people of Okinawa and their descendants constitute almost 80% of Peru’s Nikkei population.

A characteristic that distinguishes the Japanese immigrants who arrived in Peru is that none arrived as settlers, which had happened in Mexico (Chiapas), Brazil (Registro), Bolivia (Uruma—today Okinawa I—, San Juan, and Okinawa II), and Paraguay (La Colmena).  Most arrived as dekasegis, yobiyose, or simply as volunteer migrants.

Japanese immigrants were known as very hard working and disciplined laborers, as opposed to the Africans, Chinese, and Polynesians who came before them to work on Peruvian plantations.  The language barrier, however, as well as a series of abuses that were committed, caused discontent and protests.  As a result, many Japanese immigrants abandoned their jobs or fled.

Some went to the capital, while others went to nearby cities.  Still others sought refuge in the Peruvian jungle or went to neighboring countries.

Those Japanese who fulfilled their contracts remained free and went to the cities where started small businesses that required little capital, such as stores, hairdresser shops, small coffee shops, or restaurants.  Others opted to work as gardeners or household servants for wealthy families.

Based on statistics from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 33,070 Japanese had emigrated to Peru by 1941, while 2,615 Japanese have been counted from the post-war period through 1989.  These are the official statistics from Japan.

Based on records from Peru’s Department of Migration, there were 11,921 Japanese immigrants registered in 1971.  The discrepancy between Japan’s and Peru’s numbers speaks to differences in accounting: Japan had registered those who had left the country for Peru, whereas Peru only counted those who had arrived with the appropriate paperwork.
Moreover, the Peruvian statistics fail to take into account those who died, those who returned to Japan, those who migrated to other countries, those deported to concentration camps, and those who did not register officially with the authorities.

Statistics from more than twenty years ago show that a large majority lived in Lima, while the rest spread throughout the country, with a large concentration of immigrants in Callao, Huaral, Supe, Huacho, Cañete, Huancayo, Jauja, and Trujillo.

The Nikkei community in Peru, meaning both the Japanese and their descendants, consists of approximately 80,000 persons today, of which some 25,000 are in Japan and are known as dekasegis.

Today, the Peruvian-Japanese community relies on institutions that develop activities of a diverse nature.  There are organizations that bring together the descendants from the same region in Japan (kenjinkais), Nikkei associations in the provinces, educational centers founded by Japanese, institutions of social welfare, scholarship associations, professional groups, savings and credit cooperatives, mass media, among others.

The regional associations that exist today in Peru are:
Okinawa Association of Peru, Yamaguchi Kenjin Association of Peru, Club Okayama of Peru, Cluba Yamagata, Kagawa Kenjinkai of Peru, Peru Ehime Kenjinkai, Peru Fukoka Club, Peru Fukushima Kenjinkai, Peru Gifu Kenjinkai, Peru Hiroshima Kenjinkai, Peru Kagoshima Kenjinkai, Peru Kumamoto Kenjinkai, Peru Miyagi Kenjinkai, Peru Oita Kenjinkai, Peru Saga Kenjinkai, Peru Shiga Kenjinkai, Peru Shizuoka Kenjinkai, Peru Tochigi Kenjinkai, Peru Tokyo Toyukai, Peru Toyama Kenjinkai, Peru Wakayama Kenjinkai, Peru Yamanashi Shinbokukai, and Peru Shimane Kenjinkai.

The Nikkei Associations in the provinces are:
APJ Barranca, APJ Callao, APJ Cañete, APJ Cusco, APJ Del Santa, APJ Huacho, APJ Huancayo, APJ Huaral, APJ Ica, APJ Iquitos, APJ La Libertad, APJ Madre de Dios, APJ Pisco, APJ Piura, APJ San Martín, APJ Ucayali, Japanese Society of Mutual Aid of Chiclayo, and Supe San Nicolás Soogo Fujookai.

The Nikkei educational centres are:
CEGECOOP Union, CEINE Santa Beatriz, CEP Japanese-Puervian La Victoria, CEP Peruano Japonés Hideyo Noguchi, Inka Gakuen School, and the private school "José Gálvez."

Japanese cultural institutions are:
Ichigokai Cultural Association, Association of Professors of the Japanese Language, Peruvian Association of I-Go Shogi, Peru Gateball Association, and the Urasenke Association of Peru.

Other institutions include:
Kenshu Kyokai of Peru (AOTS), Peruvian Association of Scholarship Recipients of Japan (APEBEJA), Peruvian Association of Scholarship Recipients Mombusho (APEBEMO), Peruvian Association of Nikkei Scholarship Recipients (APEBENI), Association of Nikkei Lawyers, Association of Decorators, Alumni Association of the Former Lima Nikko School, Emmanuel Association, La Union Estadio Association (AELU), Peruvian-Okinawa Women's Association, Nikkei Panamerican Association (Peru chapter), Japanese-Peruvian Chamber of Commerce, Pacific Club, Saint Francis of Assisi Committee, Pacific Credit and Savings Cooperative, Panamerican Forum of Nikkei Lawyers, Nikkei Academic Society, Amano Foundation, Peru Shimpo, Nikkei Press, etc.

Part 2 >>

Download a timeline of significant Nikkei events in Peru >>

* The above article is the result of the discussions that took place at the session “Nikkei Diaspora:  Nikkei Migration in the Global Society” in the workshop organized by Discover Nikkei at the XV COPANI, held in September 18 in Montevideo, Uruguay.

© 2009 Luis Hirata Mishima

COPANI copani 2009 history peru

About this series

Discover Nikkei hosted two sessions at the COPANI conference in Montevideo, Uruguay held from September 17–19, 2009. The sessions were presented together with several of our Latin American Participating Organizations.

This series presents the topics discussed by the panelists from both sessions, as well as some of the other sessions at the conference.