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The Nikkei in Peru I: Migration in figures

Presentation 1

In the third week of this month, the XV Nikkei Pan American Conference (Copani) will be held in the city of Montevideo, Uruguay. At this event, the Japanese American National Museum, through the Discover Nikkei Project, will be in charge of the workshop that will address the topics: “The Nikkei Diaspora: Nikkei Migration in Global Society” (1st session) and “Multiraciality and multiethnicity in Nikkei Communities” (2nd session). The first will serve, on the one hand, to analyze the patterns of Nikkei migration in the participating countries and, on the other, to collectively show how diversity has developed in Nikkei communities over time.

This article hopes to provide a both panoramic and specific view of the case of Nikkei migration to and from Peru over time. And, specifically, the forms or patterns of insertion and emigration and the contexts in which they occur, taking as its axis an aspect that in some circumstances was and continues to be a source of certain controversy: the figures of the population of Japanese origin in the Peru. 2

Nikkei migrations to and from Peru: contexts and figures

On the issue of the migration of Japanese to Peru, the aspect of the figures has not only been a source of controversy between authors and actors, but also one of the most sensitive since, at some moments in the 20th century they became arguments for actions and measures aimed at the exclusion of the population of this origin.

Among the figures, on which there is a certain consensus - at least in specialized historiography - is the one referring to the period of immigration under contract for agro-exporting sugar and cotton farms (1899-1923), in which they entered 18,258 Japanese, including adult men and women and children. This figure is based on Japanese sources. During the "Oncenio" government of Augusto B. Leguía (1919-1930) and more precisely between 1924 and 1930 - according to the Japanese journalist Toraji Iríe 3 - 7,933 Japanese entered and settled mostly in the cities.

In 1930 - during the Government Junta chaired by Colonel Luis Sánchez Cerro - in an interview in the Lima newspaper La Prensa, the Japanese Vice Consul Yodogawa came out in front of the criticism about supposed massive inflows of Japanese to Peru, alleging that they resided in Lima. only 8 thousand Japanese, including men, women and children, and not the 20 thousand that were repeatedly reported in the same newspaper and, it added, that 70% of the recent arrivals were people who had already had a previous residence 4 . That is to say, each Japanese traveler with a round-trip ticket to Callao/Yokohama/Callao – according to the Vice Consul – automatically increased the number of Japanese population every time they returned to Peru.

In 1936, the government of Óscar R. Benavides issued a decree that established the maximum quota of 16,000 for immigration by nationality. The Japanese - supposedly - already exceeded that quota, including children born in Peru and prevented from registering as Peruvians by another decree. Until 1941 - according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan - 33,070 Japanese had emigrated to Peru 5 .

In May 1940, after the organized looting of Japanese properties in Lima, 314 decided to return to Japan and in 1942 - after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - another 141 followed them. Between 1942 and 1945 - during the government of Manuel Prado - 1,800 Japanese and Peruvians of that origin were deported to concentration camps in the United States by agreement between the two governments, based on a continental security policy. Civilian prisoners of Japanese origin would be used in exchange for Americans trapped in Asia. At the end of the war, only 100 managed to return to Peru and 300 were stranded in the United States 6 . In 1947, the immigration of Japanese and other citizens of the so-called "Axis" to Peru was allowed again, setting an annual quota of 150 people per year. According to Japanese sources, during the postwar period (until 1989) 2,615 Japanese emigrated to Peru 7 .

Between additions and subtractions, emigration from Japan (a total of 35,685) and registered departure from Peru (2,155), the permanence rate would have been high. However, in 1971 the Peruvian Immigration Directorate registered only 11,921 Japanese immigrants 8 . What happened to the remaining figure? Discounting the numbers of deaths and those returned voluntarily or forcibly to Japan for which there is a record, probably a few hundred more were added to those over time. Regarding some remaining figures, historiographical works about immigration in other countries - such as Mexico, Bolivia and Chile 9 - provide an account of recent times. Such sources record a relatively significant numerical presence of Japanese re-emigrated from Peru to the aforementioned countries.

Such information also reinforces the idea that migrations, indeed, are not always static and unidirectional processes. The migrations of Japanese, like those of Chinese and Europeans, between the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth, were partially continuous and multidirectional. Europeans, Chinese and Japanese - and in more recent decades Koreans - moved between continents, within the American continent and more frequently between neighboring countries in Central and South America 10 . In most cases, the records partially covered these movements, generally recording only income, but not departures.

In a new migratory process - this time from Peru as an emigration area - since the late 1980s, a massive exodus to Japan of Peruvians of Japanese and non-Japanese descent began in search of employment. Various sources have issued varied figures about Peruvians currently in Japan: between 50 and 70 thousand. Circular movements between Japan and Peru and re-emigration to other countries also seem to be recurring processes in this case.

Conclusions and observations

  1. Comparing figures, more Peruvian citizens would have emigrated to Japan than Japanese citizens to Peru since the beginning of relations and exchanges between both countries in 1873. However, the former include those who symbolically and historically represent a fundamental rapprochement between both countries and nations. : descendants of Japanese.
  2. Due to the fact that the first Japanese immigrants entered Peru under the modality of work contracts, some authors (generally not specialists in migration) usually describe this migration as “forced” and even “semi-slave”, perhaps confusing it with case of the first Chinese migrants. However, from its beginning – and due to the history of the country of emigration – Japanese immigration had the status of “free”; that is, of citizens who voluntarily decided to emigrate, with or without a contract.
  3. In the case of the Peruvian Nikkei (Japanese immigrants and children of Peruvian nationality), however, forced and illegal migrations did occur during the 20th century: to concentration camps in the United States and to Japan in some cases for the exchange for hostages, like North American government measures in World War II, as mentioned above.
  4. The migratory movement of the Nikkei, like that of many other local populations and former foreign immigrants, has not only been multidirectional and between countries and continents. Comparing some studies 11 , the displacement of the Nikkei has also occurred within the Peruvian national territory in an intense and continuous manner, also following the general patterns of local migrations. That is, from rural to urban areas and from the interior (provinces) to the largest and final cities or directly to Lima, the Peruvian capital. A deeper analysis in this regard is necessary.
  5. Although in recent times, due to the “Dekasegi” phenomenon, there have been some studies and publications on this emigration of Peruvian Nikkei to Japan since the late 1980s, no attention has yet been devoted to the emigration of the Nikkei. Peruvians to the United States and other American countries, as part of the emigration waves of Peruvians in general in the 1960s, 1970s and, more intensely, in the last decades of the 20th century. This emigration to the United States would involve, above all , to qualified professionals or to students and young professionals who would achieve specialization in that country.
  6. Finally, it seems that in general the case of Japanese immigration and the migratory patterns of the Nikkei in general to and from Peru present some singularities in comparison with similar cases from other countries. The “dekasegi” phenomenon, although still little studied, on the contrary, seems to share similarities, at least between the cases of Brazil, Argentina and Peru.


1. This work has been prepared for the workshop by the Japanese American National Museum - Discover Nikkei Project at the Pan-American Nikkei Conference (Copani), to be held in the city of Montevideo, Uruguay in the third week of September 2009. Unfortunately, the present author will not be able to attend the event, but hopes to have some participation through this publication on the Discover Nikkei website.

2. Most of the content of this article was published on this website in 2007, under the title “Figures and migrations between Peru and Japan.”

3. Irie, Toraji; William Himel. 1951. History of the Japanese migration to Peru. In: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 32, No. 1 (February 1952); pp. 72-82 .

4. La Prensa newspaper of Lima, 09-19-1930.

5. The figure was estimated according to the number of passports issued. In: Kikumura-Yano, Akemi (Compiler). 2002. Encyclopedia of Japanese descendants in the Americas. Walnut Creek- California: Altamira Press; p. 67.

6. Report of the Commission on wartime relocation and internment of civilians. 1982. Personal justice denied. Washington, DC: US ​​Government Printing Office.

7. Japan International Cooperation Agency, cited in: Kikumura-Yano (2002); p. 67.

8. Padilla Bendezú, Abraham. 1971. Immigration in Peru. In: Arona, Juan de. Immigration in Peru. Lima: Diplomatic Academy of Peru; p. 262.

9. See: Misawa, Takehiro.2004. Mexico: The Chiapas and Amemiya case, Kozy. Bolivia: Okinawa Colony and San Juan Japanese Colony. In: When the East came to America . Contributions of Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants. Washington D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) / Estrada, Baldomero.1997. Japanese presence in the Valparaíso region. Valparaíso: Catholic University of Valparaíso.

10. See for example: Lok CD Siu. 2004. Panama: The railroad, the store and the neighborhood (Chinos) and Araki, Raúl. Peru: Achievements of recent immigration (Koreans). In: Contributions… Washington D:C:: IDB/ Luis Alberto Moreno and Lilia Ana Bertoni. 1979. Migratory movements in the Southern Cone. 1810- 1930. In: Europe, Asia and Africa in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mexico: UNESCO- Siglo XXI Ed./ Devoto, Fernando J. 1999. For a history of Spanish and Italian migrations to the South Atlantic American regions. In: For a history of America III. Mexico: FCE.

11. Especially from the national Nikkei censuses of Peru of 1966 and 1989. The first published only in Japanese and the second in: Morimoto, Amelia. 1991. Population of Japanese origin in Peru: Current profile. Lima: Commemorative Commission of the 90th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Peru.

© 2009 Amelia Morimoto

migration 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.


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About the Author

Amelia Morimoto is coordinator and editor of the San Marcos Foundation - Japanese American National Museum Agreement, Discover Nikkei Project (2007-present). She is the author of the books: “ Japanese immigrants in Peru (Lima, 1979), “ Population of Japanese origin in Peru: Current profile” (Lima, 1991); “ Peru no Nihonjin Imin” (Tokyo, 1992) and “ The Japanese and their descendants in Peru” (Lima, 1999). She is co-author, among others, of the books: “ The Memory of the Eye. 100 years of Japanese Presence in Peru ” (Lima, 1999/with José Watanabe and Óscar Chambi) and “ When the East came to America. Contributions of Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants in Latin America and the Caribbean ”, Director of the study and editor (Washington DC, IDB, 2004).

Last updated September 2009

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