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https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2023/2/3/narumi-ogusuku/

Narumi Ogusuku—Ubiquitous Nikkei Artist

A poster for Ubicua, her first documentary.    

The word ubicua (“ubiquitous”) has two meanings. The second, referring to a person, is: “Someone who want to experience everything and is always moving.” 

That was the term that visual communicator Narumi Ogusuku used in the title of an autobiographical film that she made, which was shown at the most recent Young Nikkei Art Show (Salón de Arte Joven Nikkei) in Peru.

The film Ubicua dives into the identity of a Peruvian Nikkei who was born and raised in Japan, moved to Peru at the age of 12, and has always felt that she is “neither from here nor there.”
 

UBICUA, THE GENESIS

Narumi was born in 1996 in Gunma prefecture, where her dekasegi parents – both Peruvian Sansei – had settled.

Spanish was the language spoken at home, but her wider environment (at school and with friends) was Japanese and she felt more comfortable speaking Nihongo. Peru was her parents’ homeland, the country they sometimes visited on vacation, but it wasn’t her home.

Life changed in 2008 when her family moved to Peru. Adapting was difficult, but her parents enrolled her in a Nikkei school, which lessened the impact of the change.

As a student, she moved exclusively in Nikkei circles. Outside of school, she sang at community events.

But when she entered university, there was a new change in her life’s coordinates (although not as radical as the farewell to Japan). She arrived in a new ecosystem, where the Nikkei presence was minimal and she had to deal with the ignorance of those who view people of Asian origin as the same, indistinguishable from one another.

Narumi, along with a fellow student of Korean ancestry, took on the task of making their classmates aware of the differences and succeeded in getting them to stop referring to them as “chinas” (Chinese), she recalls with satisfaction.

Paradoxically, her experience at university brought her closer to her origins and her identity, when she received a class assignment to make a documentary about her life.

That’s how Ubicua came about, as a class project that reached a wider audience when Narumi accepted an invitation from artist Haroldo Higa to participate in the Young Nikkei Art Show.

Material from her family’s history used in the film (photo: personal collection).            


RETURN TO YOUR COUNTRY?

In Japan, Narumi was aware that she was a foreigner. Her parents emphasized it. As foreigners, they told her, they should behave appropriately so the Japanese would not view them as violating the norms of social coexistence, “so they wouldn’t speak ill of foreigners”.

In school, her last name was written in Katakana characters, another example of her being perceived as foreign.

In addition, she knew that she wouldn’t be in Japan forever, since her mother always expressed a desire to return to Peru.

But she found it strange when her parents talked about going back to Peru. How do you return to a country where you weren’t born, where you’ve never lived?

“Your parents say, ‘Some day we’ll go back to Peru’ or ‘You’re Peruvian even though you live in Japan’, but when you come here (referring to Peru), you definitely realize that you aren’t from here or from there,” Narumi says.

It was also peculiar when her Japanese friends said, “You’re going back to your country.” Your country? You were born in Japan, you’ve lived there your whole life, you speak the language like a native, but it turns out that your country is somewhere else.

The Japanese always treated her like a peer, as if she was one of them, and she never experienced discrimination or bullying. However, when they said, “You’re going back to your country,” she realized that deep down they perceived her as different.

Knowing she was different wasn’t a problem for Naruma, but it nurtured the existence of a certain internal conflict. In a country that values homogeneity, she tried to be more like those around her.

When she moved to Peru and studied in a Nikkei school, she also felt like a foreigner. In theory she was a Nikkei like everyone else, but there was a difference: Narumi was “from abroad, from over there.”

In other words, in Japan she was from Peru and in Peru she was from Japan.

Nevertheless, there was more common ground than differences with her classmates. And luckily there were others like Narumi, the children of Dekasegi, who had born or raised in Japan. 

But the young artist recalls that while they often spoke to each other in Japanese, they were pressured to speak Spanish so they could integrate more quickly into Peruvian society.

“You have to speak Spanish because we’re in Peru,” she was told.

“Another typical thing: they told us we had to be more clever, that we weren’t street-smart, we needed to be that to survive in Peru,” she laughs.

The most difficult aspect of her adaptation to Peru was precisely because of the issue of safety. In Japan, a child in first grade goes to school by themselves, something inconceivable in Peru. For Narumi, living in Lima meant less freedom than she was used to in Japan.


FROM EVERYWHERE

Narumi Ogusuku answers questions during the interview via Zoom.

During the interview, this Yonsei uses the expression “neither from here nor there” several times. But that doesn’t mean she feels like a person without a country. It depends.

“I identify with both countries, or I don’t identify with either of them,” she says.

“On the one hand, ‘I’m neither from here nor there’ is something that will never change. At the same time, sometimes I feel as Peruvian as I feel Nikkei, as Uchinanchu, or I completely identify with my Japanese side,” she adds.

For Narumi, this ambivalence isn’t a problem. The title of her short film has a positive slant: ubiquitous like someone who is from here but also from there, someone who is everywhere.

What’s more, her experience enriches and diversifies what it means to be Nikkei.

Unlike the Nisei or Sansei, the majority of whom don’t speak Japanese and whose Nikkei identity is rooted in a culture and history inherited from their ancestors, her identity is nurtured by a direct relationship with Japan.

Narumi, who has a unique kind of upbringing and viewpoint, considers herself an “unusual Nikkei” who is different from the paradigms that have existed through her parents’ generation.

Moving to Peru gave meaning and relevance to the word Nikkei, which seemed like a distant concept when she was living in Japan. In school, where she met other Japanese descendants like herself, she began to identify as Nikkei. This also brought her closer to her Okinawan roots, which she has reclaimed.

Her experience at the Young Nikkei Art Show was also valuable. She learned about other ways of identifying as Nikkei and becoming more familiar with it (such as food, just to name one thing). “It was very interesting,” she recalls.

Narumi is an audiovisual communicator (photo: personal collection).

Ubicua is Narumi’s first work in which she addresses her identity. Although it specifically deals with her experience and the experience of other young people like her, she has discovered that it has resonated with other people in ways she didn’t expect.

For example, for some viewers the film evoked the challenges faced by Issei or some Nikkei, even though they hadn’t lived in Japan. They were able to relate to the film because they also felt “they weren’t from here or there.”

Today, the country where she was born feels somewhat distant to Narumi. “What is Japan? That’s a difficult question,” she says, reflecting on it for a few seconds.

“It’s always present, but it’s so old…Like the Issei who kept that memory of what Japan was like when they lived there, and those became the customs inherited forever in Peru, sometimes I feel that there is a part of Japan that I know or that I have in my memory that no longer exists,” she responds.

But she hasn’t shut the door on the possibility of living in Japan again. She spent some time there several years ago on a scholarship and had a positive experience. “It’s still a part of me,” she says.

Moreover, since she enjoyed the experience of creating a documentary and exploring her Nikkei identity, she would like to make another one about the Nikkei who live in Japan. That would mean traveling there to film it.

Japan awaits her.

 

© 2023 Enrique Higa Sakuda

dekasegi documentaries filmmakers films foreign workers generations identity Japan Narumi Ogusuku Nikkei in Japan Peru Peruvians Peruvians in Japan Ubicua (film) Yonsei
About the Author

Enrique Higa is a Peruvian Sansei (third generation, or grandchild of Japanese immigrants), journalist and Lima-based correspondent for the International Press, a Spanish-language weekly published in Japan.

Updated August 2009

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