Satsuma Fields: Encounters with the diaspora provoke reflections on what it means to be Japanese

Photo: Around 80 Peace Boat passengers joined a programme to learn about Nikkei culture in Peru last year.
Around 80 Peace Boat passengers joined a programme to learn about Nikkei culture in Peru last year.

When the Sakura Maru departed from Yokohama in February 1899 bound for the Peruvian port city of Callao, its 790 passengers must have had high hopes. The Meiji Government had been running campaigns advertising a better quality of life overseas, and the Morioka Emigration Company and other agents promised solid pay for four-year contracts on sugar plantations.

But conditions on the haciendas were much tougher than passengers had been led to believe – 150 of them did not live to see the end of the contract. Since then successive waves of migrants and their Nikkei offspring – as members of the Japanese diaspora came to be known – garnered a collective reputation as industrious and dependable members of Peruvian society. Through the 1990s, Alberto Fujimori made it to the very top, as Peru’s divisive reforming president.

When Peace Boat docked in Callao this time last year, I was assigned to join some 80 passengers, almost all above 50-years-old, on a popular excursion to meet members of Peru’s Nikkei community and learn about the lives they were leading. But after rounding two capes and arriving at —> Read More Here

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