Exporting Japan: Politics of Emigration to Latin America

Exporting Japan: Politics of Emigration to Latin America

by Toake Endoh

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Exporting Japan examines the domestic origins of the Japanese government's policies to promote the emigration of approximately three hundred thousand native Japanese citizens to Latin America between the 1890s and the 1960s. This imperialist policy, spanning two world wars and encompassing both the pre-World War II authoritarian government and the postwar conservative regime, reveals strategic efforts by the Japanese state to control its populace while building an expansive nation beyond its territorial borders.

Toake Endoh compellingly argues that Japan's emigration policy embodied the state's anxieties over domestic political stability and its intention to remove marginalized and radicalized social groups by relocating them abroad. Documenting the disproportionate focus of the southwest region of Japan as a source of emigrants, Endoh considers the state's motivations in formulating emigration policies that selected certain elements of the Japanese population for "export." She also recounts the situations migrants encountered once they reached Latin America, where they were often met with distrust and violence in the "yellow scare" of the pre-World War II period.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252091100
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 10/01/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 280
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Toake Endoh teaches political science in the liberal arts department at Hawaii Tokai International College.

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Exporting Japan

Politics of Emigration toward Latin America

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2009 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03402-2

Chapter One

The First Wave of Japanese Migration to Latin America

In the history of Japan—an island nation surrounded by oceans on all sides—overseas migration was a natural undertaking. From ancient times, Japan sent its people overseas to obtain exotic goods, or to learn of different cultures and ideas. The modern state that emerged in the late nineteenth century also used the international circulation of people to acquire foreign resources, assess potential opportunities, and enrich the nation-state. Outward-looking Japanese people of various classes and origins, freed from the feudal seclusion of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1867), avidly exploited new life chances abroad, mostly in the United States and Europe. Early Japanese emigrants during the Meiji period (1868–1912) included government-sponsored elite students from the privileged classes, less affluent, self-financed students, and ordinary laborers who wished to get rich in a foreign land. This last contingent was the most numerous. They were generally poor and eager to take even cheap, dirty, or dangerous jobs. The billowing wave of these job seekers headed eastward, mostly to Hawaii, the Pacific Coast of the United States, and Canada, as table 1.1 shows. America was seen as a land of opportunity, where ordinary yet industrious individuals could "get rich quick."

Japanese migration to the Iberian Americas, which is the central focus of this book, started relatively late, initially ran parallel to the mainstream of preceding migrations, and then took an unorthodox development path. Latin America-bound migration began about a decade later than migration to Hawaii and on a more humble scale. A group of 790 contract workers who entered Peru were the first organized example. After them, the flow of Japanese emigration continued in parallel with the larger flows to Hawaii and the continental United States. One of the factors that made Latin American emigration less popular in its early period was the relatively underdeveloped economic level of the receiving countries. The Latin American economy, whose degree of development varied, of course, from country to country, was generally agrarian, less industrial, and poverty-stricken by the standards of the western hemisphere. Therefore, wages and job opportunities available to Asian immigrants were limited. The early Japanese immigrants, who were profit-seeking dekasegi (migrant workers), believed that no other place in the Americas could match the U.S. labor market. Latin America was their second or third choice. Secondly, the Japanese dekasegi workers preferred migration to Hawaii, where although working conditions for the immigrant plantation workers were no less favorable, the islands were physically closer to Japan, already had a growing Japanese population, and provided the chance of subsequent migration to the mainland United States. In fact, many of those who first settled in Hawaii quickly left the miserable plantation work in the islands, once having paid off their original debts, for more and better opportunities, re-migrating to the mainland. Third, some of the early Japanese immigrants also understood Latin America, like Hawaii, as only a transit point for their eventual entry into the United States. In particular, Mexico, America's neighbor, assumed such a springboard role. Likewise, some of those who went to Peru and Brazil also made similar decisions, moving northward by way of Mexico or Puerto Rico.

The proportions of Japanese influx to North and South America reversed in the 1920s, as tables 1.1 and 1.2 demonstrate. Migration to Hawaii, the United States, and Canada plummeted, while that to Latin America, including Mexico, showed strong growth. Among the 160,000 Japanese who migrated overseas in the 1920s, 53.2 percent headed to Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, or other Latin American countries, while North America's share, including Hawaii, fell to 23.2 percent. This was in stark contrast to the previous two decades when North American emigration accounted for as much as 70 percent of the total while Latin America's share was less than 13 percent. From the 1920s until the mid-1930s, Latin America was the most favored destination for Japanese emigrants. All in all, from 1899 till the eve of the Pacific War in 1941, Japan sent as many as a quarter million citizens to Latin America.

Japanese migration to Latin America followed an unorthodox trajectory in its evolution: those Japanese emigrants flowed from a developing economy (i.e., prewar Japan) to less developed economies, such as Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, and Paraguay (Argentina was a relatively more prosperous exception), as opposed to the dekasegi emigrants who went to the richer North America. These waves of downward migration never ceased, and even intensified through both liberal (until the 1910s) and state-controlled (from the 1920s to the 1930s) periods. Despite the fermenting anti-Japanese climate in the host societies, growth in the number of immigrants continued to be strong, owing much to large-scale immigration to Brazil. Furthermore, the government of Japan grew heavily involved with, and influential on, Latin American emigration, which reached its apex in the 1920s and 1930s. And it was under that period of state-patronized migration that anomalous destinations for Japanese immigration—such as the Peruvian and Brazilian interiors, and to a lesser extent, Bolivia and Paraguay—emerged.

With these distinct traits of Latin American emigration in mind, this chapter will provide a historical overview of how the prewar Japanese migration to Latin America began and how it was shaped by adversarial socio-economic and political conditions in the host societies. The destinations of prewar Japanese migration ranged from Cuba and the northern part of Mexico to the southern tip of Argentina and Chile. This chapter will concentrate on the two major destinations, Peru and Brazil, where Japanese migration was heaviest, and more importantly, where the prewar transnational linkage between Japan and its co-ethnic diaspora would emerge most strongly over time.


When Alberto Ken'ya Fujimori won the presidential election in Peru in 1990, not a few were surprised at the sudden ascension to power of this Asian-looking candidate, who was running independently of any party affiliation. What was his nationality, chino or japones? The ethnic profile of President Fujimori (tenure: 1990–2000) revealed to the world the existence of a substantial number of Japanese-Peruvians—descendents of Japanese immigrants who came to Peru as contract workers in the early twentieth century. Indeed, they were the pioneers of Japanese immigration to Latin America, arriving there almost a decade prior to the Brazil-bound immigrants. Moreover, Fujimori's ethnicity surprised not only the international community but also Peruvian society, especially the Japanese-Peruvian community itself.

In this Andean nation, the Nikkei ethnic group has long existed in an inconspicuous manner. Because of the painful memories of discrimination and persecution during the prewar years, descendants of the Japanese diaspora in the post–World War II period tried not to stand out in either a positive or negative sense. They were fearful of becoming the subject of suspicion, hatred, or envy by other Peruvians. In particular, politics was a big taboo. Considering these historical and cultural sensitivities, Fujimori's sudden entry to the central political arena was a total shock to the Japanese diaspora. Fearful of the negative reaction of Peruvian society, the Japanese-Peruvian community, including Fujimori's own mother it is said, hesitated to endorse his presidential candidacy when he decided to join the electoral race in 1990. Japanese-Peruvians met this "tsunami shock" not with pride in his accomplishment but rather with worry or mixed feelings. The collective memory of the persecution they suffered was still acute.

The first collective Japanese migration to Peru can be traced to 1899. This was an organized labor migration, promoted by private entrepreneurs—Japanese migration agents and Peruvian sugar hacienda (plantation) owners. Upon the request of Peru's Sugar Producers Association for a supply of contract labor on sugar plantations, the Morioka Shokai migration agency, represented by Tanaka Sadakichi (or Teikichi) agreed to recruit and send Japanese dekasegi workers. With ample experience in the Hawaii-bound migration business, Morioka Shokai made a proposal to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to set up Japanese contract migration to Peru, "Iminchi kakuch kyoka negai" (a Request for Your Approval of an Expansion of Emigration Locations). The Tanaka recommendation emphasized the project's profitability, with the specific estimate that each immigrant's potential savings under the four-year contract would be up to 600 yen. This convinced the Japanese government to approve the enterprise, although the deal was not as lucrative as the migration business with Hawaii or the United States. Thorough field research by the Government of Japan (GOJ) was barely made, however, prior to the first transport of Japanese workers to Peru. The only official information gathering, evaluation, and judgment was done by Morioka Shokai's Tanaka and Consul to Mexico Murota. Their assessments were either too business-motivated and inaccurate (in Tanaka's case) or too hasty (in Murota's case, due to his hurried research trip) for this first experiment in collective Japanese migration to the terra incognita of South America.

Seven hundred and ninety emigrants, all adult males, left the port of Yokohama, destined for Lima's Callao port, on February 28, 1899. When they arrived, they were transported to eleven sugar haciendas in Casablanca, San Nicolas, and other locales in the Pacific coastal area. What awaited these Japanese immigrants, who had no knowledge of the Spanish language or Western lifestyles, were harsh working and living conditions in the haciendas and an unfamiliar tropical climate. Disputes between Japanese and Peruvian employers occurred soon after the first settlement. The Japanese colonos (indentured laborers) felt mistreated and exploited, whereas their employers felt frustrated with these "inefficient" laborers, who were slow in adapting themselves to the hacienda conditions and becoming productive. Local Peruvian unions and townspeople also did not welcome the "colored" alien workers either as neighbors or competitors in labor markets. Only a few months after the first settlement, some Japanese colonos fled the quasi-slavery of the plantations—some appealing to the Morioka Shokai office in Callao for repatriation, while others crossed into Bolivian territory to seek better jobs. Those escapees were luckier than those others who fell to malaria. Masterson records that 143 out of the original 790 contract migrants died of the disease after the first year.

The death rate declined and the settlement rate improved in the long run, but only after the tragic sacrifices of this initial period. The stabilization of Japanese immigrants' settlement in Peru—enabling quicker adaptability to working/living conditions, higher profitability, and more savings—followed a trial-and-error stage that cost many of the early settlers their lives.

Ironically, Tokyo started to view Peru as a "favorable land for migration" after the fiasco of the initial settlements. Such change of perception within the home government came not so much because of improvement in the objective conditions of the labor contracts or the working environment in the haciendas, but because both the settlement rate and the immigrants' savings and remittance rate gradually improved. Such optimism provided the grounds for the ensuing state takeover of the migration business in the early 1920s.

Migration to Peru reached its peak by 1923, with as many as 20,630 contract migrants in total. That year, the contract migration period ended with the termination of the bilateral agreement between the two nations. Thereafter, international migration proceeded on a voluntary basis. But this was, in fact, "controlled" migration under the influence of the sender state, as will be discussed in detail in chapter 3. In 1924, Japan implemented the national strategy of state-led collective migration. Under Tokyo's control, 12,440 fresh immigrants entered Peru by the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941. Among them, some were new brides of pre-settled male immigrants in arranged marriages (known as shashin hanayome or "picture brides"). Others included "corporate immigrants" (kigyo imin): employees of Japanese-owned plantations in the Peruvian interior.

Japanese immigrants settled, stabilized, and improved their life abroad by boldly and strategically relocating to urban centers. Leaving the hacienda life and moving to Lima, Callao, Libertad, and other coastal cities, the migrants switched to better-paying or independent jobs. The service sector—barbershops, bodegas, "cafetines" (café-restaurants), tailor shops, and general merchandise stores—was the most favored since they were independent and entrepreneurial ones that would not harm or conflict with Peruvian interests. Indeed, "do not stand out" and "do not anger Peruvians" were mantras of survival for the urban Nikkei of the time. Urbanization thus proceeded: out of a total of 20,433 immigrants surveyed by the Peruvian historian Mary Fukumoto, 86.7 percent lived in the district of Lima as of 1930. Accordingly, the Nikkei population in the Lima-Callao region outnumbered other foreign groups, with 32.6 percent of the total.

Limeños and other urbanites in Peru were not happy with the accelerating influx of Japanese immigrants to their neighborhoods. They were afraid that the Japanese would overpopulate and "Asianize" their cities as Chinese immigrants had threatened to do half a century earlier. Preemptive political action was needed, so they thought. In 1903, only four years after the first Japanese group had entered agrarian haciendas, a bill to eliminate Japanese immigration was proposed in the national legislature. This "Proposal of Elimination of Japanese Immigrants" passed the Lower House but was narrowly defeated in the Upper House. This incident, while aborted in the legislative process, offered ample evidence that Peruvians' hostility toward Japanese immigration was not an amorphous hysteria, but a real, ideologically grounded, and politically supported exclusionary movement.

Another political attempt was made to eliminate the Asian elements from Peruvian society. The bill, "Rule to Encourage Immigration of White People," was successfully enacted in 1906. Under the new law, the Peruvian government would subsidize travel expenses for European and American immigrants. This pro-European immigration policy indirectly tried to discourage immigration of people of color, including Asians. Later, more audacious and less apologetic exclusionary politics were exercised against Japanese and other Asians. In 1918, the "Proposal to Eliminate Asians" went to the Congress. It was voted down in the Upper House, but the wildfire of racist politics was never fully extinguished. Outside the legislature, unions and the populist political party, Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA), supported such efforts at institutionalization by intensifying their anti-Japanese campaigns. The nationalist-populist demonstrators marched in the streets of the capital, legitimizing their xenophobic zeal in the name of the protection of Peruvian workers' jobs and wages from the Japanese invaders.


Excerpted from Exporting Japan by TOAKE ENDOH Copyright © 2009 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents Notes on the Translation and Usage of Japanese Names and Words Introduction Part I. Origins, Historical Development, and Patterns of Japanese Migration to Latin America 1. The First Wave of Japanese Migration to Latin America 2. The Second Wave: Post-World War II Period Part II. Latin American Emigration as a National Strategy 3. Building the Emigration Machinery 4. Post-World War II Resurgence of State-led Migration to Latin America Part III. State Expansion through Human Exclusion 5. Social Origins of Japanese Emigration Policy 6. Latin American Emigration as a Political Decompressor 7. State Expansion through Emigration Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index

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