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Children of Dekasegi, Bilingual and Educated in Japan: The New Generation of Nikkei - Part 2

Part 1 >> 

How difficult was it to return to your lives in Peru?  Was it a shock, or did you both get used to quickly?

JBK: It was a big shock for me because I didn’t speak Spanish.  The first months, the first year, I didn’t have a way to communicate with people, including, for example, with my aunts; I always had a dictionary in my hand.  In addition to this, I would leave my house for a walk and I had to be careful and avoid being robbed, [and I] also had to be careful with the cars in the streets because walking carefree in Japan perhaps nothing will happen [there], but here [in Peru] it is different, you have to adjust to the traffic, to the noise.  I had no choice but to adjust because I didn’t want to return to Japan so quickly.  The question of being punctual, even now.  When you get invited to a party the host sets a particular time; if the [host] stipulates a time, [I say to myself] I have to be there at that hour, but even now at times [my friends] say “what’s going on, you still are not used to this country.”  (laughter)

In other words, you arrive early and still they complain.

José Bravo Kohatsu

JBK: They tell me that the party starts at 9:00, and I arrive at 9:00, but no one else does.  I have to pay for the dish because I have to wait until everyone arrives, perhaps an hour or an hour and a half later, and everyone arrives as if it was nothing (laughter).  In other words, they are not to blame for arriving late, it is normal for them, but if they set a time, well, then there is a set time [to follow].  Why set a particular time if nobody is going to arrive at that hour.  It’s better to say that there will be a party at a particular place [and arrive] whenever you want to arrive.  I can arrive when it is most convenient for me, therefore.  Five years have passed and I still am punctual in the [same] way that I learned in Japan, but here it is different.  I don’t know if I have to adjust to the customs here or maintain my own approach.

JIF: In truth, I have not adjusted.  I believe that you become resigned to your new surroundings.  You have the values that you learn there, but then what do you do with those values here?  I believe that yes, they serve you, but in everything that is outside of daily life.  I know that today you made an appointment with me for 6:30 and I had to be here at 6:30 or a little bit before hand, but it is not the same when we are going to go out with friends.  They tell me 8:00, and, sure enough, I know that I have to arrive at 10:00 because if I arrive on time I would be waiting around for two hours.  These are things that are difficult to accept; you become resigned to it all.  It is impossible to avoid the traffic mess that accompanies driving; it is impossible to avoid people who ignore the red traffic light.  There are things that you apply here and they really help you to differentiate yourself from the others.  Professionally, I believe that being respectful has served me well, just like [it has for] the majority of Japanese.
They apréciate you more.

JIF: Yes.  In reality, these things are a plus for you as a person.

What is it that you like most about Peru?

JBK: The food, also friends.  I have more Nikkei friends than Peruvian friends, yes, I like the people here.

JIF: I believe that it is the question that completely breaks the monotony [of life here in Peru].  Here in Lima there isn’t one day that is exactly the same.  In truth, for me it is impossible, from the moment that I ride the bus, everyday something happens that ensures you are not bored, that is what happens in Nihon.  In Japan I leave to go to work, punch a time card everyday at 5:30, I leave for the street corner, detained by the traffic light, the same lady on the same bicycle, I arrive at the eki1, I always take the same train at the same station with the same people.
You have been asked many times if you feel more Peruvian or Japanese.

JBK: Despite not having Japanese nationality, when I was there I felt more Japanese than Peruvian because I had no contact with the Latino community, and all my friends were Japanese.  I spoke Japanese rather than Spanish.  This also happened for a couple of years when I returned to Peru.

You still feel a little strange.

JBK: Well, yes, I feel a little strange because I was speaking more Japanese.  The people that I know are more Japanese or Nikkei but who speak Japanese, and perhaps on this point I wasn’t still resigned to be Peruvian-Peruvian.  In reality, I am Japanese; I was born and raised here for some time.  It’s true that I have gone to Japan, and that I continue speaking Japanese, but in reality I am from here (he laughs).  And that I have to admit on the one hand, although I spoke perfect Japanese [and] I maintained Japanese traditions, but I am going to continue being Peruvian.  Perhaps I feel more love for Peru, and for that reason, I also feel more Peruvian than Japanese, perhaps at this moment.

You said that you have to admit…

JIF: It also seemed curious to me.

JBK: Because in truth I have felt more Japanese than Peruvian.  Surely if you ask my brother, he is going to say “I am Japanese,” because he has Japanese nationality, but apart from having or not having [Japanese] nationality, he accompanied me to Japan, and has lived all his life there.  If I had stayed there and also had obtained Japanese nationality, I would have stayed there without speaking Spanish, and I was going to tell you without doubt that “I am Japanese and not Peruvian.”  But coming here despite maintaining the [Japanese] traditions, the language, I was born here, my blood is from here, I am Peruvian, which is something that I have to admit (laughs).

You say so with a certain resignation.

JBK: I believe it’s that way, despite everything that might happen to me, I am Peruvian.

And you?

José Iraha Flores

JIF: All of us who are Nikkei have both things; we always are going to have this mixture.  But I have always felt Peruvian, and I am always going to feel Nikkei-Peruvian.  For me it was more pronounced this feeling of being a stranger because of the [differences in] physical features, which has much influence [on me].  It is evident.  For me it was impossible to feel Japanese, the question of skin color, etc.  Until now I continue feeling this way: clearly Peruvian, but Nikkei-Peruvian, which has this mixture.  In my case, the question of whether I feel more Japanese or Peruvian changes every four years and is linked to the World Cup; if I don’t go [to the World Cup], well, I feel Japanese (laughs).

You both speak Japanese; here the Nikkei don’t speak the language.  How do you feel about that?

JBK: The language is difficult to learn outside of Japan.  I am pleased with those Nikkei who are studying Japanese, but it is difficult.  Those who have no interest in learning the language cannot be forced to learn it.  Perhaps it has been an advantage for us, [to have had the] opportunity to go to Japan and learn Japanese and maintain it, but yes, I also would like for the Nikkei to study Japanese.

JIF: I am completely aware that if I had not gone to Japan, I would have had nothing, absolutely no contact with the Japanese question.  My great-grandfather was Japanese, my ojii2 didn’t maintain Japanese customs.  On this side I would not have been able to learn or have direct contact with Japanese culture.  The question of language that folks might have for me [and which might be linked to the fact] I had the opportunity to go there [to Japan].  Often I do not understand how the Nikkei who live in an Nikkei environment fail to appreciate or learn or assimilate just a little bit of Japanese culture.  The Japanese language has been a major determinant in my life.  The language that I feel at any moment is going to set me apart, or it is going to open many doors for me.

Do you miss Japan?  What does Japan mean in your lives?

JBK: I would miss my friends and parents in Japan, but perhaps not the Japanese lifestyle.  It is the place where I was raised; right now I have a fond memory of my life there.  Whether or not I return to relive it depends on the decision that I make.  If I should return to Japan, it would be for my friends and not for the Japanese lifestyle, and also for my parents.

JIF: If you are asking me what Japan means to me, I break my answer into two parts.  The first part is the country [Japan] that gave my parents the opportunity to be good providers; Japan also gave me the opportunity to succeed.  On the other hand, regarding the language, once again, it was the language that opened many doors.  If you ask me what I miss about Japan, what I might bring back to Lima in terms of values and idiosyncrasies, I believe that Lima would be a paradise [if I could bring back those values].  If the people were more respectful, there would would fewer traffic nightmares; if the people were more punctual, there wouldn’t be this culture of so-called Peruvian time; if the people thought more of others, we would have developed much further over time than what we have; if such Japanese customs would take root here, Peru would be all together different.


1. Eki.  Train station.
2. Ojii.  Grandfather

* This article was made possible due to an agreement between the Japanese-Peruvian Association and the Discover Nikkei Project.  It originally appeared in the journal Kaikan, Volume 48, August 2010.

© 2010 Asociación Peruano Japonesa y Enrique Higa Sakuda © Fotos: Asociación Peruano Japonesa

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