Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Finding Japan in Perú

Japan and Peru have a hidden but deeply entwined relationship. Although it appears to be mostly one sided in that Japan does not harbor as many obvious links to Peru as Peru does to Japan, both countries reveal their connections.

If I were to spend more time in Japan now, I would love to explore Peruvian culture on Japanese soil. But there are a couple of instances that I recall even from before I had ever been to Peru.

I will always remember that the first time I learned the famous Peruvian song "Cariño" was from a Peruvian street performer in Nagoya, where a Peruvian one-man band was alternately playing the zampoña, quena, and singing to a pre-made soundtrack. My host mother loved him and bought his CD, which I added to my laptop music library. I loved that CD, and my favorite song was "愛人", meaning loved one. The lyrics were in Spanish, and I memorized the song. After my arrival, I realized you heard this song ALL OVER the country, and was very proud of my ability to sing it along with my Peruvian friends and acquaintances.

Besides the one-man band, I had run into several Peruvians throughout Nagoya, mostly who were selling goods at flea markets. I tried to make conversation with them in my then very halting Spanish, but I remember them being fairly reticent (maybe because of the language barrier?). Throughout my time on Honshu, I met a lot of South Americans who were working for car factories (mostly Honda, which is located in Nagoya). My university had a スペイン語クラブ, Spanish club, that I briefly attended that even had a Peruvian llama half my height that they brought out during the university festival, Nanzan-kai. Not sure how they got that llama :/

Giving the llama some love with Nanzan friends

Now let's flip the picture.

In Peru, the story is a little less appealing. The history of the Japanese here starts with Japanese immigrants coming to Lima in around 1898 from various parts of Japan. They came to gain economic freedom and wealth, but in the beginning mainly worked as underpaid farm labor. They gradually branched out into a variety of industries, and now Japanese-Peruvian culture (Nikkei, 日系) is acknowledged by Peruvians as one of the many cultural subsets of modern day Peru.

Probably the most famous Nikkei Peruvian is Alberto Fujimori, Peruvian president from 1990-2000. Fujimori wore multiple guises, and is contentious to this day. On one hand, he personally visited rural communities to gain their support, worked to fight terrorism committed by the Shining Path, reversed the hyperinflation the country suffered under the previous president Alan García, and developed much-needed infrastructure such as the "combi" bus system. On the other hand, he contributed to the government's human rights violations against a yet unknown number of mainly rural civilians in the fight against the Shining Path, was responsible for unsanitary sterilization clinics to which he sent rural women so that their supposedly barbarian offspring would not impede Peru's future economic success, and was convicted giving and receiving substantial bribes.  This is just to name a few. He has been in jail since 2007 for his crimes, where he remains to this day, while his daughter Keiko Fujimori ran for president in 2011 and is expected to run again in the 2016 elections.

So between grueling farm work and Fujimori, the word Nikkei has been stained. But there are still legacies of food, arts, and language that persist in the Nikkei world of Lima.

My personal favorite is the Centro Cultural Peruano-Japonés. (http://www.apj.org.pe/, Gregorio Escobedo 803, Jesus Maria, Lima, Perú). It is a large, multistoried community center where Japanese language and arts are still taught, complete with 2 Japanese restaurants serving Japanese and Nikkei food, a store selling Japanese foodstuff and wares, a Japanese garden, a theater, and a Nikkei history museum. You can easily spend a day or two lost here, and even more time enrolled in one of their many classes.

Ramen and green tea at Restaurante Nakachi in the cultural center. You're given shichimi (Japanese seven spice) and ají (Peruvian hot sauce) at the table, a notable aspect of Nikkei where the lines between the two cultures blur.

There are various Japanese stores selling imported dry goods and foodstuff as well as baked goods, pickles, and o-bento (Japanese boxed lunches). The ones I know of are:

1. Super Nikkei in San Isidro (near Bosque El Olivar). They have fresh tofu and pickles!!

2. Tenshi in Pueblo libre. They make awesome o-kashi (Japanese snacks like sweet bean pastries) and o-bento. Av. La Mar 1963 Pueblo Libre, Lima, Perú.

For other Lima Nikkei shops, check out this link - http://apj.org.pe/directorio/negocios/123

In Chinatown too you can find Nikkei food at Restaurante-Dulcería Tsukayama in the Barrio Chino (China Town) in downtown Lima (also called Cercado de Lima) - here is their website: http://www.dulceriarestaurantsukayama.com/dulces%20japones%20makimochi.html

They have a full collection of dorayaki (eggy pancakes with sweet filling) and mochi in a glass case near the register. I've tried the red bean dorayaki (a traditional Japanese sweet), and a dorayaki made with pallares, a huge white Peruvian bean, definitely a fusion food. Their mochi is also pretty traditionally Japanese, and super tasty.

They also sell fresh udon noodles to go, and the restaurant has soba, udon, or "rachi" soup served with yuquitas (fried bread made with yuca). Rachi is a Chinese-Peruvian fusion (it's basically congee), though the soba and udon are definitely Nikkei. However, when I ordered soba and my friend ordered udon, it seemed like it was the same thing, so I think the only real options are rachi and udon, haha.

Udon at Tsukayama

Otherwise, I found this lovely gem in my local Huaycán marketplace the other day - a gorgeous Japanese persimmon.

My Peruvian persimmon

It made me so nostalgic for Japan, when it was fall and there were persimmons covering trees all over Nagano and for sale in every market place.

Persimmons for sale in Kouranke, Aichi, Japan

Here in Peru, they also call persimmons Kaki, the Japanese word for persimmon (柿). A lovely reminder of Japan.

それで、お 清聴ありがとうございました!Hasta luego :)


  1. Wow, I didn't know all that! It is great to learn so much just by reading your very well written blog. I love your pictures and I hope there is more coming soon! :* Maria

    1. So happy to hear you read & enjoyed it! ^^