Peruvians Struggling to Find a Place in Japanese Society


Peruvians make up one of the largest expatriate communities in Japan. spoke with Elard Escala, Peru's ambassador to Japan, to find out more about these Peruvian expatriates and the ties between the two countries.

Elard Escala

Born in Lima, Peru in 1951. Graduated from the Academia Diplomática del Perú, where he majored in international relations; also holds a master’s degree in international economic policy. Was stationed to Peruvian embassies in Germany and Argentina. Served as Peruvian ambassador to Indonesia from 1994 to 2000; to Romania and Moldavia from 2004 to 2009; and to Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2007 to 2009; and to Japan since March 15, 2012.

A Milestone in the Relationship

INTERVIEWER The year 2013 marked the 140th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between Japan and Peru. What do you think should be done to further improve bilateral relations?

AMBASSADOR ESCALA Many special events have been held to mark the anniversary. A group of a hundred children from Gifu Prefecture traveled to Peru and staged a Japanese musical there, which was a big success. Our embassy hosted lectures by the Peruvian historian Fernando Iwasaki and two Japanese historians. I learned from Professor Iwasaki’s lecture that Peru had commercial relations with Japan as far back as four centuries ago even though Japan had outlawed such foreign trade at the time. In addition, Prince and Princess Akishino visited Peru from the end of January to early February to commemorate 140 years of relations. The Peruvian foreign ministry and national legislature held commemorative events last August, which were attended by Nishimura Yasutoshi, senior vice-minister of the Cabinet Office.

INTERVIEWER Have more people in Peru become interested in Japanese culture?

ESCALA Many Peruvians have contact with Japan through the technology that touches their lives. People in Peru have a great appreciation for the abilities of Japanese people and their role in advancing technology. In the cultural realm, many people have been introduced to manga, Japanese theater, and other expressions of Japanese culture through the efforts of the Asociación Peruano Japonesa (Peruvian-Japanese Association). I think Peruvian people have a very positive impression of Japan.

Emigrants from Peru, Striving to Adapt

INTERVIEWER With the onset of the global recession, many Peruvian expatriates returned home. In October 2013 a new law took effect in Peru providing support for the economic and social reintegration of repatriated citizens. Have many people returned to Peru from Japan?

ESCALA Among the expatriate communities in Japan, Peruvians accounted for the smallest share of those who returned to their homelands after the global recession began in 2008. People returning from Japan also made up the smallest share of those applying for assistance under the new law. As of the end of November 2013, only three Peruvians who had returned from Japan had received reintegration assistance. The law provides some attractive benefits, but most Peruvians who have regular jobs in Japan aren’t interested in going home.

INTERVIEWER Peruvians living in Japan seem to like it here.

ESCALA Most of them are of Japanese ancestry. They’ve found steady employment, and even though many are sending money back home to help support their families, life is fairly good for them here in Japan.

The Immigrant-labor Mentality

INTERVIEWER In both Peru and Japan, generations of Japanese-Peruvians form communities that are very important to each nation. Can you foresee any sort of interaction between these communities that could further improve the relationship between the two countries?

ESCALA Peruvians of Japanese ancestry started coming to Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For the most part, these were people who already had jobs. As immigrant laborers, they intended to return to Peru after working in Japan for a few years. After a while some of them brought their families over from Peru and others got married to fellow Peruvians in Japan and had children. Even now, 20 years later, the immigrant-worker mentality still persists.

Our biggest challenge now is finding ways to enable these Peruvian immigrants to assimilate to Japanese society and break free from the immigrant-labor mindset. In January 2013, a number of Peruvian organizations came together to form the Asociacion de Peruanos en Japon (Association of Peruvians in Japan), dedicated to facilitating integration into Japanese society.

Peruvians in Japan have come together to offer support for Japanese victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck in March 2011. In the wake of that disaster, the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture lost all but two of its fishing vessels. Peruvians raised money to buy the town new boats as a service to Japan and to express their gratitude for the hospitality received in Japan.

INTERVIEWER What would you like to see the Japanese government do to improve the lives of Peruvians in Japan?

ESCALA People from Peru have the same status as immigrants from any other country, so I don’t expect the government to do anything special for them. On the contrary, I think Peruvians should think about what they can do for Japan. I would, of course, be grateful if Japan could simplify its visa requirements and make things more convenient at the procedural level.

Closer Economic Ties via the TPP

INTERVIEWER Japan and Peru are both involved in the negotiations over the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. What advantages can the treaty bring to bilateral relations?

ESCALA Twelve of the countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are taking part in the TPP talks. When the Abe administration decided to join the negotiations, Peru supported the decision. It’s very important that Japan, the world’s third largest economy, take part in negotiating the rules that will determine the course of international trade in the future.

Japan has already concluded economic partnership agreements with Peru, Chile, and Mexico, which are all APEC members. The TPP negotiations should help to strengthen these partnerships. The involvement of Peru, Chile, and Mexico, which are also members of the Alianza del Pacífico (Pacific Alliance), is crucial as well. The alliance, which includes Colombia, Peru’s neighbor to the north, is very important. This is demonstrated by the fact that within a year or so of its establishment 25 countries, including Japan, signed on as observer nations. No other international organization has attracted so much attention so quickly.

INTERVIEWER The Japan-Peru Economic Partnership Agreement was enacted in March 2012. How have economic relations between the two countries changed since then? Are there specific areas where Peru is hoping for investment from Japan?

ESCALA In the first year after the Japan-Peru Economic Partnership Agreement was enacted, trade between the two countries increased 19.3%, and that trend is expected to continue. The agreement includes provisions concerning investment, and a supplementary agreement on protecting investment has also been signed. The EPA provides a very powerful framework for improving bilateral relations over the long term. It also provides mechanisms to support small businesses.

The Peruvian government is prioritizing development of the petrochemical industry and of infrastructure-related industries. This corresponds well with the Japanese government’s plans to promote investment in infrastructure overseas. We feel certain there will be bids from Japan for infrastructure projects, such as the construction of petrochemical plants in southern Peru and a second subway line in Lima.

Introverted Japan

INTERVIEWER Direct investment from Japan in Peru seems to have declined lately, though.

ESCALA Japanese entities have bought in and become involved in a variety of businesses in Peru, but in ways that aren’t necessarily direct investment, such as by purchasing rights in previously existing mining operations. Currently, Japanese direct investment in the Peru’s economy tends to take the form of buying rights and the like.

INTERVIEWER The Japanese economy has recovered to some extent under the policies of the Abe administration, but don’t you think Japan still has a somewhat “introverted” attitude?

ESCALA That’s certainly true. I think it’s actually a cultural phenomenon. Since World War II, Japan has expanded its economy by relying on its domestic market. It is an exporter, but Japan’s exports don’t account for a very big share of its gross domestic product. This stands in contrast to South Korea, for example, where exports account for nearly 60% of the GDP; for Japan that figure is well under 20%.

I was surprised recently when I went to the Tokyo Motor Show. I thought there would be cars from all over the world on display, but there were very few Korean or American cars and no Chinese cars at all. Apart from a few European cars, almost all the automobiles on exhibit were from Japanese manufacturers.

There are agricultural products that are subject to import restrictions in Japan even though they aren’t grown here. From my perspective that seems like a measure put in place to ensure that nothing alters the palate of the Japanese consumer. It can also help create some inconsistencies. In Peru, for example, the government doesn’t subsidize agriculture, and a kilogram of rice sells for about 80 yen. In Japan, where agriculture is subsidized, the same amount of rice costs about 300 yen.

Impressive Cross-sector Cooperation

INTERVIEWER What are your impressions of Japan since being appointed ambassador?

ESCALA I took up my post here on March 15, 2012, and immediately afterward had to begin preparing for an official state visit by the President of Peru, Ollanta Humala, six weeks later. That didn’t give us much time, especially since I was adjusting to a new country. I met around a hundred people over the course of four days, and at first it seemed as though everyone had the same face and the same name. [Laughs]

It was extremely challenging, but fortunately the visit was a success. In those first six weeks I learned about the wonderful informal networks connecting Japan’s government, private sector, and academic institutions. There are mechanisms that enable these three sectors to work with one another in a very timely manner. That doesn’t happen in Peru. Research desired by the private sector is conducted by universities, and the government provides the frameworks needed to develop industries that utilize the knowledge acquired in the academic world. It’s all very interesting.

INTERVIEWER What message would you like to convey to readers in Japan?

ESCALA The skills and talents of Peruvians residing in Japan are a valuable asset that can contribute to Japan’s progress in a broad range of fields. I hope that we can build on the agreements between our two countries already in place and those to be concluded in the future, and strive for a stronger relationship not only in the economic sector but in the realms of culture and tourism as well.

Last year, following the signing of the economic partnership agreement, trade between our countries increased by more than 19% and there was a 21% increase in Japanese tourism in Peru. Many people in Japan are very interested in Incan culture, especially Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. Television programs have played a big role in generating interest in Peruvian culture, and we’re grateful to the Japanese media for that. I’m convinced we’re going to see a rise in Japanese direct investment in Peru.

(Based on a December 3, 2013, interview with Ambassador Escala conducted at the Embassy of Peru, located in the Hirō district of Tokyo. The interviewer, Harano Jōji, is representative director of the Nippon Communications Foundation.)

A Taste of Peru: Diplomats and Locals Convene over Quinoa

On December 7, 2013, the International Artists Center, a nonprofit group, organized a gathering in Tokyo to enable people to learn about Peruvian culture and sample its cuisine. The event, held in the city’s Harajuku district in cooperation with the Embassy of Peru, was well attended by members of the general public, who had an opportunity to taste Peruvian cuisine made with the ingredient quinoa, which the Incans called “the mother of all grains.”The event began with opening remarks by Elard Escala, Peru’s ambassador to Japan. Ambassador Escala noted that 2013 marked the 140th year of Japan’s diplomatic relations with Peru, a nation renowned for world heritage sites including Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. That same year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations proclaimed 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa.”Next, the Peruvian embassy’s chef explained how to cook quinoa. Under the tutorship of members of the embassy staff, those in attendance prepared a soup containing quinoa as well as a quinoa seafood risotto. When boiled, quinoa has a slightly crunchy texture, and all of the participants had the chance to sample these dishes.
An Important Tool in Eradicating Hunger
Quinoa is grown primarily in the Andes region, which includes Bolivia and Ecuador as well as Peru. It thrives in a cold, dry climate, and like other coarse grains, is highly nutritious. Quinoa is generally cultivated at elevations of around 2,500 meters (over 1.5 miles) above sea level. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, roughly 80,000 tons of quinoa was produced in 2011—approximately 700 times less than the total harvest of corn grown in around 100 countries worldwide.Although almost no quinoa is grown in Japan or anywhere else except South America, it has become very popular in recent years for its healthy qualities and is expected to play an important role in combating hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. As a protein-rich, gluten-free substance containing eight kinds of essential amino acids, quinoa has been hailed as a promising alternative in countries facing food shortages.

(Original Japanese text by Harada Kazuyoshi.)

Japan TPP APEC Economic Partnership Agreement Peru Elard Escala