Peru and Japan: An Uneasy Relationship

Article excerpt

Abstract. Relations between Peru and Japan go back over 100 years to the time when Japanese first immigrated to Peru seeking work. Japan became an important trading partner and aid donor over the last three decades, and Japanese in Peru prospered, culminating in the election as president in 1990 of Alberto Fujimori, a descendant of Japanese immigrants. Relations between the countries were never easy and at times even became strained, because Japan took a largely pragmatic economic and political approach. The article argues that Japan followed a policy that would be predicted by the realist paradigm for the most part, though at times it had a tendency to invest more, provide more development assistance, and risk more because of the ethnic ties between Japan and Japanese-Peruvians. Those links were not strong enough, in most cases, to overcome decisions made on practical considerations of risk assessment and the Japanese desire to make the most political and economically rewarding decisions.

Resume. Les relations entre le Perou et le Japon remontent a plus de cent ans, lorsque des immigrants japonais sont arrives au Perou en quete de travail. Durant les dernieres trois decennies, le Japon est devenu un partenaire commercial important, ainsi qu'un pourvoyeur d'aide au developpement. Les Peruviens d'origine japonaise ont prospere, si bien que M. Alberto Fujimori, d'ascendance japonaise, a ete elu president en 1990. Les relations entre les deux pays n'ont jamais ete faciles et, a certains moments, elles ont ete traversees par des tensions, notamment du fait que le Japon a adopte une approche surtout pragmatique sur le plan economique et politique. Cet article avance que le Japon a poursuivi une politique que le paradigme realiste aurait pu predire la plupart du temps, bien que parfois le Japon a eu tendance a investir davantage, a octroyer plus d'aide au developpement et a courir des risques plus eleves en raison des liens ethniques avec les Peruviens d'ascendance japonaise. Pourtant, ces liens ne se sont pas averes suffisamment forts, dans la plupart des cas, pour contrer les decisions prises sur la base de considerations pratiques et de l'objectif d'obtenir les resultats politiques et economiques les plus favorables pour le Japon.


The presence of a large community of people of Japanese descent (nikkei) in Peru has been an important nexus for Japanese-Peruvian relations for more than a century. Japan has always placed a premium on its ethnic identity, and the significant number of nikkei in Peru--representing the third-largest Japanese community outside Japan in the world--has led to closer relations, especially since the 1960s. However, Japan's economic pragmatism appears to overshadow its tendency to favour its ethnic allegiance to Japanese-Peruvians.

This article examines the uneasy relationship between the two distant partners, Japan and Peru, focusing on the economic dimension (trade, aid, and investment) as well as on political aspects. I explore the ways in which the ethnic tie between the nations has affected their relations and I examine to what extent the generally pragmatic approach of the Japanese toward foreign relations with Peru has been influenced both by the presence of a population of Japanese descendants in Peru and, most recently, by a reverse migration of a growing number of Peruvian-born workers in Japan triggered by Japan's ethnicity-based immigration policy.

The study chronologically analyzes how these relations have evolved, with emphasis on the last three decades and particularly the 1990-2000 period. Japan is an important trade partner of Peru and one of its major aid donors. Although there have been tense moments over the years, due particularly to Peru's own domestic difficulties, relations remained warm and cordial during most of the study period. The closeness between the two countries reached its peak after the election of Alberto Fujimori. …