CLOVIS -- It all started in 1920 when
a young man called Naoichi Fujimori arrived in Peru to work in a cotton plantation
His first choice to escape the poverty of his native village,
Kumamoto, in Japan had been Hawaii, the place to which his adoptive father, Kintaro
Fujimori had migrated earlier. The young Naoichi had begun to think about emigrating
in 1919 when Kintaro returned to Japan for a visit, filled with glowing stories
about how well the emigrants were faring in their new country.
Naoichi, already frustrated with the inadequacies and
lack of opportunities in Kumamoto, needed nothing else to persuade him to follow
suit. He dreamed about joining his adoptive father in Hawaii and making the fortune
which persistently eluded him and the other restless young men of his generation
in Japan. unfortunately for Naoichi, it was a time when Hawaii had decided to
impose stricter terms to curb the rising flow of Japanese immigrants and Naoichi
was unable to pass the stringent medical examination required for emigration to
Having made up his mind to leave Japan, however, he refused
to give up his dream and began to search for an alternative emigration path. To
further his plans, Naoichi joined the thousands of impoverished but hopeful Japanese
who queued up daily to register with the Morioka Immigration Co., which helped
settle prospective Japanese immigrants overseas, for a modest fee.
Eventually, Naoichi decided that Peru would be a good
choice because two of his brothers were already there, working in the sugar cane
and cotton fields of San Nicholas. They had never come back with the glowing reports
of Kintaro Fujimori so Naoichi gathered that life in Peru was not as plentiful
as in Hawaii. But at least, there would be work for him in this place called Peru
and that was all that mattered for the moment, work and opportunities.
And so it was that the 19-year-old Naoichi Fujimori arrived
in Peru in 1920 and was assigned to work in Paramonga, some 200 kilometers from
Lima. Like many of his compatriots before him, Naoichi had contracted to work
in the cotton fields of Paramonga and had come to Peru with the dream that he
would achieve phenomenal success and be able to return to Japan after a few years
with the fruits of his labor. like the rest of the early immigrants, Naoichi did
not think of Peru as his permanent home at this stage of his life. To him, Peru
was just an interim place to work and to dream about becoming rich and never having
to worry about money again. Beyond that, Naoichi did not consider Peru as the
place he would die in for he was certain he would be returning to Japan as soon
as he had made his fortune.
That dream would not be fulfiled because in reality, life
in the cotton fields was so harsh that many contract workers like Naoichi eventually
broke their contracts and escaped to the towns to look for alternative employment
which did not endanger their lives and health with such harsh demands.
Naoichi managed to tolerate the grim conditions in Paramonga
for a few years by telling himself that soon his hard life would end and he would
be able to return to Japan, far richer than he had been when he left. But eventually,
even he could not take life in the cotton fields and decided to move on to Huacho
where he started a tailoring business. This seemed a good choice to make a living
because like the other Japanese immigrants, Naoichi was extremely skillful with
Naoichi was getting restless. He was well into his thirties
by now and knew that it was time for him to marry and start a family. Lately,
he had been feeling the loneliness of his Spartan bachelor life more sharply and
he did not like that feeling and his meaningless existence.
But marriage was a tricky business because, like the other
male immigrants, Naoichi had arrived in Peru, single and this was an era when
marriage with a local woman was neither tolerated by the Japanese community nor
desired by the men themselves. So began the practice of "picture marriages"
in which prospective brides were selected from photographs sent from Japan by
relatives or professional "go betweens."
Naoichi might have been prepared to go through a picture
marriage but in the end, this proved to be unnecessary for him. Sometime in 1933,
his adoptive father, Kintaro Fujimori, always mindful of his needs, sent Naoichi
a letter proposing an arranged marriage with a distant relative from his native
Kumamoto. She was Mutsue Inomoto, the 6th daughter of Ohagi Fujimori and Toki
Inomoto, said to be of good reputation and excellent wife material.
Naoichi readily agreed to this proposal and decided to
make the long, arduous journey back to Japan to meet his prospective bride. Neither
of them dreamed that their marriage was to be no ordinary union for together,
they would produce a son who was to make great waves in the history of Peru.
He would break all the rules of tradition and become president
of a country in which, they, as immigrants of less than a hundred years standing,
had struggled all their lives just to gain normal acceptance. And, most of all,
he would be the saviour of the country which had given him and his family shelter
when they asked for it.
Mutsue's main reason for agreeing to a marriage which
would take her thousands of miles from her homeland was poverty and the desire
to lighten the burden of her family. She knew that, at 21 years old and still
unmarried, she was a liability to her parents who had other children to fend for.
The marriage ceremony was held in the Fujimori family house in Shirahama, Kumamoto
and was attended by 40 to 50 people. Mutsue went through the ceremony with mixed
Part of her was afraid to embark on the long journey
to the unknown life that awaited her in Peru and another part, the one that was
always looking for new challenges and adventures, was filled with a kind of heady
excitement. She had hardly ventured out of her village, much less Japan, and could
not imagine what life in Peru would be like.
But it was too late to change her mind and in 1934, the
newly weds, Naoichi and Mutsue Fujimori set sail from Yokohama in a ship called
the "Bokuyo Maru" together with 90 other people. They would plough across
the Pacific Ocean for 45 days passing through Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles,
Mexico, Panama, Ecuador and finally arriving in Callao, Peru, on the 23rd of September,
"The passage to Peru cost 400 yen but each immigrant needed to pay only 135 yen. The Japanese government, which was encouraging migration at the time, subsidized the balance," recalls Mutsue Fujimori. "But it was still a princely sum for most people, considering the fact that a primary school teacher in Japan at the time earned only 50 yen a month!"
The young Mutsue Fujimori, a woman of indomitable strength and spirit, nevertheless suffered pangs of fear and anxiety when she thought of
the unknown destiny and life that awaited her on the unfamiliar shores of Peru. And when they arrived, she stood on the deck and watched the gangway of the ship being lowered. It was then that the enormity and the irreversibility of what she had done hit her with such great force that she felt a panic rising up inside her.
Japan, her family and all the familiar places and people seemed very far away, as indeed they were. She wondered tearfully when she would ever see them again. she had made her choice and she would never turn back. In the decades to come, she would stand by that decision through thick and thin, through all the hardship and pain that awaited her. Eventually when her son, Alberto, became president of Peru, it would all seem unreal to her and she would ask herself over and over again, how had such an achievement been possible?
It had been a hard and perilous journey as their ship tossed and turned in the turbulent Pacific Ocean. Mutsue felt that she would never forget the stench of paint and vomit from the sick and retching passengers in the third class compartment where all the immigrants were packed. Many were brides of picture marriages, being sent to a distant land to live with husbands they had never met.
Most had been literally forced into marriages because their poverty stricken families could no longer afford to keep them. They were younger than Mutsue and did not have her fire and her courage. So they sat in the shadowy corners, silently weeping. They had been taught to be self-effacing and never to cause trouble for others, not even in sorrow. Mutsue told herself that at least she was luckier than her sad travelling companions were because she was going to her new life with her husband beside her, a man she knew and respected in the short time she had known him.
Together, they would weather out the storms that lay ahead for she felt inside her that life would not be easy. when it was time to disembark, Mutsue lingered on the deck of the big, weary ship, unwilling to leave its safe, familiar shadows. Her lips tightened and her eyes narrowed with the emotions she was trying to suppress. She would be courageous and accept the new country she had chosen to start her married life in. She would not be afraid of
the uncertainties of her new life and above all, she would never, never give up. But despite her resolutions, her lips trembled and her hands shook as they rested
on the sea washed iron bars of the deck.
Suddenly, she wished that she was back in the safe, comforting
enclave of her large family and that they were all rich and didn't have to be
torn apart like this. did not give her comfort to know that her emotions and fears
were nothing new for they had been felt by the many thousands of Japanese immigrants
who had arrived before her, especially the women.
As their ships landed at the same port of Callao and
they took their first tremulous steps on the strange land that they must call
home for now, these immigrants had felt exactly as Mutsue did now, the men with
their jaws squared and the women blinded by unshed tears.
[Editor's Note: Rei Kimura is the author
of the book Alberto
Fujimori of Peru: The President Who Dared to Dream online at the special
low price of $17.95 to help publish the Clovis Free Press Newspaper.]
Letter to the Editor
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