East to the Americas

Nine years later, the Enomoto migrationwas launched. The Japanese government purchased65,000 hectares of land in Mexico’sSoconusco region near the Guatemalan border,and sent 36 young men, including Ashahiroand Saburo, off to farm coffee there.

Image:Luz Montero

Francisca Ono , 80, is the child of Japanese emigrants to Mexico. She lives near Tapachula, Chiapas, close to where the first Japanese colony settled.

“They were promised land to plant and growcoffee, but when they arrived they were giventhe worst land possible to grow coffee and theylacked proper equipment,” says Garcia. “Theirinexperience played a part, but essentiallythe best coffee land was already taken up byGermans who had come a little bit earlier. TheJapanese and Mexican governments are bothculprits. Mexico promised land and resources,the Japanese government promised to helpthem with start-up funds through the consulatein Mexico City, but the consulate prettymuch turned a blind eye to the situation.”

Desperate, a handful of the colonists walkedfrom Chiapas to Mexico City to confront Japaneseofficials. They arrived on the consul’sdoorstep in tattered clothes, sunburned andhungry after a 30 day walk, Garcia says. Theywere returned to Chiapas. But the arrival ofa group of Japanese Christians revived thecolony. The newcomers started cattle ranchesand introduced other successful businessesinto the community.

“They were not just farmers, there were cattleranchers and really prominent people fromJapan,” Isao Toda, president of the MexicoJapanese Association in Mexico City, says ofthe early immigrants. “It’s said that some weretrained as Samurai warriors. That’s the onlyway they could have survived as they did.”

Toda comments that the impact of the Japaneseon the Chiapas locals “must have beensomething like when the Aztecs first saw theconquistadors, with their elaborate clothingand their formal ways.” Still he and descendantsof the first immigrants emphasize thatthe local people welcomed the strangers andlikely saved them from perishing altogether.