Japanese American National Museum
Press Releases


Chris Komai - - 213-830-5648


Los Angeles

A new documentary, "El Mexico Mas Cercano A Japon/The Closest Mexico to Japan", which tells the story of hundreds of Japanese families who immigrated to Mexico and created a small community in Tijuana, will be screened at the Japanese American National Museum on Saturday, April 4, beginning at 2 p.m.

Directed by Shinpei Takeda, who is an immigrant from Japan, the film focuses on approximately 130 Japanese families who lived in and around Tijuana before and after World War II. The 45-minute film, partially funded by the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, is presented in Spanish and Japanese with English subtitles. Among those featured are several elder Nises. They share memories of growing up in Tijuana.

Prominently featured is 77-year-old Nisei Genaro Nonaka, whose father was Japanese and mother was Mexican. "The elders spoke Japanese, but us kids used to play around speaking Spanish to each other," Genaro recalled. Many of the Japanese immigrants were migrant workers, laboring in Oaxaca and Chiapas on coffee plantations. But when opportunities disappeared, many of the workers moved north to Tijuana.

Another Nisei, Alberto Yasuhara, 73, remembered his father was a founder of the Japanese Association of Tijuana in 1911. The group promoted Japanese culture and put together baseball tournaments for the local Japanese community. Yasuhara’s father owned a bar and restaurant as well as tracts of land before the war.

When World War II began, the Mexican government, an ally of the United States, decreed that all Japanese, German and Italian nationals be removed from any coastal or border cities and towns. The Japanese were forced to leave their businesses and homes in Tijuana and move to either Mexico City or Guadalajara. As in the case with Japanese Americans, some of the Japanese Mexicans families had only a few days to pack up and leave. The Yasuharas and Nonakas tried to made arrangements to protect their property, but they lost everything.

The elder Nonaka refused to return to Tijuana when it was clear that no one in Tijuana would stand up for their Japanese neighbors. Genaro only moved back in 1986. The Yasuharas discovered that their land was sold off to others and their property was all gone.

Today, Nonaka estimates that there are approximately 150 Japanese families in Tijunara. Remarkably, the Japanese Association of Tijuana still exists and is almost 100 years old. With the popularity of Japanese cultural imports such as anime and manga, the Japanese Association is organizing Japanese language classes for local Mexican children.

Takeda will be available to answer questions after the screening. Takeda is a co-founder of a nonprofit international agency, AJA Project, which helps refugee children in Thailand, Colombia and San Diego tell stories through photography and other media. He is hopeful that viewers of his documentary might learn something from this little-known chapter of history. "When they say that globalization began a few years ago, I think that it has existed since the beginning of the 20th century," he observed.

This program is free to National Museum members or with general admission. For more information, call the Japanese American National Museum at (213) 625-0414, or go to



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