Participating Scholars
Marcelo Higa

Project Description


Institutional Participants



Staff and Advisors

English Japanese
Spanish Portuguese

Japanese American
National Museum

Marcelo Higa is a second-generation Argentine of Okinawan ancestry who currently resides in Tokyo, Japan, where he has been studying for his doctorate in cultural anthropology at the University of Tokyo. He is a researcher for the Shibusawa Foundation and lectures at Asia University, Keio University, and Tokyo University. His research interests have focused on issues of Japanese migration and recently he is working on identity construction processes of Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Argentina and Latin America.


Research Proposal Abstract
The Japanese Descendants in Argentina

Argentina has the third largest population of Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Latin America.* At the end of the 1980s, approximately 50,000 persons of Japanese ancestry lived in Argentina, among whom 70 percent trace their ancestral origins to Okinawa prefecture. Mr. Higa will research what he calls the different identity orientations of Argentina's Japanese descendants. In recent years, the reevaluation of their "Japaneseness" has started to emerge among the second and third generations due to changes in national and international circumstances. A majority of the descendants of Japanese immigrants now accept Japanese as a positive element. The reevaluation and reexamination of what has been called "Nikkei," has become one of the most salient phenomenon of the new identity orientation of the Japanese descendants, both in Argentina and Japan. Mr. Higa's research will focus on the experience of the descendants of Japanese immigrants in Argentina within the context of their interpersonal relationships with Japanese in Japan and with Nikkei in other Latin American countries.

* Brazil (1.3 million); Perú (53,000); Argentina (50,000).

About the relations of our research with that of other colleges.

Our research in the first year of the work focused on the following points. (1) to make a general approximation of migratory development of the Japanese in Argentina, and (2) to analyze the case of the migration of the Argentineans to Japan in the recent years. The data were collected with the purpose of eventually achieving a reflection regarding the orientations in identifications of the descendants of the Japanese immigrants in Argentina, in the specifics of their migratory experience

The results of the research have been organized in the following order:

I. Development of the Japanese immigration to Argentina (preliminary report, 11-98)
II. About the occupational insertion
III. The regional composition of the immigrants: The case of Okinawa
IV. The migration of the Japanese descendants to Japan (Final report, 3-99)
V. The identity orientations in the actual context (Final report, 3-99)

Given the general insufficiency of information about the Japanese case to Argentina, it is important to provide a summary of the immigration development in Argentina, which would serve as a reference for the comparison with the migration experiences in other countries and regions (part I,II, and III)

In the overall picture, the Japanese immigration to Argentina would have the following characteristics:

- It started late. Initially, it started as a byproduct of the migrations to Peru and Brazil.
- Unlike these countries, it was based, among all, on free migrants.
- The Okinawan native occupy the great majority.
- The socio-economic status was relatively good.
- It did not produce (social) conflicts of the magnitude of the other countries.
- The first generation had three major occupations: Laundromats, floor plants and vegetable gardening.
- The immigrants settled down basically in the urban areas and suburbia.
- The second generation, especially in the post war era, created a strong orientation toward Argentina.

In relation to some specific themes dealt by other colleges, we can state the following points:

- Due to their socil-cultural particularities, the Okinawan immigration needs to be studied with great attention. The analysis of the Okinawan case challenges a coherent concept of “Japanese” (and in consequence, also that of “nikkei”,) due to the heterogeneous composition that was present in the Japanese nationals. From the viewpoint of the following generations, the conflicts and ambivalent attitudes of their parents regarding the Japanese nationality would have favored the inclination toward the Argentine society.
- The socio-economic status has been studied in order to better understand the relations established in the Argentine social framework. The influence of the nationalist culture, achieving relatively good social status, the absence of openly violent conflict, etc. would have influenced positively in the gestation of identity orientation which incorporate the hegemonic notion at least in discourse.

In Section IV, we studied the phenomenon generally called “Dekasegui”, which means the recent migration of the Japanese descendants to Japan. In the general framework of the immigration experience in Argentina, this has been one of the events that have marked the collective and individual lives of the Japanese descendents with the great intensity. Their achievement was economic as well as social and individual, being associated, one way or other, profoundly to the new positioning or orientation of their identity, assumed by the Japanese descendants in actuality. The migration, on the other hand, has brought the problematique of “the nikkei” and its correlation in the identities to a new scenario. Japan, where people from different South American countries share delegate and face, created new spaces.
Finally, Section V intends to provide general conclusion, analyzing the issue of “nikkei” in light of the historical and contemporary experiences developed along this research. The discussion here focuses on specifically the same concept of what we call “the nikkei,” which is understood as one of the possible identity orientations with which each individual tells stories of their lives in the contemporary society. The Argentine case poses special relevance to the 1980’s, when various circumstances (for which the dikasegui migration played an important role) conjugate so that a redefinition of the relations between the Japanese descendants and the country of their ancestries would be possible. Here, our intention is to establish a dialogue with each one of the participants of the project so that we can establish the term nikkei that can be common to all of us.