Ain't no mountain in the Andes high enough

by Minoru Matsutani

Hirohito Ota, 39, a freelance writer, is an adventurer by nature.

He had been writing for magazines and other media in Japan, but he cut all his work connections with his home country and flew to Peru to live in the mountains because he was interested in ancient Peruvian religion.

Following this spontaneous act he ended up living for six years in the Latin American country, where he met his wife, Priscila, 40, a Peruvian national of Japanese descent. Priscila became a naturalized Japanese in 2004 and now works for Kyodai, a Peruvian goods store next to the Peruvian Consulate in the Gotanda district in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo.

The couple together wrote “Album de Los 110 Anos,” a book in both Japanese and Spanish to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Japanese emigration to Peru.

They live in Kamata, Ota Ward, with their two daughters, Emma, 10, and Shino, 8.

How did you two meet?

Hirohito: We met in Lima. I first went to a mountainside in Peru to learn about history, religion and culture in October 1994. I ran out of money in a month, so I went to Lima to look for a job. I found a job as a reporter for Peru Shimpo, a bilingual paper in Japanese and Spanish. I met my wife when I was reporting on an event.

Priscila: I was a teacher at a junior high school. I was also a coordinator of youth events, so I went to many events. I met my husband at one of those.

Hirohito: We met several more times at some events I covered. But we didn’t become close until we met at a Japanese temple in July 1997. I was volunteering to clean and do some other chores for the temple on weekends. I asked the Peruvian Japanese Association (Asociacion Peruviano Japones) for help because the work there was hard. The association sent Priscila.

When and how did you propose?

Hirohito: In December 1997, I said, “Let’s fight a lot.”

Priscila: I said yes.

Hirohito: We have different nationalities and cultures, so it will take forever to date until we understand each other. That’s why I thought we should first get married.

How was your wedding?

Hirohito: We went to City Hall in Lima in April 1998. We signed the marriage certificate, and the people working there applauded and told us “congratulations.”

In the same month, we had a Catholic wedding. As I am not a Catholic, I had to go through a procedure to get married in a church. But my priest was funny. Normally, a person who is not a Christian would have to take a seminar and read books, but the priest told me, “You must be busy” and just gave me a book about Catholic life. Later that day, I went back to the priest and he grinned and said, “You didn’t read it, did you?” and signed a paper permitting me to get married.

Also, we had a reception in Japan in May that year.

How did you end up in Japan?

Hirohito: In 2000, when Fujimori ran for his third term as president, Peru became chaotic.

Priscila: Japanese descendants began facing discrimination in schools, including having their salary cut by half.

Hirohito: I quit my job because I was frustrated. Peru Shimpo was becoming like a small community paper, and people were asking me to write something positive for them. I was doing translation jobs. My parents never saw my daughter, who was 1 year old then. My father had a brain hemorrhage and a doctor said he wouldn’t last long. Due to the combination of all of the above, we decided to move to Japan in October 2000. My father died in 2007, and the doctor was surprised how long he lived.

We thought we would be in Japan temporarily. But my father remained healthy, and we were running out of money, so we began working. We had our second daughter in 2001, and realized we had established the base of our life in Japan without a clear intention of doing so.

How do you like life in Japan?

Hirohito: We have not got used to it yet.

Priscila: I am not perfect at reading. I cannot read the labels of goods in stores. Streets and walkways are wide in Peru, but very narrow in Japan. When I have an umbrella and a bag, it’s difficult to walk.

Hirohito: Because half of my life in Japan is in the Peruvian community, I come across the strangeness of Japanese. For example, when people accidentally step on each other’s feet or bump shoulders in a train or on a street, why do they have to get so angry? Why can’t they release their stress another way? Also, because I am a freelance writer, I do housework often. When I am in a supermarket I often get stared at by old people who think men should go to work.

What language do you speak to your children?

Hirohito: Ninety percent Japanese.

Priscila: Ninety-nine percent Japanese. I speak Spanish when I am angry.

How good is your children’s Spanish?

Hirohito: Emma understands Spanish. When Priscila and I speak Spanish to each other, she understands 60 percent to 70 percent. When we speak to her in Spanish, she understands 100 percent.

Priscila: Shino is not interested in Spanish. When I speak to her in Spanish, she asks her sister, “What did Mommy say?” in Japanese.

Hirohito: I would like my wife to teach Spanish to the children, but also I want the children to want to learn.

Where do you think you will live in the future?

Hirohito: Probably in Japan because the base of our life is here. But I think our daughters will grow up thinking they want to get out of Japan. If they want to leave Japan for college, they have options such as going to Peru or Los Angeles, where their relatives live. After the children grow up, I may want to return to Peru to do some research on emigrants and write a book or something. I can be relaxed in Peru. Most of my friends are there.

Priscila: I don’t think about it. I think about the children first. If we go back to Peru, they may have a hard time because of the language.

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