After Initial Euphoria, Japanese Question Violent Peru Raid

Media report some rebels surrendered before they were killed. Since when, some Japanese wonder, is it OK to kill prisoners?

Neon-yellow Inca Kola flows in abundance at La Bodeguita II, a restaurant in this industrial town northwest of Tokyo where Peruvian patrons are breathing a little easier now that 24 Japanese are no longer held hostage in Peru's capital.

Isesaki is home to about 1,200 Peruvians of Japanese ancestry, immigrants who have been coming here for nearly a decade in search of economic opportunity in the land of their ancestors. At La Bodeguita, they enjoy the soft drinks, ceviche, and grilled meats of their homeland. A poster in Spanish advertises the gran inaguracion of Isesaki's Paradise Disco.

After members of Peru's Tpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement seized the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima Dec. 17, there were some unpleasant incidents in Isesaki. A lump of concrete was thrown into a Peruvian-owned grocery, and another business owner had his windshield smashed.

Even so, says Eduardo Shimabukuro, head of the Peruvian association here, it was hard to tell whether these events were connected to the seizure of the ambassador's residence. Friction between newcomers and old-timers has produced sparks before, he adds.

The energetic Mr. Shimabukuro, a stocky businessman who wears his shirt collar open and his cell phone on his hip, urges a visitor not to look at the events in faraway Lima too simplistically. "The liberation ... is a happy thing, but now we must look at the causes of the seizure," by which he means the social, economic, and historical factors that have given rise to Peru's inequities and its rebel groups.

In the rest of Japan as well, some people are reconsidering the initial wave of approval that followed Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's dramatic rescue of the 72 hostages, although one died after the raid. While Japan is just as relieved as its Peruvian expatriates that the crisis is over, reports that Peruvian commandos executed rebels who had surrendered have soured the happiness.

Such acts are "unacceptable to me" no matter how successful the raid, says Kazuo Ohgushi, a Latin American politics professor at International Christian University near Tokyo. He admits he is in the minority, but he questions whether enough was done to talk the hostages out of the rebels' clutches, rather than blast them out. Some TV commentators have also wondered if pacifist Japan can offer wholehearted support to a military solution that seems, in retrospect, to have been marred by vengefulness.

The watchword in Japan, until the raid, was "peaceful resolution." Once the raid occurred, and with such surprising success, government officials endorsed the military response with gusto. Government spokesman Hiroshi Hashimoto told reporters that the rebels in the residence "deserved to be killed."

So far Japanese officials, echoing President Fujimori, have dismissed accounts from some former hostages that one or two of the dead rebels were seen being led away by the commandos. Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto isn't about to second-guess an operation that safely freed all 24 Japanese hostages. "He's 100 percent satisfied with that result," says a government official speaking on condition of anonymity. "He doesn't want to say any more about it."

The indifference of spokesman Hashimoto and Premier Hashimoto sounds out of place in modern Japan, where official rhetoric almost always emphasizes Japan's pacifist role in international politics and its respect for human rights.

Mr. Ohgushi notes that the Japanese are feeling gloomy these days. Recent opinion polls have indicated a majority of residents have a pessimistic view of the future, a view based on perceptions that the country cannot adapt to a changing world. "There may be some latent frustration [among the Japanese]," he says. "They may be in need of some catharsis."

In Isesaki, Young Nakamoto, a Peruvian resident with an unusual first name, worries that the hostage episode may strain ties between Japan and Peru. He's been in Isesaki for nearly eight years, with occasional stints back home, and hopes to one day exploit his experience in Japan by opening his own travel agency or trading business in Peru.

Latin Americans began coming to Japan in large numbers in the 1980s, when a booming economy created opportunities for those willing to do menial labor and work at factory jobs.

For Mr. Nakamoto, mixing the two cultures has not been easy. He has faced what he calls the "cold feeling" of the Japanese toward foreigners and is still working to overcome a serious injury that occurred while working in an Isesaki factory in 1993. He continues his struggle to learn Japanese. Despite the Japanese roots of the Peruvians in Isesaki, the differences persist. "The Japanese do karaoke," he smiles, "and we dance."

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