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Juan de la Fuente: Umetsu and the return to Tottori

Juan de la Fuente Umetsu is a Peruvian Nikkei poet. Credit: ©Editorial Fund of the Peruvian Japanese Association APJ/Jaime Takuma.

Every search is a navigation without a specific path, a constant back and forth between stories, myths and directions that divert us from what we think of as a destination. For the Peruvian Nikkei poet Juan de la Fuente Umetsu (Lima, 1963), his most recent poetic inquiry has taken him to the family niche, to the starting point of his Japanese origin: a surname that is his and that of his grandfather Makizo, who pays this poetic tribute.

Umetsu , the title of his collection of poems published in April 2024 by the Editorial Fund of the Peruvian Japanese Association (APJ), in its “Author Nikkei” series, is a return trip to Japan of that ancestor whose history he reconstructed despite not being having known him. “The process of writing this book has been strong, it has been a reconciliation with grandfather…forgiving myself and forgiving him for having avoided him for so many years.”

The team of the Editorial Fund of the Peruvian-Japanese Association was very valuable in the creation of this collection of poems that adds to its collection "Author Nikkei". Credit: ©Editorial Fund of the Peruvian Japanese Association APJ/Jaime Takuma.

Juan says that his mother had a portrait of Makizo at home and that when one came in and saw it, it seemed that he too “looked at all of us.” “At some point I didn't want to look at it,” he adds. “My mother, Consuelo Umetsu, raised me with Eastern principles, it is what is in my genes, I owe a lot to her, but I did not know much about my grandfather, I did not know Umetsu relatives in Japan, I did not know where he had come from until he "My brother traveled and met Makizo's last brother," says Juan, who reveals that it was inevitable to find similar physical traits in those relatives from the Far East.

Origin of the book

In 1985, looking at the Herradura Sea, Juan remembers that he wrote the first verse alluding to that relative who arrived in Peru in 1909 and returned to his native country in 1938, never to return, leaving his wife Amalia and their four children.

“He who arrives is not eternal / He who does not know why he has come / He has gotten off his ship / He has traveled through the port looking for a woman / And he has fallen asleep in any room / He who lost the ship is eternal / He was left with the woman / And he just understands why he has come.”

Time passed and in 2010, looking at the same sea, he wrote:

“We will go together. / With filaments of water we will leave / Foreshadowing a forest where trees and ropes grow from the heart / We will leave without weapons, / In some way it must be our journey. / Without moving from here we will leave, / Separated by an ocean that has stopped believing. / We will go together with the night and with the day (at the same time). / Me, with my eyes open at an invisible point. / You, with your eyes closed, encompassing everything.”

“Afterwards I remained silent,” he said at the presentation of his book, “until, in 2017, after an interview I was given about my experience as a Nikkei in Peru, I wrote again, again in front of the same and different sea: 1


PORT OF KOBE, June 8, 1909

A boy faced with time decides to be the sea and regrets it.


/First dialogue from the future with Makizo Umetsu/


The sea like a canvas trapped between the dunes

It marks the beginning of time.

Reality seems to stop

In a somersault towards your eyes,

They haven't looked at anything

And they contain everything, boy.

How quickly your body grows under the shadows of the port!

Reality seems to stop

But he continues his way towards the ships.

You don't know if the sand is more powerful than the waters

Or if the reefs fly higher than the sun

When he rushes into the desert.

Without moving.

Your body trembles like a grain of rice

Caught in the wind.

«Terrified, but firm,

Climb the slope where the world begins,

Get rid of your old freedom

And receive this new freedom.

The roots will enter through the boat windows

And from there they will cling to the waters.

“I try to explain how this relationship with my grandfather, beyond history and events, has been essentially supported by poetry,” the poet elaborates. “Between the boy who wrote in 1985, to the adult who one day found him face to face and decided to face him, many things happened: from the almost sacred, secret, inexplicable pride, to the denial of origin, which is in order to you count self-denial; but something remained unchanged: the emptiness, the silence and the wound, fused into a single body.”

Interior photos of the book "Umetsu" by Makizo Umetsu, grandfather of the poet to whom he pays tribute with this publication. Credit: ©Editorial Fund of the Peruvian Japanese Association APJ/Jaime Takuma.

Memory and return

Umetsu 's writing meant for the poet a return to childhood memories full of unfinished anecdotes, single phrases, intuitions, lost and reappearing photos, objects (a Japanese clock, tables, vases and letters) and a palpitation that I already remembered in other interviews, 2 when I had certainties that turned into doubts until this short book.

How do you solve something that you don't know what it is? asks Juan de la Fuente, a poet who between 1999 and 2017 published five collections of poems and appeared in various poetic anthologies in which Japanese beats with the spirit of haiku and contemplative verses. 3

“When you publish it is like when you go on a trip and it seems like you are in new places. Family and friends emerge in magical encounters, it is as if I had turned on the lights on a stage to meet the characters,” says the writer and communicator. One of these meetings was the one that his nephew Juan Manuel had directly with the Umetsu family, in Tottori.

Cover of the book "Umetsu". The art is by Eduardo Tokeshi, the cover design by Jhonny García Flores and the photographs by Jaime Takuma. Credit: ©Editorial Fund of the Peruvian Japanese Association APJ/Jaime Takuma.

Another meeting was with the artist Eduardo Tokeshi, who designed the cover and illustrations of this book and who also wrote in the prologue:

“How many times would we like poetry to solve our intrigues, heal our secret history and soothe the pain installed in silence? Is it possible that language saves us, reconciles us with the most punctual ghosts? With his poems, Juan de la Fuente Umetsu provokes a kind of redemption for Makizo, he saves him from oblivion and reconstructs his voice, his immense sorrow, shortens distances and unravels identities.

Umetsu also contains a photographic dossier that constitutes a contribution to the memory of the Nikkei community, precisely in this year in which the 125 years of Japanese immigration to Peru are commemorated.

Umetsu Road

The Nikkei poet says that this book was born in the sea and initially had another name, “Book of Water”, which had numerous pages that were left along the way, who decided to divide it into songs that merge through photographs and prose. who is building a path of reconciliation with the origin of the Umetsu and Tottori, the city he does not yet know, in the Japan where Theo, his great-nephew, now resides, born just the year his mother, Consuelo Umetsu, would turn 100 years.

Umetsu has been a way of bringing the two shores closer with a poetic path that has also been a form of self-knowledge for Juan. “It is a book that still makes me cry when reading it, not from sadness but from a strange feeling of relief and liberation,” says De la Fuente Umetsu, who thinks about the paths this book will follow, as the lost photos and the letters from the absent grandfather, to end in this document that opens with the gaze of the young Makizo and closes with the adult Makizo.

Umetsu means “port of plum trees” and since Juan de la Fuente became aware of this book, it was clear to him that it would not have an end, but rather it would be a starting point for other journeys in search of the origin of the Japanese descendants and their memories.


1. “ The Editorial Fund of the Peruvian Japanese Association presents Umetsu, a collection of poems by Juan de la Fuente ,” Peruvian Japanese Association, April 17, 2024.

2. “ A Poet in Stopped Transit ,” Discover the Nikkei, May 25, 2016.

3. “ Eternity without eternity and flowers of fire in «Vide Cor Tuum» (2017), by Juan de la Fuente ,” Vallejo & Company, December 14, 2023.


© 2024 Javier García Wong-Kit

authors Japan Japanese Peruvian Association Japanese Peruvians Juan de la Fuente Umetsu literature Peru poetry poets Tottori Prefecture writers
About the Author

Javier García Wong-Kit is a journalist, professor, and director of Otros Tiempos magazine. Author of Tentaciones narrativas (Redactum, 2014) and De mis cuarenta (ebook, 2021), he writes for Kaikan, the magazine of the Japanese Peruvian Association.

Updated April 2022

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