The Republic of Peru was the first South American country to establish diplomatic relations with Japan in 1873, during the early Meiji period. Toshio Motoya spoke with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Peru to Japan H.E. Mr. Roberto Seminario about Peru’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Nazca Lines and Machu Picchu; the longstanding ties between Japan and Peru; and other topics.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. I invited you because this year is the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Republic of Peru, which were established in 1873. I also interviewed the Peruvian ambassador 30 years ago on the 120th anniversary.
(S) Thank you for having me. Peru is the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic relations with Japan, and this 150th anniversary is a special year for Peruvian and Japanese people. The government and private sector are working together on many different events and projects, including a commemorative event on August 21 in Peru that will be attended by numerous ministry-level government officials. I’ve heard that Princess Kako will travel to Peru as well.
(M) Really? I’ve never been to Peru, but I would definitely like to go there some day. Can you start by sharing some basic information about your country?
(S) Of course. Peru has an area of roughly 1.29 million square kilometers, about 3.4 times bigger than Japan. The population is approximately 33 million people. The capital city is Lima. Many people speak Spanish but there are several indigenous languages that are spoken in each one of the three geographical regions of our country: Coast, Andes and Amazon. Peru has a uniquely varied climate and topography. In the mountains along the coast it is cold as winter even during the summer months, while the jungles are hot all year long. Lots of things grow in the extremely fertile soil. Peru is popular among gourmands who come to enjoy our delicious food. It’s been chosen as the World’s Leading Culinary Destination in the World Travel Awards for 11 years in a row. In June, Central, a restaurant in Lima, was named number one in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – the first time this honor has been given to a South American restaurant. Head Chef Virgilio Martinez’s only overseas restaurant is MAZ Tokyo in Kioi-cho.
(M) I didn’t know that Peru is so famous as a culinary destination.
(S) In Japan, I think the most-well known part of Peru is the Nazca Lines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is comprised of more than 1,000 giant geoglyphs on the vast Nazca Pampa (spanning 400 square kilometers) in an arid region between the Nazca and Ingenio Rivers.
(M) I’d love to see them! It’s fascinating to think about why they made these geoglyphs that are only visible from the air.
(S) Many researchers have studied these geoglyphs that were discovered in the early 20th century. One of them is Professor Masato Sakai from Japan’s Yamagata University, who leads a research team that has been doing surveys since 2004. The distribution of the geoglyphs wasn’t fully known when they began working. The team has used satellite image analysis while steadily gathering and analyzing data from field surveys. It even discovered new geoglyphs depicting living creatures in 2006. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture commended Yamagata University – the only officially authorized research team – for these accomplishments. The Yamagata University Institute of Nasca was opened in the city of Nazca in 2012.
(M) When were the geoglyphs created?
(S) It’s believed they were made at the time of the Nazca Civilization, which flourished in that area from around 200 BCE to 800 CE. The Nazca Lines are estimated to have been created between 500 BCE and 500 CE. They likely lived by hunting, and cultivating plants, such as corn and beans. The Nazca also left behind beautifully colored earthenware pottery.
(M) How did they draw those images that can’t be fully seen from the ground?
(S) From the Earth’s surface they look like narrow paths, but perhaps the creators could view the overall images from nearby mountains or other high spots. In fact, Nazca people are still making geoglyphs today. Sakai’s research showed that it is possible to draw these images by creating an original picture, calculating the number of steps, and measuring by foot while removing the black stones on the desert surface to reveal the white rock below. Another theory says the Nazca used a method to enlarge an image by working out from a central point.
(M) The biggest question is, what were these giant images made for?
(S) When they were first discovered, people thought the geoglyphs were somehow related to the agriculture that was prevalent at that time, such as an astronomical calendar or method for measuring time. Some have theorized that they represent constellations in the night sky, or that they were used in ceremonies praying to the gods for water, which was critical in the desert. But as of today, there is no accepted explanation.
(M) So they might have had religious significance. I imagine it took a lot of labor to make them.
(S) Yes, which is why some have suggested the geoglyphs were a social work project to distribute crops stored by individuals at times of abundant harvests. The geoglyphs come in varied sizes – some are a few meters, and some are several hundreds of meters. There are geographical patterns made from straight lines; animals including hummingbirds, spiders, and condors; and mysterious images, like hands with four fingers.
(M) How have they lasted for so long?
(S) I think they have survived thanks to the arid climate with almost no rain. Researchers are using AI to discover new geoglyphs that can’t be seen from the ground, and efforts are underway to record and protect them for the future.
(M) You mentioned the Nazca culture who made the geoglyphs. Does Peru have a long history of human habitation?
(S) The Caral-Supe civilization, centered around the archaeological site of Caral, is one of the oldest known human settlements in Peru. The Caral-Supe civilization dates back to around 2,600 BCE to 2,000 BCE, making it one of the earliest complex societies in the Americas. The site is significant for shedding light on the development of early complex societies in the region. Caral’s urban planning, monumental architecture, and organized society provide valuable insights into the social, economic, and cultural aspects of ancient civilizations in the area. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a key archaeological site for understanding the history of pre-Columbian cultures in Peru.
(M) Machu Picchu is very famous. What is its elevation?
(S) Machu Picchu is located at an elevation of approximately 2,430 meters above sea level. It is a renowned archaeological site in the Andes Mountains of Peru and is often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas.” Its breathtaking location and well-preserved ruins make it one of the most iconic and visited tourist destinations in the world. Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire and another World Heritage Site, is even higher at 3,400 meters. Machu Picchu has an area of 13 square kilometers with 200 buildings. Some believe it was not a city, but rather a royal villa or holiday home. The ruins are surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, and you can feel a mysterious power when you are all alone. The nearby Machu Picchu village has many hotels.
(M) I definitely want to see the Nazca Lines and Machu Picchu. How do you get there?
(S) There are buses to the Nazca Lines from the capital city of Lima. You can see the famous hand and tree geoglyphs from the Mirador observation tower, which is more than 10 meters high, or you can take a Cessna or other sightseeing flight to view them from above. Cusco has the closest airport to Machu Picchu. There are trains and buses from the airport to the village, and shuttle buses travel from the village to the ruins.
(M) When is the best season to visit Peru?
(S) It depends on where you are going. I think May or November are the best times to see Machu Picchu.
(M) There are no direct flights from Japan to Peru.
(S) Yes, you can transfer in an American city like Los Angeles, Houston, or Dallas. It takes about 20 hours from Japan.
(M) How many Japanese tourists go to Peru?
(S) Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan was the top tourist-sending country from Asia to Peru. Around 40,000 to 50,000 Japanese tourists were visiting Peru every year. Today that number has fallen, but we are working to bring it back up.
(M) Post-pandemic, the rapidly weakening yen means that Japanese people aren’t traveling abroad as much, but I do think this will steadily improve.
(S) I was surprised by seeing the APA Hotels all around Japan. I hope you will build one in Peru someday. Our system is very friendly to the hotel business, and we are always searching for hotel chains to expand to Peru or collaborate with a Peruvian company. I think you could expect good returns. Tourists begin their Latin American trips in Peru, which is right in the heart of that region.
(M) APA Hotel has already built a chain in the United States and Canada according to our overseas strategy. I intend to move into Europe next, but perhaps we should consider South America before that.
(S) Tourism is a huge growth industry in Peru and Latin America, and I think now is a very opportune timing. Peru welcomes foreign investment and puts few restrictions on investment and returns. The domestic market numbers 33 million people, and five million tourists traveled to Peru every year before the pandemic. There would probably be demand among guests of all nationalities, not just Japan and Peru.
(M) That’s certainly appealing.
(S) Peru is also home to many people descended from Japanese immigrants of the past. There are about 125,000 Nikkei altogether, and one town has 60,000 Nikkei residents.
(M) It’s said that approximately 18,000 Japanese people relocated to Peru between 1899 and 1923.
(S) Peru has South America’s second-largest number of Nikkei, second only to Brazil.
(M) Were you a career diplomat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before becoming the ambassador to Japan?
(S) Yes. I have been a career diplomat for 41 years. I arrived in Japan about 18 months ago.
(M) Where were your past appointments?
(S) I’ve worked in Bulgaria, Italy, Uruguay, Ecuador, the U.S., Indonesia, and other regions.
(M) That’s quite a lot! Are you also the ambassador to South Korea?
(S) No, I’m in charge of Japan only, because Peru regards it as a very important nation.
(M) Where have you gone in the past year and a half?
(S) So far I’ve traveled to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
(M) It seems like all ambassadors go to Hiroshima.
(S) Yes, they do. I was greatly surprised by the ceremony commemorating the atomic bomb victims. It was extremely simple, but I could feel the great significance in all its parts.
(M) Where would you like to go in the future?
(S) I’d like to travel around Japan – I believe that I must learn about the whole country in order to do my job. I’m also hoping to find rural areas that can take part in projects with Peru.
(M) In your opinion, what are the positive aspects of Japan?
(S) Japan has extremely advanced sciences and technologies; a distinctive, mature culture; and delicious food. The people are extremely enthusiastic about their work while cherishing their families. I think this is a major thing that Japan has in common with Peru, another country that places great importance on families. I was also impressed by how people across Japan live in harmony with nature. I’ve enjoyed all the local foods I’ve eaten while chatting with people in different areas.
(M) At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(S) I hope young Japanese people will be committed to maintaining Japan’s friendship with Peru. Many Japanese people emigrated to Peru when Japan was stricken by poverty. I hope Japan and Peru will grow even closer based on their 150-year history, and I encourage them to become more interested in Latin America as a whole. The world is full of places that have totally different natural features and ways of thinking. I think it will be exceedingly important for Japan to have strong allies in Latin America going forward.
(M) Thank you for talking with me today.
(S) Thank you.
Born in 1955 in Piura, a city in northwestern Peru. Earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from New Mexico Highlands University in the United States, and his Master’s Degree in International Relations from the Diplomatic Academy Of Peru. After becoming a diplomat in 1982, he was assigned to posts in Peru, Bulgaria, Uruguay, Ecuador, and the U.S. (Miami). His past positions include charge d’affaires in Italy (2003), ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Indonesia (2012), ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (2013), and Peru’s permanent representative to the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO; 2020). He became the ambassador to Japan in 2022.