Are Japanese peanuts known as Mexican peanuts in Japan? This is the love story behind this snack



8 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


There is no soccer game, meeting with friends or bar in Mexico that does not have a plate of Japanese peanuts, as this snack is a basic ingredient of any social gathering. However, these nuts layered with flour and sautéed with spices were actually created in this country. So why do we call them Japanese peanuts ?

The reason hides a beautiful story of hard work and entrepreneurship.

It all started when in 1932 the Gueiyamaru ship arrived at the port of Manzanillo, Colima. In it, several Japanese citizens traveled in search of new opportunities that could eventually take them to the United States. Among all the immigrants was Yoshigei Nakatani , a man who would find love and a new “life fueled by peanuts” in Mexico.

In that pre-World War II era, only Japanese who had been invited by a Mexican resident were allowed to enter Mexico; Nakatani came up with a button company called El Nuevo Japan .

Yoshihei Nakatani Moriguchi’s entry certificate to Mexico / Photo: Museum of Japanese Americans of the City of Los Angeles via Unknown Mexico

In his autobiography “That Tree Still Standing,” Nakatani recalls the exact moment when he got off the ship on the Mexican coast.

In a world much less globalized than today, the cultural shock that the Japanese experienced when they reached the West was very strong. Several migrants married a Mexican woman shortly after their arrival to ensure their life in the country. Nakatani was one of them.

“He met my mother because she rented a room from my maternal grandmother and she liked to sing a lot, she was the official singer of the Japanese colony,” said singer Yoshio, son of the couple , in an interview. “He didn’t speak any Spanish and would go up on the roof to sing. My mother was the one who washed the family’s clothes and they saw each other on the roof. My father asked him how things were said in Spanish and after a year they were married. He never spoke Spanish well, but he made himself understood ”.

When the war broke out between the Allied forces and the Axis, things got complicated. The owner of The New Japan, Kato Shiokai, was deported to Japan on suspicion that he was a spy (around the same time as the expulsion of hundreds of Nazi spies from Aztec land). Because of this he closed his business and Nakatani lost his job. Already having a wife and six children to support, it was necessary to find a livelihood as quickly as possible.

One of the “El Nuevo Japan” warehouses, owned by Heijiro Kato / Photo: Museum of Japanese Americans in the City of Los Angeles via Unknown Mexico

Together with his wife Emma, Nakatani started selling different snacks from home. Yoshigei recalled that when he was young he made sweets in his hometown of Sumotoshi, in Japan. There he learned to make a kind of traditional muéganos called “oranda” and a technique for covering seeds called “mamekashi” . that would serve as inspiration for his legendary snacks.

Nakatani wanted to create a peanut, soy, and rice flour snack, but had to change it to wheat flour. They were very successful in the iconic La Merced market and the Central de Abastos in Mexico City. In fact, according to the page of the Mexican Radio Institute (IMER), consumers went to buy peanuts with “Mr. Japanese ”and hence the origin of the name of the snack.

Image: Nakatani Family Collection

Yoshigei and Emma began to leave their children in charge of the sales at home and went out to market the product to candy stores. There was so much demand that they could no longer produce by hand and had to build machines inside their home in order to speed up production. Shortly after, they rented a place in the same neighborhood to move the machines out of their home in a place in the Iztapalapa mayor’s office in Mexico City.

In 1950 they wanted to make the business more official and they named it Nippon with the help of their son Armando Nakatani. One of his daughters drew the famous geisha that to this day is seen in the logo of the peanut packaging. In the 70s, the children of the couple continued to grow the business and were able to leave La Merced.

Yoshigei and Emma Nakatani / Photo: Museum of Japanese Americans in the city of Los Angeles via Unknown Mexico

According to the blog Aurelio Asiain, from 1975 Nipon became a company in every form and registered its trademark in 1977. However, large producers took advantage of the time that the family had not patented the product or the name to include peanuts Japanese in their sales.

In the 80s several large companies were already selling peanuts and there was a boom in the consumption of the snack.

The Nakatani company faced several financial problems because it was difficult to get peanuts in Mexico because large companies monopolized the national production, according to singer Yoshio in an interview a few years ago. Nipon had to import peanuts from Brazil.

Mexican peanuts?

The Nakatani family business continued to operate normally until 2017, when Nipon was acquired by the snack producer Totis, according to the brand on its official website .

Now, the big question: Are Japanese peanuts really called Mexican peanuts in Japan?

According to the Mamekichi company page, mamekichi arrived in Japan and are consumed in Kyoto since the 15th century when they came from China through Zen monks. However, among the many varieties consumed in the former Japanese capital is the variety that Nakatani produced in Mexico.

However, according to Vice , the peculiarity of “Mexican peanuts” in Japan is that they have a taco flavor and not because they are precisely from Mexico.

However it may be, apparently the new generations do recognize that particular recipe for covered peanuts as Mexican.

Although over time, the business world has changed, we can learn several things about entrepreneurship from Yoshigei and Emma:

  1. Find something new that you have to bring to the market. The Nakatani family began selling snacks that were already known, but it was not until they decided to create a new snack that their success began.
  2. It is possible to start with what you have. All they needed was a good idea and to advertise within their own neighborhood. They had no money, they made the peanuts by hand and sold them in their own home. They optimized their resources to be able to grow them.
  3. Look for opportunities outside of your comfort zone. The simplest thing for Yoshigei would have been to get a job, but he decided to work hand in hand with his wife to create something of his own.





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