A Japanese in Manila in 1672 | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

A Japanese in Manila in 1672

/ 05:18 AM December 05, 2018

One of the many regrets of my life was not learning enough Chinese or Japanese in my youth to enable me to read 17th- and 18th-century Asian sources on Spanish Philippines. Over the years, I have seen the Philippines through the eyes of European visitors, but I am separated from materials in Chinese and Japanese because of language, and am sadly confined to what is available in English translation.

One of the curious works I wish to know more about is “Luzon oboye gaki” [Notes on Luzon], taken down in August 1672 by Kyuzayemon Kawabuchi. These remarkable notes are forgotten as an appendix to an obscure 1943 article, “Early Japanese Settlers in the Philippines,” by professor Sei-ichi Iwao. Kawabuchi’s random notes provide sea distances from Japan to the Philippines, now obsolete with Google Earth, but the description of landmarks and place names enable us to reconstruct 17th-century Philippines through the eyes of a Japanese trader in the country.


Kawabuchi approached Manila through Cavite, where he noted: “There is a castle town called Cabeita (Cavite) which is inhabited by people of the samurai class. The castle is heavily fortified with guns [cannons]. A stone building stands in front of the castle. Provisions are stored there. There is a stone temple. It is a Christian church. All the temples in the islands are Christian places of worship. There is a business quarter near here. Indigenes, Japanese and Chinese have their shops there and mingle together. Kuro-fune [European carracks], both large and small, are moored at Cabeita.

“From Cabeita to Maneila it is some three ri. Maneila is the capital of Luzon. It is a castle town. The castle is about four or five cho (one cho is 109.9 meters) square. The wall is of stone, cut and plastered together. It is about 14 or 15 shaku (one shaku, 0.3030 meters) high. In some places it is higher. On one side of the castle runs a river (Pasig); on another side, it is washed by the sea (Manila Bay); and on the remaining two sides it is surrounded by moats (the Muni Golf Course today). It seems that the river is about 310 paces wide. It is spanned with a bridge. The river apparently takes its rise in a faraway place.


“The moats surrounding the castle on two sides are five or six ken wide (one ken, 1.82 meters). These moats were built by way of precaution against a possible attack by Lord Matsukura Bungo no kami, which was feared might occur in the sixth year of Kan-yei (1629). The next year, the feared attack took place (not true, because Shigemasa Matsukura had died). I am told by Japanese residents in Maneila that Lord Takenaka Uneme informed the Maneila authorities in advance that Lord Matsukura Bungo no kami was going to attack. It is strictly prohibited to measure the height of the walls of the castle, and the width of the moats, as well as to take soundings of the moats and measures of the guns. (But he was able to do so and supplied some in his notes.)

“Most of the houses in Maneila are two-story, roofed with tiles. Ceilings are made of roof shingles and walls are all made of stone. The construction of houses resembles that of the tile-roofed houses of Japan. Houses outside the castle-walls of Maneila are mostly thatched with miscanthus. Their walls, too, are made of miscanthus called catiyans.

“There is a guardhouse at the gate of the castle. The district around there is called Koy (Paco?). Shops with thatched roofs stand in rows from the town gate. Japanese and Chinese keep shops, all jumbled together. There are also a few stone buildings. Deu (Dilao) stands in the suburbs. Houses there are mostly built in the tenement style, and some are for rent. Japanese and Moros keep shops there. There are many small houses at Deu with thatched roofs. At the end of Deu, there stands a large stone temple. Some two or three cho from the town gate stands Hariyan (Parian), a Chinese quarter. Some 120,000 or 130,000

Chinese businesspeople are said to live at Hariyan. A big temple stands near here.”

Reading Kawabuchi’s notes gives me more detail than that found on European maps, prints, engravings and travel accounts of the Philippines. But the more intriguing question, requiring a lot of rereading, is how different a Japanese view was from that of Europeans’ or Filipinos’ of the time.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Amberth R. Ocampo, early Japanese visitors in Manila, Japanese settlers in the Philippines, Kyuzayemon Kawabuchi, Looking Back, Philippine history
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