Quezon in Japan, 1938
Grant K. Goodman (1924-2014) was a historian who specialized in Japan and Asia. After his retirement from the University of Kansas, he used to describe himself as an “extinguished” rather than the distinguished professor he truly was. I was drawn to him at conferences because of his engaging presentations and his interest in the Philippines.
Goodman’s byline I knew from bibliographies and footnotes, but I read his work only recently because the Japanese Occupation was not my period. When asked about World War II or Jose P. Laurel, I pointed to Dr. Ricardo T. Jose or Dr. Benito Legarda. However, teaching in Tokyo for 18 months presented me the opportunity to dip into the Mauro Garcia collection in Sophia University, where I read beyond Rizal and Osei-san and learned more about the exiled revolutionary general Artemio Ricarte aka “Vibora” (Viper) in Yokohama, who was visited by Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon more than once.
I was intrigued by a photograph of Quezon and Elpidio Quirino relaxing in the company of geishas, and my research led to a footnote in Goodman’s detailed reconstruction of Quezon’s visit to Japan from June 29 to July 10, 1938. His account was based on the Quezon papers in the National Library of the Philippines and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive in Tokyo.
Our story begins on May 15, 1938, when Japanese Consul General Uchiyama Kiyoshu met Quezon in a Manila club and was told in passing that the Commonwealth president was considering a private visit to Japan for rest and recreation. Quezon inquired if security could be provided for the duration of his visit. This was to be more than social chit-chat because Quezon’s Japanese masseur had reported to the consulate that although this was to be a private rather than official visit, Quezon wished to see and know more about Japan in wartime to supplement the materials he had been compiling since Japan occupied China the year before.
On June 20, 1938, Felipe Buencamino told Vice Consul Kihara Jitaro, in confidence, that Quezon had a throat condition requiring rest in the Unzen area in Kyushu. Quezon wanted to sail aboard the Japanese vessel Kongo Maru for Kobe on June 23 and return to Manila on July 10 in time for the opening of the National Assembly’s special session.
While the Japanese consulate was unsure of Quezon’s plans and intentions, it requested accommodations for him and his party composed of: Assemblyman Buencamino, who would serve as aide de camp; Maj. Howard J. Hutter of the US Army, Quezon’s personal physician; Dr. Jose Fabella, commissioner of public health who planned to visit Japanese health facilities; Serapio Canceran, Quezon’s private secretary; Sin Ah Dong, Quezon’s longtime valet; Wilfrido Lopez, Buencamino’s secretary; and Maeyama Hirokichi, manager of the Nueva Ecija Sugar Central of which Buencamino was president.
On June 21, 1938, Quezon met with the Japanese consul general to confirm what Buencamino had relayed, adding that he wished to return on Mitsui Lines’ newest vessel, the Arimasan Maru. It was significant that Quezon preferred Japanese transport to the US vessels that also sailed to Japan from Manila. Quezon was to secure travel clearance from US High Commissioner McNutt, who was returning to Manila from Baguio that day.
Since the Philippines was not yet independent and foreign affairs was undertaken for the Commonwealth by the US government, Quezon wanted his arrival in Kobe kept “very secret.” He preferred a quiet mountain hotel like Oriental Hotel Bekkan, and planned to recuperate from his chest condition in the Kansai area, far from newspaper reporters, in a cool hot-spring resort with a not-so-high altitude. However, Quezon said he did not want to spend all his time in one place and that he would not avoid meetings with important Japanese officials. With his requirements and preferences relayed to the consul, Quezon then left the program to be drawn up by his personal friend Ando Kinuzo of the Philippine Lumber Exportation Co.
The Japanese consulate in Manila reported all of these to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 21, 1938, saying:
“As you know, this man is erratic and has a habit of changing his travel plans often. Although it is very troublesome for Japan since he has a deeply emotional character, I think it would be very worthwhile from the standpoint of policy toward the Philippines for us to welcome him. Looking at such things as the influence of the China incident, US-Philippine trade negotiations etc., I think we should take the trouble to put up with his selfish wishes for a short while.”
It was also noted that US High Commissioner McNutt had cabled US Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew regarding Major Hutter, who would be the eyes and ears of the US government in the Quezon party.
The trip started to firm up when Jorge Vargas informed the consulate on June 22, 1938, that Maj. Manuel Nieto, aide de camp of Quezon, would join the party. Furthermore, Vargas requested permission for Nieto and Hutter to carry pistols in Japan, to protect not just Quezon but also his Chinese valet. Two days later, Buencamino also asked permission to carry a pistol.
Then as now, a presidential trip abroad, even if in a private capacity, was a complicated affair, and the poor Japanese consul in Manila was treated like a travel agent. (More on Friday)
Comments are welcome at [email protected]
Your daily dose of fearless views
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.