Manuel Luis Quezon and sukiyaki
Preparing for Manuel L. Quezon’s private trip to Japan on June 29-July 10, 1938, must have been a logistical nightmare because his itinerary was always changing. This was neither an official nor a state visit because the president of the Philippine Commonwealth could not chart or initiate foreign affairs, which remained with the US government until the Philippines was granted independence.
Although it was a private visit, for rest and recreation, the Japanese government was obligated to provide security for Quezon even if some members of his growing party were allowed to carry pistols to protect him.
When Quezon decided to bring his own automobile, Jorge Vargas requested the Japanese consul in Manila to arrange a license for the president’s driver, Pedro Payumo. Vargas also requested port courtesies to clear fresh mangoes through Japanese customs and quarantine for Quezon’s personal consumption. Little wonder that the Japanese consul in Manila, who had been reduced to a travel agent, described the visit and the demanding VVIP as “troublesome.”
After a delay, due to the loading of five million kilos of sugar bound for the United States, the ship lifted anchor at 5 a.m. on June 25, 1938. On the same day, the Japanese consul received this message from Quezon:
“Please telegraph to Japan and advise me if they can rent for me a furnished house Japanese or European style either in Kamakura, Nara or Kyoto for 14 days use. House may be big or small provided it has bath and toilet European style and I am willing to pay ex-price. Please strictly confidential.”
Quezon arrived in Kobe on June 29, but the elaborate arrival ceremonies and planned itinerary had to be curtailed because of a typhoon that he brought from the Philippines. The original plan to rest in Unzen near Nagasaki was shelved, and Quezon was forced to stay in Kyoto until July 7. Nevertheless, he was met by: the director of the American Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the governor of Hyogo, the mayor of Kobe, the president of the Kobe Chamber of Commerce, and other notables. This meant that the trip was hardly secret or private.
Quezon’s aide read the following message dockside (and refused all interview requests):
“President Quezon has come to Japan for the sole purpose of taking a short vacation. He will remain in this beautiful country for 10 days and will visit some of your best known summer resorts. He has chosen to make his voyage on a freighter because he is shunning all social affairs that may interfere with his much needed rest. The party had a most enjoyable trip across. President Quezon is very glad to be in Japan once more.”
Quezon did some sightseeing in Kyoto, Nara and Nagoya. It was noted that he had sukiyaki at least once a day during the visit. So one could say that the Japanese successfully deployed “sukiyaki diplomacy” on him. He issued the following signed statement on July 8:
“My attention has been called to a newspaper report published in the United States to the effect that I have come to Japan to start negotiations regarding the neutralization of the Philippines. The story is so absurd on its very face that it hardly needs denial. I have come to Japan for no political purpose of any sort. I have had no political conferences with anybody and will have no other purpose.”
But what Quezon said wasn’t what he did because he accepted an invitation to dinner with the Japanese foreign minister in Tokyo. He also called on the foreign minister the next day, and the talking points brought up informally during the meal were reiterated.
The Japanese side covered: the general attitude of Japan toward the Philippines; commercial relations between the two countries; a Japanese landholding in Davao; economic cooperation between the two countries; and the problem of long-term guarantee of Philippine neutrality (especially after independence).
Quezon, on the other hand, brought up: a visit of a Philippine delegation to study Japan’s agricultural system; a proposal to bring Japanese farm families to the Philippines to establish model farms on government land; and his wish to build Japanese rooms in Malacañang and to employ Japanese cooks so that guests from Japan could sleep in a Japanese room and eat Japanese food. The last could assure Quezon of his favorite sukiyaki any time.
He also assured the Japanese foreign minister of his wish for closer relations between the two countries and declared:
“I, as a private individual, depending on my tongue and my pen, intend to strive to make the Filipinos understand the real Japan, the Japan I have seen. This is not because I love Japan; this is because I love the Philippines. This is not because I want to buy the friendship of Japan; this is because I am thinking of the Philippines. That is because of my concern for the benefit of the Philippines rather than for the benefit of Japan. Above all, I am a Filipino.”
Quezon was not authorized to conduct foreign affairs, but he did so just the same. He returned to Manila on July 17, 1938, and was welcomed by 40,000 people including laborers and schoolchildren. His private unofficial visit to Japan made his US handlers uneasy because it turned official. He skillfully executed a diplomatic triumph.
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