Japanese with a different face | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Japanese with a different face

If you walk around the shopping areas of Tokyo or Osaka these days, you will probably bump into Filipinos on tour. It would seem that Japan has replaced Hong Kong as the new preferred destination for short getaways since the Japanese Embassy made it easier to get long-term, multiple-entry tourist visas. It also helps that the Japanese yen is down, making it easier to stretch the shopping budget a bit more. All first-time visitors to Japan return with rave reviews about cleanliness, safety, and efficient public transport that seem to be disappearing in Manila.

When I ask Filipino travelers what they remember of Japan in our history, the two things that always come up are: The atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II (this includes the “comfort women”), and O Sei-san (or Usui Seiko in some textbooks), who was Rizal’s Japanese “girlfriend.” Younger people who can’t look too far back in history associate Japan with more contemporary culture: electronic gadgets and games, anime, cosplay, manga and ramen. Recently many Japanese companies have opened branches in Manila, with Uniqlo being the most popular because of efficient marketing. Then there are Muji, Family Mart, and a growing number of food establishments like Yabu, Ginza Bairin and, soon, Maisen for tonkatsu (breaded pork), Ippudo for ramen, and Yoshinoya for gyudon (beef on rice bowl).


The country hated so much for what its soldiers did to our country and people during World War II is back, but with a different face. Even I cannot understand why such a civilized and cultured country could act so viciously during the war.

Aside from my current research on the relations between the Philippines and Japan in the 17th century, I am writing a book on the Kudan, or the residence of the Philippine ambassador in Tokyo that is probably the most beautiful and historical embassy we have. It happens to be the childhood home of Yoko Ono. The house and lot were acquired by the Laurel administration in 1944 and have been embassy property ever since.


During my research in the Mauro Garcia Collection in Sophia University, Tokyo, I came across some stray papers that came from our wartime embassy in that city. One of interest to me is a yellowed typescript, “Japanese who aided the Filipinos in their struggles for independence,” on “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” stationery. I presume this was made sometime in 1944-1945 either by Salvador P. Lopez, who worked under Claro M. Recto, our wartime minister of foreign affairs, or by Leon Ma. Guerrero, who worked under Jorge Vargas, our ambassador in Tokyo.

There are 17 entries in this chronological list that gives the names of Japanese who participated in our struggles against the Spanish starting from the late 16th century to the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War. No citations are given, making them mere leads to be followed sometime in the future. The names listed are:

1. DIONISIO FERNANDEZ (no Japanese name in Spanish sources). Christian-Japanese resident of Manila who took part in Tondo conspiracy 1587-1588. Executed with Magat Salamat (son of Lakandula), Agustin de Legaspi (nephew of Lakandula and son-in-law of a Bornean datu). “First Japanese to sacrifice his life for the cause of Philippine freedom.”

2. CAPT. JOAN GAYO (no Japanese name in Spanish sources). Japanese skipper who voyaged from Nagasaki to Manila. Contacted by Magat Salamat in 1587 through Dionisio Fernandez to negotiate arms shipment to be used in uprising against Spain.

3. JOSE MORITARO TAGAWA. Japanese resident of Bocaue, Bulacan, married to Filipina, friend of Pio Valenzuela. Interpreter of KKK and Bonifacio with visiting Japanese naval officer and consul in May 1896.

4. SHU HIRAYAMA. Introduced Mariano Ponce to Takeshi Inukai, Japanese political leader.

5. TAKESHI INUKAI. Leader of Shimpo-to (Progressive party), introduced Ponce to journalists in Tokyo Club and Yaroku Nakamura.


6. DR. YAROKU NAKAMURA. Foremost Japanese advocate of Philippine independence, assisted Ponce in arms purchase, charter of ship to transport arms and recruit Japanese volunteers. Died in 1930.


8. YASUMASA FUKUSHIMA. Helped Nakamura with several thousand rifles, five million rounds of ammunition, war booty of Sino-Japanese war (1894-95).
9. War Minister TARO KATSURA.

10. War Vice Minister YUJIRO NAKAMURA. Granted Yaroku Nakamura permission to purchase arms for Filipinos.

11. GEN. SOROKU KAWAKAMI. Chief of General Staff Japanese Army, persuaded Minister of Foreign Affairs Shuzo Aoki to permit Nakamura to buy arms for Filipinos.

12. KIHATIRO OKURA. Trader of firearms, handled Ponce-Nakamura purchase amounting to Y125,000 for arms and fees. Ponce paid Nakamura Y155,000, balance of Y30,000 supplemented by sale of Nakamura’s timberland, Y18,000 to purchase the ship Nunobiki Maru to transport arms to the Philippines.

13. CAPT. TEI HARA. Leader of Japanese volunteers in Phil-American War, born 1864, graduated with honors from Imperial Military Academy. Fought in Sino-Japanese war, later artillery captain and imperial bodyguard, together with other Japanese officers who left Kobe on July 12, 1899. Reached Moji the following day, loaded arms and ammunition for Filipinos, but this shipment was lost in a shipwreck off the China coast on July 21, 1899.

14. CAPT. CHIZUNO IWAMOTO. Army officer, served as staff officer of Emilio Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War. Returned to Japan after the fall of Malolos republic.

Finding out more about these men will definitely enrich the history of Philippines-Japan relations.
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TAGS: comfort women, Japan, Jose Rizal, Kudan, O-sei san, Philippines-Japan relations, Tourism, Usui Seiko, World War II
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