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How Akihito and Michiko charmed Pinoys in ’62 (2)

/ 12:38 AM February 10, 2016

When then Japanese Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko visited Emilio Aguinaldo in Kawit in November 1962, the general remarked that he knew the prince’s grandfather (actually the prince’s great-grandfather), Meiji Emperor Matsushito, whom he considered “a very good friend of the Filipinos.” Aguinaldo then related a little-known anecdote regarding early relations between the Philippines and Japan. He said that during a critical period in the Philippine-American War, he received a sword sent by the Japanese emperor that inspired the Filipinos to continue the struggle for freedom with the knowledge that they were not fighting alone.

During the brief stop in Cavite en route to their lunch in Tagaytay, Michiko chatted animatedly with Carmen Aguinaldo Melencio, the general’s daughter and widow of Jose P. Melencio, who served as Philippine envoy to Japan from February 1951 to December 1952.

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So many details on the royal couple’s 1962 trip can be found in the newspaper coverage of the time. For example, Akihito inherited his father’s academic interest in fish; during a trip to New York in the fall of 1961, he brought back $150 worth of fish from the American Aquarium Company, 50 cicichlids of the tilapia species to study in Tokyo. It was said that Akihito prepared for his Manila visit by reading the Philippine Journal of Fisheries, and that he had a long conversation at the University of the Philippines (UP) with Dr. Inocencio Ronquillo of the Bureau of Fisheries, who briefed him on the smallest fish in the world, the Pandaka pygmaea (which led Filipinos to remark on its smallness: “Aba! Pandak na, pygmy pa!”). This species of fish was first discovered in the Malabon River in 1925 by American ichthyologist Albert Herre and is better known in English as the dwarf goby.

At UP Akihito was quoted as saying: “I believe the future of Japanese-Filipino relations depends in large measure on the young people, and I hope that they will have a deep insight into the history of Asia and a real understanding of the significance of Japanese-Philippine friendship.” One wonders if he saw the deepening of relations when he returned half a century later.

In the 1962 visit it was the first time in 17 years that the flag of Japan was flown in the Philippines. Many people who had lived through the war were still alive then, and could have mounted a public protest. Yet the royal couple seemed to have charmed Filipinos everywhere they went. When asked to comment, Sgt. Modesto Realino, a Bataan veteran who was assigned to couple’s security detail, simply said: “That’s nothing. “[Our peoples] are friends now.”

The visit was significant because at the time, the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Philippines and Japan had been signed and approved, and only required ratification from the Philippine Senate.

Aside from Tagaytay, the royal couple’s other out-of-town trip was up north to Baguio. On Thursday, Nov. 8, 1962, they left Malacañang for Tutuban at 8 a.m. and took the presidential train to Damortis in Pangasinan and from there traveled by car and arrived in Baguio shortly after 2 p.m.

Carolina Malay, writing for the Manila Times, noted that there was an unscheduled stop in San Carlos, Pangasinan, due to a disconnected air hose in the train that was swiftly remedied. But that was not the only irritant in the trip. Baguio Mayor Luis Lardizabal had the welcome streamers set up by the Department of Public Works and Highways taken down to spite the visit committee that did not allow him the pleasure of hosting a reception for the royal visitors.

To make up for this, the quick-thinking Education Secretary Alejandro Roces ordered a detour on their way up Kennon so the Crown Prince and Princess can stop and read a memorial commemorating the 2,300 Japanese who worked on the construction of the road. By the time they arrived in Baguio, a large crowd of 10,000, minus Lardizabal, had been organized to welcome them. The mayor called on the royals at 5 p.m. in The Mansion, excusing himself by saying he had to attend the funeral of a Mrs. Dangwa who suffered a heart attack while supervising preparations for their welcome.

In yet another incident, a woman grabbed and tore one of the Japanese flags being waved by schoolchildren who had been given a holiday to line Baguio’s streets. Then she quickly disappeared into the crowd.

While in Baguio, Akihito and Michiko visited St. Louis College, where the Princess had a happy reunion with Mother Purisima, a classmate at Sacred Heart School in Japan. They went to the market where the Prince stopped at the fish section. It was said that he was served smoked lapu-lapu for lunch in the train but didn’t eat it, saying he studied fish but didn’t partake of them.

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On Saturday, Nov, 10, 1962, the royal couple had a private breakfast in Malacañang with President Diosdado Macapagal and First Lady Eva Macapagal. They had another exchange of gifts. The Philippine side presented a painting by R. Enriquez, titled “Planting Rice,” a piña set for table use, a coffee table inlaid with capiz, copies of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” and an autographed copy of Macapagal’s book, “New Hope for the Common Man.” The royals reciprocated with a porcelain vase, a Japanese jewelry box, and two Japanese cameras.

What looks like a simple royal visit to the Philippines in 1962, and again in 2016, is actually significant in the forging of relations between the two countries.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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