Photo/IllutrationMelanio Austero Takumi, right, said he was born to a Japanese man and Filipino woman. His son, Juseven, sits next to him in Mabini in the Philippines. (Maki Okubo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MABINI, Philippines--Melanio Austero Takumi survived the carnage of World War II, endured bullying in his youth and has struggled to make ends meet throughout his life.

Now 76 and rather content in this seaside town on the island of Mindanao, Takumi said his “life would be complete” if he could obtain just one thing for which he is entitled: Japanese citizenship.

Takumi, who was born to a Japanese father and a Filipino mother, remains stateless.

In 2008, he applied for Japanese citizenship but was turned down three years later on the grounds of lack of “evidence.”

Like many other stateless people in Takumi’s situation, his father disappeared at the end of World War II, leaving behind no evidence that could be used to prove his son’s Japanese roots.

Time is running out for “nikkei-jin” (descendants of Japanese) like Takumi.

Thousands of Japanese migrated to the Philippines before World War II and built an affluent community there, primarily engaging in the cultivation of Manila hemp. At their peak, an estimated 30,000 Japanese were living in the Southeast Asian island nation.

One of them was a carpenter who worked at a plantation. He married a Filipina in 1939, and Takumi was born to the couple in 1942.

His parents had two other children--a boy named Ichiro born in 1940 and a girl born in 1943. The father, whose name was also Takumi, disappeared while his wife was pregnant with their third child.

Takumi’s siblings died after seeking refuge in the mountains with their relatives after the war broke out.

Takumi’s first name was originally Minoru, but his mother told him to use the Filipino name Melanio in an attempt to avoid the strong anti-Japanese sentiment after the war ended.

He was 7 years old when he learned that his father was Japanese.

Takumi and his mother struggled to survive. The boy managed to attend elementary school in exchange for working as a live-in helper for the family of a relative.

Takumi said he was often bullied by his peers because of his Japanese descent.

Nationality laws in both Japan and the Philippines that were in place when Japanese, such as Takumi’s father, were migrating to the Philippines would later work against their children who were left behind after the war.

Both laws state that the nationality of children born to a Japanese-Filipino couple would be based on their paternal line. Therefore, a child of a Japanese man is supposed to be a Japanese citizen.

Takumi learned about the strictness of the law in the Philippines several years ago. A Filipino government official rejected Takumi’s request for a passport, saying, “If your father is Japanese, you are Japanese.”

According to a 2015 study by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the births of about 3,500 second-generation Japanese descendants in the Philippines were confirmed.

Of them, just over 1,000 are listed in their Japanese fathers’ family registries or have been granted Japanese nationality in recent years.

Many nikkei-jin began searching for their fathers or relatives in Japan in the 1990s in an effort to establish Japanese nationality.

In 2006, the government for the first time granted Japanese citizenship to an individual from the Philippines who could not locate the father’s official family registry.

The applicant received help from the Philippine Nikkei-jin Legal Support Center, a nonprofit organization based in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. The NPO has been giving support to Filipinos with funds provided by the public-interest incorporated Japan Foundation based in the capital’s Miato Ward.

So far, Japanese nationality has been granted to 212 individuals.

But many others remain stateless because they cannot find their fathers or obtain Japanese family registries, birth certificates, photos, or testimonies by relatives that could be used as evidence.

In many cases, such documents were lost in the war. Many witnesses who could testify on the applicants’ behalf have died.

The father of Jovita Uehara, a 71-year-old woman living in Manila, was a Japanese military police officer stationed on the island of Cebu.

Her father met her mother when she was 15. They married, and Uehara’s older sister was born in 1944. The father, however, disappeared when his wife was pregnant with Uehara.

Uehara, who has used her father's last name since she was born, said she applied for a Filipino passport to work overseas when she was young. Her request was denied because her last name was Japanese.

Her application for Japanese nationality in 2012 was rejected two years later.

Hiroyuki Kawai, who represents the Philippine Nikkei-jin Legal Support Center, described a sense of urgency for the descendants, given their age.

“We want to rescue them in one way or another because they could end up being abandoned by both countries if they are denied recognition,” Kawai said.

Some of them visited Japan in 2015 and requested the Japanese government’s assistance when they met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Takumi said acquiring Japanese nationality would help him obtain what any parent would want: an opportunity to improve the lives of his family.

Japanese nationality would allow his children and grandchildren to work in Japan as Japanese descendants, he said.

His 48-year-old son, Juseven, said he is heartbroken over his father’s plight.

“My father’s application has been denied although many others’ were granted,” Juseven said in Japanese, with tears welling in his eyes. “It is frustrating.”