Filipino hospitality is one of the
major come-ons of the Philippines,
the warmth of the people making
one instantly feel at home.
But being a Filipino myself, I had
no clear idea what the phrase meant
until after my recent visit to Yamagata
and Akita prefectures to meet
with Filipinas living there.
A Japanese colleague and myself
were welcomed and treated like
long-time friends by these Filipinas
when we arrived.
|Filipinas married to Japanese men share a laugh during ikebana (flower arranging) lessons at the Koryu Center in Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture|
Louella Shoji, a 37-year old Filipina,
invited us to her house and
took us along when she delivered
cosmetics around Akita.
Shoji is among the thousands of
Filipinas who have tied the knot with
Japanese men, the second biggest
group of foreigners married to
Japanese men after Chinese.
Shoji used to be an entertainer in
one of the nightclubs in Akita but
quit after she met her husband in
1991. She now has two kids, teaches
English part time in her house and
sells cosmetics and jewelry to augment
the family income.
After 10 years in Masuda, Shoji
says she now considers the place her
home and has no regrets about
staying in Japan. The frigid winters
notwithstanding, she said she loves
Akita because it feels like she is in
her home province of Bacolod,
suburban capital in the western
Shoji said the atmosphere in
Akita, surrounded by pine treecovered
mountains and rice fields,
make her less homesick.
"This may be rural Japan but it's
actually suburban. Life here is not so
fast paced and sometimes I feel like
I'm just in Bacolod," she said.
She added she feels lucky that she
can occasionally go out at night for
drinks with friends while her
mother-in-law watches over her
5-year-old daughter and 10-year-old
|Woman, mostly Filipinas with Japanese husbands, study Japanese at the center|
Shoji's children, unlike most
Japanese kids their age, can speak
English, a benefit of joining the
language classes she teaches. They
also understand a few words in
Ilongo, the dialect in Bacolod.
But Shoji was more candid and
open about her life in Japan than the
other Filipinas we met. They were
also friendly and warm but seemed
little cautious about discussing their
These women perhaps regarded
me as an outsider, despite my being
a fellow Filipino, because I don't
share their experience, I was new to
Japan and I couldn't speak the
language. Many of them have spent
five years or more in the country and
feel comfortable expressing their
feelings in Japanese.
Take, for example, Matilde Nagase
who came 15 years ago to Okura
village, a small farming town in
Yamagata Prefecture, to marry a
Japanese farmer she hardly knew.
She agreed to meet us along with
two of her Filipina friends who are
also married to Japanese men, but
she declined to have her family
Nagase met her husband through
omiai, a meeting of single Japanese
men looking for prospective wives
arranged by the local municipalities.
She recalled that she had a
difficult time adjusting to a new way
of life when she arrived in Okura in
|Japanese-Filipino children play at the center's gymnasium while their mothers take Japanese language classes|
She said the most difficult part,
other than learning the language,
was adjusting to life in a farming
town and living with the family of her
husband. Nagase, who was an only
child, had no experience in farming,
having worked in a ceramics factory
in the central Philippines before
coming to Japan.
She admitted that during her first
few weeks in Okura, she told her
parents she would soon get a
divorce. But she found out she was
pregnant and could not leave. Now
she has three children and still lives
in Okura with her husband and her
in-laws although she said she would
not advise other Filipinas to follow
She seemed resigned to her fate, a
hint of sadness visible in her eyes.
But like her Filipina friends in
Yamagata, Matilde tries to maintain
a cheerful outlook. She said when
she and her Filipina friends have
problems they just go to a karaoke
bar and sing their hearts out.
Karaoke, Nagase and her friends
say, is a form of release for them,
helping them keep up with the
pressures of life in Japan. They are
aware they are expected to be
cheerful, always in good spirits and
passionate about life-- preconceived
notion about Filipinos in general.
It is this cheerfulness, the sense of
freedom and independence that
49-year-old Sotaro Saito says he
loves about his wife, a Filipina he
also met through an omiai arranged
by the Okura town office in 1986.
But not all Japanese husbands in
Okura are like Saito, who appreciates
and understands the culture of
his Filipina wife.
"Japanese family members expect
Filipina brides to learn and adopt the
customs of Japan but they don't try
to understand the customs of the
Filipinos," Saito noted.
"Filipinas think they have a right
to be who they are but some
husbands feel she should just fit into
the family," he said.
Four of the 10 arranged marriages
in Okura have ended in divorce due
largely to personal and cultural
Saito also acknowledged foreign
wives and their husbands, especially
those who met through omiai or who
married former entertainers, suffer
some discrimination in the conservative
Yet most of the Filipinas I met
seemed genuinely happy about their
current status or are trying to make
the most of their situation. They all
agree they share a common Filipino
trait of resiliency and have the knack
to be enthusiastic about life despite
whatever cards they are dealt.
I left Yamagata and Akita, a
changed person. Expecting to see
misery, I met enthusiasm. And as I
move on, also a foreigner in Japan, I
draw inspiration from the experiences
of these women.
The author is a guest researcher at The Asahi Shimbun Asia Network. She is a reporter for BusinessWorld newspaper in Manila.