The Philippines has seen a surge in the number of Japanese descendants seeking recognition or even citizenship. The Palawan Nikkeijin Chapter reports that since about 2017, there have been more “nikkeijins” in the province who have been located.
According to a group of Japanese descendants in the province, over a hundred have been traced from various towns. The chapter hopes to locate approximately 300 descendants in Palawan.
According to Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Kazuhiko Koshikawa, approximately 1,500 nikkeijins have claimed their citizenship and another 200 are in the process of doing so. Around 450 Japanese descendants are being tracked down and evaluated.
“Before the Second World War, the Japanese communities established a good relationship with the Philippine communities. According to records, approximately 300 Japanese based in Palawan islands are working in a variety of occupations — however, it changed after World War II. It caused unbearable pains and sorrows, as well as widespread misery and devastation in both countries,” he said.
The Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs first granted immigration agents free access to the Philippines in 1903, where most destinations were Benguet, Davao, and other provinces.
Japanese nationals who arrived in Palawan prior to World War II in 1941 were more involved in mining, carpentry, fishing, baking, and trading. Koshikawa knows that some descendants had to hide their identities after the war because people in the province were “anti-Japanese.”
As the years passed by, the relationship has improved as Japan’s image as a trust-worthy country has been established.
In 2019, 682,000 Japanese visited the Philippines, while 613,000 Filipinos went to Japan. Japan is also accepting students and workers from the Philippines to meet the need for additional human resources.
As Charlie Harada has shown, nikkeijins in the province can be proud of their roots when the Japanese government speeds up the process of getting documents and claiming citizenship.
Harada is a third-generation Japanese person from Taytay. His grandfather, Kanutsi Harada, worked as an engineer in Palawan in the 1930s.
“Ang hangad ko, hindi na sa akin kasi matanda na ako. Ang hangad ko, sa mga anak ko na lang at apo na matulungan—Napapaluha ako dahil naaalala ko ‘yong tatay ko. Kahit nasa kabilang buhay na pero ‘yong pangarap niya at least matutupad sa ngayon,” he said.
At 63, they claiming their citizenship is also a fulfillment of their father’s dream. Harada is one of the Nikkeijins whose forefather’s documents were burned during the war. Margarette Lumuauag, president of the Palawan Nikkeijin Chapter, said it is one of the challenges for nikkeijins in claiming their citizenship.
The chapter, which is the 13th in the country, is part of the Philippine Nikkeijin Kai Rengokai, which works with the Philippine Nikkeijin Legal Support Centre to help descendants reclaim their Japanese identities.
It just held a general assembly to get all of the rooted nikkeijins in Palawan together and teach them about the importance of their ancestors. They were also told what they needed to do to get their Japanese citizenship in Japanese family court.
Dr. Ines Mallari, who is the President of Philippine Nikkeijin Kai Rengokai, Inc., thinks that Japanese descendants should also tell their stories because their families were also hurt by war.
According to Japanese Diplomatic Records, the ancestors of Japanese descendants were either sent back to Japan, put in camps, or died after the war.
“This part of history, the World War, was very tragic for most of us, not only for Filipinos and even for the family members of the Japanese. It is not included in the textbooks that we (also) suffered during the war. That’s why I feel that it’s unfair that our stories are not heard. It’s good that we also share our stories because we are victims of that war,” she said.
There will also be Nihongo and cultural lessons to be given to Nikkeijins across the country to immerse themselves in the culture of their roots.
“The government of Japan is making proper coordination with the relevant authorities in the Philippines for a smooth and easy procedure to facilitate the claim of Japanese nationality and to reduce statelessness,” Koshikawa said.