MANILA – Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Thursday met with Filipinos of Japanese descent who endured hard times amid anti-Japanese sentiment after World War II.
The Imperial Couple are on a five-day trip to the Southeast Asian country at the invitation of President Benigno Aquino in what is the 60th year of diplomatic ties between the nations.
In a speech at a banquet Wednesday night, the Emperor expressed remorse over the loss of Filipino lives during battles between the Imperial Japanese Army and U.S. soldiers 70 years ago.
“Fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives and leaving many Filipinos injured,” the Emperor said.
There remain about 2,000 second-generation Japanese-Filipino residents born to Japanese fathers who moved to the Philippines before World War II to work.
In many cases, the Japanese descendents became separated from their fathers during or after the war, as those men were called up for Japanese military service or exiled from the Philippines. The descendents often hid their roots for fear of discrimination amid anti-Japanese sentiment after the war, ditching their fathers’ family names.
This week they said the Imperial Couple’s visit is having a soothing effect.
“It helps erase the pain of the war among our second-generation descendants. I think this is really healing on their part,” Ines Mallari, president of the Federation of Nikkei Jin Kai Philippines, the nation’s main association of people of Japanese descent, said Wednesday.
Mallari, whose mother was born to a Japanese man and Filipino woman in 1936, led a group of nearly 100 second-generation Japanese descendants in meeting with the Emperor and Empress on Thursday at a hotel in the Manila suburb of Pasay City.
She said the Emperor’s visit and his engagement with Japanese descendants in the Philippines was viewed as almost a realization of their dream to be reunited with their Japanese fathers.
“When our second-generation descendants are told about the meeting (with the Emperor), they become emotional because for how many years they’ve waited for their Japanese fathers to come back, especially my mother who was promised by her father that he’s coming back after the war, but that promise did not realize,” Mallari, 44, said.
“The coming of the Emperor would somehow make them feel it’s their father, the Emperor, being head symbol of Japan. So it’d give them peace of mind. Many of them haven’t been to Japan, but seeing the Emperor would make them feel they’ve been to Japan, the land of their fathers.”
As well as being bullied for their ethnicity during and immediately after the war, many people of Japanese descent also struggled to acquire their father’s nationality in the succeeding years because of the difficulty in satisfying the requirements of Japanese courts.
Some see recognition as a Japanese citizen as an opportunity to escape poverty.
“The visit of the Emperor and the Empress here gives us so much pride and honor as Japanese descendants. Out of the many times that we are proud to be Japanese descendants, this is the best time we could say that we truly are,” Mallari said.
“His giving time for us is really something for us. That’s why, from this time onward, we have to really be more motivated to do our work as Japanese descendants to continue the legacy of our forefathers,” she added.
On Thursday morning, the Imperial Couple met with around 50 Filipinos who studied in Japan at the San Diego Gardens in Manila’s historic Intramuros area.
The Emperor warmly talked with them about their studies in Japan and their current jobs in the Philippines.
The itinerary of the Imperial Couple’s five-day trip, which ends Saturday, includes visits to war memorial sites to honor those who perished there during World War II.
Japan occupied the Philippines, then a U.S. colony, during the war. Some 100,000 civilians lost their lives during the monthlong Battle of Manila fought by U.S. and Filipino forces against the Japanese from early February 1945.
On Thursday afternoon, the Emperor and Empress were scheduled to visit a language training center where Filipinos learn Japanese to work as nurses and caregivers in Japan.
In the evening, a reception sponsored by the Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines was scheduled for the Imperial Couple, with Aquino expected to attend.