War-separated aged seek nationality

Japanese-fathered Filipinos tired of stateless limbo

by Mariko Yasumoto

Kyodo News

Gloria Fuji Mangao could not stop crying when her father told her to take good care of her mother and get along with her siblings. It was the last time she saw him before he was deported to Japan soon after the end of World War II.

Mangao’s father, Hino Fuji, was a Japanese who moved to the Philippines before the war, working as a carpenter and living a peaceful and relatively affluent life with his Filipino wife and seven children, including Mangao.

“I often played games with my father at home,” Mangao, 76, recalled with a smile during a recent interview in Tokyo.

Immediately after Japan’s defeat in 1945, however, Mangao’s happy life crumbled.

Fuji, who also worked as an interpreter for the Imperial Japanese Army during the war, had to hole up in the mountains along with other compatriots following the war’s end, fearing they might be taken prisoner by U.S. troops and be subject to Philippine reprisals against Japan’s wartime occupation.

He stopped his family from following him, saying, “It’s too dangerous. You must stay and never use your Japanese names.”

Mangao and her siblings later found him inside a prison camp. It was then he told them he wasn’t going to be allowed to stay very long and asked Mangao, who was 12 at the time, to take care of her mother.

Over 60 years after her father was repatriated, Mangao’s much-awaited visit to his homeland has finally become a reality.

She is here along with 15 other Japanese-Filipinos seeking Japanese citizenship as well as information on their fathers and relatives.

“I want to see my Japanese relatives and to know where and when my father died and where he is buried,” she said.

Like Mangao, the other Japanese-Filipinos have fathers and husbands who are among about 30,000 Japanese who moved to the Southeast Asian country in the early 1900s to engage in farming, fishing and construction. Many were forced back to Japan after the war, leaving their families behind.

Mangao and others who arrived in Japan on July 15 for a weeklong visit are all hoping to gain Japanese nationality, and all but one have already filed petitions with the Tokyo Family Court to establish their family registries, a necessary process for obtaining citizenship, according to the Tokyo-based Philippine Nikkei-Jin Legal Support Center. The group facilitated their visit to Japan, which ended Monday.

The Filipinos will be recognized as Japanese if their names are confirmed in Japan’s family registry system. If not, they need to establish new ones after gaining court approval.

To obtain the approval, the Filipinos are required to present to the court sufficient documents, including marital or birth certificates, as well as go through oral hearings that prove they are of Japanese ancestry, according to lawyer Yukari Maruta, who has worked on their registry case.

But it is not an easy task, the support center’s director, Toshiko Takano, said, as Japanese descendents in the Philippines often hid their identities and had to destroy documents suggesting their association with Japan because of strong anti-Japanese sentiment back then.

Only seven have been recognized as Japanese among 84 Filipinos who have petitioned for family registry, the center said.

But Japanese-Filipinos gradually revealed their identities following the 1956 normalization of the nations’ bilateral ties and Japan’s growing presence as a major donor to the Philippines in the 1980s, according to Mariko Iijima, an instructor at Tokyo’s Sophia University who specializes in the history of people of Japanese descent overseas.

To accelerate the procedure with registry petitions, Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer who has actively worked on this issue, said last week in a meeting with lawmakers that the government should create a list of war-displaced Japanese descendents left behind in the Philippines, just as it did for those in China.

As one reason for the state’s slow response to the Filipinos’ issue, Iijima said, “The government has not as strongly acknowledged its responsibility to ‘war orphans’ in the Philippines born to Japanese who moved there of their own free will as to those in China born to families sent out under Japan’s past imperialism.”

“If I acquire Japanese nationality, I want to make my children and grandchildren come to work in Japan,” Mangao said, turning her eyes to 40-year-old grandson Arnel Peres, who was accompanying her on her first trip to Japan.

Under Japan’s immigration law amended in 1990, Japanese descendents living overseas are allowed to enter Japan on resident visas and to engage in work without restrictions.

“The parents who were forced to live in the backwoods without (their own) fathers apparently don’t want their children to go through the financial hardship they experienced,” Takano said.

According to the support center and lawyer Maruta, 14 out of the 16 who were here until Monday do not have Filipino nationality either, as the then Philippine Constitution only recognized as citizens children born to Filipino fathers.

The issue of identity has also been troubling many of the Japanese-Filipinos in all these postwar years.

“Ever since my childhood, I have long wondered who I really am,” Antonio Cambaya Kitamura, 77, another Japanese-Filipino among the 16, said at a news conference held in Tokyo on July 16. “I may have been raised as Filipino, but my heart was meant to be Japanese.”

A glimmer of hope still shines on their situation as the family court last October recognized as Japanese two Filipinos whose fathers’ names were not confirmed in Japan’s family registry system.

“It will take more time for us to hear from the court,” Maruta said. “In light of the fact that they are aging, really quick action is needed.”