One-time Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, who gained global fame for her flamboyance and extravagant collection of 2,700 pairs of shoes when her husband, the late Ferdinand Marcos, was president from 1965 to 1986, said she marvels at Japan because of its rise to greatness despite its many limitations.

“If there’s one country’s culture that I sincerely admire and will teach to other countries, it is Japan’s,” Marcos, 83, said over a sushi lunch Saturday at her posh condominium in central Manila.

“I’m a great believer of Japan. It’s just so sophisticated,” she said.

“Japan has so much to show in terms of leadership. Your national anthem says, ‘We are just a rock, we have nothing, only moss.’ So, (the Japanese people) have to eat from the sea. But look at Japan, (it is among) the first G-7 (members),” Marcos said after singing a few lines of the Japanese national anthem, which she learned during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the early 1940s.

“And then, that nuclear (disaster) after the tsunami. They have turned around. I salute them. The Japanese are something,” she added, referring to the March 11, 2011, disasters.

Marcos noted how Japan also has consistently been ahead in terms of technology while being deprived of natural resources.

Sharing for the first time with the public her personal experience with and views about the people and culture of Japan, Marcos traced her high regard for the country that gave her a peace prize award in 1975 to an encounter she had with a Japanese couple when she was still a young girl living in Tacloban, Leyte, in the central Philippines.

Marcos said that before World War II broke out in the Philippines, she got acquainted with the Ono couple, who transferred there from the southern island of Mindanao.

“I loved the Japanese couple who were very loving to me, gave me rice, and embraced me like I’m their own child, because I was an orphan so early,” said Marcos, who was 8 years old when her mother died due to illness while they were still residing in the capital, Manila.

The death of her mother in 1938 prompted her father to bring the entire family to Tacloban and settle there.

“When I was 10 years old during the war, Mrs. Ono would embrace me. She was like a mother to me. When Mr. and Mrs. Ono died during the war, it was like my parents were killed,” she said.

Marcos said the Ono couple were “cruelly killed” during the war and their remains were left by the seashore. “Every time I remember it, I am choking with my emotions because I love Mr. and Mrs. Ono,” she said.

While she was happy that the Americans liberated the Philippines from Japanese control at that time, Marcos said she also felt sad because of the death of “somebody who was kind to me,” even if “they were supposed to be the enemy of my country.”

She also did not express any hint of anger toward the Japanese soldiers in Tacloban at that time, recalling that, “when they have a program, they called me the baby actress, the baby singer, so I would sing for the Japanese soldiers.”

“During the war, I had no enemies. I loved them all — the Japanese soldiers, because they made me sing and they clapped every time I sang, and the Americans also,” Marcos said.

Fast-forward to the time when she and her husband would become the country’s most powerful couple, establishing “peace and friendship” and cooperation with Japan was among their first activities, she said.

Marcos claimed that even when her husband was still a member of the Philippine Congress, they had already established a good friendship with then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

And during their reign for more than two decades, the couple visited Japan several times and shared moments with Emperor Hirohito, and Prime Ministers Eisaku Sato, Masayoshi Ohira and Yasuhiro Nakasone.

“The Emperor met us at the airport in great appreciation of the peace and friendship we offered Japan,” Marcos recalled. Photos of that encounter remain displayed inside her condominium and at her father’s ancestral house in Manila.

She claimed Empress Nagako would personally invite her to Japan and even gave her a book on calligraphy that she herself made.

“During picture-taking, the two of them (Emperor Showa and Empress Nagako) said, ‘Imelda, you stay in the middle because you are our queen. Then, we will sing together,’ ” Marcos recalled. She then proceeded to sing two Japanese folk songs she learned from the Ono couple and the Japanese soldiers when she was still young.

Marcos disclosed it was also during her husband’s presidency that a major Japanese car company started operating in the Philippines.

In her trips to Japan, Marcos said she would buy bonsai, one of which, she claims, grew taller than her after two years because of the richer Philippine soil.

“The bonsai shows that small is beautiful also,” she said, echoing her theories about “the true, good and the beautiful.”

She has the same fascination for ikebana, haiku, traditional Japanese costumes (which she describes as “very beautiful and ornate”), the food, and the Japanese people’s value of being respectful.

“We love to eat sushi and sashimi. In Japan, you eat fish and seafood. There is no wood to cook it with. So, you have sushi. And look, the Japanese have longer life because they do not kill the food that they eat. They do not eat from the cemetery. So, there are more centenarians in Japan than anywhere else,” Marcos said.

She said the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan made her cry, but at the same time raised her level of respect for the Japanese people for their resiliency.

“You salute them because it brings out the best in human beings how to survive in spite of all the natural calamities,” she said.

Marcos said she is collaborating with a certain group from Japan for the development of deuterium as a source of power.

Withholding details about it for now, she just says, “I’m working not only for tomorrow, but for infinity.”

Marcos, who is seeking another term in Congress in May, said she remains strong and active to this day despite all that happened to her and her family after the 1986 People Power Revolution because she believes she still has a role to play in Philippine society.

“Maybe, the Lord is keeping me alive to show the world that if we are with the side of the truth, nobody can touch you, even superpowers in government,” she said.

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