DAVAO CITY, PHILIPPINES – On May 16, a 73-year-old Filipino-Japanese woman from the southern Philippine province of Davao met her Japanese relatives from Okinawa for the first time ever.
The meeting between Conchita Miyazato Basilan, a second-generation Japanese descendant in the Philippines, and four of her Japanese father’s grandchildren living in Japan was facilitated by the Philippine Nikkei-jin Legal Support Center, an organization that helps Japanese descendants trace their roots and recover their Japanese nationality.
According to Norihiro Inomata, secretary-general of the center, Basilan’s father, Genichi Miyazato, arrived in the Philippines in 1929 and engaged in abaca (Manila hemp) farming in what is now called Digos City in Davao, on the island of Mindanao.
Davao was a popular destination for Japanese migrants during the early 20th century because you could make a living off abaca.
“I’m very happy. I never thought I had relatives there (in Japan). I’m so grateful I met them,” Basilan said after meeting her relatives at Davao City International Airport.
Tsuyoshi Miyazato, 55, Shigeru Taira, 67, Hiroshi Miyazato, 64, and Katsuko Minei, 60, flew to Davao, where Basilan has been living all her life, after arriving in Manila the previous day.
“I’m very happy I met her. At first sight, I knew we were relatives,” Hiroshi Miyazato said after seeing Basilan, who was accompanied by her children and other relatives.
Basilan is one of Miyazato’s four children in the Philippines from his marriage with a local woman. Her three siblings have already passed away.
According to the center, Miyazato was also married in Japan and had four children in Okinawa before coming to the Philippines.
Basilan, who was given the Japanese name Takiko by her father, said she heard Miyazato died from malaria in Davao after World War II. They were already separated at that time because almost all Japanese, including Miyazato, sought refuge elsewhere in the country to protect themselves at the height of the war.
Miyazato’s remains were never recovered.
“According to my mother, my father was hardworking and was a good person. That’s what I want to tell my Japanese relatives about their grandfather,” Basilan said.
It was in 1995 when Basilan first expressed her desire to trace her father’s family registry in Japan by participating in a survey held for second-generation Japanese descendants by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the center said.
The research yielded positive results in 2008, the same year the center located Miyazato’s relatives in Okinawa.
While he started feeling he wanted to connect with his grandfather’s descendants in the Philippines 18 years ago, Tsuyoshi Miyazato said it was only in December 2013 when he sought the center’s help.
Tsuyoshi said his grandfather’s wife and children in Japan, all of whom are now dead, were aware that Miyazato had a family in the Philippines, and it was something they were not happy about.
“But for our generation, we were really willing to come and see the footsteps of our grandfather here, and meet our relatives. I felt that it was the responsibility of our generation to visit the place where he lived and died. Otherwise, it may be difficult already for the next generation to do it,” Tsuyoshi said.
In an emotional outburst after seeing Basilan, Tsuyoshi offered apologies to his aunt for taking so long to visit her, especially after he learned that her life was filled with difficulties.
“War was the cause of our separation. And the delay of our visit here was because of the advice (we got from someone) 18 years ago that Mindanao was not safe. So, now that we have established contact, I would like to support her and our other relatives here,” Tsuyoshi said.
After meeting Basilan, the group went to a place in Davao where the remains of many Japanese and their Filipino supporters during the war are buried. A monument stands at the place where the group held a short memorial service.
Meeting relatives from her father’s side after such a long wait gave Basilan a glimmer of hope for a better life because she had been assured of their support. Basilan is a widow with 12 children and over a dozen grandchildren.
“They could probably help me because I’m just poor. I grew up during the wartime, and my life became harder when my father was gone,” Basilan said.
The center, which gets support from the Nippon Foundation, estimates there are around 3,000 second-generation Japanese descendants in the Philippines.