Filipinos in Japan – 3 true stories – a tribute to OFWs

Three True Stories
This is a tribute to the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) across the planet Earth. May your breed proliferate and encompass the globe. More power to you all. There are thousands of untold stories out there. If you have stories to tell, please email them to me for publication, privacy protected. Please pass this to all of your OFW friends.
blog site link (original) –
inquirer link (edited for newspaper) –

eastwind journals 131
By Bernie Lopez
As a journalist, I sometimes suddenly stumble into strange worlds which are mind-boggling or heart-rending. Such was my trip to Japan, my very first and only (as of this writing), – ten days, that was all – fraught with spiritual insights about, not the Japanese, but the Filipino.


Let me first tell you about my Japanese friends who hosted me. There was Atty. Kenshi Nishida, a human rights lawyer who filed court cases against rich Japanese businessmen who abandoned their pregnant Japayuki mistresses, eventually returning home to the Philippines without support for their nissei children (first generation of Japanese father and foreign mother). Kenshi’s style was simple but effective. He would write a terse letter to the father, saying that if he fails to support his child in the Philippines, he would be sued black and blue, which the wife would eventually know about. It would be the greatest shame in Japanese society. Kenshi always won without filing a single case in court. The father, in utter fear, would bow in humility to atone for his sin. Kenshi was a hero who rescued hundreds of Japayukis from poverty. God bless your wonderful soul, Kenshi.


Kenshi was quite a character. As a young man, he was the first Japanese to cross the Andes from Peru in the west to the might Amazon River of Brazil in the east. It took him two long years. That dwarfs my eastwind travels hitchhiking across Europe and North Africa for 3 years. He talked about immersions in ancient Andean tribes insulated from the world. I was extremely envious.


Then there was Dojin Okada, even more of a character. He was the famous producer of the television documentary exposing the Minamata Disease. We co-produced a documentary about the 30-odd stragglers (largest in the annals of World War II) who roamed the forests of Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon, becoming cannibals who ate 85-odd Higaonon tribesmen for two long years before surrendering in 1947.  That made him even more famous.


The Prince and the Prostitute


In our first true story, Kenshi-san, Dojin-san and I drove by car to Yamagata in order to take a sulphur bath in a hot spring, and to interview a few Japayukis whom Kenshi knew. I was computing our expressway toll in pesos for the 3 to 4-hour trip, about P8,000 one way.


And so I met Lisa. She lived in a container van where doors and windows were cut out of the metal walls. This was a squatter home, Japanese style. It was so crowded, I had a hard time conducting the interview. She was breastfeeding a 4-month old baby during the interview. Lisa, as a Japayuki in Tokyo, met a young handsome Japanese guy who visited her at the club every day, and showered her with expensive gifts. For Lisa, he was the rich prince charming. They quickly fell in love and got married, only for Lisa to discover later that her wealthy paramour was really just a construction worker. The guy was later laid off his work, and they moved to Yamagata. Lisa worked again in a club, supporting her husband. She would breast feed during the day and work in the club at night. It was a sad story – the ambition to find wealth quickly through a prince charming who was charming but not a prince.


The Farmer and the Queen


This is our second true story. I met Rose because I was the courier for a friend in Manila to bring her an expensive diamond ring. Rose married a rich Japanese plantation owner. She was well educated and had been an executive secretary back in Manila. The worlds of a farmer and a professional were poles apart, but Rose tried hard to bridge the gap. She was strong and could take anything. The farmer loved her fanatically and pampered her as his queen. They had a sprawling farm home. He gave her her own sports car of her choosing. But he had a terrible fear that Rose would leave her, so he insulated her from the world. He forbade her from seeing any Filipino. She used her sports car only to bring their daughter to school every day. Her social life was zero.


When I met Lisa, she was in a terrible state of depression and loneliness. She did not tell her husband she would meet me, but the ring was important to her. She blurted out her sad story in a small crowded café, as I listened in utter silence and shock.


I told Lisa it was unfair that she would live in utter wealth and misery all at once. I gave her a few names from the Filipino community that Kenshi gave me. They were mostly chamber maids and house help mixed with a few Japayukis, whom she could secretly meet. Lisa was in tears. She told me I was sent by heaven, an answer to her constant prayers. She held my hand hard before we parted. After a month, I found out later from Kenshi in Manila that she was doing very well, secretly seeing these Filipino women, and was very happy. She became a dear friend of the group, and even rescued a few financially. They looked up to her as a leader. She initiated a movement to rescue Filipinos in distress. It was her way of giving back to the group that rescued her.


Adapting to the Japanese Culture


This true story was told to me by a Japayuki inside a crowded smoke-filled night club in Tokyo. Kenshi wanted me to meet and talk to a few of them. I was a bit uncomfortable because we had to ‘table’ the two girls who were at work. Interview in a noisy night club was not exactly easy. I asked one girl to give me a nice true story from her five years as a veteran hostess.


She told me about Jennifer, an Ilongga, a very dominant girl who had her rich timid husband under her thumbs. In Japanese macho culture, a woman in charge is extremely anathema, a total shame for a man. But that was the way it was. Jennifer and her husband agreed that when his mother was visiting, they would pretend he was in charge, to save him from shame in the family. Jennifer gladly agreed.


And so, when her mother-in-law came, the husband would boss her around, tell her to cook, prepare beddings, and so on. It was not hard for Jennifer to play the role of the submissive Filipino geisha. As soon as the mother-in-law left, things were back to normal.


In traditional culture, the Japanese frowned on marriage to foreigners. The mother-in-law, in spite of Jennifer’s kindness, shouted and insulted her every time she visited. For an Ilongga, this was nothing. This was one golden trait of Filipinos in Japan, patience, humility, and giving kindness in return for cruelty. She had a hard time suppressing her smile whenever she would get a barrage of insults, and get lessons on how to be a proper wife to her son.


One day, the mother-in-law contracted cancer of the uterus. The couple moved her to their home, as she did not have a nurse. Jennifer ended up taking care of her. She did not complain. She relished doing it out of love for her husband. In the beginning, the mother-in-law kept insulting her, but when she felt Jennifer’s warmth as a comfort for her pain, she apologized to Jennifer in tears. Jennifer embraced her and from then on they became the best of friends. They would spend long hours talking. Love conquers all. Jennifer had a hard time pretending to be the submissive wife every day. The husband would wink at her. That was good enough for Jennifer. Finally, after two years in the care of Jennifer, she died. For Jennifer, to turn cruelty to goodwill was not a monumental feat. It was as easy as pie, done out of love.




Kenshi bought me a Eurail kind of train ticket good for ten days. I could ride to anywhere. In Kyoto, I stayed at a five-star hotel compliments of Dojin’s boss at TVS, the television network. I had a luscious dinner where Kobe beef was cooked in front of me. I felt guilty because the dinner cost about 20,000 yen.


I will never forget Narra, the ancient capital which had 8th-century temples when our oldest were 16th-century churches. Instead of taking the bus, I rented a bike, got a map and toured the entire small city the whole day. My eastwind caper in Europe flashed in my mind. This was a brief extension. I was totally mesmerized by an inner walled area where ancient temples were concentrated. I could feel the spirits of the Bushi warriors. I did not know they closed the gates at 5pm. I kept walking in circles looking for an open gate for half an hour, until an old lady, laughing at my predicament, rescued me. I bought a small bottle of sake at a village store, leisurely biking in the twilight. Drunk on the train going back to Kyoto, I thought how lucky I was in my serendipity, not so much seeing beautiful places, but meeting beautiful people.




Excerpts from the book
Wings and Wanderlust – The Art of Discovering Yourself
A 3-year protracted adventure in Europe


serendipity is discovering people who are invisible
and places which are nowhere
serendipity is listening to the universe
and the souls that whiz through time tunnels
serendipity is when a butterfly alights on your shoulder
when you are not looking
serendipity is sudden friends and sudden places
discovered in stony paths and dark woods
you must jar your ordered life if you are to really live
order is a form of disorder if it enslaves the spirit
disorder dares you to improvise by reflex
disorder brings order and harmony to your sedentary life
so ride the wind, make haste before it is too late
rock the boat, make waves, taste peril to taste life
discover your limitless self
by discovering people and places


during the bataan death march
those who survived were concerned
with putting one foot in front of the other
those who did not were concerned
with the endless road up ahead


standing at the edge of the cliff
I saw at a distance
the panorama of the vast verdant valley
but a foot away I glanced at
the dark abyss, the deep chasm
that separated me from that vision
we need wings to discover new dreams
when old dreams grow stale
Get the book –
Read more excerpts –


%d bloggers like this: