The story of the Nikkeijins of Davao 


Did you know that there used to be a Japanese Migrant Community in Davao? 

During our history classes in grade school and high school, we were often taught that the Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and other Southeast Asian countries settled in the country years and years ago. Many of them settled in the Philippines and still have descendants up to this day. But did you know that another group of foreigners settled in the Philippines? The Japanese migrants, or Nikkeijins as they are called, are a group of Japanese migrant workers who settled and lived in the Philippines during the turn of the century. 

IMIN arc marker at the gate entrance
IMIN arc marker at the gate entrance

During the said pre-WW2 years, Japanese migrant workers or Nikkeijins, the Japanese equivalent of Overseas Filipino Workers, moved to Davao City to be involved with the farming of Abaca. Davao City is also home to the largest Japanese community in South East Asia, with over 20,000 Nikkeijins with records tracing up to 1903. 

The Filipinos and various tribes living in Davao during the 1930s. 
The Filipinos and various tribes lived in Davao during the 1930s.

The Philippine-Japan Historical Museum was built in 1994 by the Tokyo Musashino Lions Club to commemorate the 30th founding anniversary of their association. Then in 2019, the museum was renovated. It is also where we met Carmen Apigo, a PNJK board member. She also gave us a tour of the small museum yet perfectly preserved this part of Dabawnon history. She narrated the story of where it all began and what happened to the community. 

Some of the equipment, tools that the Nikkeijins used during their stay in Davao
Some of the equipment, and tools that the Nikkeijins used during their stay in Davao

The story itself is quite interesting, right? So why don’t you include the IMIN Philippine-Japan Historical museum on your Davao itinerary? You can add it while you’re on your way to Malagos Farm. Before learning the story further, here are some FAQs that you might have. 

How to get there? 

Fly to Davao

For our travelers residing in Manila, you can travel to Davao City via Air Asia! The airline offers Manila to Davao flights 3x a day every day! Meanwhile, for travelers coming from Cebu, Air Asia flies to Davao from the Queen City of the South 4x a week! So plan your trip now and book the best seat deals on the Air Asia Website or the Air Asia Super App

Upon your arrival in Davao City, you have three options to choose from to reach the museum: 

Taxi 

From your hotel accomodation in Davao City, you may opt to ride a taxi that will take you to the museum. The average cost of this is around Php500-600 one way. 

Jeepney

From Roxas Avenue, take a jeepney bound for Calinan. Get off Calinan proper, and then walk or ride a tricycle going to IMIN. This route is cheaper yet less convenient than taking a taxi or a private car. 

Private Car

IMIN Philippine-Japan Historical Museum can be easily found via Waze or Google Maps.  You may choose to pin this location directly or pin the destination called Philippine Nikkei Jin Kai School of Calinan, Davao City. 

IMIN is located inside the Philippine Nikkei Jin Kai School of Calinan, Davao City. From Ulas Crossing, go straight on the Davao-Buda Highway until Calinan Proper. Turn right when you see the IMIN museum and PNJK signages. Landmark near the signages is a Honda dealer shop.

How much is the entrance fee

As of August 2022, the entrance fee is listed below:

  • P100.00 – adults  & kids 13 and above
  • P50.00- senior citizens, students 6-12 years old

What are their Opening Hours? 

As of August 2022, their opening hours are listed below: 

HOURS OPEN : 

  •  MON-FRI (walk-ins welcome) 8:00 AM to 12:00 NN; 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
  •  SAT-SUN (advance booking required) 8:00 AM to 12:00 NN; 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM

What are their Contact Details?

You may book your tickets online and ahead in the following contact details: 

The Rise of a Migrant Community

In 1903, the first batch of Nikkeijins from the city of Kagoshima arrived in Sta. Cruz Davao. Then another batch of 180 led by a merchant from Kobe arrived after their contract working on Kennon Road Baguio City passed. They became cultivators of Abaca, a very valuable crop during those times due to its durability. Most Abaca products are shipped to Manila; some are even sold to the United States and Europe. 

Clothing replicas of the Nikkeijins in Davao. With quote that states the reason why they left Japan: “To escape from poor, miserable life, and become richer.”
Clothing replicas of the Nikkeijins in Davao. A quote states why they left Japan: “To escape from a poor, miserable life, and become richer.”
Philippine- Japan Historical Museum entrance
Philippine- Japan Historical Museum entrance
Replica of the Hagutan, an Abaca fiber stripping equipment 
Replica of the Hagutan, an Abaca fiber stripping equipment
Replicas of the businesses the Japanese migrants built
Replicas of the businesses the Japanese migrants built

As time passed by, these first generations of Nikkeijin men intermarried with the local women of Davao. Soon enough, a generation of mixed-race Japanese-Filipino children was born. Due to this, the community established and built a school for their children, wherein they are taught values and culture from their fathers’ home country. A total of 13 schools were built across Davao since it has the largest Japanese community in the country compared to a single school that was built in Manila, Baguio, Iloilo, and Cebu. 

Actual dental chair used by the community of Nikkeijin families in Davao
The actual dental chair used by the community of Nikkeijin families in Davao

The community grew further, like a complete city with functioning businesses built by the Japanese, like restaurants, stores, and even a dental clinic. The actual dental chair used by the community is displayed in the museum. 

Thanks to the bountiful harvests of Abaca in their land, the lives of the Nikkeijins and their families in their established community flourished and are living comfortably. Thanks to the help of their invention for Abaca fiber stripping machinery called Hagutan, Ota Kogyo Kabushiki Gaisha company increased their Abaca crop production to 20kg from around 10-15kg a day if the production is done manually. 

Some of the Japanese dolls that belonged to the Nikkeijin families in Davao
Some of the Japanese dolls that belonged to the Nikkeijin families in Davao

But then their once comfortable and wonderful life came to a halt when the Japanese army bombed Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, which signals the start of WW2. 

Turbulent War Times

Just a few days after the Pearl Harbor bombing, the Japanese army arrived in Davao on December 20 and made the gulf province a strategic location for their military bases to expand to the South. Due to the increased demand for food production, many Nekkeijin Abaca farmers switched their crops to vegetables for food consumption. 

Japanese Weapons used during WW2 in Davao 
Japanese Weapons used during WW2 in Davao

In the years 1944 to 1945, the Allies and the Japanese had a hard fight over the province, which made the Nikkeijins and their families relocate and run away from the intense battles. Starvation, diseases, and unfortunate accidents occurred, leading to several residents’ deaths in a once flourishing community. A lot of the community records were either lost or burnt intentionally by the occupying forces, which caused problems in the future. 

Post-WW2 Difficulties 

After the war officially ended in 1945, the effects of the war are still undeniably felt. The Nikkeijins and children of Japanese parents were forcibly repatriated back to Japan and were not allowed to return to the Philippines for fear of repeating what happened during the war. This event caused several families and interracial marriages to split up, leaving the Japanese-Filipino children and their Filipino spouses behind. 

Family photos of Japanese Migrant Workers in Davao
Family photos of Japanese Migrant Workers in Davao

The anti-Japanese movement arose, forcing the left behind women and children to leave their homes and exile to the mountains for their safety; several of these people were left with no choice but to live in extreme poverty. 

Road to Reconciliation

In 1962, Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko visited the Philippines, which started the reconciliation. The royal couple was received warmly by the Filipinos. Many were surprised by this deed made by the Filipinos, considering that the wounds left by the war are still there. The event was highly reported by the Japanese media in Japan. 

Photo of Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko during their visit in 2016 (Left) and in 1962 (Right) 
Photo of Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko during their visit in 2016 (Left) and in 1962 (Right)

Then years later, due to diplomatic relations efforts, some former Japanese migrant workers returned to Davao to commemorate their lost community and lost fellow countrymen, which started an annual tradition for them. It also was the time for the community’s former residents to reconnect with the local people of Davao and their attempts to look for their long-lost loved ones. Some were successful, and some were not. 

Mrs. Carmen Apigo, tour guide, and second-generation Nikkeijin
Mrs. Carmen Apigo, tour guide, and second-generation Nikkeijin

One of the successful ones to reconnect with their loved ones is Carmen Apigo, the woman who shared the story of the Japanese community in Davao. She mentioned that she was 35 years old when she met her Japanese father in person. Beforehand, Carmen said that all she and her mother knew was that her father was from Okinawa. Years after Carmen’s first encounter with her father, he visited again, this time with her Japanese half-siblings. 

Carmen is just one of hundreds or even thousands of Japanese-Filipino children who were forced to be left behind as a bitter consequence of war. Now, Carmen, a mother, and a grandmother devotes her time as a retired teacher working in the Philippine-Japanese Museum in Davao, sharing a unique story of a community of Japanese Migrant Workers that once used to be. 

Today, a school called Philippine Nikkei Jin Kai International School Calinan Branch is a multicultural school just behind the Philippine-Japanese Museum to commemorate the lost community. The school caters to Filipino and Japanese descendants living in the area. 

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