Seitaro Kanagae and pre-WWII CebuBy Jobers Bersales
Cebu Daily News
There is a tomb at the Lorega-San Miguel Cemetery of Japanese girl named Shizuko Kanagae who died in 1920 at the age of 2. A Japanese researcher from Toyo University named Dr. Yuko Kobayakawa discovered the tomb the other year while doing research on the way of life of people living inside the cemetery. Now the relatives of the young girl entombed there are appealing to the city government to preserve the tomb as a symbol of the friendship between two peoples, the Japanese and the Cebuanos.
Apparently this tomb lay unrecognized all these years because, according to Yuko, while it had a plaque that had been engraved in Japanese, no one around could read nor write in that language. Curious, Yuko researched on the family name “Kanagae” and discovered that the young girl’s father was Seitaro Kanagae, who had lived in the Philippines for 38 years, departing only after the forced repatriation of all Japanese nationals in 1946, following the defeat of Japan in World War II.
Seitaro was assigned in Cebu to work at the Japanese Bazaar. After his and his family’s repatriation to Japan, he wrote about his experiences in the Philippines in a 700-page book later translated into English and published in Manila in 1987 titled “The Path to Friendship: A Tale of a Japanese Immigrant in the Philippines.”
I am thankful for my friend Dr. Madrileña dela Cerna, former head of the Central Visayas Studies Center at the University of the Philippines Cebu for linking me up with Yuko and for sending me a copy of the book. I have always been fascinated with pre-war photos of downtown Cebu showing such Japanese shops as Nippon Bazaar, Tokyo Bazaar and Taisho Bazaar. Without doubt, these were Japanese-named shops and they would have logically been owned by a Japanese emigrant, a Nikkei-jin.
The e-mails I exchanged with Yuko and the book by Seitaro Kanagae helps fill the near-empty knowledge about Japanese shopkeepers, owners, gardeners, landscapers, seafarers, fishermen and carpenters, nikkei-jins who were part of Cebuano urban society before World War II. Nikkei-jin is a Japanese term used to refer to any Japanese person who left Japan and settled elsewhere. It is also applied to the descendants of that person. We have added of late another name to this diasporic term by using “Japino” to refer to the children of a Japanese-Filipina marriage.
The circumstances that brought Seitaro and his young family to Cebu in 1920 are first described on page 113 of his book, thus: “An uncle of mine, Mr. Masuguro Sakamoto, owned and managed a store in Cebu known as Japanese Bazaar. After his death in Nagasaki in 1920 while returning to his homeland for a visit, I was asked to take his place at the Bazaar.”
Seitaro continues by providing us a brief description of Cebu and the Japanese community here at the time: “Cebu City is the second largest in the country, the biggest being Manila. Its port is dotted with several warehouses spread throughout its wharv . . . When I arrived in Cebu (in 1920), there were still very few Japanese. As best I can remember, there were some Japanese residents who worked at the local branches of Mitsui Industrial Co. and the Daido Trading Co., along with some merchants, ice-water peddlers, carpenters and prostitutes.”
On page 114, Seitaro adds, “The Japanese residents in Cebu became remarkably successful, beginning in the early 30s, with the establishment of several bazaars, namely: Nippon Bazaar (two branches), the Central Bazaar, Taisho Bazaar, Tokyo Bazaar, Sakkura Bazaar, Honest Bazaar and Osaka Bazaar. Among the Japanese residents who stood out in their respective fields were Kamezo Kinugasa, Kiemon Iwakiri, Nagahide Mori, and Hiroshi Hinokiyama.”
There is alas very little discussion in Seitaro’s book about the war that ensued between 1942 and 1945, except for a few lines stating that many Japanese in Cebu suffered during that war, with many of them taken prisoners of war. As to whether their imprisonment was before the onset of war or after liberation, Seitaro unfortunately is quite vague.
Seitaro arrived in the Philippines in 1909 at the age of 16. During his tenure in Cebu, which began sometime in 1920, the very year his daughter Shizuko died, he was already 27 years old. He started as an errand boy in Manila, but because he was hardworking, he eventually became a successful businessman in the Philippines. World War II shattered that success, and by 1945, he lost his fortune and had to start all over again, but this time in his home country.
I wonder how many more nikkei-jin assigned or living in Cebu also wrote their memoirs, still lying hidden and untranslated. For the moment we have Seitaro’s book and the remains of his daughter to remind us that, before WWII ended it all, the Japanese had been a normal part of Cebuano life.
More from this Column:
- Rejoinder from non-pigs in the pigsty
- Cebuanos in a pigsty
- Culture and heritage: The unfinished agenda
- Ka Bino’s diapers
- Digging San Remigio anew