DAVAO CITY, Philippines - A 73-year-old Filipino-Japanese woman from the southern Philippine province of Davao on Mindanao island met with her Japanese relatives from Okinawa for the first time ever.
The May 16 reunion of Conchita Miyazato Basilan, a second-generation Japanese descendant in the Philippines, with four of her Japanese father's grandchildren 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 farming in what is now called Digos City in Davao.
Davao was a popular destination of Japanese migrants during the early 20th century as it offered them livelihoods from abaca, or Manila hemp, following their road construction project in Benguet province in the northern island of Luzon.
"I'm very happy. I never thought I had relatives there (in Japan). I'm so grateful I met them," Basilan said upon seeing 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 from Japan the previous day.
"I'm very happy I met her. At first sight, I knew we were relatives," Hiroshi Miyazato told Kyodo News 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.
But, 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, recounted that Miyazato reportedly died in Davao after World War II due to malaria. They were already separated at that time because almost all Japanese nationals, including Miyazato, and their Filipino sympathizers sought refuge in another place for safety 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 manifested 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 that the center located Miyazato's relatives in Okinawa.
While he had started to long for a connection with his grandfather's descendants in the Philippines as early as 18 years ago, Tsuyoshi Miyazato said it was only in December 2013 when he sought the center's help for the realization of that desire.
"This is very seldom where the Japanese relatives from Japan visit the second-generation Japanese descendants in the Philippines. And I guess it's because of the similarity of the Okinawan culture with Filipinos, both are family oriented," Inomata said.
"Personally, I'm happy for them. And it gives me a sense of fulfillment for my NGO (nongovernmental organization) work that we could assist and be a bridge between families that are separated by the war," he added.
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 that they were not happy about.
"But for our generation, the grandchildren, 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 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.
Immediately after meeting Basilan, the group proceeded to a place in Davao where many remains of Japanese nationals and their Filipino sympathizers during the wartime were buried. A monument stands at the place where the group held a short memorial.
Seeing her relatives from her father's side after a very long wait gave Basilan a glimmer of hope for a better life as she had been assured of their support. Basilan is already a widow who had 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 were around 3,000 second-generation Japanese descendants in the Philippines.