TOKYO - Growing up, Pauline de Vera's family ate ramen only on special occasions, finding it pricey in the few restaurants that served it. These days, the 25-year-old teacher gets her ramen fix every other week from a wider selection of shops that have joined Japanese brands in the Philippines, one of the growing tourism markets for Japan.
Japan last year lured 503,976 Filipinos visitors, about a 6-fold increase from 82,177 Filipino visitors just a decade before, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
"It's the number one [destination] market now. They (Filipino tourists) used to just go there once a year, pero ngayon, it's twice or thrice," said Rajah Travel Corp. President Aileen Clemente.
More Filipinos have been going to Japan over the past few years following the country’s relaxed visa policy, discounted tickets offered by local and foreign airlines, the increasing number of flights between the 2 countries, and Japan's "very organized" tourism drive, she said.
In returning home, tourists stoke demand for Japanese goods in their country, ramen for example, enticing investors who want to expand outside Japan, said Takushi Ohno, a former Manila bureau chief of the Japanese broadsheet, Asahi Shimbun.
"They (foreign tourists) taste it here, they want to eat again. Japanese ramen people look for new markets thinking that the Japanese market is shrinking in terms of population," he told ABS-CBN News.
"There has been a lot of cooperation between the governments of Japan and the Philippines. Even the Emperor came here. I think the affinity and investment climate are favorable at this time," added Clemente.
Among the Japanese brands that have expanded in the Philippines are fast-fashion chain Uniqlo, convenience stores such as FamilyMart, retail shops MUJI and Daiso, and specialty shops like Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory. Discount chain Don Quijote is also reportedly eyeing a venture here.
In Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Filipino real estate giant Federal Land and Japanese firms Nomura and Isetan Mitsukoshi are building a $400-million (P20.3 billion) shopping mall and condominium that boasts of Japanese technology, including "smart toilets" and earthquake dampers.
'NOT JUST PROFIT'
Other Filipino firms had wooed Nomura to venture into the Philippine market, but the Japanese company partnered with the Ty family's Federal Land for The Seasons Residences development due to common values, said its executive officer, Atsushi Ogata.
"They take pride in the quality of buildings. That is very important, not just profit... We have the same philosophy," he told reporters, adding that their joint venture will bring "a lot of new technology to the Philippines."
The 4-tower Seasons Residences' viscoelastic dampers will minimize the building's vibrations from earthquakes and strong winds. Each suite will also have a main door keycard, fire detection and alarm system, and audio-video guest announcer.
Japanese design efficiency extends to the bathrooms' sunken slab for convenient plumbing maintenance, and a storage system that includes a shoe cabinet in the foyer and a kitchen floor storage.
The kitchens also come with a rangehood that captures smoke and oil from food, and air washing tiles that minimize odors and excess humidity.
This artist's rendering shows the facade of The Seasons Residences in Bonfacio Global City.
A living room at The Seasons Residences is seen in this artist's rendering.
This artist's rendering shows a bedroom at The Seasons Residences.
A tea room is part of the guest house where tenants' relatives and friends can stay.
Tenants lounge around the development's pool in this artist's sketch.
Toto, the world's leading toilet manufacturer, will supply washlets that come with a wireless control for customizing heating and cleansing functions. A pre-mist function sprays the bowl with water before each use to prevent waste build-up.
The Seasons' first tower named "Haru", Japanese for spring, will have 304 suites, a gym, daycare and children's playground. The 3 other towers named after summer, winter and autumn will have function rooms, a karaoke room, children and adults' pools, game room, reading lounge, music studio, business center, spa with stone baths and dry garden.
Tenants' relatives and friends may also book a guest house with a Japanese tea room.
A NEW SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
The residential units will sit atop the flagship Philippine branch of Mitsukoshi Mall, Japan's oldest department store chain, which counts Japanese royalty among its patrons.
Philippine malls generally "have the same stores" and Mitsukoshi wants to offer "something new" to shoppers, said its overseas real estate promotion division general manager, Daisuke Kobayashi.
This photo shows the facade of the Mitsukoshi Mall in Nihombashi, Tokyo.
This artist's rendering shows the interiors of the Mitsukoshi Mall in The Seasons Residences, as envisioned by its developers.
The retail podium facade will be decorated with a hemp leaf pattern that symbolizes growth and good health in the Japanese culture.
A sketch of a street where Mitsukoshi Mall started as a kimono fabric dealer in 1673 is seen behind the retail chain's hospitality head, Kyoko Kondo. ABS-CBN News
The 300-year-old chain, he said, is still curating tenants and brands for its supermarket, expansive beauty section, lifestyle and wellness shops, and food hall that will feature Japanese sweets, sake and a live kitchen where customers can feast on food prepared by a professional chef in front of them.
"We are hoping that Mitsukoshi in the Philippines will become an 'All Time Favorite Store' for those who truly love Japan," said Toshihiko Sugie, president and CEO of Mitsukoshi.
"Our mission is to make customers feel the goodness of Japan while in the Philippines," added Kobayashi.