Japanese Representation in Philippine Media
The Japanese are often depicted in as one of the countries worst villains in Filipino history textbooks despite the fact that they were in the Philippines for only 3 years, while Spanish colonial rule lasted almost 400 years, and the Americans, 40 years.
However, when we look beyond formal education, at images of the occupation period in movies, memoirs, television shows, and other forms of popular media, different views of the Japanese often emerge. Instead of demonizing them, a number of accounts seek to distinguish “good” and “kind” Japanese from their “brutal” or “evil” compatriots. Popular Filipino accounts of the war thus convey complex and often contradictory images of Japan.
This chapter aims to present how the Japanese were represented in the Philippine children’s literature in the present, when relations with Japan have gradually softened. The findings of this investigation illustrate the evolution of Filipino images of the Japanese and the factors affecting these representations.
KeywordsChildren’s literature Representation Historical memory Japan Philippines
The recent years marked significant commemorations between the Philippines and Japan, with 2015 memorializing the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II, and the following year, 2016 honored the 60th year since the “normalization of diplomatic affairs” between the Philippines and Japan. This created much solemn fanfare with two nations whose relationship was marred by invasion and occupation of the Philippines by Japan. The highlight would be a state visit by the last Japanese Emperor and Empress of the Heisei year, which marked their second visit to the Philippines, who are personally committed to remembering his country’s past by making statements such as “renewed sense of sorrow” and “feeling of deep remorse of the last war” (Tatsumi 2016).
Amidst the somber celebrations, Filipino impressions on Japan’s wartime actions are predominantly negative. In the same state visit, aging women from Lila Pilipina, an organization comprised primarily of comfort women and supporters of their plight, addressed then Philippine President Benigno Aquino, III that “the abuses against us must be addressed. We have yet to receive real justice. We were so young, but a lot was already taken from us. We lost our dignity. We weren’t able to go to school. We suffered under the Japanese soldiers” (Kyodo News 2016). This is just one of several negative impressions of Filipinos concerning the Japanese, as written accounts of the period focused on themes such as the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers. Setsuho mentions that “the victimization of the Philippines during this time in its history, however, extends far beyond the battlefield” (Ikehata and Jose 1999, 1–2).
The writing of Philippine history and its legitimacy has been a point of argument from historians of the Philippines who cite the oft repeated from Jose Rizal “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.” which emphasized the importance of history towards nation building. The task proves to be more challenging after a country emerges from a difficult event, as the country struggles to understand what had just happened. To gain legitimacy, formal education in history took a nationalist turn to appeal to the people for support in the postindependence period. Historians wrote grand narratives which spoke of a Philippines “discovered”; and “civilized” by the Spanish, “developed” by the Americans, and “destroyed” by the Japanese. While such an emplotment seemed apropos for the immediate postwar period, the problem of the grand narrative is that it has not changed much from its inception. That is why aside from establishing political and economic structures, participation of the education and media sectors were also integral towards the successful support these government-led projects.
However, generations of postwar Filipinos are slowly distancing themselves from the memory and experience of the war. A number of individuals who lived through the occupation period are reassessing their relationship with the former colonial master. This was reflected in a closed survey conducted by Japanese government in 2016 regarding Japan-ASEAN relations which resulted in 90% of Filipino respondents perceived Japan as a friend of the country, an important and reliable partner. Furthermore, looking beyond school texts, different media have presented varied images of the Japanese. Instead of demonizing the Japanese, popular Filipino accounts of the war convey the complex and often contradictory images of Japan and the Japanese.
In a previous study (Cheng Chua 2013), I charted the changing of visual representation of Japanese in Philippine komiks published in a popular magazine, Liwayway, which began in 1922 and has a wide semi-intellectual readership. The extent of readership expanded to major vernaculars with translated versions in Bisaya, Hiligaynon, Bikolano, and Ilokano. The study highlighted the shifting representation of Japanese addressing issues that Filipinos were coming to terms with from the immediate postwar up to the present.
Children’s literature offers an interesting perspective as paired with the formal education of the classroom and the nonformal education of the home, the informal education offered through children’s media was a means by which young Filipinos were socialized and prepared for adult subjecthood. Through their consumption of the various works, their identities become unconsciously formed. The contents begin to shape their world view as well as how they see themselves, through the information they have learned and the illustrations they enjoyably consume.
There are various forms of popular media available for society to consume. Media geared towards children seem to be the most influential as Children’s Literature scholars would claim. Kutzer in her work, Empire’s Children: Empire & Imperialism in Clasic British Children’s Books (Kutzer 2000), would identify children as future adults and will comprise future society, and it is through the education of these children, whether formally (in the form of schooling) or informally (through the reading of books), that the form of the future society is built. Furthermore, Griffiths would add that children’s media is the best way to understand the values of adults of the period, as well as the often yawing gap between what they say and do, by looking at the process by which they transmit knowledge of all types to children (Griffiths 2007). Thus as a medium of influence, children’s literature should not be ignored by scholars.
With all this in mind, this researcher chose to look at how the Japanese were represented in the Philippines’ children’s literature of the present, when Japanese popular culture and other vehicles for “soft power” have permeated Filipino society. The findings of this investigation illustrate the consistent evolution of Filipino images of the Japanese.
Representing the Japanese
The study of the representation of Japanese in the Philippines is not new. Yu-Rivera has published two books entitled, Patterns of Continuity and Change: Imaging the Japanese in Philippine Editorial Cartoons, 1930–1941 and 1946–1956 (Yu-Rivera 2005) and A Satire of Two Nations: Exploring Images of the Japanese in Philippine Political Cartoons (2009). (Yu-Rivera 2009) and points out that editorial cartoons were immune from censorship, thus making them more powerful than the written text. The effectiveness of editorial cartoons partly relies on the fact that they are published in widely circulated tabloids and newspapers. Thus presenting impressions of public intellectuals concerning issues revolving around Japanese, and how they were able to influence general thought during the period.
Terami-Wada has written two articles on the topic: “Japanese Images of Prewar Filipinos” (Terami-Wada 1991) and “Postwar Japanese Images in Liwayway Short Stories and Serialized Novels, 1946–1988” (Terami-Wada 1992) survey representations of the Japanese in the magazine’s short stories and serialized novels, identifying three main categories: (1) Japanese as main characters, (2) Japanese as supporting characters, and (3) Japanese mentioned in passing or as a people (i.e., a collective group).
By contrast, a study I conducted on komik serials (rather than novels or short stories), published in Liwayway from the 1940s to the 1970s, aim in demonstrating the complex and often inconsistent ways in which these represented the Japanese. It sheds further light on how popular images of Japan and the Japanese changed, and on the ways in which they were influenced by shifts in Filipino society and politics. The main focus is on the portrayal of “enemies” or “villains” in the komiks. As O’Barr (2009) notes, studying representations of the other can tell us, first of all, how a particular external group is imagined within a particular society. Secondly, it can elucidate the nature of social relationships, or popular perceptions of these, in this case through describing how “heroes” and “villains” interact with each other. By the same token, it also shows us how inequality and the distribution of power within Filipino society are popularly perceived. Thus, by looking at the representations of the “enemy” or “villain” in a medium such as children’s literature, we can gain a clearer picture of how Filipino identity was conceptualized in the popular imagination.
Lin Acacio-Flores is a prominent children’s literature who has presently written 16 books since 1996. The Secret published in 1997 is a 107-page lavishly illustrated fictional work which is supposed to reference the author’s own war experience. This novel for children tells the story of Rica and her experience of the war in the convent where she, and others like her, sought refuge from the conflict. The work includes actual headlines from various newspapers of the period, presenting the Japanese aggression which elicits fear and power (Acacio-Flores 1997).
The story features a “good Japanese” – a Captain Nokumura who befriends the nuns and the children. Nokumura asks for permission to read the books in the convent’s library and is described as “an unusual Japanese, courteous, bowing to Sister Angela whenever he came. He spoke perfect English, and he said he had studied in London” (Acacio Flores 2002, 70). Despite Captain Nokumura’s redeeming qualities, the narrative also highlights the brutality of many Japanese soldiers by featuring an episode in which one of them is trying to find gold hidden inside the convent. Threateningly addressing one of the nuns, this soldier says “you hiding gold of yourrr churrrch, now properrrty of Japanese Imperial Arrrmy and Emperrror of Japan!” (Acacio-Flores 1997), and then draws his saber and puts the blade against Rica’s throat. The nun retorts by invoking Captain Nokumura, upon which the soldier beats a hasty retreat. While the dichotomy of “good” and “evil” Japanese nuanced the period, the juxtaposition of an educated Japanese who spoke perfect English against that of what seems like an “uneducated” Japanese due to the speech pattern represented by the author through imperfect English represented the pro-American sentiment that was prevalent in postwar Philippines due to the success of American colonial policies which included the promotion of an English-language education by the Thomasites and led to an English-speaking population during the Japanese occupation period (Okada 2009).
Another fictional work is Lin Acacio-Flores’ Adventures of a Child of War (Acacio-Flores 2002), a novel about Eduardo, a young boy whose life is turned upside-down by the war. Unlike the previous work which used original illustrations, this work used as supplementary material, stock photographs of the period, and scans of Japanese propaganda material, as well as instructional pamphlets such as how to build air raid shelters. While the book also included “posed” photographs related with the story, interspersed in the pages created a believable effect on the young readers who could further imagine life during the Japanese occupation period of the Philippines. Similar to her previous work, she also features a benevolent Japanese character, in the form of Captain Abe. Abe takes a liking to Eduardo because “he rike my musuko, my boy. In Japan” (Acacio-Flores 2002). She further presented the generous side of Captain Abe, who gives supplies and a horse named Nakama (friend) to Eduardo’s family, and later reveals that he is educated, like Eduardo’s father: “Me, engineer, arrso” (Acacio-Flores 2002). Towards the end of the war, when the fleeing Japanese were killing innocent men, women, and children, Eduardo made to remark: “But I was sure that Captain Abe wouldn’t have done anything like that” (Acacio-Flores 2002) The representation may confuse the readers, as the author veers away from her previous trope of contrasting “good” and “evil” through their English-language skills. However, this humanizes the Japanese as more than just an “enemy” through information that Captain Abe has a family as well. She goes back to her trope by emphasizing the fact that good Japanese had to be “educated” as they are not capable to the violence.
Barbara-Ann Gamboa Lewis wrote her semi-autobiographical piece entitled Barefoot in Fire: A World War II Childhood (Gamboa-Lewis 2005), narrating her family’s life during the Japanese Occupation period. It was initially published in 2000 in the United States under the title of Pocket Stones: A Child’s Story of World War II in the Philippines and was republished under the current title in 2005 for local distribution. Unlike many other works that deal only with the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, the story covers the prewar, wartime, and immediate postwar periods, highlighting the flux that occurred. The author blatantly identifies her family as being “leftist,” and thus having a perspective that is quite different from most Filipinos, who hid their political inclinations during the period. This ideological slant is evident from the way in which the author and her family criticize fellow Filipinos, whom they accused of making the war even worse through their passive or active collaboration. Such perspective slowly gained ground in the Philippine psyche in the 1960s, almost two decades after the war, which slowly distanced the survivors from nationalist narratives, and the beginning of the normalization of Philippine-Japan relations in 1956. This initially began with the act of executive clemency by then President Elpidio Quirino in 1953 to 105 Japanese war criminals, some with death sentences (Philippine News Agency 2018). This continued with the negotiations for reparations and arguments for further clemencies until the 1970s. Another unique feature of this work is the introduction of new “villains with reason” never mentioned in the komiks: Koreans. Lewis writes, “The Japanese Army that invaded the Philippines included Korean soldiers. This was because Japan had conquered Korea in 1910, taking it over for themselves with the approval of the United States and major powers in Europe. The Koreans were considered inferior by the Japanese and were used as menial laborers; they were often mistreated. This was probably why, in many instances, the Korean soldiers were more cruel to the Filipinos than were the Japanese soldiers” (Gamboa-Lewis 2005, 76–77). This was a common rumor that began to propagate in line with the success of the normalization of Philippine-Japan relations, and the need to identify a “new villain” in the realms of nationalist histories. However, this was disproven by Yu-Jose who stated that while Koreans were in the Philippines as colonial subjects, their numbers were few and far in-between from the Japanese. Nonetheless, this rumor continues to spread since the roles of Koreans are not properly discussed in official narratives (Yu-Jose 2012). Finally, the author uses a similar trope by Acacio-Flores, by redeeming the former “enemy” via the introduction of an unnamed Japanese officer showing his humanity by crying at the sound of the protagonist’s violin, commenting on how this made him think of his son, also a violin player.
A more nuanced narrative emerged with a picture book written by Corazon O. Calica entitled Good Night, Lala in 2013. (Calica 2013) Her biography mentioned that she was born in Pampanga in 1936, which presumes that she had lived through the war as a child. This is her first and only book on the topic. The introduction by her daughter and editor, Maya O. Calica highlight that the story was about her mother’s life growing up during the Japanese Occupation period of the Philippines, as her legacy to her apos (grandchildren). Mara states that “despite the terrors of World War II, Mommy (Corazon) saw fun in the bleakest moments (Calica 2013). The overall narrative presented a state of “normalcy” which nationalist narratives would often refer to as Japanese propaganda but turned out to be real in certain parts of the Philippines (Cheng Chua 2005). The pro-American narrative was also present via the character of the grandmother, Ima who “said something about General MacArthur leaving the country and how the barrio folk awaited his return” (Calica 2013). Thus reflecting a popular sentiment of American colonial success, echoing the statement of General Douglas MacArthur in statement with Australian journalists on his arrival, “I came out of Bataan and I shall return.” This piece was one of a few children’s literature works which also dealt with the controversial topic of comfort women. The story talks about “many stories of the abuse of young women (by the Japanese)” and continued with her parents worried about their sister, Victoria or Acheng Toring. Acheng Toring’s beauty worried the parents 1 day brought her out late at night, and returned with a “young boy with short, cropped hair.” They disguised Acheng Toring as a boy and finally said “She is safer as a boy for now.” This was a common practice by Filipinos in protecting their daughters and wives from being take as comfort women. But the skill of dealing with a complex topic can only be done within the realms of children’s literature, which according to Kutzer (2000), allowed the “unpalatable to be palatable” due to the consumption habits of children who would reject media they do not like. Finally, another interesting actor introduced by piece were the Huks which was an acronym for Hukbo Laban sa Mga Hapon (People’s Army against Japan) whom were rebels which the locals believed to keep them safe from the Japanese. Lala’s family planned to escape the provincial capital of San Fernando, to a small town 10 km away claiming that “the rebel Huks were in the barrios and outskirts of Pampanga (province where they were) and gave villagers a sense of safety because they (Huks) were around” (Calica 2013). The curiosity of the introduction of the Huks was that despite being labeled as heroes during wartime, the group would be discredited during the postwar when the Americans mistrusted them due to their Communist inclinations and the emergence of the Cold War.
On 2001, a children’s book publisher, Adarna launched their Batang Hitoryador (Child Historian) series which had five books set at different periods of Philippine history: Si Pitong, Noong Panahon ng mga Hapon (Pitong During the Japanese Occupation) (Rivera 2001). Not only was there reference to Japanese raping women which began the theme of “comfort women” prior to Good Night Lala but also went a peculiar step further by introducing a scene where in evacuating their home in Tarlac, had to paint his face with soot to “disguise” himself. This was peculiar as this was an act to prevent the rape of girls to make them look like tramps. The author’s confusion can also be seen when he referred to Japanese soldiers as kempeitai even though kempeitai only referred to the military police of the Imperial Japanese Army. Nonetheless, memory of kempeitai lasted with Filipinos through their oral accounts as they were identified as the Japanese would slap them if they did not salute the soldiers, as what was done to Pitong in the story.
Finally, narratives of the Japanese occupation period could be found in the picture book biography of Socorro Ramos. Nanay Coring (Socorro Ramos) is the founder of National Book Store, the largest bookstore chain in the Philippines. Yet while the biography of Nanay Coring: The Story of National Book Store’s Socorro Ramos by Yvette Fernandez (2012) may seem to not have anything to do with the Japanese Occupation period, Nanay Coring lived through the war and began her business during the period. The story mentions a policy by the occupation forces which affected her business, the banning of books which were written by the enemy, in her case stories about America. Thus, to survive, she began to sell products which catered to the needs of her customers, pencils, pens, paper, candy, and soap, things you may not find in a typical bookstore. Rather than treat the Japanese as “enemies,” the story presented that Nanay Coring treated them as customers. “I [also] found out that the Japanese soldiers liked rubber slippers called tsinelas. At night, they liked wearing slippers after walking around in boots all day long. So I went to Divisoria, a market, where I bought slippers at a cheap price, and sold them at our store at a higher price. That’s how we made money. We sold hundreds and hundreds of pairs of slippers” (Fernandez 2012). She also developed good relations with her Japanese customers, which further humanized them. When Nanay Coring gave birth to her twin sons, she remembered a Japanese soldier giving her children matching red flannel blankets to keep them warm, to which she gave the soldier coconut candy called bokayo. There seemed to be no ill feelings between her and her Japanese customers. Rather, the tragedy she narrates is that when the Americans returned to liberated the Philippines. “Then the American soldiers arrived, bombing the city of Manila to send the Japanese away. The bombs killed many people and destroyed many homes and buildings. Our little store burned down and we lost all our soap, slippers, pencils, pens and paper. We lost everything” (Fernandez 2012). This last section veers away from standard tropes of Filipinos which was eager for the Americans to return, as in the story by Calica. Rather, through Nanay Coring, the author presented a new “enemy,” the Americans through their air raids which is commemorated as the Battle of Manila. In the commemoration of 70th year of the end of the war, Filipinos have now nuanced their war memory as Morales wrote “it was mainly the United States’ casualty-avoidance policy that resulted in unrestrained and indiscriminate application of overwhelming firepower by forces under MacArthur, which caused the utter devastation of Manila and the loss of 100,000 Filipino lives in 1945” (Morales 2015).
The beginning of restoration of Philippine-Japan relations was marked by the unpopular decision by then President Elpidio Quirino in granting executive clemency on 4 July 1953 to 114 Japanese nationals who were accused as wartime criminals. In response to public uproar on his decision, Quirino replied stating that “I should be the last one to pardon them as the Japanese killed my wife and three children, and five other members of my family. I am doing this because I do not want my children and my people to inherit from me the hate for people who might yet be our friends for the permanent interest of our country” (Ocampo 2016). Thus beginning the attempt to separate the memory and hatred of postwar Filipinos to the Japanese.
In the signing of the “Treaty of Peace with Japan” and “Reparations Agreement Between Japan and the Republic of the Philippines” on July 1956, diplomatic amicable relations was expected. Nonetheless, the relationship remained precarious, with suspicions by Filipinos of the Japanese. Aside from diplomatic relations, business and economic interests normalized with the establishment of the Philippine-Japan Society on 17 January 1972, and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines on November 1973. This coincided with Japan’s economic miracle.
With a booming Japanese economy vis-à-vis a struggling one in the Philippines, then President Ferdinand Marcos promoted international tourism with the establishment of the Philippine Tourism Authority in 1973 which became the policy implementing arm of the Department of Tourism. Unfortunately, with haphazard projects, the surge of tourist, the boom also included the advent of sex tourism in the 1970s. The Department of Tourism saw an increase of tourist arrivals who would stay in the Philippines for an average of 12.6 days (National Statistics Office 2011). Even as late as the 1980s with attempts by both governments to prevent the entry of sex tourists, official figures have stated around 134,261 inbound tourists from Japan via 1,448 tourist agency members of the Japan Association of Travel Agents who were offering packaged tours, including sex tours by male groups (Yu-Rivera 2006). This caused a resurgence of negative imagery of Japanese from the male soldier to the predatory sex tourist.
Changes in the number of new arrivals of Philippine nationals by selected status of residence (MOJ 2009). (Changes in new arrivals refer to flow of migrants to Japan as they go through immigration control at various ports of entries – e.g., airports and seaports. Changes in number of alien registration meanwhile refer to the stock of migrants once they register to their various localities under the alien registration system (Gaikokujin Touroku))
Status of residence
Spouse or child of Japanese national
Specialist in humanities/international services
The last wave of this migration came with the signing of the Japanese-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement in 2006 which allowed for the entry of care workers into Japan.
The result of such was the rise of cross-cultural partnerships and the birth of multicultural children. Their identities would shift from the Japino which has acquired a negative nuance as children who are “abandoned,” “illegitimate,” “poor,” and “offspring of a sex worker.” They have shifted to a more neutral term, referring to themselves as Japanese-Filipino Children (JFC). (Asis and Liao 2017) It is through the stories of the JFC that representation of the Japanese in children’s literature reappear.
My Father (?)
While the literature would focus primarily on the JFC, the subject of the Japanese would be referenced through the distant or absent father. Hanna’s story focused on the food rituals of her family, particularly on difference between the food prepared by her mother, who cooks Filipino food, her grandmother, who cooks provincial Filipino food, and her father, who “occasionally cooks” Japanese food. Distance is felt when Hanna says: “I’ve never asked why my father ate upstairs in his room in front of the TV watch NHK, CNN, or whatever anime has taken his fancy.” (Asis and Liao 2017) She also mentions that her father didn’t live with them, as he was managing their family’s business.
There is also the theme of real absence through the story of Arisa who spells out her situation. “There was once an overseas Filipina worker and a Japanese contractual agent who met in an entertainment club in Takamatsu, Kagawa-ken in 1992. Their relationship blossomed, and in 1993, she found out that she was pregnant with her first child….Upon his return to Japan, the mother kept calling him, but the number seemed to be out of coverage...She came to the realization that she and her child vanished in his life” (Asis and Liao 2017). The rest of the story continues with the theme of the absent father.
The same themes are reflected in a manga compilation of JFC entitled Yoghi Manga (Neri 2009) which stands for Youth Organization Gives Hope and Inspiration. The three stories tell of the issues of the JFC children who are bullied for their multicultural background, due to the World War II experiences of Filipinos. Yuki Nakamura tells his friend that he is used to the bullying since “our people suffered a lot from the Japanese Occupation” with the backdrop of Filipinos suffering and Japanese soldiers. Naomi was also harshly treated by her grandmother because she was abused by Japanese soldiers. Furthermore, her father is absent as well during the entire story.
The absence of the Japanese in these stories creates a solution to the dilemma of the previous narratives. As nuanced representations of Japanese are gradually presenting itself in children’s media, the introduction of another villain archetype would complicate the modern day relations of Filipinos and Japanese who are moving forward towards creating families with each other, perfect and imperfect. Thus supplementing the representations of the Japanese by simply relegating the nuanced villain as part of a past.
While commemorations of the 70th year of the end of the war came to a close, negative stereotypes of the brutality caused by the Japanese still persists in the children’s literature, since this image corresponds not only with the lived experience of so many older Filipinos but also the dominance of static nationalistic historical narratives. However, the same children’s literature have nuanced their narratives to include the figure of the “good Japanese,” and at times also present “new enemies” such as the Koreans or the “once-favored” Americans. Regardless, the trope of the “evil Japanese” persisted with the qualification that “good Japanese” not only by his moral qualities but his superior level of education and occasional fluency in English. While the group that emerges best out of these accounts should be the Americans – ironically, would also be subject to a more critical gaze by postwar generations as well.
As the Philippines emerged from the ravages of war, a desire to boost the collective national ego was evident in postwar works, which juxtaposed the heroics of Filipino guerillas – and the country’s eventual American saviors – with the almost uniformly evil Japanese. However, this depiction would disappear in the twenty-first century as the Philippines not only has to come into terms with its colonial past but with its postcolonial present.
With the gradual thawing of Filipino-Japanese relations, Filipinos can now ask a once taboo question: “Perhaps the Japanese were not all so bad after all?” This, at least, is the sort of shifting national mindset that these children’s literature appear to reflect and which they perhaps helped to pass on to the next generation’s historical memory.
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