There are more than two hundred thousand JFC (Japanese-Filipino children) living in the Philippines. Some scholars estimate that in recent years, with nearly 7,000 registered marriages a year in Japan involving a Filipino spouse, some 5,000 JFC are born each year.
Japinos are more often the offspring of unions between Japanese men and Filipino women rather than Filipino men and Japanese women. Most of them were born in the 1980s and thereafter, and are called shin-nikkeijin or “new nikkeijin” to distinguish them from communities of nikkeijin or people of Japanese descent with longer historical roots in and outside Japan (mainly in Latin America, although the Philippines has nikkeijin communities in Davao and Baguio).
In the 1980s and 1990s, a large number of Filipinos residing in Japan consisted of Japayukis or entertainers. Japayukis who had children by Japanese men sometimes stayed on in Japan with their children, or else brought their children back with them to the Philippines once their work visas expired.
In the twenty-first century, however, owing to stricter anti-trafficking laws, the number of Pinays entering the country on entertainers’ visas has significantly declined. The demographics have now shifted in favor of Filipinos who are temporary residents with work visas, permanent residents, or else children of a Japanese parent.
In 1985, Japan amended its Nationality Law to make children of international marriages eligible for Japanese citizenship: they are now categorized as Japanese from birth, and between the ages of 20 and 22, they can elect to take the citizenship of either parent.
But children born of unofficial unions have a tougher time at acquiring Japanese nationality, since the law requires the Japanese father to recognize the child as his. In 2009, following a court battle waged by a group of JFC, the Japanese citizenship law was amended to make foreign children born of extramarital relationships and under 20 years of age eligible for citizenship, provided that they can obtain recognition from their Japanese fathers. Between 2009 and 2011, 483 Japinos applied for citizenship under such terms in the Japanese embassy in the Philippines.
For JFC, the search for an absent father is sometimes rooted in a complex combination of emotional longing and professional aspiration. Nikkeijin are given special visas to enable them, up to the third generation, to work in Japan, though the jobs may be blue-collar 3Ks (kitanai, kiken, kitsui: “dirty, dangerous, demeaning”). There is a growing demand these days for caregivers to serve the ageing society in Japan, and some companies are trying to tap JFC and their Pinay mothers for this purpose.
Recognition by the father is crucial, however, not only for children born out of wedlock, but also for children born outside Japan, since it is the father’s job to register the child’s birth with the Japanese embassy. Comparing Japanese nationality law and Philippine citizenship law may put things in perspective. The Philippines also bases citizenship on bloodline (jus sanguinis). Until 1935, at least one parent had to be an inhabitant and resident and a Spanish subject, to be considered Filipino. Between 1935 and 1973, children had to take their father’s citizenship, or if they were illegitimate, their mother’s citizenship. A person born after 1986 can elect Philippine citizenship if at least one of the parents is Filipino. Those born before 1973 to Filipino mothers could elect citizenship upon reaching the age of majority.
Because of the large number of Filipinos living abroad and marrying foreigners, Philippine laws have slowly evolved toward giving children the agency to choose the citizenship they want when they grow up. In Japan, this is now also possible for those whose parents are married, but because citizenship for Japinos born out of unofficial unions still requires official recognition by the Japanese father, the likelihood of an errant father–who may already have his own family in Japan, who is not capable of supporting the child, who turned his back on a broken marriage, or who did not attach much weight to a fleeting liaison with the child’s mother to begin with–acknowledging his child remains small. It seems ironic that at a time when DNA tests can easily establish paternity, a child’s fate is still dependent on the word and will of the father rather than on genealogical fact. So much for right of blood.
Media reports and NGOs tend to highlight the plight of JFC in their quest for citizenship, their search for absentee fathers, and their hardships in Japan. This focus is important, of course, but it does not fully convey the varied experiences of Japinos in either Japan or the Philippines.
There are heart-rending tales of Pinays who are forced to speak to their children only in Japanese. There are Pinays who are physically and sexually abused–worse, killed–by their managers or clients, their husbands or lovers, or their husbands’ kin. There are stories, too, of Japinos who grow up poor and work as manual laborers and bar hostesses, with little prospect for upward mobility.
But there are also permutations of love in the “intimate encounters,” as Lieba Faier calls it, between Pinays and Japanese. There are Japinos who have gone on to careers in business and government, and in professions like law, medicine, engineering, nursing, and teaching (especially teaching in English). Japinos in show business include TV actor Hayami Mocomichi, supergroup AKB48’s Akimoto Sayaka, commercial model Takahashi Maryjun (most recently seen in the 2014 Ruroni Kenshin film), and singer and voice actress Nakajima Megumi.
Many of these public figures do not look, talk, or act any different from other Japanese. For all purposes, they are Japanese in a country that remains for the most part monoglot and expects its people to behave “like any other Japanese.”
Entrepreneurial Pinays have been known to open their own bars and restaurants. Yanagawa Sushi Bar near Waseda University in Tokyo, for example, has a Pinay okami-san (owner), Cabanatuan-born Marie “Mayang” Nihei. Others dream of cosmopolitan lifestyles in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, but end up in rural Japan, helping to fill the shortage of marriageable women in the countryside as young Japanese women migrate to the cities, and helping their husbands farm the land. Like their Japanese counterparts, Pinays whose husbands are the eldest sons (called chonan) are taxed with caring for elderly in-laws and keeping the ancestral house.
The struggle to gain respect and acceptance takes time. Lieba Faier’s study of Filipino wives in Kiso, Nagano in Central Japan reveals that rural Japanese invoke cultural ideals of the hard-working, self-sacrificing, and loyal “good wives” (oyomesan), rather than racial difference, when they judge their Pinay daughters-in-law. Some Pinay wives, in conforming to these ideals, come to be seen as “far more typically Japanese [nihonjinrashii] than young Japanese women today.”
This perception allows Pinays to improve their standing in the house and the local community. But its glorification of “old-fashioned” family values serves ironically to underline just how much Japan has changed and is changing, as Pinays make their presence felt in the most intimate—the most “Japanese”—of places, the ie (家), household, that is both home and hearth, and take on the responsibilities of caring for the children and perpetuating the family name and lineage.
It is not only Japan that is coming to depend on foreigners for its continued survival as a nation. The Philippines has for sometime now become thoroughly dependent on Pinoys living and working abroad. Moreover, Filipinos of Japanese ancestry have contributed to the Philippine arts. Among the most notable are the Nisei (second-generation) writer Sinai Hamada (of “Tanabata’s Wife” fame, and editor of the Cordillera region’s oldest running newspaper), award-winning scriptwriter and producer Michiko Yamamoto (best known for her stories and screenplays for the films Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros  and Magnifico ) and the bilingual poet Ken T. Ishikawa (who wrote a stirring essay on JFCs and their quest for their Japanese fathers).
With Japan now increasingly under pressure to open up and internationalize, there is a growing sense that Japanese mestizos or “halves” (some people prefer to call them “doubles” or “Japanese-plus”) can enrich Japanese society through their multicultural background and heritage. In the case of Japinos, their English-language abilities are often seen as their biggest asset, though for many of the JFC raised in Japan, Japanese is the only language they speak .
Naomi S. Kida, a JFC who made it to the finals of the Miss Universe-Japan contest in 2011, views her trilingualism (in Japanese, Filipino, and English) as an asset and dreams of setting up her own English-language school in Japan. Reading her interview with the Inquirer, one gets the sense that this child, whose father is the president of a cement production company, and who was educated in Manila’s Japanese and International Schools, is fortunate enough, by virtue of her class background and her own innate resilience, to survive the adjustment period where she was shunned by classmates and had to switch completely to the Japanese school system.
At the same time, her Pinoy heritage remains evident in the fact that she names Christmas her favorite holiday, “because of the happiness. I like spending time with my family and relatives.” Kida’s dream is to act as a “bridge between Japan and the Philippines.”
Not all Japinos will have the opportunity–or luxury–of embracing their multiple heritage, but making such opportunities available to people other than a privileged few is surely worth fighting for in Japan. Here’s hoping that many more bridges will come of age soon!
Note: This essay was originally published in “Letters to Narcissus”