Filipino Japayuki

Sexual capitalists exploit the Filipino connection

By William Wetherall

A version of this article appeared in
Far Eastern Economic Review, 132(19), 8 May 1986, pages 105-107

Japan is the home of about 10,000 Filipinos, who recently surpassed the British as the fourth largest group of foreign residents after the nearly 700,000 Koreans, 70,000 Chinese and 30,000 Americans. This is not many in a total population of 120 million, but Japan's Filipino connections are centuries if not millennia old, And though Japanese officials worry about the greater number of bar girls, gun runners, pickpockets, and mango fly larvae that are entering the country, the rise in zainichi Firipinjin pawaa (the power of Filipino residents in Japan) reflects an increasing interdependency between the two archipelagos.

2,000 years ago the Japanese islands were peopled by several ethnic groups, some of which may have descended from Malayo-Polynesian, immigrants. Certain elements of Japanese mythology (genesis through brother-sister incest) and some basic words in the language (especially those to do with marine culture) suggest very early influences from Pacific Asia.

But modern Japanese like to think of themselves as the homogeneous progeny of an allegedly indigenous ethnic group called the Yamato. And so a Japanese tourist in the US was shocked when a local bus driver started talking to him about Manila, taking him for a Filipino. Labouring under the myth that all Japanese faces are somehow distinguishable from those of other Asians, the tourist assumed that the bus driver was one of those Americans to whom all Asians look alike.

Japanese immigration officials, like American bus drivers, also have problems with their eyes. Non-Asians with Japanese passports are regarded with curiosity. But Asians with non-Japanese passports may be grilled like criminal suspects if they have only tourist visas and "look" as if they did not come to sightsee. Southeast Asians who pass such immigration screenings must then contend with the omnipresent public stares that question their reasons for being in Japan.

The mass media underscores this popular concern that Japan is a target of Third World transients in search of good jobs. The May issue of Shashin Jidai, a photo-journalistic pornographic magazine, features a four-page black-and-white photo essay on the poverty of Manila slums "in commemoration of the inauguration of President Aquino." The article is "balanced" by a four-page colour spread on "virgins of the southern country"--which means nude pictures of nubile Filipinas.

A number of TV documentaries and dramas have shown the plight of Filipinas and other Southeast Asian women in Japan. Most have been objective or sympathetic. Only a few have been xenophobic, or have gone to the ideological extreme of portraying all Third World women as victims of Japan's sexual capitalism.

Such women are called Japayukisan, in analogy with Karayukisan, a word which was used before the Pacific War to denote Japanese women who went to "China" (meaning anywhere in Asia outside Japan) to work as prostitutes. US-bound Japanese prostitutes are called Ameyukisan.

In late March this year, Tokyo Broadcasting System featured a 50-minute special on Japan's illegal alien problem. Immigration Bureau "G-men" were shown busting a night club which they had heard was employing Filipinas on tourist visas. When recruited in the Philippines, the women had been given passports and other documents to establish their tourist identities. They had also been briefed on how to convince immigration officials that they were really tourists.

While Japan has a reputation for being tough in matters concerning immigration, the officials who scrutinise new arrivals with eyebrows raised over suspect hotel reservations and itineraries do not really seem prepared to keep Southeast Asian tourists out of the country. Some Japayukisan are turned away, but most seem to have little difficulty getting in.

Safely inside Japan, such women make the rendezvous that lead them to their places of work--typically a drinking establishment that caters to prostitution. Half a dozen women may share an apartment designed for two. They usually stay cooped up during the day to avoid people who may tip off the authorities, and they live off instant noodles and cola. Their sponsors often hold their passports to keep them from running away.

There have been several cases of forced prostitution, and at least one Filipina is known to have sent a desperate note to the Immigration Bureau asking them to rescue her. But most Japayukisan seem to both expect and accept working conditions that their Japanese counterparts would not tolerate. Some speak more than a little Japanese, sometimes picked up from Japanese contacts in the Philippines or during previous stays in Japan.

But even women who come to Japan with their eyes wide open may need a respectable cover story, if only to nurture their self-esteem. And the stock occupational raison d'etre of the Filipina Japayukisan is that the ethnic dances she performs in Japan's urban and rural tenderloins are culturally edifying. One wonders, though, if Silk Road is an appropriate name for a night club which edifies Japanese men with Filipinas who sing the Blues.

Violations of Japan's immigration and refugee laws reached a record high 7,653 cases in 1985, according to a Ministry of Justice report released in late February. This was 12 percent up from 1984 and double the 1982 count. Of the 5,629 aliens who were charged with illegally working on usually expired tourist visas, some 3,927 (51 percent of all violators and 70 percent of all unauthorised employment cases) were from the Philippines, 1,073 from Thailand and 427 from Taiwan.

Philippine Embassy officials in Tokyo are sensitive to the media stereotypes that feed on such statistics. Only officials of the Arab states are as likely to send letters to English-language newspapers to protest against an article that creates negative impressions about their country.

Many Japanese are simply not aware that most Filipinos in Japan are not engaged in occupations that threaten public morals. Some are students or factory trainees. Others are college professors or clinical psychiatrists. But cabaret hostess or cultural attache, all are quietly contributing to the "internationalisation" of Japan.

From most Japanese mouths this word does not usually mean ethnic integration. Yet Filipino-Japanese marriages seem to be increasing. Even mail-order Filipino brides are welcome in agricultural villages with a shortage of local women. Just as Korean and Chinese doctors are more willing to accept work in remote areas where elite Japanese medics would rather not live, a number of Third World women have adjusted to the well-fed and secure rigours of Japanese farm life.

A number of Filipino men have married Japanese women in Japan. The Aquino family has such Japanese ties through the marriage of Midori Matsuoka to one of Benigno Aquino's first cousins. Some of Japan's most capable singers and athletes have been of Filipino ancestry. Tokyo-born figure skater Emi Cathy Watanabe, 26, whose mother is Filipino, represented Japan in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid. She was Japan National Figure Skate Champion every year from 1972 to 1979. In 1979 she became the first Japanese to place (third) in the World Figure Skating championship.

Akemi Cynthia Paule Uchima, better known by her stage name Saori Minami, was one of Japan's most popular (and talented) singers in the 1970s. Born on Amami Oshima north of Okinawa, and raised on Okinawa, her mother was an Okinawan, her father a Filipino engineer.

Recent Filipino immigrants in demand for their talent include jazz singer Marlene page Lim, who performs as just Marlene. If Japanese promoters have their way, she may soon be joined by President Aquino's 15-year-old daughter Christina, who last year signed a contract that may bring her to Japan sometime this summer to cut a record.

One Filipino couple is now in Japan on their fourth short-term entertainment visa which allows them to work as musicians. The husband plays the guitar while his wife sings, and their repertory includes popular Japanese songs. The couple had trouble with their first two jobs when the nightclubs that held their contracts wanted the wife to be a hostess. They have since had better luck, and are now part of the "World Show" at a large hotel in a spa resort. They share dormitory facilities with the show's other legal foreign attractions, who are mainly semi-nude dancers from North America and Western Europe.

Japayukisan on tourist visas only dream of the security enjoyed by bona fide entertainers. About the only way they can stay in Japan is to marry a Japanese man. Filipinas are not involved yet in a large way in international marriage scams. Early this year Japan's Metropolitan Police Department arrested a number of Japanese men and Korean women who had got marriage certificates so that the women could stay in Japan to work. The commissioned mediators who arranged the marriages were also apprehended. Police believe that a big syndicate may be involved in the promotion of such marriages to ensure the stability of the lucrative exotic element in Japan's water trade.

Filipinos who are arrested for visa violations face a few days of detention and interrogation at Immigration Bureau facilities. Judging from TV documentaries, most seem to take their deportation with a sense of humour that many Japanese find baffling. Officials who deal with such cases on a daily basis must wear properly serious masks. Their facial expressions are kind enough, but they rarely smile or otherwise share in the levity with which the Japayukisan in particular dissipate their anxiety.

The deputy chief of the Immigration Bureau defends Japan's policy of not allowing aliens to work at ordinary jobs with the familiar argument that "Japan's four small islands have few natural resources, and many Japanese are living here." But a college professor who would tolerate a more open-door policy observers that "the many Koreans and Chinese who have settled in Japan over the centuries have enhanced Japanese culture." So, too, would Southeast Asians.