A Japanese in the Philippines

By William Wetherall

A review of
Seitaro Kanegae
The Path to Friendship:
A Tale of a Japanese Immigrant in the Philippines

Tokyo: Keiso Shobo Publishing, 1987
Translated by Kaoru Shimamura and Teruyoshi Mizuno
Edited by Carolo L. Cruz
xiii, 174 pages, hardcover

A version of this article first appeared as
"A Japanese abroad" in
Far Eastern Economic Review, 140(16), 21 April 1988, page 57

Another version later appeared as
"Japanese in the Philippines" in
The Japan Times, 15 October 1988, page 14

This is one of those low-budget books that looks like it came off a vanity press, and in Japan it costs about three times what it should. It even reads like a self-subsidised autobiography. The author, though, died in 1982 before the translation was finished. And this English version of his story has been published because some Japanese and Filipino friends thought it worth reading.

While much of the book is a sentimental hodgepodge of the remembrances of an ageing, nostalgic Japanese man who spent the most vigorous half of his life in pre-1945 Philippines, it is redeemed by its anecdotal gems and sparks of humour. It deserves to be read partly by default (there are not many books in English by Japanese emigrants to the Philippines), but mainly because it captures the spirit of an ambitious man who witnessed the times with a humanistically tempered patriotism.

The book opens with a narrative that soon slips into the first person, and the tale is about Seitaro Kanegae, a 16-yearold boy who boards an old cargo ship called the Ruby, bound for Manila Bay. The boy clutched a small bag holding "everything he had in the world--a used bar of soap, a towel, a tooth brush, a pocket notebook and a pencil, and an English-Japanese dictionary."

He also carried a counterfeit passport, sent him by an uncle in Manila who taught him how to bypass the rigid procedural requirements. Unlike Filipino and other Southeast Asian men and women coming to Japan today, Kanegae was welcome in the "the Land of Dreams" where Japanese labour was in demand by Filipino and American as well as Japanese companies.

Like other boys in Japan, he read magazines which featured the success stories of Japanese abroad. And he was possessed by the same pioneering spirit of adventure that moved many Japanese youth to go to Manchuria, South America and Southeast Asia.

So Kanegae quit school and worked as a construction labourer to earn money for his passage to the Philippines. He was destined to be part of the new wave of Japanese immigrants to Southeast Asia. The first wave had started in the 15th century but was stopped in the 17th century by Japan's isolationist policies.

The rest of the book describes Kanegae's 38 years in the Philippines, during which he rose from his humble start to become one of the most influential Japanese businessmen in the islands. His close friends included Jose page Laurel, president of the Second Philippine Re-public from October 1943 to August 1945. He was also on intimate terms with Manuel Roxas and Benigno Aquino, with whom he had established the KRA (Kanegae, Roxas, Aquino) Mining Co.

During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Kanegae served as a civilian adviser to the military government. Some Filipinos remember him for his efforts to protect their lives.

But he declined to accept the Philippines-Japan Society's Medal of Merit for Outstanding Achievement in the Promotion of Philippines-Japan Relations, because he did not think he deserved it, according to Laurel's second son, Jose S. III, who wrote the preface to the translation. Jose III graduated from the Japanese Imperial Military Academy during the war after being admitted with Kanegae's help in the 1930s. He served as the Philippine ambassador to Japan in the 1960s.

According to Kanegae, the senior Laurel harboured a deep resentment against the US because he had been racially discriminated against when he was a student there. He did not want the same things to happen to his son.

Yet the younger Laurel witnessed discrimination against a Chinese cadet in Japan. Kanegae quotes Jose III as having said: "I often heard of racial discrimination in the US from my father. I realise now that the same thing exists in Japan. What then is the use of preaching lofty ideals in class?"

Jose III was pointing out one of the great flaws of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Kanegae bore witness to others. To the end he was proud of being Japanese, but not always proud of Japan.