Have you seen the newly released Jose Rizal manga by Ryo Konno and Takahiro Matsui? Chapter 1 was released last June 19 while chapter 2 is set to be released on June 26. As one of the most popular Japanese cultural artifacts available in the market, manga, together with anime, is a regular staple among Filipino teens and young adults.
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However, the manga version misleadingly designates Jose Rizal as “the national” hero rather than as “a national” hero. The Philippines, to date, has no official recognition of any single personality as its national hero.
Unknown to most people, in fact even to most Filipinos, besides the Japanese comics as Rizal’s connection with Japan, Rizal has already been connected with Japan during his time: first with a woman and then with a man.
In 1887, Rizal went to Japan and stayed there for 46 days. While staying at the Spanish Legation in Tokyo’s Azabu District, she encountered Usui Seiko. Thanks to the help of a gardener, he was able to get to know her. Rizal seemed to hope that she can also teach him Nihongo or Japanese.
As it turns out, O-Sei-san (as Rizal called her, “O” as is an honorific prefix, “Sei” short for Seiko, and -san, a formal suffix in another person’s name which, in this case, translates to “Ms.”) was a modern woman by Meiji standards: she spoke French and English, and cultured and learned as she was, conversed with Rizal in these languages besides teaching him Japanese.
And regarding his intimate feelings for the Japanese woman, Rizal later wrote in his diary, “No woman has ever loved me like you.” And this is how Usui Seiko entered the so-called list of Rizal’s many loves.
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The other Japanese connection of Rizal is through a Japanese man by the name of Tetcho Suehiro.
By 1888, Rizal was en route to England via the ship Belgic. On that ship, he met Suehiro who was by that time a prominent Japanese politician and nationalist and bound to the United States. Rizal became Suehiro’s traveling companion since the latter was both challenged in terms of communication and Western decorum.
It was through this short, but impactful time with Rizal that Suehiro would be inspired to write, as he would later write in his diary, his novel, Nanyo no Daiharan, sometimes called the “Japanese Noli Me Tangere”.
Why? Because the plot, even most of its characters, was largely based on Rizal’s revelations to Suehiro regarding the oppressed situation of the Philippines under Spanish rule and his novel, the Noli.
According to Japan scholar, Dr. Josefa Saniel of the Asian Center the Japanese counterpart of the Noli featured the following similarities with Rizal’s magnum opus:
The plot: the Philippines is oppressed by Spanish colonial rule
The characters: the male protagonist, Takayama Takahashi, vows to fight for independence, but this time, through the aid of Japanese volunteers; he has a lady love, Seiko/Kiyoko (the reading depends on whether the Kanji’s Japanese or Chinese reading), who resembles Rizal’s Maria Clara (and maybe the source for Suehiro’s confusion of Rizal’s personal love affair).
The difference is in the ending: the Noli ends in despair and in Crisostomo Ibarra’s disappearance, while the Nanyo ends with victory, with the Nihonmaru, the Japanese flag, flying over the old capital.
Besides Rizal, the Philippines has other lighter connections with Japan like the “kirishitan” samurai, Takayama Ukon, who fled Japan to practice Christianity in the Philippines. A memorial monument to “Don Justo”, his Christian name, used to stand in Plaza Dilao in Pedro Gil, Manila but has since been removed due to the SKyway extension project.
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Another is the word for a bottle’s metal cap, tansan which was actually a brand of Japanese carbonated drink, and also jakenpoy came from janken pon, an old Japanese children’s game (also shown in the Inuyasha anime).
Saniel, Josefa M. 1964. Rizal and Suehiro Tetcho: Filipino and Japanese Political Novelists. In Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia, 2:3. University of the Philippines. Quezon City
Ocampo, Ambeth R. 2014. Japan under our skin. Philippine Daily Inquirer
Dom writes for pay by day and writes for passion by night. He is a Japan major at the University of the Philippines. He’s fond of ramen and anime but not of nice people.