Avenues for stronger Philippines-Japan linkages
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Koji Haneda (The Philippine Star) - September 22, 2018 - 12:00am

In light of the devastation brought forth by Typhoon Ompong in the Philippines, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of victims and sympathize with all those who were affected. Japan stands with the Philippines in this difficult time and is ready to provide the maximum possible assistance.

On a more positive note, warmest congratulations to the Filipino athletes who won in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. The achievements of Japanese-Filipinos – golfer Yuka Saso (gold medal), judoka Kiyomi Watanabe (silver medal), and karateka Junna Tsukii (bronze medal) – are a source of pride for both countries. I am confident that their victories would make them formidable contenders for future world competitions, including the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

I’m also happy to note two Filipino-Japanese athletes who are presently creating a significant impression in sumo – traditional Japanese wrestling with more than 1,500 years of history. Mitakeumi remarkably became the first-ever Filipino-Japanese champion of last July’s Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament. Takayasu, who gets a special boost from sinigang, beef kaldereta, and pancit bihon made by his Filipina mother, is the first sumo wrestler with Filipino blood to reach the sport’s second-highest professional rank.

The increasing presence of Japanese-Filipino achievers in the global sporting stage manifests how relations between the Philippines and Japan have grown from strength to strength. Yet, the crossroads of Japanese-Filipino ties do not end in sports, as they have also become evident not only in tourism but in different areas such as healthcare and education, among many others.

Filipino tourists to Japan rapidly rose nearly fivefold in five years, from just around 85,000 in 2012 to over 420,000 in 2017. Moreover, Filipinos have diversified their destinations from Tokyo or Osaka to other Japanese regions such as Kyushu, Chubu, and Hokkaido. That trend proves that Filipinos have definitely developed a deeper interest in Japan.

Filipinos have established their presence in Japan through nursing and care working. The Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) has strengthened the economic partnership between the Philippines and Japan through the deployment of Filipino nurse/careworker candidates since 2009. Japan has so far welcomed a total of 546 nurses and 1,720 careworker candidates from the Philippines under the JPEPA, making the program instrumental to introducing Filipinos’ globally renowned hospitality to the Japanese.

The yearly Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme provides young Filipino English- language teachers with an enjoyable prospect for expanding their career horizons in Japan. Since two Filipinas first left for Japan to work as assistant language teachers (ALTs) under the JET Programme in 2014, the programme has expanded to 40 Filipino participants having left for Japan last month. These Filipino ALTs are now endearing themselves to Japanese public schools and local boards of education all over Japan with their skilled, industrious, and passionate performance.

Aside from these various pathways for linkages, Japan provides Filipinos with a host of study-abroad and youth-exchange initiatives including the Japanese Government Scholarship Program, the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS) Program, and the Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP).

As a balikbayan – having begun my diplomatic career in Manila back in the early 1980s, I have become well-acquainted to the signature hospitality, warmth and versatility Filipinos are best known for. For that, it is my earnest desire to see the further strengthening of the already excellent friendships between the Filipinos and the Japanese across a variety of undertakings.

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(Koji Haneda is the Ambassador of Japan.)

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