Japan and the Philippines: Partners in progress, brothers in sports
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Koji Haneda (The Philippine Star) - December 5, 2019 - 12:00am

Sports take front and center in the Philippines as the 30th Southeast Asian Games finally opened. The awe-inspiring Opening Ceremony kicked-off the Games in the best way possible. Allow me to congratulate the Philippines for creating a moment of unity and motivation that is one for the books. Sporting events like this have always served as a good platform for creating meaningful connections. Our common love for sports gives a head start for bringing countries together and building a tight-knit brotherhood. This is especially true for the bilateral partnership between Japan and the Philippines. Aside from our deep political and economic ties, the core strength of our relations lies in our peoples. And today, we are witnessing more of this trend.

Gymnastics champ, Mr. Carlos Yulo stands out as a shining example. Our warmest congratulations to him, as he continues to showcase excellence at the SEA Games. I was able to exchange stories with him during his homecoming last month, and made sure that his outstanding contribution in enhancing mutual understanding and friendship between our two countries did not go unrecognized. Caloy, as he is more commonly known, started his gymnastics journey at a very young age, garnering medals in local and national competitions. However, it was when he crossed paths with Coach Munehiro Kugimiya in 2014 that he began his quest for international triumph. Coach Kugimiya invited Caloy to pursue training in Japan and in 2016, Caloy began to train and study under his guidance, marking the start of a nurturing relationship that is like no other. Initially, Caloy’s shyness made it difficult for him and Coach Kugimiya to communicate with each other. Kugimiya then suggested Caloy to keep a diary in Japanese, which he checked every day to see Yulo’s progress in the language and understand his feelings about training. This diary served as an instrument for them to understand each other better. Caloy’s remarkable journey to become the first Filipino World Gymnastics Champion brings pride and joy to both our countries. He took this leap of faith and triumphantly landed to success. We sincerely hope that this ongoing support will catapult him to achieve his ultimate goal, not only in the SEA Games but in the Tokyo 2020 as well, as he continues to give honor to the Philippines.

More Japanese-Filipino achievers are also gaining ground in the international sporting arena. For one, Ms. Kiyomi Watanabe (Judo), and Ms. Junna Tsukii (Karate), who are also competing in the SEA Games, are becoming front runners in their respective fields. Likewise, Ms. Yuka Saso (Golf) is also swinging on a path to success. Similarly, Japanese-Filipino sumo wrestlers Takayasu and Mitakeumi are formidable rising stars in the traditional Japanese sport. The achievements of Japanese-Filipino athletes in the international stage draw our attention to our growing bilateral relations.

The intersections of our cultures in sports are also prevalent in the grassroots. The 1st Japan-Philippines Friendship Baseball Project reflects our deeply embedded friendship, as selections of the most promising Baseball players from Japan and the Philippines competed in a friendly match. The skills-sharing of the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation to the National Ice Hockey Team of the Philippines also scored positive points for our relations. And even in soccer, a number of Japanese soccer experts are now sharing their talents to soccer players and local clubs in the Philippines – a reflection of our deep people-to-people ties.

These developments underscores how cultural exchanges, particularly in sports, help enrich the ties that bind our countries together. And with the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics dawning, I am more excited to see how our relations will take flight. The SEA Games is a good preview of the level of brilliance Southeast Asians, particularly Filipino athletes, will demonstrate in the Tokyo 2020 stage. We are excited to witness the historic performances of Mr. Carlos Yulo and Mr. EJ Obiena (Pole Vault), and I hope to see more Filipinos qualify in the Games. As the Philippines is right now, Japan is looking forward to igniting the torch and finally showcasing to the world the fruits of our labor to make the Tokyo 2020 Games a truly memorable feat.

It is beyond doubt that sport has played its part in the dynamic exchanges being enjoyed by Japan and the Philippines. It is my earnest desire to see our relations flourish and endure for the long haul. Our athletes may be competing for medals, but one thing is certain, the brotherhood Japan and the Philippines have cultivated through the years will always remain the same.

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(Koji Haneda is the Ambassador of Japan.)

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