All of us Filipinos living in Japan, at one point in time, would have to address our own personal dilemma of whether it’s time to return to our home country. We will have to ponder if the stay here was worth the while, and what have we done to earn our keep under the sun in this part of the globe. What did we get out from all of these, and, more importantly, what can we give back in return?
In the pilot issue of Jeepney Press a number of years back, we have covered in one of the columns the topic about bridging the two distinct worlds of Japan and the Philippines. In the last issue, we featured a young person’s take on how to partially serve that purpose. Jeepney Press now presents one of its resident writers who actually went back home to contribute in realizing that much needed personal integration in his own right. And, what could be a more sustainable way to reach out and do that than to publish a book about it.
These days, reference to Gino Matibag, MD, PhD, is increasingly becoming synonymous with his literary work, “JAPAN Lights and Shadows.” Aside from being a licensed physician, a seasoned medical and academic researcher, and now a published author, Gino is a traveler at heart. A different one. Yes, he stayed in Japan for about 8 years although he was most often out of the country visiting 12 others and their total of 29 cities. And, yes, without doubt, his highly respected track record and dedication to excellence will most certainly bring him to further myriad locations. But Gino, fundamentally, is otherwise an extraordinary traveler of life. He transforms in every stage he is in. He adapts in every place he has been. He leaves his marks through every task he has done. But what makes him different? He dreams of always making his path a better way for others.
Prior to his life in Japan, he was a medical practitioner for 5 years in the Philippines. Never tiring of furthering his credentials, he also obtained a Master’s Degree in Hospital Administration. But his thirst for answers was not within the confines of credentials. He considers them merely a means to an end aligned towards a more meaningful purpose within a system and environment that would cater to his personal standards. He was on a quest at the time. He needed answers. Not only to take advantage of career opportunities but he was clamoring for a way to test his caliber in a different way. While most medical professionals would be afraid to relinquish their hard earned degrees and field experience, Gino knew he cannot allow that to limit his search for answers. When everyone else entertains the fear of leaving a profession, Gino leverages on it. Sending applications to many various international universities in search of a rightful host, he got a tip from colleagues who used to be Monbusho scholars. Surprisingly, he got a response from Japan, which was not even on the top of his list of options to explore due to language challenges. But as fate would have it, just like it would for people who brave to dare, he accepted the invitation of the Hokkaido University Graduate School of Medicine on September of 2002 as its initial foreign researcher. His arrival in Japan then marked his way to achieving his second doctorate degree in a relatively short span of 4 years, backed by a grant he received from the Japanese government.
The moment he looked around through the window of the first room he settled in upon his arrival, Gino knew it was not just a correct choice, it was the right move. There may be a language barrier but it felt right. And that feeling did not need any language to justify itself. He knew he could create a home for himself here. And so he did. He became a master of something he enjoyed doing – research – and everything that culminated around it, through it, and because of it. He got to travel. A lot. Travels, research, weekend works, community participations, and cultural immersions. All of these comprised his life for years to come until a discovery urged him to face a new turning point. As much as he loved his stay in Japan, it was not enough for Gino to compromise the integrity at risk if he succumbs to a system not known to and by many, both Japanese and foreigners. And, thus, the birth of his literary work where he illuminates his readership with how he sees Japan based on his memoirs.
Gino loves Japan as clearly detailed in his book. He identified himself so much with this country that, in fact, the time he got homesick was when he was back home in his native Philippines. To some, regrets about leaving Japan for the Philippines and not the other way around may be a sign of unpatriotic sentiments. But irony has no place in the mind of a realist. For Gino, his belief that everything happens for a reason was proven true when he claimed that his being in Japan was the biggest factor that helped him learn and deeply understand the Philippines even more, only from a different yet characteristic viewpoint that can only be enjoyed not necessarily by merely visiting a foreign land but specifically by experiencing this unique country. His challenge to relate back to the style of living and social attitudes in Manila is not an indication of colonial mentality. Instead, he takes it as a need to help raise awareness that cultures and best practices can be integrated. It is just a matter of practical acceptance. Just as one will not deny if a loved one is ailing and instead provide cure in the most effective way, Gino aims to find ways to promote, if not provide, possible solutions to what he imbibes as factors that limit our progress. But first and foremost, we need to openly but objectively welcome the gaps between the Philippines and Japan not just in terms of scales of economies but more importantly on the basis of social mindset. This, Gino strongly believes, is a fundamental necessity for a real change.
There are some 120,000 students coming to Japan every year. How many went back to their own countries with a book manifesting what’s real in Japan, Gino wonders. His book surely includes his domestic travels that unfolded the beauty of the country to him but at the end of its 11 chapters, his work was essentially about educating the readers. The main reason for writing the book was not out of commercial purpose but a way for him to allow transparency to take its proper place in a system that does not have the best interest of its working guests at its core. In a land where silence is considered the pure sound of beauty, it can also have a chance of being used to mute an accepted disorder. The book was his way of ensuring that his experiences and academic attainments are used to a more noble extension and be an honest source of realistic wisdom. The book, at its basic core, is about choices.
When asked what will be missed the most if we leave Japan, most of us would opt for infrastructure, pragmatic setups, food, culture and the likes as quick answers. For Gino, it’s the purity of the drinking water famous in Hokkaido. Even for someone who has already been through and accomplished a lot, fundamentals and simplicity of this kind remain to be what gives color to his persona that boldly accepts the challenge to unveil shadows and provides light for others that follow.
And with that, the book may not just be a memoir. It’s about how he welcomes life as he reinvents himself regardless of titles and degrees. It’s about how he reaffirms his faith and fight for his integrity in the face of risks and chances. It’s everything concerning how he made the most of the past, lives in the present, and will move on forward. It’s a testimony of how one learns by taking the chance, dealing with the pains, and sharing the gains. Basically, his work is about what he himself was from the start, and always will be – a researcher of his own passion, a doctor of his own path, and a traveler of life.