Monday, January 10, 2011

Jeepney Press 2011 January-February Issue Page 15

Neriza Sarmiento-Saito's
A Woman's Reasons to Live, Hope and Evolve

“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest and wisest of them all?” The mirror replied, "A woman who washed, swept and scrubbed all day but lived with graciousness, hoped that her family will reap success and evolved as a competitive woman globally.

These past years I have always featured a "fuko- otoko" in the first issue of the year but in the Year of the Rabbit which is said to bring out the soft spots in people, a lady should take center stage. Noemi Itsukage is the CEO and president of EVOLVE MISSHA Philippines, the exclusive distributor of BB cream products. More than a year ago, she opened
a shop at the SM North Edsa Annex. Just before it happened, she was the typical hands-on housewife until a magic wand popped up.
A long time ago in the early 80's we used to hold simple community events at the old Philcongen garage in Kobe with band music provided by the Tardy Boys. In 1984 with DOT's initiative, we formed the Kansai Nippi Tomo no Kai (KNTNK). That was when I first met her and her sister Catherine, who was a winner in one of the first beauty pageants held. Later on, we would see each other at masses in Kitahama church but we had to relocate to a small room inside the seminary within the compounds of the St. Mary's Cathedral in Tamatsukuri.
A statuesque beauty, Noemi once substituted for former Bb. Pilipinas Desiree Verdadero in a fashion show of couturier Nardie Presa. She was a fresh graduate of Optometry but had to join the designer 's fashion shows in Tokyo, Yokohama and in Osaka where she met I-chan. Eventually, they got married. Ma-kun came first followed by Noriko-chan and the youngest girl Miki was born in the millenium year. While the children were in school, Noemi polished up on her Japanese writing, reading and speaking skills. She was contented with being the stay at home type just waiting for a chance to have a career fit for her. Once in a while she accepted translation and interpretation work, mostly for the Osaka Prefectural police.

In 1998, the late Danny Alvez and I co-chaired the Centennial of Philippine Independence in Osaka. In the two-day event organized for the Filipino Community by the Philcongen, Noemi was one of those loyal friends we depended on together with Amy Wafuura, Vicky Wakiyama, Mely Kohno, Malou Sato, Mari Hashizuka, Susan Fuchizaki, Loida Hiyama, Roterry Shimono, Katrina Fujikawa, Sally Takashima, Luz Shimizu, Joy Yoshitomi and many more. They all assisted as committee chairpersons in the musical presentation that I penned and directed "Ang Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas" with music by Joey Manalang, the Rigodon de Honor, the Philippine Parade around the Asia- Pacific Trade Center, the drawing contest and the first Bb. Kalayaan contest that Henry Tabao directed and assisted by Noemi. The following year, we changed to Ginang Kalayaan in recognition of the struggles and aspirations of Filipino wives of Japanese. From thereon, Noemi was a permanent fixture in all Filipino community events.

She was also very much a part of Joey Manalang's musical " The Gaijin" playing the role of a court interpreter. By this time, we formed the PCCC where I was the first elected Chairperson in 2002-2004, Sally Takashima in 2004-2006 and Noemi in 2006-2008. As a chairperson, she was every inch a leader, frank but not bossy, disciplined but knew how to enjoy herself. Inspite of the demands on her time, she looked her best on gatherings.
On a trip to Korea with her sister, they stumbled upon the idea of opening a Missha shop in the Philippines. They called the office, set-up an appointment, and finally the executives asked her to submit a feasibi-lity study. "I didn't really expect what was happening but at the back of my mind, it seems that my dream of setting-up my own shop will come true." Wasting no time, and with no marketing background, she sought the help of professionals to conduct the market research. They also needed a place to build the shop. At about that time, SM Edsa was building an annex and will therefore be an ideal location. But then, she would have to invest a large amount of money as capital. Thanks to her budgeting skills as a housewife and traits she learned from the Japanese like punctuality. In a few months, she was ready with the business proposal for the Missha executives.

Alas and behold, they approved it on the spot and the International Marketing Manager commented that they were impressed with the proposal and did not deny initial misgivings they had about the diligence of the Filipinos.
Finally, after a few delays during the construction of the shop, Evolve Missha Philippines was inaugurated in October 2009 complete with a star-studded fashion show directed by Noemi. The new business eventually changed the course of their lives. Noemi had to manage her 7 staff while I-chan had to hold the fort at home while the youngest girl Miki, attends school. Eldest son, Ma-kun and second daughter Noriko are now working. "I miss my family but there are choices we have to make in some aspects of our life. I am happy that inspite of the fact that I started this business only now, I feel my worth as a woman because this is what I have always wanted to do. As a housewife in Japan, we can't help but feel regimented and duty-bound. But you can also direct your own course in life, if you go on living, hoping and evolving, “ says Noemi with a smile.

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