Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jeepney Press 2011 March-April Issue Page 15

Neriza Sarmiento-Saito's
Preserving KNTNK'S Tradition For Almost 30 years

One day, I got a call from a former student , Yuko. She was being assigned to the Philippines to work as a coordinator of a training program under the auspices of a prestigious government organization. That weekend, over home- made lunch prepared by her mother, we talked about her university days in America. We reminisced the days I tutored her in English before she left for university studies and how I introduced her to adobo and arroz caldo and occasional attendances at events organized by the Kansai Nippi Tomo no Kai (KNTNK). On a snowy day, my heart warmed with her words: “Knowing the Philippines through you, I have developed a deep affection for your country."

I did not even realize that the small gatherings we had at KNTNK would have a big impact on her some years later. A best-selling book by O- Young Lee "Smaller is Better: Japan's Mastery of the Miniature,” explains that one good example is the bonsai that represents all of nature itself. This talent of the Japanese for miniaturization led to the development of functional inventions.

KNTNK miniaturizes Japan and the Philippines in one pot together -- combining the good values and traditions of both countries. It was founded on March 24, 1984 by a group of Filipinos and Japanese in Osaka with the support of former tourism attaché John Orola and former PRO Jean Tabora.

Twenty seven years later, the group is still up on its toes, and have just returned from an
exploratory tour of the Philippines in preparation for their 30 years anniversary in 2014.

Mr. Koji Ueno, current president, has more ties than ever to a country he considers home. A native of Toyama and a long-time resident of Takatsuki City, Koji-San speaks fluent Filipino so as his son Hiroshi, from his first wife Emilia who succumbed to cancer in 1994. Emy and I co-authored a book in conversational Filipino. Although she was active with the Philippine Ladies' Association and other church projects, Koji remained in the background. It wasn't after his wife died that he participated at events. One of his greatest moments was winning the third prize in an essay contest organized by the Osaka Foundation of Culture, as part of ”A Forum on Philippine Culture” in Osaka Prefecture besting other entries nationwide. He mentioned his late wife's efforts to preserve the wealth of age-old Philippine family values of sharing meals on special occasions with family and friends. He could not understand why she had to go through all the trouble of cooking pancit and biko for so many friends. Then he realized that she missed her big family over there. More than ten years after her death, Koji remarried another Filipina, Ludy, in a beautiful wedding ceremony. Now they have a 3 year old son Jiro who became the youngest member of the recent KNTNK tour group.

In the past, the group organized annual goodwill tours for its members and have visited some schools that were beneficiaries of some donations like school supplies, water pumps, or others.

The late Mr. Tadashi Takahashi of Nada-ku in Kobe was the first president, whose parents owned a shop called Mayon, along Avenida Rizal before World War II. He went to a school for Japanese children in Sampaloc and studied in UP. So when the war broke out , instead if being drafted in the army, he was assigned to do laboratory work in the UP Padre Faura campus.

The next president was the late Mr. Junzou Maruoka, a former officer assigned in Pangasinan who converted to Catholicism. We co- authored the first bilingual newsletter in1985, documenting activities of our association and those of the Consulate. Members who settled in the Philippines like Mariko Kanda, do projects for the Moriguchi Rotary Club with active member like Dr. Funabashi.

Mr. Maruoka passed away after hearing mass on Christmas eve in Abeno Church and after sending New Year cards written in Filipino to his beloved Pinoy friends in Japan and in the Philippines. I was the third president. In 1995 , right after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. We produced an original music about the lives of Filipino wives of Japanese inspired by our own experiences. Yolanda Alfaro Tsuda, Emilia Ueno and myself that we staged at the Dawn Center in Osaka funded by the Gender Equality Division of the Osaka Prefectural Government.

Mrs. Yoshiko Fukuda, our fourth president played the part of the mother-in-law. Although a neophyte in stage acting, she has appeared in several T. V. commercials for Osaka Gas and others including one with Janet Jackson.

After her term ended, Mr. Ueno was elected president but in his absence on a company assignment abroad in Myanmar, vice-president Yoriko Hayashi was in-charge. Her perseve-rance and thoroughness was also recognized by the PCCC when she was elected secretary from 2008-2011. Being the only Japanese among the officers, she felt a stronger affinity to the Filipinos inspite of the occasional language barrier.

When the KNTNK officers had a meeting last year to plan activities for its 30th anniversary, the explo-ratory tour last Feb. 10-15 was planned. "We really enjoyed the tour because it has been quite a while since then. It was like coming home to families and very special friends,“ commented Koji-San. They had reunions with Mandy Cabansag and Noemi Itsukage in Manila. "They are both looking young and lovely, maybe because life in the Philippines is rejuvenating,” commented Koji.

Aside from the 30th anniversary tour that KNTNK hopes to push through in 2014, they also wish to revive the Speech Contest in Filipino among Japanese contestants
to encourage Filipino Japanese children to study their native language as a way to appreciate Filipino values and traditions.

Little roads may lead to bigger highways. When I introduced Yuko to adobo and arroz caldo, I did not know she would be landing a job in the Philippines. At KNTNK, the small get- togethers and small tours could lead to bigger ones but they prefer to keep their small flicker of light glowing to guide the next generation to preserve this noble tradition. Just like the bonsai: Small but alive!!!

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