Remembering Tita Mely
by Amelia Iriarte Kohno
In the English alphabet, K is the eleventh letter. How about that for a starter? Since I cannot easily find the right words to put my thoughts for an important occasion like this, especially if it is for my first column, I will just begin by citing identical events. It is not that I am a great believer in "de ja vu," or that my experiences tell me otherwise... that it is already written in our book, before it came to be (Psalm 139).
Well, here are some:
1. my name (sans Iriarte) has 11 letters,
2. I was born on November, the 11th month, National Holiday pa dito sa Japan being "Labor Thanksgiving Day,"
3. married to a Kohno (K),
4. lived in Kyoto (K) for the past 30 years now, and
5. K was my good friend Dennis' first suggestion for the title of this column. And I think it is a great idea!
Having lived here in Japan for half of my life has its rewards and most of my soul-touching experiences are the ones I spent "journeying into the world of the Filipinos" as the JP cover says. Of course, they are not all a "bed of roses" (one of my favorite expressions) when confronted with questions like: were they happy ones, do you enjoy the encounters, can you find fulfilment, meaning, joy, enhancement, and so forth. I am simply a believer in doing good to others, in sharing God-given talents to people who need them, just by being there, and thankful for whatever blessings we have. That is the "enjoyment" I find in my life. Guess, I am sounding a bit trite so I will just share one personal story which I call "a grateful heart anecdote" from the volumes I have now, which is a product of having lived here for a long time.
Some years ago, when our president, Gloria M. Arroyo, was still a senator, she visited Kyoto with her family and mother, Mrs. Eva Macapagal. I had the pleasure of showing them this beautiful city. After a hearty dinner mostly of raw fish and meat at the famous "Gion" area where the red lights and geishas are, she asked to be shown one of the nightclubs nearby where our "kababayans" worked. At short notice and after some calls, we were able to arrange a hasty meeting with some of them. It was a very memorable night. The following year, she visited Osaka, and again I had another happy encounter. On behalf of the Filipino community leaders of Western Japan, I was asked to give the bouquet of flowers at the Welcome Reception. When she saw me, she gave a familiar smile and even mentioned that night in Kyoto during her speech. Good deeds do not go unnoticed, di ba? Till next time. God bless.
ON THE ROAD TO...
Where A Thousand Fans Cool the Hot Summer Days with
MELY IRIARTE KOHNO
by Neriza Saito
Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, is an all year-round tourist destination not only for tourists from abroad but for locals as well. It is cold and damp in winter but hot and also damp in summer with temperatures soaring high in July and August. April is the favorite
month for cherry blossoms viewing but the best season of all is autumn. However, Kyoto is always “in-season.” The choir of crickets and the twinkling of “furin” (wind bells) and the beautiful Kyoto fans provide a respite from the heat.
Twenty-six years ago, Amelia Iriarte Kohno, from Tacloban,
Leyte, landed in Kyoto and has made the scenic Arashiyama her home. Every time dignitaries from the Philippines visit Japan, Mely is always on hand to guide them to the famous shrines and temples from Kinkakuji to Kiyomizu to the Heian Shrine or to watch the gigantic Gion Festival, then walk through the old streets of Gion scene of the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Some of the VIPs she toured include Ambassador Siazon’s mother, the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople’s sister, Sec. Mar Roxas, the Venecia family and no less than Pres. Gloria Arroyo when she was still a senator.
A busy woman herself, Mely, finds time for everyone because she is genuinely interested in people. During her tenure as President of the Kyoto Pag-asa Community, a strong church- based Filipino Community in Kyoto, they extended social and legal services to many Filipina victims of domestic violence. With the help of the Filipino sisters, they provided shelter to many of them or gave orientation to new-comers in Kyoto for almost a decade in the late 80’s to the late ’90’s. At present, she serves as adviser of the group and is in-charge of the social services committee.
Mely is a Chemical Engineering graduate from the University of Southern Philippines. Later, she joined the regional tourism office as Promotions Officer until her marriage with Mr. Kohno. Their only daughter, Aimi, acquired much of her mother’s charm and
friendliness. Mely loves to entertain at home and the Kohno residence is always full of Filipino friends of her mom --- Catholic nuns and other churchgoers or some Ikebana enthusiasts. Mely is a member of Ikebana International and in many of their events, she has showcased the best of her country by using tropical orchids and local “Vanda” using a huge “Anahaw” fan for dramatic effect.
Five years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent an operation. But soon after, she was up and about again even traveling here and abroad with her students. Last year, she was in the Philippines again at the seminar of the “Mother Earth
Connection,” another group she founded with Sr. Agneta Lauzon of St. Joseph’s College who helped Mely in Kyoto some years ago.
Unknown to many except for a few close friends, the dreadful disease has spread to her skin and lymph nodes that she had to undergo chemotherapy. "After each treatment, I get so nauseated but I know that I have to bear this and never give up. I have to go against the odds,” says Mely with the usual chuckles that has inspired over a thousand people she has met in Japan and elsewhere. Soon after, she has received letters of encouragement, phone calls and prayers, she adds, “I was thrilled to know that so many friends cared for me.”
On quiet days, she sits by the Katsura River in Arashiyama and watch people strolling along. As time passes by, she reminishes about her beloved Tacloban, so serene and majestic, very much like MELY.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
WHAT IS YOUR OCCUPATION/ PROFESSION?
HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN JAPAN? 26 years.
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES?
The food, of course! I really miss the sumptuous family breakfasts we have with our family and relatives in Leyte… with lots of native delicacies!
WHAT IS THE WEIRDEST THING THAT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED IN JAPAN?
When I spent my first new year in Japan with my husband’s family, I was surprised to see that the men have to be served first. I thought it was odd because our womenfolk in the Philippines enjoy equal opportunities. Later on, I also found out that at home,
men take a bath ahead of all the female members of the family.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT JAPAN?
The people. They really work hard. And when they start any project, they work hard on it from beginning to end.
IF YOU CAN CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT JAPAN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
The family life. There seems to be so much formalities even among immediate family members and their traditional duties as a member of the family affect even their personal decisions.
IF YOU CAN TEACH THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM THE JAPANESE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE? DILIGENCE and CLEANLINESS. Japan is one of the countries in the world with an ecological friendly garbage disposal system.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR RECIPE FOR A SUCCESSFUL LIFE IN JAPAN.
It took me some time to completely understand the Japanese way of life as in the winning strategy formulated by a great samurai warrior named Musashi Miyamoto. This is why I learned how to act appropriately when dealing with the Japanese.
I also do not compare people but rather understand their complex differences as human beings. However, once you get absorbed into the ways of the Japanese, it can work both ways as they will begin to like you as a person regardless of who you are.