Thursday, May 10, 2012

Neriza Sarmiento’s ON THE ROAD TO

Neriza Sarmiento’s
Royal Welcome in Puerto Princesa
with Yoshiko Fukuda and Yoriko Hayashi

Once the cherry trees spread out their lovely blossoms like pink carpets against the blue sky, thousands of merry-makers flock to parks to enjoy "hanami" and an endless bout of drinking and merry-making.  Through the years, I have taken photos of these amazing cherry blossoms, fascinated at how they survived the cold winter season to come out again in spring and proudly displaying their delicate pink blossoms.

I am particularly attracted to the beauty of the "sakura" because it reminded me of our own sampaguita -  with a sweet fragrance that seems to say "welcome home."  That was exactly how I felt when the Tourism staff at NAIA presented us with sampaguita leis. Together with Kansai Nippi Tomo no Kai (Japan-Philippines Friendship Society) officers headed by Mr. Koji Ueno, we visited Puerto Princesa City in Palawan accompanied by Ms. Lorelei Cruz of DOT Osaka and Ms. Leona Nepomuceno of DOT's Team Japan.The tour is a yearly event of our association in preparation for KNTNK's 30th Anniversary in 2014.

I have always thought that people travel to enjoy and get-away from the monotony of life, to explore the unknown and to immerse oneself in the customs and lifestyle of the people they get acquainted with. For once, I did not realize that it could strengthen bonds of friendship, too.

Two Japanese ladies, Yoshiko and Yoriko, have always devoted themselves in promoting the Philippines as a tourist destination in their capacities as officers of the KNTNK for almost 30 years. Mrs. Yoshiko Fukuda is the current treasurer and once served as president. Mrs. Hayashi is the current Vice-President and has also served as the secretary of the Philippine Community Coordinating Council last year. Coincidentally, both have appeared on stage plays and musicals depicting the lives of Filipinos in Japan. Mrs. Fukuda as the mother-in-law of a Filipina wife (played by Jina Umali) in “Loretta dela Rosa Tanaka, taga-Osaka” in March 1995 at the Dawn Center. Mrs. Hayashi was Jun's (played by Henry Tabao) mother-in-law in The Gaijin, from 1998-2002, presented at Rose Bunka Hall in Toyonaka, Creo Osaka. Tondabayashi, Kashiwara and Takatsuki are among the Filipinos in Kansai and are already familiar faces in Philippine Community events like flag-raising ceremonies, charity events, meetings and others. Mrs. Fukuda's condominium-mansion has been home for past tourism attaches. Mrs. Hayashi, who has learned to do "beso-beso" from her Pinoy friends, has a son-in-law from Spain who married her daughter who teaches Spanish at Kansai Gaidai.
The trip to Puerto Princesa was an opportunity for them to get-away from their busy routine in Japan. We did not really expect a grand reception in Puerto Princesa. Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn charmed and warmed our hearts with his presentation of "A City in a Forest" focusing on their commitment to conserve, protect and preserve the environment and their unique concept of Eco-tourism.

According to National Geogra-phics, Puerto Princesa is one of the top 20 new destinations to watch all over the world. It is no wonder that while we were there, all flights and hotels were already fully booked and hundreds lined up for the 45-minute Underground River Tour. Permits are issued in advance and only up to 780 visitors are allowed in a day. But it is indeed a tour-of-a- lifetime because the Puerto Princesa Underground River is home to a 20 million-year-old Fossilized Serenid which is now a finalist to the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Inspite of the bumpy rides to reach our destinations, stepping in and out of boats, hopping on and off islands, Mrs. Fukuda and Mrs. Hayashi went through all these with gusto, trying out every local delicacy. There was never a dull moment with Delia Nakashima of the Shiga Filipino Christian Community who joined the group for the first time. A seasoned traveler who has been to almost every tourist destination, Delia said that she has fallen in love with the pristine waters of Palawan and the native "kakanins." Koji and Ludie's son, Jiro, who is the youngest member of the group, was especially fond of Mrs. Fukuda.
We left Palawan feeling refreshed and ready for a get-together dinner with the Philippines' top couturier "Renee Salud and Ms. Mandy Cabansag. Mrs. Fukuda and Mrs. Hayashi learned English from Mandy in Japan. We could not have these memorable encounters without Leona and Lorly who paved the way for us for the Royal treatment in Puerto Princesa!!!

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