by Elena Sakai
I met this wonderful woman, Ms. Nina Fernandez during my recent visit to Pinas. At first, I thought she was pure Japanese, because she looked and spoke just like a Japanese! I was very surprised to find that she was pure Filipino. However, she does resemble the mix of the two cultures, and has the good sides of both the Philippines and Japan. Nina is very optimistic, hard working and kind-hearted. She currently works in the tourism industry to bridge the two countries through tourism.
Please give a brief introduction of yourself.
I am Nina Fernandez, born in the Philippines but grew up in Japan. I am pure Filipina but I guess I somehow got the chinky eyes and Japanese aura because I spent most of my growing years in Japan.
I have one older brother and one younger sister. I love food, music, dance, people and I appreciate different cultures, which is why I love to travel. Most of all I love my country.
You currently live in Quezon City. How is the after-math of the typhoon and the flooding?
We are so blessed that our house did not get affected by the massive rains. More than half of the houses in Metro Manila got flooded and most of the people had to evacuate. The schools suspended classes for the whole week and even offices suspended work. It was pretty bad for just the monsoon, but I am still grateful that I am Filipino because I am proud of the optimism of my kababayans. And I believe that the strong faith of Filipinos in God is what gives us this confidence and optimism.
Where were you born? From what age till what age did you stay in Japan? Which parts of Japan did you stay in?
I was born in the Philippines. My family moved in Japan because of my dad's job at UNCRD in Nagoya when I was 5 years old. We returned to the Philippines without my dad after two years because of my mom’s job but we returned to Nagoya to rejoin my dad after a year. After I finished junior high school, we moved to Kobe and I graduated from senior high school there. We lived in Nagoya for 10 years, and 3 years in Kobe. It was very interesting to live in different parts of Japan.
What was is like to return to the Philippines after you've grown up?
It was pretty challenging for me at first. But it wasn't that bad at all because I had a lot of support from my family and friends. And actually I really wanted to come back to learn more about my own country. After all I am Pinay and it is pretty embarrassing if you don't know your own country.
I had to adjust to the culture, the traditions, the transportation--- everything was different from Japan. One of the challenges during my first couple of months was commuting. To tell the truth, I didn't like riding jeepneys at first because of the pollution and the heat. But I started liking it because I was touched by the kindness of the people. For example they helped me to say "para!" when I wanted to get off and were helpful when I asked for directions.
What were the differences that you noticed between the two countries? Did you have any difficulty blending in either country?
My impression of Japanese people is that they are very polite, well organized and reserved. But Filipinos are optimistic, friendly and straight-forward. I guess we can see the difference in how the town looks like. Shops or shotengai in Japan are very plain and somehow all the same, but in the Philippines, I see lots of vibrant colors and everything is very festive. There are so many people outside and of course inside the malls. Of course, Japan is cleaner and people are more disciplined, and that is something that we can learn from the Japanese.
I guess I can say that I am a person who can adapt easily. I am very flexible which is also a Filipino characteristic. Also, since Japan has Asian values, it is easy to blend in Philippine society. Perhaps, I also returned to the Philippines at the right time since I was more mature and could clearly see the good things we have in the Philippines.
You speak Japanese very fluently, like a native Japanese speaker. Was it difficult to speak and study in Tagalog or English?
Yes! Definitely it was a big challenge for me to recall my Tagalog and English. My mom teases me that I used to be a very "madaldal" (talkative) Tagalog speaking kid but after moving to Japan and growing up there, I am now more comfortable in Japanese. But I guess my parents' training helped somehow for I was able to understand and recall my Tagalog and English easily since my parents used to speak to us kids in Tagalog and in English at home in Japan, but our answer was all in Japanese. I guess you can imagine how "CHAMPON" our house was. I am still working to be a natural Tagalog speaker.
From your own personal point of view, what are your favorite points about the Philippines and Japan?
I love the optimistic and jolly Filipino attitude and the way they love and care for their families. We have a great sense of humor so even difficult situations become easier to bear.
In Japan, I love how polite and well disciplined people are. Everything is in order which makes life easier and more comfortable. Oh yes, there is one thing that I love in both countries---the FOOD!
You currently work in a Japanese travel agency in the Manila. Were you interested in tourism before you started the job? What are your roles in the company?
I took up Tourism in my undergrad course at UST because I wanted to promote the Philippines in every aspect. Growing up in Japan as Pinay, I deve-loped a strong feeling to change the negative image of the Philippines. And I believe that tourism, through travel and experiencing the culture of the place, will give people a chance to be more open-minded and understanding.
When we lived in Japan, we used to go back to the Philippines for vacation every year and we visited tourist spots. I just fell in love with the places and I realized that there is so much potential in the Philippines. I thought Japan was the best but there are so many places of natural beauty that Japan cannot offer. I saw the untouched beauty of our country that I wanted to share with people.
My work is basically arranging the local tours (in the Philippines) for Japanese travelers. I also assist them for their visa extensions in the Philippines and arrange air tickets for the Japanese expats here. Since our company is accredited by the Japanese embassy for the Visa application of Filipinos going to Japan, I also check documents for visa applications. We also started to arrange tours to Japan for Filipino tourists.
What are the attractions/strong points of the Philippines that you have found through your job in tourism?
We have many beautiful scenic spots here and our people are hospitable and cheerful. Our smiles are genuine, and that is a big attraction.
Do you have any future plans? What are your goals in your career?
I want to be a person who can be a bridge between the Philippines and Japan because I love both countries and I believe if we get the strengths from both countries, we can have a beautiful and happy society. I hope to be someone who can contribute in helping the poor in our country to have better lives, through tourism.
Please give a message to the Filipinos reading Jeepney Press.
My kababayans, enjoy your life and learn from what Japan has to offer! Let's join hands to promote the beauty of our country and be ambassadors of goodwill!