Stateless: War Displaced Filipino Japanese


From the beginning of the 20th century until the end of the War in Pacific in 1945, Japanese companies were running a large scale Manila hemp industry in Mindanao and the Japanese community was formed there. Thousands of Japanese workers moved to Mindanao and many of them were married to local women, resulting the births of thousand of Japanese children. Before the war, the Japanese community in Mindanao enjoyed prosperity of booming industry. There were a Japanese school, shops and even the latest cinema. This project portrays the Japanese descendants who were born during or right after the war, who never knew of such blessing, but had to grow up in poverty and anti-Japan sentiment.

On the March 10th 1945, by the landing of the US Army, the Battle of Mindanao started. Many Japanese had to collaborate to Japanese army or had to escape to the jungles with their families. Many died in battles or were killed by the guerrillas or by the tropical disease. Many became missing. Even if they survived the war, they had to repatriate to Japan after the capitulation, leaving their wives and children behind. The Japanese children had to hide their Japanese identity when growing up in harsh anti-Japan sentiment. Many were trapped in poverty preventing them from going to school. They did not even have a very basic human right, nationality. Since 2004, Philippine Nikkei-Jin Legal Support Center (Shinjuku, Tokyo) has been supporting them with searching for their Japanese families and application for Japanese nationality. Yet, still many Japanese descendants are living in difficult conditions.

Kuala Lumpur International Photo Award 2019 "Unyielding Gaze"

Addis Foto Festival 2022


Lucio, born 1943, lives in a small village in jungle and one has to walk one hour to visit him. On this day, he came to his hut for farm work to see me. His Japanese father disappeared during the war, and his mother died when he was only 8. He was adopted by his relative, but had to work for them. He could not go to school after that.


Ramona, Japanese name Masako, born 1943. Her biological father repatriated without a trace, but was identified in 2011, enabling her children to work in Japan. Ramona and her husband live in a village, run a store, and keep chickens and geese on the side.


Ruin of former warehouse of Furukawa company, Toril. Furukawa was a large Japanese company running Manila hemp plantations.


Wall full of bullet holes, ruin of Furukawa warehouse.


Kyoko, born 1944, photographed in front of her self-build general store in the squatted area in Davao. She planted a mango tree over 30 year ago when she moved in this area, and the tree has grown tall and now casting cool shadow on her store. She would not pick the fruits until her children come home for Christmas from Japan where they are working.


Former public bath for the Japanese plantation workers, Toril.


Lucio's sons.


Innocencia, born 1945, photographed in her humble house made of bamboo. She had to adapt a new name when she entered the elementary school to avoid bullying.
After 2 times rejection, she was granted with Japanese nationality in 2018. Before that, she was stateless.


Minoru, born 1942, lost his older sister and brother while escaping the battle in the mountains.


Former location of the Japanese repatriation camp. Toril, Mindanao.


Merna, born 1967, the 3ed generation Japanese. Her mother Yasuko was born as the daughter of Sugano, a Japanese from Fukushima. Luckily, Yasuko's Japanese identity was proofed and this granted Merna a work permit in Japan. She has been working in Japan to support her family since, yet, she had to face prejudice toward non-Japanese.


Masao's humble shop. Wall full of fading Japanese alphabet he practiced.


The 4th generation Japanese peeping out from Yaeko's house made of bamboo in a small mountain village.


Yaeko, born 1941, and her brother Masao, born 1943. Their father, who came to Mindanao from Fukushima, promised that he would be back when the war ended. But it never happened. Yaeko lives in a small village without running water or power. She remembers her father crying when she and her mother went to say goodbye to him interned at that time in a repatriation camp.


Yaiko, born 1943, was bullied when she was small, because of her Japanese roots.
Yaiko lives in a cluttered squatted area near a beach. When she was 10, her mother told her that she was a Japanese, and her father Hiroshi became missing after being taken to military service.


An islet of Cape San Agustin, photographed from the lighthouses.


On the way to Yaeko's home. One has to walk the mountain path for good half hour. A mother buffalo was trying to protect her calf from an intruder.


Oligario, born 1945, lives in a squatted area full of rocks and trash and all the houses there are self-build. He had to quit school when he was in the 3rd grade to work on a farm.  He was granted with Japanese nationality in 2016 and since then, his 3 daughters are waiting for work permit in Japan, hoping to build better life.


Satoko, born 1942, Davao Oriental, lives in a small settlement in the banana plantation without running water or power. Her Japanese father, an immigrant worker, had to collaborate to the army and became missing at the end of the war. After the war, Satoko, her sister and mother lived in extreme poverty. She was finally granted with Japanese nationality in 2014. Before that, she was stateless.