Women make change in Tokyo, Japan

(Contributed by Isabelita T. Manalastas-Watanabe — FWN 100(tm)Global 2013)

WOMEN Make Change is the theme for the fora on women’s empowerment in observance of Women’s Month Celebration in Tokyo last March 31, where I was the main speaker.

Organized by Labor Attache Marie Rose C. Escalada, Ph.D. of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Polo-Owwa), it was the first of its kind in Japan.

Isabelita Manalastas-Watanabe reading her leadership tips.

My task was to inspire our Japan-based overseas Filipina workers (OFWs) to make them feel proud to be Filipinas in Japan. I shared with them were leadership tips, read directly from “Japan: A Love-Hate Relationship” published in DISRUPT. Filipina Women. Proud. Loud. Leading Without A Doubt, the first of three Disrupt books published by the Filipina Women’s Network (FWN).

Isabelita Manalastas-Watanabe inspiring women to make change.

I provided basic advice and information, like pampering themselves, spending some of the money they have earned to make them look and feel good, not abandoning their hobbies, keep laughing, and so on, to the more serious topic of financial independence.

The audience was purely women (other than the male staff of Polo-Owwa).

Women Make Change participants leaning-in.

According to Japanese official government statistics, as of June 2016, Filipinos in Japan number 237,103, the 4th largest foreign population after China, Korea, and Latin America. Of this number, 73.2 percent, or 173,564 are women.

How fitting that the top officers of the Polo-Owwa offices at the Philippine Embassy are female — Labor Attache Marie Rose C. Escalada, and Welfare Officer Amy Crisostomo.

Check out the snapshot of labor information submitted by the labor attache.

Showing gratitude.

In Japan, Filipina maids or domestic helpers (as they are called in Hong Kong and Singapore, in the ME and elsewhere) are classified as governesses, visa-wise. They are protected and paid very well because only diplomatic missions are entitled to hire them. Ordinary Japanese are not allowed to sponsor visas for a house help, unless they are the CEOs, or Presidents or top-ranking expat officers who could justify hiring house help.

Where do then the bulk of our women in Japan work?

Joke (during the early 1980s):

Q: Why are there not many pretty Filipina women anymore in the Philippines?

A: They are all in Japan!

Labor Attache Marie Rose C. Escalada, Ph.D., Isabelita Manalastas-Watanabe, Asst. Labor Attache Dominador A. Salanga, and Owwa Welfare Officer Amy B. Crisostomo.

Many Filipina women went to Japan to become “Japayuki,” freely translated as Japan-bound, a derogatory term used to refer to Filipina entertainers. They are now called “Overseas Performing Artists (OPA).” Cosmetic, probably, but nevertheless, still an improvement, especially in the self-image of Filipina workers. The Philippine government has also instituted more protection for them by way of a minimum cash bond that is required of Japanese promotion companies before they can be permitted to hire Filipina OPAs. The cash bonds can be used in case of sickness, death, or repatriation to the Philippines.

The minimum age for hiring OPAs is now 21 since they may be mature enough, as compared to that of someone still in her teens. Many OPAs have stayed and married Japanese men, starting their families in Japan. Some of the Japanese spouses have even adopted the children from their previous marriages of the OPAs in the Philippines. These “Japinos,” another term considered derogatory, will have their challenges living in a different country with a different culture, and a completely different language.

Labor Attache Marie Rose C. Escalada, Ph.D., thanking Isabelita Manalastas-Watanabe.

The term Japayuki has stuck. Japino, as well. However, Filipina OFWs in Japan continue to improve on their self-image and are aware of its importance.

The final point in my presentation was on giving thanks. The participants and I did an action prayer, as follows, clapping our hands twice, then motioning to whatever and whomever we wanted to say thanks to:

Salamat, Salamat, sa araw, sa buwan, sa mga bituin.

Salamat, Salamat, sa ocean, sa rivers, sa mga fish, sa mga animals, sa forests.

Salamat, Salamat, kay tatay, kay nanay, kay ate, kay kuya, sa mga anak natin, sa ating mga apo.

Salamat, Salamat, sa Diyos, whatever we perceive him to be.

Ms. Jena B. Shigemizu, a very active OFW community leader and a success story as a former OPA, had this to say, after the prayer:

“Tinitingnan ko kanina si Ma’am Lita, kasi pumanaw nga ang kanyang ama, pero sabi niya:

‘Jena, I have to go here kasi responsibilidad ko ito sa inyong lahat’. “Sobra talaga, di-ba. Ang puso ng bayani!

“Si Ma’am Lita po ang founder ng PNB Tokyo, for your information. May grupo kami noon na Teatro Kanto. Ma’am Lita asked us to perform in the bank. Sabi ko, Ma’am pwede ba iyon — banko kayo. Sabi niya: ‘Oo, social responsibility namin iyon, Jena.’ (Teatro Kanto was then doing performances related to the absentee voting campaign to OFWs).

We Filipinos are a prayerful people. Prayers sustain us especially during challenging times. Labor Attache Marie Rose said:

“The ending was too touching! Parang we had a retreat, and in the end we realized our value not only as a woman but as a person.”

However, there is a lot more to do. What is still needed, in my opinion, is to have our OFWs achieve financial independence. I believe that financial independence is a significant key to the empowerment of women.

A Financial Independence Seminar is my next planned project. I hope to work with the Philippine Assistance Group, the umbrella organization of various Filipino community organizations in Japan, and maybe again with the Polo-Owwa, as well, to give practical advice, and easy to do, savings for their future, and using those savings to generate more savings.


Editor’s Note: Isabelita T. Manalastas-Watanabe splits her time in Tokyo, Japan and in Pampanga, Philippines. She has set up remittance centers in Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Among her advocacies, Lita helped set-up a SEELS Teachers’ Academy to train OFWs to become English teachers and Montessori school teachers in Tokyo and Vietnam.

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