Two days of interviews with elderly, war-displaced Japanese descendants in the Philippines, wrapped up Wednesday on the western island-province of Palawan, with the so-called Nikkeijin hoping to acquire Japanese citizenship.
Representatives from a national federation of Filipino-Japanese descendants and from the Japanese Embassy met with seven of them to ascertain links with their Japanese fathers who were separated from them immediately before or during World War II.
While many such formal interviews with the backing of Japan's Foreign Ministry have been held since 2016, it was the first time for them to be conducted in Palawan where 47 individuals have so far been recorded to be children of Japanese fathers and Filipino mothers who were born before or during the wartime.
Twenty-two of the 47 are still alive, according to Norihiro Inomata of the Philippine Nikkei-Jin Legal Support Center, which is spearheading efforts to help the descendants acquire Japanese citizenship, in cooperation with the Nippon Foundation.
The group's latest survey has found that there are 3,810 Nikkeijin across the country, of whom 1,069 are still alive and considered stateless.
Ines Mallari, president of the Philippine Nikkeijin Kai Rengokai, the umbrella organization of all Nikkeijin Kai chapters in the Philippines, told Kyodo News that after its personal appeal to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2015, Japanese Embassy representatives started participating in the interviews.
"This is more effective (in getting the petitions approved by the Japanese family courts) because their presence has weight...and somehow, the statements (of the descendants) have credibility," she said.
The appeal for swift consideration of the Filipino-Japanese descendants' petitions for official Japanese recognition has consistently been made by those groups for the past several years in light of the descendants' old age, many having died already.
Many have failed before to get citizenship either of their Japanese father or Filipino mother because of such factors as destruction, voluntarily or by natural causes, of family records during and after the war, and ignorance about citizenship regulations.
Currently, these descendants are considered "stateless," and 103 of them have petitioned the Philippine government to be officially recognized as such.
Joining Inomata and Mallari in the interviews held in Puerto Princesa City, the capital of Palawan, were Masayuki Udagawa, the Japanese Embassy's chief consul, and lawyer Kenji Mochizuki from the Japan office of PNLSC.
Their interviewees included three of five living children of a certain Matsuichi Oshita, and one child each of four other Japanese men. The youngest was 75 and the oldest 89.
"I know my remaining time here on earth is very short. So if I have to rest in peace, I need to see where my father came from," Julio Oshita, 89, said on the sidelines of the interview.
Oshita said if his petition were granted by a Japanese family court, he would opt to continue living in the Philippines, but would allow his children and grandchildren to work in Japan.
He said his father arrived in Palawan from Japan by boat long before the war began, was very loving to his children when he became a family man, and was killed by local people during the war.
On Mochizuki's questioning, Oshita spoke a few Japanese words, including numbers one to 10, saying he learned those from his older brother who spent longer time with their father.
The rest of the interviewees, however, had almost zero first-hand information about their fathers since they were still infants at the time they died. Almost everyone also lacked such important documents as their parents' marriage certificates, their own birth certificates and photos of their fathers.
"My impression is, every person has a very confusing history...I know there is difficulty to resolve this affair, to take a nationality," Udagawa, who joined the interviews for the first time, told Kyodo News when asked about the process.
"I understand this is a matter for the Japanese courts (to resolve)...And now, I guess the Philippine government also understands the Japanese descendants' plight. So now there is a big chance to resolve (it)...So we just keep going, keep working," he added.
Inomata and Mallari encouraged the descendants lacking documents to revisit the relevant agencies and secure materials that can be attached to their formal petitions before Japanese family courts.
In support of these actual efforts, the PNLSC and Nikkeijin Kai federation plan to personally convey the issue to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, make another personal appeal for support with the Japanese leadership in October, and bring the issue as well before the United Nations.