Two Yokohama women — both daughters of former samurai — may have become footnotes in Philippine history, but not in the lives of two important 19th-century Filipino reformists now considered heroes.
Usui Seiko, more popularly known as O Sei San, and Udagawa Okiyo intersected the lives of national hero Jose Rizal (1861-1896) and Mariano Ponce (1863-1918), respectively, during the two reformists’ stay in Yokohama, a port city some 40 km south of Tokyo.
Rizal was on a six-week stay in Yokohama enroute to Europe via the United States in the spring of 1888 when he met Usui. Ponce was detailed there as diplomatic representative of the Emilio Aguinaldo-led First Republic from June 1898 to September 1899, during which time he courted Udagawa.
Usui has gone down in Philippine history as Rizal’s Japanese romantic interest who introduced him to Japanese culture as they went on afternoon strolls talking in French. Udagawa became Ponce’s wife, left Japan with him, converted into Christianty, bore him children, and never returned to her homeland. Both women lived long enough to witness their Filipino beaus enshrined in the pantheon of Philippine national heroes and experience World War II from opposite sides.
In what he called a “love story-telling session,” Prof. Wystan de la Peña of UP Diliman’s College of Arts and Letters and the UP Center for International Studies (UPCIS), used the Rizal-Usui and Ponce-Udagawa narratives to frame the lecture on Filipino ilustrado patriots he gave on November 23, 2017 at Ferris University, the first all-women university in Japan founded more than a century ago by Western Christian missionaries.
Entitled “Ilustrados Enamorados del Japón (Illustrados Enamored with Japan), or La Tierra del Sol Naciente (The Land of the Rising Sun) in the Filipino Hispanic Elite’s Imagining of a Post-Colonial Philippines,” de la Peña’s lecture unravelled the emergence of Japan as a regional power, following its victory in the 1894-95 war against China, and as a nation that the two reformists saw as a model for an independent Philippines.
De la Peña, who translated Ponce’s diplomatic correspondence to Filipino and who is also UPCIS coordinator of European Studies, showed powerpoint slides featuring coverage of the Sino-Japanese War by the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia and images of articles from La Solidaridad, the Filipino reformists’ organ. Both newspapers showed favorable representations of Japan.
When La Solidaridad folded in 1896, the year Rizal died, Ponce left for Hong Kong to be part of the Aguinaldo government. He later went to Yokohama to procure weapons for the Filipino army during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).
The presentation used data obtained from the research “Images of Japan in Filipino Spanish Language Newspapers, 1900-1910” funded by the Sumitomo Foundation.
Students, faculty, and alumni of Ferris University, Yokohama National University (YNU), Japan Women’s University, and the UP Center for International Studies attended the hour-long lecture. Among the professors in attendance were Profs. Patrick Heller, Chiho Ogaya and Onishi Hiroshi of Ferris University; Profs. Tanabe Kazuko, PhD and Yasunori Fukuda, PhD of Japan Woman’s University; Prof. Kabashima Hiromi of YNU; and Assoc. Prof. Amparo Adelina C. Umali,III, PhD.
During the Q&A forum, Onishi, a historian, expressed interest in researching on Filipino ilustrados in Yokohama, especially Artemio Ricarte (1866-1945), one of Aguinaldo’s generals who preferred exile in Japan than swear allegiance to the United States at the end of the Philippine-American War.
Kabashima welcomed the lecture and said all the information she had heard was new to her. The lady professor was present during an earlier discussion between UPCIS and YNU students on the Philippines’ economic divide, part of programmed activities in the Ferris Short Stay Visit/Exchange Program. The UPCIS students also had a similar activity with their Ferris University counterparts.
The lecture, arranged by Umali and Ogaya, is one of two prepared presentations of the 2017 Ferris University Short Stay Visit/Exchange Program organized by UPCIS East and Southeast Asian Studies Division and UPCIS European Studies Division with Ferris University and YNU.
The program, a brainchild of Umali, coordinator of UPCIS East and Southeast Asian Studies Division, and Ogaya, of Ferris University’s Faculty of Arts and Letters, began with a visit by UPCIS students in 2015, a year before the two universities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). (Center for International Studies)