Forgiveness (Nagoya)

May 5, 2018

In history classes, one of the first things we learned was the atrocities of world war - those committed by the Japanese foremostly. Their soldiers raped our women. They killed our men and children. They invaded a space that is ours and declared it theirs - though a declaration that's only short-lived.

My mother worked in Japan when I was a toddler. Our photo albums are filled with her weekend trips to Tokyo and Nagoya: a hand on a wide-brimmed hat, sakura or peculiar statues on hills, random local friends. In those pictures, we glimpsed into the bubblier side of her life as a foreign worker.

During these early years, I didn't imagine wanting to be there. In a way, those history classes, along with the story of yakuza mobsters, frightened me. Outside those pretty portraits, all we heard of from Mama was how bad it was to be there. She didn't even last a whole year. She did say though that the Japanese are very remorseful. If they could, they'd take back what happened. They'll do anything to gain our forgiveness.

When I came there for an assignment last year, I didn't expect to be mind-blown. Yes, the pristine state of any point and plane was astounding. But the bigger revelation was, even in my home country - a land known to be among the sunniest and most hospitable in the world - "pakikipagkapwa" doesn't run as deep as it does in Japan.

The Japanese are gentle, considerate, and polite. Theirs isn't a society that lives for the "I". They are careful not to bother or intrude, often excessively so. It is a society where people are always conscientious of others - certainly not what I envisioned from those books or the yakuza stories my mother brought home. It's a country that continues to transcend its grotesque history.

To take that last step off the airport terminal in Nagoya stung. Whenever I look back at photos of that trip, there's always a part of me that wants to go back. I know then that I've grown to love Japan and its people, in some aspects, as much as I love my Philippines. How ironic that is: to love a country that was once a villain to yours.

When I visit places where our soldiers were tortured to death during the war, such as Corregidor, San Fernando, Mariveles, and Capas, I still remember my history classes; the cruelty that was done to our people. But I also remember that forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting wrongdoing. It means mending the wound until it no longer hurts. Mend it until you can see a scar and say, "This scar is a part of me, but I refuse to let it define all of me. I refuse to be a mere casualty."

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