►TO SUPPORT the call of the Philippines’ First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos (1929- ), for a beautification program for Metro-Manila at the start of Martial Law (1972-1981), Manila Mayor Ramon D. Bagatsing (1916-2006) organized on Feb. 1, 1973, the Kababaihan sa Pagpapaganda ng Lungsod ng Maynila [Ladies’ Committee for the Beautification of the City of Manila].
Their assignment: Beatify the parks and open spaces that dot Metro-Manila. Their first priority: Beautify Plaza Dilao which visiting VIPs pass by in their motorcade from the Manila airport to Malacanan Palace.
Ladies’ Committee for the Beautification of Manila
The members of the Kababaihan were: Mrs. Julita C. Benedicto (wife of Philippine Ambassador to Tokyo, Roberto S. Benedicto), chairman; Mrs. Purita Ponce-Enrile, co-chairman; Mrs. Leonora Pascual, co-chairman; Mrs. Elisa Abello (wife of Philippine Ambassador to Washington, Emilio Abello), vice-chairman, and Miss Lourdes R. Caruncho, executive secretary. Members were Mrs. Carmen P. Caro; Ms Mariquita Castelo; Ms Remedios Francisco (historian); Mrs. Leticia de Guzman; Mrs. Minerva G. Laudico; Mrs. Milagros Sumulong; Ms Albina Tuason, and Ms Juanita Valera.
When the ladies’ research indicated that the Dilao area – the old site, that is — had been reserved by the Spanish colonial government for Manila’s Japanese population in 1592, finally relocating at the Plaza Dilao area in Paco in 1762, the Japanese element crept in. Perhaps a Japanese garden – “with plenty of plants and benches for people to rest and relax especially during the evening when traffic is less” — could be developed?
Former Japanese Settlement — Requiring Japanese Motif?
They decided to consult Japanese Ambassador Toshio Urabe (1969-1974) about the possibilities.
Not readily recognized by the Manila ladies at that time, Ambassador Urabe was the longest-serving Japanese diplomat engaged in rebuilding postwar Philippine-Japanese relations. Ambassador Urabe was a veteran Philippine hand, having been first assigned to Manila in 1953 as Counsellor of the Japanese Overseas Liaison Office. He led the team that negotiated the Philippine-Japanese Reparations Agreement that was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1956. He was returned to Manila in 1964 as Ambassador, staying on till 1974.
In 1973, Ambassador Urabe – who is credited with the Japanese Garden at the Rizal Park and the Japanese Memorial Garden in Caliraya (Laguna) — discouraged the “garden” idea. He was not being a killjoy. Being located at a very busy traffic intersection, he thought “a Japanese garden would not be safe for residents to relax in.”
The Manila ladies countered that, whatever project was suitable, this could be jointly undertaken by the cities of Manila and Yokohama (Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken), a sister city of Manila since July 1, 1965.
Urabe assured the ladies that he would contact the City of Yokohama for funding support, but — now he wanted to enlarge the base of Japanese public involvement and support — “he was quite vocal in saying that Manila’s sister city Yokohama should not be the only one to help in this project, but the other cities of Japan as well,” the Kababaihan reported to the Manila mayor.
Japanese Civic Groups and Christian Breakfast Prayer Groups Pitch In
AMBASSADOR URABE could not believe his luck. Only 28 years after the war (and only 17 years after the Philippine ratification of the Reparations Agreement), the Manila ladies — entirely on their own initiative — were proposing a joint people-to-people endeavor that the Japanese themselves had not even thought of.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs then logically turned to the Japanese sector most concerned: the small minority of Japanese Christians who comprised less than one percent of Japan’s total population. The Gaimusho contacted the Southeast Asian Friendship and Culture Association (SEAFCULA), whose founder and managing director was Rev. Ryoichi Katoh, minister of the Tokyo Ikebukuro Church, an affiliate of the United Church of Christ in Japan (KYO-DAN). Providentially, the SEAFCULA had been founded “on the concept of ‘Redemption’ for the wrongful deeds committed during World War II against the Asian nations.” They set to work at once.
“When they [the Foreign Ministry] approached us, requesting our cooperation on the matter, we were of course glad and ready to accept their proposal, since we thought it proper to cooperate with them fully on the project, as part of the said redeeming activities,” Katoh would recall four years later.
Gravitating Towards Ukon Takayama as the ‘Epitome of the Japanese Spirit’
After Rev. Katoh conferred with Archbishop Paul Yoshigoro Taguchi in Osaka, a memorial to Ukon Takayama became central to the SEAFCULA’s beautification plans.
The “Prospectus for the Construction of a Statue of Ukon Takayama and a Memorial Japanese Garden at Manila (SEAFCULA 73-142),” confirms that in Japan, Pastor Ryoichi Katoh and Archbishop Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi, archbishop of Tokyo and chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, agreed to sponsor the memorial project “as an ecumenical effort of Protestants and Catholics in Japan and the Philippines.” Certainly, at that time, it was most audacious to propose to the Philippines to erect a memorial to a Japanese personality — a samurai at that! — a scant 32 years after the brutal Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
Manila Ladies Propose Ukon Takayama as the Personification of Philippine-Japanese Amity
In Manila, the Kababaihan sa Pagpapaganda ng Lungsod ng Maynila, after studying the possibilities, proposed on March 28, 1973, to Mayor Bagatsing:
“We women recommend that a memorial monument be constructed to honor the Christian feudal lord Takayama at a site of 2,000-square meters in front of Paco Station of the Manila Railroad in Plaza Dilao. This land had been assigned by the former Spanish government to the Japanese refugees. The realization of this plan should pave the way not only for closer fellowship between Japanese and Philippine churches, but also promote better friendship between the two countries.”
With the guaranteed financial support of SEAFCULA; the Executive Committee of Takatsuki City; the Keizai-Doyukai [the Japanese Council for Economic Development]; and Catholic and Protestant churches in Japan, the Kababaihan now proceeded with the project.
Japanese Sculptor Nishimori Commissioned to Erect Statue
AS AGREED UPON, the city of Manila provided the land and the labor, while Japanese sponsors contributed to provide the memorial. The Takayama statue, sculpted by the Christian convert Johannes Masaaki Nishimori (1939-), would be donated by the people of Takatsuki. Nishimori, then still known as Johannes Masaaki Nishimori (but today as Houshoo Nishimori), was a distinguished sculptor of international repute. Even the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo had commissioned Nishimori to sculpt “Sho Kannon” for the Embassy in 1974.
Nishimori spent several months at the Plaza Dilao area, figuring out what sort of memorial he would construct for Takayama. But as photographs of the Takayama statue in Takatsuki had been used to secure the approval of Philippine officials, it was decided that the self-same statue could be installed in Manila. Thus, the Takayama statue at Plaza Dilao was cast from the same mold as the original at the Shiroato Historical Park in Takatsuki City (Osaka Prefecture) in 1972. Other Takayama “twins” are in Takaoka (Toyama Prefecture) – at Kojyo Park — whose castle had been repaired by Takayama, while he was in the employ of the Maeda clan, and in Takamatsu – at the entrance of the Shodoshima Sonosho Catholic Church of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus.
As the work of Nishimori was explained by Fr. Hubert Cieslik, SJ, Lord Takayama’s hand, “horizontal over the sword, is a symbol of peace and justice,” at the same time, “the sword, forming a part of the long-beam of the Cross, is a symbol of a Christian samurai.”
Plaza Dilao Devolopment Suspended
BUT AS AMBASSADOR URABE had expected when the project was first discussed in 1973, there was some grumbling from war veterans’ groups, though these were never officially ventilated. As the project took shape, it was apparent that the memories of World War II and the atrocities committed by the Japanese were still fresh in some people’s mind. Unruly student demonstrations at the United States Embassy on Roxas Boulevard were a weekly occurrence in Manila at that time. The possibility that they might divert their considerable energies to the Plaza Dilao memorial honoring a Japanese delayed the construction of the plaza.
The Metro Manila Commission, headed by Mrs. Marcos, now cautioned the Manila Mayor on the prudence of installing the memorial at that time. The work was abruptly stopped. The inauguration scheduled for October 1, 1976 was indefinitely postponed.
WHEN PRESIDENT FERDINAND E. MARCOS (1917-1989) decided to proceed to Tokyo on a state visit on April 25-28, 1977, Rev. Katoh considered this a great opportunity to get him to reconsider the stopping of the project. In desperation at the stalemate in Manila, Katoh sent a three-page letter to President and Mrs. Marcos, petitioning to be allowed to complete the project. He said 104 Christian Breakfast Prayer Groups in Japan were praying for the successful completion of this project:
“Takayama, who was unmistakably a great Christian figure in respect to his culture and humanity, has served as a bridge established between the two countries in terms of friendship and culture to be fostered mutually.”
Katoh outlined for President Marcos “the life of martyrdom” that Takayama endured, recalling his exile and death in a foreign land: “Takayama had also come to lead a lonely life in exile, forsaking everything to include his brilliant social status and fame as a feudal lord, to say nothing of his great assets, being warmly tended for by your generous compassionate people….” Takayama was fated to die “an exile in another land,” a most painful destiny, Katoh reminded Marcos.
Mutual Expressions of Friendship and Amity
WHEN THE Sculptor Nishimori returned to Manila to look into the progress of the construction in June 1977, he brought a note — in English — from Takatsuki Mayor Fumitoshi Nishijima to Mayor Bagatsing, thanking him “from the bottom of my heart” for showing “consideration to our Takatsuki City.” Mayor Nishijima expressed himself superbly:
This winter, the coldest since ten and several years, has gone at last; flowers bloom all around, and fresh greens are in bud now…. I, and also 340 thousand citizenry, have no words to express our gratitude for your endeavors to erect in Plaza Dilao … [the] monument of Lord Justo Takayama…. I believe [this will] strengthen the ties of international friendship between Manila and Takatsuki still more, and also between the Philippines and Japan….
Mayor Bagatsing responded in kind:
[The memorial] is certainly a fitting memory to one who established the nucleus of a very warm friendship between our two peoples… That monument will ever remain a living reminder that peace can be achieved where there is a common bond of brotherhood.
Inauguration on Nov. 17, 1977
WHEN THE MARCOSES were abroad, and Cardinal Jaime Sin was in Mexico, the Takayama Memorial was inaugurated, with the tacit consent of Mrs. Marcos — otherwise the Kababaihan would not have dared to proceed.
The invitations indicated that Manila Auxiliary Bishop Amado H. Paulino (Parish Priest of Tondo, 1972–1985) would bless the Takayama Memorial at its inauguration on Nov. 17, 1977. But it as actually Rev. Fr. Toru A. Nishimoto, CSsR, chaplain of Japanese nationals in the Archdiocese of Manila, who offered the invocation:
“Almighty God, who sent Ukon Takayama to Manila to wipe away malicious intentions and deeds of the Japanese during his time, let this statue of Ukon Takayama be a great symbol of goodwill of the Japanese people in Asia, especially in the Philippines.”
Ambassador Kiyohisa Mikanagi, the third Japanese ambassador to be involved in the project, and Mayor Bagatsing of Manila, were the main guests. Rev. Katoh led a delegation of 35 from Tokyo; five from Takatsuki and 22 persons from the Tea Ceremony group. The Mayor of Takatsuki City, Hon. Fumitoshi Nishijima, and Speaker Hideyo Omae of Takatsuki were both present. Masaaki Nishimori, sculptor of the bronze statue, was also present.
Other guests were officers of the Japanese Club, Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Philippines-Japan Friendship Foundation, represented by Ambassador Jose S. Laurel, III, and the Philippines-Japan Society. Others invited were officers of the Federation of Former Students to Japan, headed by Leocadio de Asis; key officials of the Japanese Embassy in Manila, and Japanese news correspondents, based in Manila.
Mrs. Julita C. Benedicto, and the Japanese Ambassador’s lady, Mrs. K. Mikanagi unveiled the statue. Then the Philippines-Japan Friendship Park was presented by the Ladies’ Committee to the City of Manila.
Augury for a Future Dedicated to Friendship and Amity
WHEN ONE CONSIDERS that Manila was the most war-ravaged city in the world during World War II — at the hands of the Japanese military — the story of the Memorial’s establishment is nothing short of a miracle. When one considers further that the statue was erected only 32 years after the end of the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines — barely a generation! — then the Memorial is truly unique.
On February 28, 1978, three months after Rev. Katoh had recounted to him the inauguration of the Takayama Memorial, Osaka Cardinal Paul Yoshigoro Taguchi (1902-1978) passed away, happy that the Japanese Historical Committee had at last completed the Takayama papers (1975) and forwarded these to the Vatican, and satisfied that the Takayama Memorial now stood in Manila. From 1937 to 1977 – Cardinal Taguchi had dedicated the years to promoting the ‘Cause’ of Takayama.#
Across the Years, the Takayama Memorial Has Been a Destination of Japanese Pilgrims
From one jeep-full to three busloads, Japanese Christians and Buddhists, visit Manila to trace to footsteps of their exiled countryman, Lord Justo Ukon Takayama.
TAKAYAMA MEMORIAL IS DECLARED A NATIONAL MONUMENT (1992) – On Nov. 17, 1992 — on the 400th anniversary of the Dilao settlement (1592-1992), and the 15th anniversary of the Takayama Memorial at Plaza Dilao (1977-1992) — the National Historical Institute (now known as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines – NHCP), headed by Chairman Serafin D. Quiason (1930-2016), on the representations of the Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation, installed at last a marker making the Takayama Memorial a national monument.
Former Mayor Ramon Bagatsing (1916-2006; Mayor of Manila 1971-1986) seconded the Takayama Foundation’s request: The Takayama Memorial “is an enduring symbol of Filipino-Japanese amity that dates back to 1600s,” he wrote. Additional endorsements were made by Prof. Mutsuhiko Miki, chairman of the PJCI, and Atty. Leocadio de Asis, adviser of the Philippine Federation of Japan & ASEAN Council of Japan Alumni, and director, Philippines-Japan Society.
The bronze markers were blessed by His Eminence, Jaime Cardinal Sin, archbishop of Manila. The three markers — in Filipino, Japanese and English — were then unveiled by Ambassador Hirokazu Arai; Judge Jose A. Aguiling, president of the Manila International Sister City Association (MISCA), and Prof. Ernie A. de Pedro, managing trustee of Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation.
All Manila Mayors — On Board
Since 1977, all Manila Mayors – Mayor Ramon S. Bagatsing (1972-1988); Mayor Gemiliano “Mel” Lopez (Appt. 1986-1987; elected 1988-1992); Mayor Alfredo S. Lim (1992-1998; 2007-2013); Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza (1998-2007), and Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada (2013-2019) — have brought their guests from Japan to the Takayama Memorial to lay floral wreaths.
But the ongoing construction of the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 Project (MMSS-3) stopped all visits to Plaza Dilao, as the Takayama Statue was wrapped in mufti — to prevent damage from construction debris.
On April 12, 2018, Manila Mayor Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada called for a meeting of all stakeholders to discuss the future of the Philippines-Japan Friendship Park. The Toyono-cho pilgrims, led by Toyoshige Kubo, president of Toyono-cho’s ‘Ukon-Honoring Association,’ who were paying a courtesy call on the Manila Mayor that same afternoon were invited to join the briefing.#
Mr. Jose S. Tanqueco, Jr., Consultant of San Miguel Holdings Corporation (SMHC), shared how the rehabilitated Philippines-Japan Friendship Park at Plaza Dilao would look like.
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro