Plaza Dilao in History

Though it is only a small patch of earth, Plaza Dilao is historically significant in the history of Philippine-Japanese relations:

1592 – It memorializes the Dilao of old, which was the first nihon-machi of the early Japanese. The old Dilao, which was originally located just outside Intramuros was established in 1592 by the Spanish colonial government as the first district for Japanese residents of Manila.

1614 – It also memorializes the 148 Christians from Japan who rather than abjure their religion, came to live in Manila. Takayama’s group included his own family – his wife Doña Justa Takayama, a married daughter, and five grandchildren (aged 8-16) — and over 100 Japanese nobles, including Lord Juan Tocuan Naito (Hideyoshi’s ambassador to the Ming court in China), Naito’s son, Thome Naito, as well as members of the first Japanese religious congregation for women, led by Prioress Julia Naito (who was Lord Naito’s younger sister), including Doña Maria Iga; Doña Maria Park; Doña Maria Muni, Doña Mencia; Doña Lucia de la Cruz, and Doña Tecla Ignacia. Another fellow-exile was Diego Yuki Ryosetsu (a seminarian ordained a Jesuit priest in Manila in 1615, martyred in “the pit” in Osaka in 1635, and among 188 Japanese beatified in 2008.) Other prominent exiles were Ukita Hisayasu, Shinagawa Uhei and Shinagawa Gombei.

1615-1628 – Lord Juan Tocuan Naito became Regidor of Dilao and San Miguel districts, collecting tributes from residents in these districts.

1898 – Plaza Dilao was the area proposed by the Philippine Historical Markers’ Committee in 1943 to commemorate the 25 Japanese volunteers who assisted Filipinos in their uprising against Spain in 1898.

1945 – During the Liberation of Manila (February 3 – March 3, 1945), 300 Japanese soldiers lost their lives defending the Paco Railway Station and the adjoining Plaza Dilao, to prevent American troops from advancing to South Manila. The battle for the Paco Railway Station changed hands three times during the fighting from February 7-11, 1945. The battle ended on Feb. 11, 1945 – Kigensetsu Day (National Foundation Day of Japan) — when the 37th Infantry Division finally annihilated the Japanese defenders. The citations for the four Medals of Honor awarded to American soldiers confirmed the number of Japanese soldiers killed: 300.

Other World War II numbers:

More Than One Million Filipinos Dead: The Japanese Occupation cost the Philippines over 1,000,000 lives of its 17 million prewar population.

Over 100,000 Filipinos Dead During Liberation Battle: The Battle for Manila (February 3 to March 3, 1945) caused over 100,000 deaths.

Death Toll of the Philippine Church: During the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines (1942-1945), the Philippine Church lost one Bishop; 62 secular clergy; 88 religious priests; nine chaplains; four deacons and scholastics; 37 Brothers and 86 Sisters. Total war casualties: 289. (In Manila, the Church of Japan lost two priests: Fr. Joseph Isamu Ikeda, who studied at the UST Interdiocesan Seminary and was ordained a priest on Jan. 5, 1945 by Manila Archbishop Michael J. O’Doherty – d. March or April, 1945; and Fr. Haruo Sugiyama [a priest impressed as a soldier into the Japanese military], who was waylaid on P. Noval St., Sampaloc, after visiting Father Ikeda at the UST Seminary – d. Jan. 10, 1945. If major seminarians are included in the death count, as is the practice in the Philippine Church — then the Don Bosco seminarians, Sebastian Masaji Maki <d. Nov. 1944>, and John Shigeru Nishimura <d. Feb. 1945> would also be listed among the Japanese Church’s war deaths.)


1977 – Plaza Dilao memorializes the checkered Philippine-Japanese history that has spanned four centuries – with Lord Ukon Takayama as the best exemplar of friendship and amity between the two peoples.


Takayama Memorial at Plaza Dilao, Manila (1977)

To support the call of the Philippines’ then 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 February 1, 1973, the Kababaihan sa Pagpapaganda ng Lungsod ng Maynila [Ladies’ Committee for the Beautification of the City of Manila].

Their assignment: Beautify Plaza Dilao.

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.

The ladies’ research indicated that the Dilao area had been reserved by the Spanish colonial government for Manila’s Japanese population in 1592. 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? They decided to consult Japanese Ambassador Toshio Urabe about the possibilities.

But Ambassador Urabe discouraged the idea. Being located at a very busy traffic intersection, a garden would not be safe for residents to relax in.

The Manila ladies proposed that, whatever project was suitable, this could be jointly undertaken by the cities of Manila and Yokohama, a sister city of Manila since 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 public involvement and support in Japan — “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.

Ambassador Urabe could not believe his luck. Only 28 years after the war, 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 the 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.

After Rev. Katoh conferred with Archbishop 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, sponsored 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! — only a scant 32 years after the brutal Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

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 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 now guaranteed, the Kababaihan pursued the project.

 As agreed upon, the city of Manila would provide the land and the labor, while Japanese sponsors would contribute 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. Cieslik, 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.”

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.



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.

During the inauguration on November 17, 1977, Rev. Fr. Toru A. Nishimoto, CSsR, chaplain of Japanese nationals in the Archdiocese of Manila, 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 Hideo Omae of Takatsuki were both present. Nishimori Masaaki, 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.

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, Cardinal Taguchi (1902-1978) passed away, happy that the Japanese Historical Committee had at last completed the Takayama papers 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.


Manila-Takatsuki Sister Cities (1979)

By January 1978, a goodwill mission was dispatched by Takatsuki City to Manila, to propose a sister-city tie-up with Manila. Mr. Saichi Nakano, president of “ENCOURAGE,” helped Mayor Fumitoshi Nishijima of Takatsuki; and Mr. Katzuo Fujikawa, a member of the Takatsuki City Council, in negotiating a sister-city arrangement between Manila and Takatsuki.

“Takatsuki is not a capital like Manila, but the historical significance — [Lord Ukon Takayama was lord of Takatsuki Castle and died as an exile in Manila] — compensates for the difference,” Mayor Nishijima wrote.

The sister city pact was signed on January 25, 1979.


Takayama Memorial Declared a National Monument (1992)

On November 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, 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. Miki, chairman of the PJCI, and 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.

Two confirmed guests were no-shows: President Ramos and Archbishop Francis Xavier Kaname Shimamoto (archbishop of Nagasaki, and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan). The President had been diverted by pressing matters of state. Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore had arrived that morning for a series of talks with President Ramos. Archbishop Shimamoto was diverted by the Vatican to serve as Papal Legate at the Asian Congress on Evangelization, which was opening that same morning at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). The five-day conference was attended by delegates from Catholic groups from Burma, India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Macau, Singapore and Thailand.


Japanese Ambassador’s Response

The Japanese Ambassador, Hirokazu Arai, remarked:

“Japan and the Philippines have been developing steadily in recent years in the wide spectrum of political, economic and socio-cultural considerations, but it is heartening for all of us to look back into past history and realize that as early as 1614 when Lord Justo Takayama and over 100 Japanese Christian nobles were exiled to the Philippines, there was already a heart-to-heart relationship between the two peoples. When they arrived in Manila, they were given an enthusiastic welcome by friendly Filipinos. When Lord Ukon died less than two months after his arrival, he was awarded the rare honor of a solemn state funeral, while his family and compatriots were allowed to remain. Their stay in this country and the subsequent establishment of Japanese towns are confirmations that men of different races, cultures and nationalities, can live together in amity and harmony if the common goal is peace, freedom and prosperity for all mankind.

“With this marker permanently displayed in this historical Plaza Dilao, I am convinced that this will always be a reminder of goodwill, cooperation and friendship between Japan and the Philippines.”

Five decades after the war, the mood of the Philippine population is — remarkably, for a country ravaged during the Japanese occupation — tolerant. This is because the population is relatively young: 83 percent were born after the war, and therefore have no direct memories of Japanese atrocities.

By Dr. Ernie A. De Pedro, Managing Trustee
Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation

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