Cebu City is a growing and booming metropolis located in the heart of the Philippines. With people from all corners of the Visayas and Mindanao and even parts of Luzon flocking to the city in search for better life, it is not surprising that trade and commerce has done wonders in changing the landscape of the once oldest city in the country into a modern one. Construction sites are everywhere from high-rise hotels to gargantuan malls.

There seems to be a cold war for mall supremacy in the city and in the region with the Robinson's Galleria and SM Seaside City at their tail-end of construction. Gone are the days when most of the happening places are in Colon Street dominated by small Chinese family-owned stalls, stores and mini markets. Do you remember the times from way back when there was no Gaisano shopping malls yet? When everything was still cheap and affordable?

In those times during the early years of the American colonial period, poor people go to the Carbon Market to buy every home essentials from food stuff to household items while the rich and middle class go to one of the many stores in Colon Street. However, there is one store that stands above everyone else - Nippon Bazar.

It was the first of its kind in its time as it sold a lot of items you don't normally buy in the wet market from the latest Americana suits to ice cream. Yes, that cold treat we always love! It has the first ice cream parlor in Cebu. Care for a soda drink? They also have it. Ironically, it was owned by a Chinese entrepreneur Yap Anton (1865-1925) when we all know that there is no love lost between the Chinese and the Japanese. He is also the founder of the Cebu Chinese School.

Another Japanese mall that also proliferated later and became Nippon's competitor was the Taisho Bazar. It was located just bellow the old YMCA building around Magallanes Street.

No one knows what was like inside one of these "bazars" but a little insight about a life then was when a tomb of a Japanese girl at the Lorega-San Miguel Cemetery was discovered. Shizuko Kanagae, died in 1920 at the age of 2, was a daughter of a Japanese expatriate named Seitaro Kanagae. Mr. Kanagae, who had lived in the Philippines from 1909 to 1946, worked at the Japanese bazar and wrote a memoir detailing his experiences in our country. He talked about Japanese shopkeepers, owners, gardeners, landscapers, seafarers, fishermen and carpenters, nikkei-jins who were part of Cebuano urban society before World War II. Nikkei-jin is a Japanese term used to refer to any Japanese person who left Japan and settled elsewhere. It is also applied to the descendants of that person.


“An uncle of mine, Mr. Masuguro Sakamoto, owned and managed a store in Cebu known as Japanese Bazaar. After his death in Nagasaki in 1920 while returning to his homeland for a visit, I was asked to take his place at the Bazaar,” Mr. Kanagae recalled. “Cebu City is the second largest in the country, the biggest being Manila. Its port is dotted with several warehouses spread throughout its wharv . . . When I arrived in Cebu (in 1920), there were still very few Japanese. As best I can remember, there were some Japanese residents who worked at the local branches of Mitsui Industrial Co. and the Daido Trading Co., along with some merchants, ice-water peddlers, carpenters and prostitutes,” Mr. Kanagae added.

He mentioned that Cebu City was already a vibrant place as it was populated with other Japanese establishments providing goods and services to the local populace. “The Japanese residents in Cebu became remarkably successful, beginning in the early 30s, with the establishment of several bazaars, namely: Nippon Bazaar (two branches), the Central Bazaar, Taisho Bazaar, Tokyo Bazaar, Sakkura Bazaar, Honest Bazaar and Osaka Bazaar. Among the Japanese residents who stood out in their respective fields were Kamezo Kinugasa, Kiemon Iwakiri, Nagahide Mori, and Hiroshi Hinokiyama,” he added.

Way before the Japanese invaded the Philippines on December 8, 1941, they were already here. It's not certain if many of them provided intelligence for the the Imperial Japanese Army before and during the war but the possibility is high that they did. Mr. Kanagae was vague about his role and some Nikkei-jins' participation during the war but one thing is for sure, his recollections provide us a window to the past.

Photo Credits: Skyscrapercity

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