When Akizon Hasegawa received a call from the Kaizuka city office in Osaka in April asking if he could help support his father, who was living on city welfare, he could have been forgiven for just hanging up.
It had been 15 years since Akizon last saw his father, Akira, who returned to Japan and left him and his mother in the Philippines, and did not give him needed support or parenting.
Instead the phone call was a godsend for Akizon, 24, who obtained Japanese citizenship in 2008 in the hopes of finding his father.
More than 1,000 children of international couples, who were not originally granted Japanese citizenship because they were born out of extramarital relationships, or lacked recognition from their Japanese parents or for other reasons, become Japanese each year.
Like Akizon, they include many children of romances between Japanese men and Filipino women who worked at hotels, bars and other nightlife spots with entertainment visas since the 1980s.
While Akizon, who now lives in Yokohama, certainly had mixed emotions about his father, a brief conversation they had made him forgive him for the past. In the Golden Week holidays in early May, Akizon, his wife and their 1-year-old daughter traveled to Kaizuka for the first father-son reunion in 15 years.
"We were both surprised to see how we look like each other, and my mixed emotions toward him instantly faded away, realizing how much I wanted to see him," said Akizon, an auto-parts factory worker, recalling the "happiest day in his life" during a recent interview.
It was also a very emotional day for his father, now 62, partially paralyzed and dying, who said all he could do was apologize for neglecting his fatherhood duties.
"It was my final gift in life, probably the most precious. Akizon proved that a child can grow into a better person than his father on his own," Akira said.
At the end of this month, Akizon and his family are moving in with his father in Kaizuka to stay by Akira's bedside until his last moment, Akizon said.
While Akizon's quest to find his father ended happily, for most Japanese-Filipino children, often called JFC or "Japino," their desire to meet often ends in vain.
In March, a 21-year-old woman, who immigrated to Japan in March 2011, traveled to Fukui in search of her father, who she had lost contact with since receiving his last letter in 1991. Like Akizon Hasegawa, she once lost her eligibility for Japanese citizenship, as her parents did not properly report her birth to the Japanese consulate after she was born in the Philippines.
JFC Network, a Tokyo-based nonprofit group supporting Filipino children, found her father's legal domicile through the family register. But her grandparents who live at the address refused to see her, saying they wanted nothing to do with her.
In the final minutes before her return train to Tokyo was leaving, she finally saw her father in front of a train station. In the 5-minute reunion, her father, now in his 50s, showed up with his new girlfriend and gave her no words of apology or even a hug.
FATHERS TURN THEIR BACKS AGAIN
"It was not what I expected, but I am still feeling more a complete person after seeing my father," said the woman, who lives in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture.
Rieko Ito, general secretary of the JFC Network, said that Japanese-Filipino children rarely reconcile with their fathers even when they become Japanese after an often lengthy legal process to gain Japanese citizenship.
Fathers usually have their families here and are reluctant to face up to their past negligence of supporting the children they fathered in the Philippines. They are also reaching retirement age, with many living in marginal living conditions amid the protracted economic slump in Japan, she added.
This makes it much more difficult for children of extramarital relationships to become Japanese, because they are required to obtain recognition from fathers, who usually are out of contact for years or reluctant to rekindle their father-child relationship.
Through a court battle filed by these children, the citizenship law was amended in 2009 to make extramarital foreign children under 20 eligible for citizenship if they obtain recognition from their Japanese parent. Between 2009 and 2011, 483 Japinos applied for citizenship at the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines, according to the foreign ministry.
A 22-year-old Japino resident of Tokyo, for example, missed his chance to obtain citizenship because he is a child born of an extramarital relationship, and his father refused to give him recognition before he turned 20.
In June 2011, he came to Japan on a short-stay visa and visited his father's residence in Gunma Prefecture, but his father shut the door in his face, telling him, "I don't want to have anything to do with you."
"He abandoned me when I was a child, and he turned me away again. It was at that moment that I promised myself that I would never be a person like my father," the son said.
He now works at a ramen restaurant in Tokyo to support his mother back home in the Philippines. "I'm just using my father's surname to work in Japan," he said.
Regardless of many Japinos' mixed feelings toward their fathers' homeland, some manpower firms are now seeing them as a potential part of the workforce, or "passports" to bring their mothers to Japan as unskilled workers, as they are allowed to accompany their children when they are minors.
Japan maintains an immigration policy of not accepting unskilled foreign labor, and these agencies see Japinos, whom they call "shin-nikkeijin" or newly recognized of Japanese descent, as a legal loophole. They now adamantly recruit Japinos and their mothers.
JAPINOS IN DEMAND
Since 2007, Osaka-based Career Service Co. and its parent company, Konoike Transport Co., have brought 180 Japinos to Japan and helped them or their mothers, who accompanied them on their special visas, find work at elderly-care homes that are desperate for staffing.
It charges a client company 650,000 yen ($8,250) per worker to get them jobs in care facilities, and the money could be deducted from the worker's salary over several years, said Akihito Kamata, Career Service's CEO. The company estimates that there are requests for 200 workers every year, and it is expanding its business to bring in at least 120 annually in upcoming years.
"The mothers are former entertainers, but they have apparently mended their ways through living often in extreme poverty in the Philippines as single mothers," Kamata said.
"While Japan was internationally criticized for importing them as entertainers, we have built a sound system to recruit them into legitimate industries, and we believe this business is benefiting both Japan and the Philippines."
Increasing demand in Japan for Japino workers has transformed the nongovernmental organization Shin-nikkeijin Network (SNN) from a typical aid group into a busy recruitment base.
Founded in 2006 as a volunteer group to help local Japinos obtain Japanese citizenship, the Cebu-based organization now receives several hundred employment requests and inquiries from Japanese worker-dispatching agencies each month and has sent 200 Japinos and 130 mothers to Japan in recent years.
Akira Oka, the 85-year-old head of the group, expressed mixed feelings about its success.
"It is becoming a profitable business for Japanese companies, rather than the liquidation of Japan's ill assets," Oka said of the demand. "I still believe our effort is helping Japino children and their mothers escape from poverty, but given that the circumstances of these children are very different from conventional Japanese descendants overseas, we may need to be treated with a special sensitivity."
But many Japinos say that they do not feel like they are being treated with sensitivity. Erika Chino, 22, who was conceived out of an extramarital affair between a Japanese father and Filipino mother, came to Japan in February and has already discovered the harsh reality facing Japinos.
"JFCs who come here by themselves have difficulties in finding stable jobs because of the language barrier. Many girls work in 'omise' (hostess bars) and boys work in factories," said the language school student, who lives in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture.
"They are just repeating what their mothers were doing in Japan and perhaps the situation they are in now will be repeated when they have children."
Chino said Japan's attitude toward Japinos "mirrors" the opinion they have of their fathers. "We always talk about this--where did our fathers get their (irresponsible) values from? Japan!"
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