Note: This is a very long post because it seemed worth exploring the Japan-Philippines relationship more broadly. On the way through I came across some surprising data that was not generally known, even to some historians.
One instinctively feels that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of Japanese nationals in the Philippines prior to 1900 who might have introduced shaved ice desserts. In fact, one could have fitted the entire Japanese immigrant population in any one 19th century year into a jeepney.
Yes, there were 35 Japanese nationals in the Philippines in 1888, and if you think you can’t get 35 people into a jeepney you have much to learn.
And some years the jeepney would have been empty.
For 250 years of Tokugawa feudalism, Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world. Even as late as the 1870s Tokugawa shoguns were using a matchlock gun, called a tanegushima, based on 16th-century Portuguese weapons. It was last used by Samurai fighting the nine-year-old Meiji administration in the failed Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, the background to the movie The Last Samurai.
Talking of Samurai, we know that at least a half-dozen moved into Philippines in the late 19th century following the Meiji restoration. Their moment in history was over. For now.
The Meiji period started in 1868, and saw a massive modernisation program and at least some outreach to Manila and elsewhere. An international search for knowledge to support the new empire was one of the five charter oaths of the Meiji period.
A French cartoon celebrating Admiral Kamimura after the defeat of the Russian navy
A key objective was to be treated as an equal by Western powers. Winning the Sino-Japanese war of 1894/5 and the impressive, disciplined military performance of the Japanese army when it led the way to relieving the Foreign Legation in Peking, and supplied more ships and men than any other force, in 1900 got the attention of the West and resulted in the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1902. That treaty was intended to challenge Russian expansion and led to Japan’s navy handily clobbering its Russian opponent in 1904/5.
One of the participants in those conflicts was to get a name-check in the history of the Philippine Revolution: Kamimura Hikonjo (1849-1916).
Kamimura Hikonjo, Filipinos promoted him to Admiral.
Filipino accounts promoted him to Admiral in stories of a meeting with Andres Bonifacio, but in 1896 when the meeting took place he was a captain and Chief of Staff of the Japanese Readiness Fleet in Yokohama.
Each year two Yokohama-based British-built 3,000 tonne corvettes with complements of up to 308 officers and crew, the Kongo and the Hiei, alternated cadet training cruises and made visits to ports outside Japan, including Turkey, Piraeus in Greece and Honolulu.
Some sources claim the Bonifacio meeting was with an Admiral Hirawa but the Imperial Japanese Navy never had an Admiral Hirawa. Similarly, there are sources that claim the Japanese Consul was at the meeting but there was no such consul in Manila until October 1896.
On 11 April 1896, the Kong let-go its lines in Yokohama and set off for a training voyage around the region which would take it to Manila and into Philippine history and, possibly, an abortive attempt by revolutionaries to bring the country under the Japanese sphere of influence.
Thanks to the Meiji Restoration, Imperial Japanese Navy and merchant ships were now docking in Manila, the latter to deliver and transport a variety of goods. Officers and crew would go ashore to press the flesh with their countrymen and, in a different way, undoubtedly with sex-workers in Manila.
The Philippines became a source of raw materials like silk and hemp, which were converted to finished products for export back to Manila.
While Japan saw financial benefits in trade, the Spanish were keen to secure Japanese immigrants but there was little interest in the Japanese end. Japanese authorities despised the hopelessly corrupt and inefficient Spanish administration in Manila, the lack of agricultural development and industrialisation. They were also concerned that Japanese nationals would be abused the same way Filipinos were treated.
In 1888 the first Japanese consulate was opened then closed in 1893 when only seven Japanese nationals were recorded by the embassy although there were 30 from a Yokohama company installing streetlights for La Electrisista, which had a 20 year contract with the Spanish administration
The Japanese government was seeking greater trade with its geographical neighbours and several bazaars and other retail outlets established themselves in Manila. By 1896 there were just sixteen Japanese nationals recorded in the Philippines.
With growing unrest in the archipelago, the Japanese government kept an eye on developments. It gathered intelligence, including from the few Japanese settled in-country with Filipino friends and married to Filipinos. Some of that intelligence was fed back to Spanish authorities in Manila.
The Spanish grew suspicious of the tiny Japanese community and raided a number of businesses without finding anything suspicious.
Japanese population, Philippines. 1888-1898
The progress of Japan got the attention of Filipino revolutionaries. It was progressive, modern, patriotic, militarily powerful, Asian and independent, a potential Big Brother. The Katipunan sent a commission of about a half dozen to Yokohama to seek support from the Japanese government under perhaps surprising terms
Things Japanese became popular. Later, Japanese decorations were reported in Aguinaldo’s headquarters in Malolos.
Whether that fashion extended to shaved ice deserts we simply do not know for sure.
Despite adopting and indiginising food from China, Spain, India and the Middle East as well as, in a later period, the US, the only Japanese dish to be wholly filipinised appears to be shaved ice desserts like Halo-halo, despite the massive growth of Japanese immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Food that was identifiably Japanese became distinctly unfashionable post-WW2, only shaved ice deserts survived. Felice Prudente Sta. Maria tells me that Buchi or butse – fried rice flour balls smaller than a golf ball – and apa were leftovers from the Japanese and that sukiyaki was served pre-WW2 even in private homes.
It would appear that shaved ice desserts became fully integrated with Filipino culture over just 40 years and lost their cultural identity as Japanese.
Among the places the Japanese naval personnel hung out in the last years of the 19th century was the Bazar Japones on Plaza Moraga, where they could meet-up with their compatriots living in Manila. They may even have had accommodation there during their stay.
One of the Japanese expats they came across was Jose Tagawa Moritaro.
Born in 1864 to a farming family, Tagawa Moritaro was adopted by the Nakagawa family who trained him to become an expert ship’s carpenter. He was not formally educated and arrived in the Philippines in 1890. Possibly he was trying to avoid conscription into the Japanese military.
His carpentry skills served him well. He worked on the Manila-Dagupan railway and under the American regime he won a contract in 1898 to construct buildings for the US Navy at Subic Bay and appears to have had his own construction company.
1909 Advertisement for Tagawa Moritaro’s trading company.
In order to marry a girl from Bulacan, Victoriana, where he settled down as a farmer, Tagawa converted to Catholicism and added Jose to his name.
He did well in just a few short years, worked with a couple of Japanese bazaars then moved to Manila and set up an import-export agency, Tagawa Shoten which may have been an agency of the Kaigai Boeki Kaisha trading company in Japan.
Unlike Chinese shops, these bazaars were modern affairs that catered more to the elite, such as American governors-general in the early years of the American occupation.
Tagawa became a significant figure in Manila until he died in 1920, built another house in Taal. In 1900 he claimed compensation for its destruction in the Philippine-American War but was refused.
Now let’s get these two gentlemen together with Bonifacio and a few other revolutionaries.
Let me say that there is room to doubt that Captain Kimamura actually commanded the Kongo but we’ll let the assumption rest for now.
Much of what is known of the meeting comes from Spanish records of the interrogation of Pio Valenzuela in September that year. Certain aspects of the meeting are not mentioned in his later, brief memoirs, possibly for good reason.
In May 1896, when the Kongo docked in Manila, the Katipunan commission in Yokohama had achieved little. Here was an opportunity for the Katipunan’s head honcho, Andres Bonifacio, to directly connect with a representative of the Japanese government. It was decided to gatecrash the Japanese gathering at Bazar Japones.
They sought out one of the owners of the Bazar Japonese who lived in Nagtahan to help them and recruited Tagawa Moritaro as interpreter. Armed with gifts including a picture and fruits like melons from Aguinaldo, they made their way to the upper floor of the shop.
First, the surgeon of the Kongo arrived, followed later by Captain Kamimura. Iced drinks and coffee were served and the revolutionaries made florid introductions and expressions of respect for the Emperor of Japan.
A document was drawn up addressed to the Emperor requesting Japanese support and weapons for the uprising. Some sources claim that Kamimura accepted the document, others that he did not and merely copied it or took notes from it.
On the table was an offer to make the Philippines a Japanese protectorate, with an island, believed to be Mindoro, acting as surety. In 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo was to offer a similar deal to the United States.
It is worth noting that King Norodom of Cambodia successfully invited the French to take his country as a protectorate to secure it against incursions and occupation by the Thais and Vietnamese in the 1850s. Filipino.soldiersIt finally got its independence back in 1953. Filipino soldiers were part of the Spanish forces sent to assist France in its invasion of Vietnam in 1858. When there was an attempted coup against Norodom, Filipino soldiers fought on the side of his challenger the switched sides to support Norodom under the influence of French Catholic priest and. musicians from the Philippines served in the Cambodian royal court and Norodom courted a Filipina and gifted her with an emerald, probably from the Cardamom mountains.
There were, almost certainly, more Filipinos in Cambodia than in Japan at the time.
Given that the revolutionary leadership at least were well aware of what was going on in the region it is possible that a Cambodian-style protectorate, under Japan or the United States, made sense – independence under a protectorate similar to Cambodia.
However, Japan was looking westward at the time for its modernisation programme and unwilling to face European and American navies. It would be another 35 years before it fully developed its version of the Monroe doctrine which could have justified its intervention in the Philippines.
And although the IJN fleet could have sunk Patricio Montojo’s dilapidated fleet in Canacao Bay as easily as Commodore Dewey’s did on 1 May 1898 it would then have had to face the rest the Spanish fleet, undistracted by war in Cuba, an altogether harder nut to crack.
There seems to have been little benefit in intervention at that time.
What the offers do indicate is that both Bonifacio and Aguinaldo knew that the revolution could not prosper without support from a powerful friend.
It is claimed that Bonifacio sent a petition bearing 20,000 signatures to the Emporer. He tried to persuade Tagawa to send a letter to the commission in Japan to send 60,000 guns to the revolutionaries but Tagawa refused and distanced himself from them.
Eventually, an unseaworthy ship was dispatched with arms, which sank. Another was seized in Taiwan.
A tiny number of ultranationalist Japanese officials and military personnel supported Japan’s intervention in the Philippines and a few did join the revolutionaries and but had little impact on outcomes against either the Spanish or the Americans.
So, given the very few Japanese in Manila to support a Japanese eatery and lack of records of one existing prior to 1900, and the unsettled conditions of the islands discouraging Japanese migration, it seems unlikely that shaved ice desserts emerged before the end of the century if not beyond.
There was one industry from which Japanese-style shaved ice dessert might have emerged and which might explain much.
These were the naughty bits.
The revolution of 1896 to 1898 and the Philippine-American War which followed is not of immediate concern except the impact of American occupation on Manila.
Manila was a free-spending boom town from 1898. It was filled with soldiers burning money in their pockets, businessmen looking for opportunities, major construction project like the Benguet road to Baguio needing semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
It was fertile ground for sex-workers. Philippine immigration laws did not prohibit prostitutes from.entering the country but did forbid women being imported to become prostitutes.
Circular, 2 January 1902
It is a bit of a surprise to learn that few Filipinas joined this rapidly expanding market. The 1903 census reports just 141 Filipino prostitutes,, a ration of 1 in 25,000.
European and American prostitutes amounted to 75, a far greater percentage.
The census counted 260 Japanese prostitutes, Karayuke-san, of a total of 446 Japanese females in the islands, more than half.
A Japanese owner and procurer called Muraoka Ihedji described the story of these women, and it is a familiar one today in the Philippines;
Uneducated girls in poor areas of Japan were promised nonexistent jobs abroad and smuggled overseas. They would be charged extortionate amounts of money for travel, accomodation and fictional taxes which they could only repay by becoming prostitutes.
It did however enable them to send money to their families in Japan, who were often aware of what was going on and turned a blind eye to it.
Historian Motoe Terami-Wada gives us a whiff of a smoking gun: “…whenever a brothel opened in any corner of the South Seas, the establishment of bazaars immediately followed, to satisfy the girls’ cravings for Japanese food…”
The centre for the sex trade was Sampaloc and surrounds. Bars and restaurants were fronts for brothels and provided food the girls craved. Japanese street vendors also appeared around Sampaloc.
And so shaved ice desserts entered the Philippines. But how did it enter Filipino consciousness?
Sampaloc was a rather posh area at the beginning of the 20th century. Japanese brothels appeared on Calle Alix and Gardenia Street from. around 1900. These were not the haunts of the ordinary Filipino who earned, on average about 1 peso a day while a session with a Japanese prostitute would set one back 30 pesos, a month’s wages.
But by 1906/08 very different, cheap and popular forms of entertainment were moving into the area – the cinema. Cine Moderno, well remembered today by people whose parents took them to see movies as a treat, opened in 1907.
Part of that treat was to eat mongo con hielo from a Japanese street vendor. So it was that a Japanese shaved ice dessert began the process of entering the Filipino consciousness, and of becoming Filipino. By 1912 mongo con hielo was so familiar it was on the menu of Tondo Intermediate School and included in the girl’s culinary education.
Eventually, in the 1920s, the brothels were driven out of Sampaloc, the Japanese Karayuke-san deported and some reportedly sent to Davao, but the shaved desserts they introduced remain today.
Apart from pleasure, the fondness for ice and iced desserts also brought death.