Sunday, September 23, 2007

Haponés - The Early 20th Century Japanese Community of Baguio

The UP Asian Center and the UP Jorge B. Vargas Museum & Filipiniana Research Center opens Haponés: The Early 20th Century Japanese Community of Baguio at the Edge Gallery on 20 November 2007 at 5pm. Based primarily on the recently published book, Japanese Pioneers in the Northern Philippine Highlands (Filipino Japanese Foundation of Northern Luzon, Inc., 2004), this exhibition of approximately 60 photographs of Baguio's vibrant Japanese community illuminates a portion of Philippine, Japanese, and American colonial history that has come close to being forgotten.

In the early years of the 20th century, American government installations in the Philippines were important work sites for Japanese migrant laborers. In northern Luzon, the most ambitious of these colonial projects resulted in the creation of Baguio and its development into the country's most famous tourist destination. The Japanese pioneers joined Filipinos, Americans, and Chinese who flocked to this highland zone in the early 1900s in search of gold, commerce, and wage work. The building of a highway (the "Benguet Road," later called the Kennon Road) to connect the proposed urban center to the Manila Railroad employed over a thousand Japanese men; they made up almost a quarter of the road's total work force that included men from 46 nationalities. Among the Japanese were numerous skilled carpenters, masons, and gardeners, merchants, and building contractors who went to live in the Baguio-Benguet region upon the completion of the road in 1905.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Japanese retail businesses as well as agricultural, construction, and trucking enterprises flourished in a prosperous city. Images of early 1900s Baguio landscapes document the city's growth into a premier vacation resort in Asia. Photographs of work places and family groups depict Japanese culture, society, and work in the American colonial hill station. In all, they portray the migrant community's full engagement in northern Luzon economic and civic life. Because of the great toll on Filipino life and society in the Second World War, most of the stories told in these pictures came to be shared only within small groups of Japanese-Filipino descendants. Most changed their names and identities in the face of violent anti-Japanese feelings during and after the war. Few of the community's elders, the pioneers' children, now remain.

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