A lot of things have changed since the 1930s, when Davao City was born out of fear of Japanese control. What remained, however, is the affinity to it by the Japanese, who remain the top tourists to the city.
By Cheryll D. Fiel
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – On a wall in one of the galleries of the Davao Museum has an interesting exhibit on how Davao became a city.
Accordingly, Davao became a city out of fear of Japanese control. The account says that “during the constitutional convention in 1934, one delegate in the person of Pantaleon Pelayo Sr. denounced the control of Japanese in Davao and their unlimited acquisition of land. The issue became a national concern so that Davao was made into a chartered city with appointive officials instead of elective officials.” Many feared at the time that if officials were elected, Japanese-supported candidates would win.
In the ’30s, Japanese control of Davao was said to be complete in Guinga district because they were already dictating both the economic and political life of the town. That Japan at that time was already on its way to become a world power also stoked those fears.
Shown in the other exhibits of Japanese life in the city are pictures of the first Japanese tycoons who made a killing in abaca plantations. These tycoons were said to be “responsible for giving recognition to abaca (manila hemp) as the world’s strongest cordage fiber in the pre-war era.”
The gallery also charted how the agribusiness economic life of the city was largely influenced by the plantation economy propagated by the Americans. It said that by 1912, some 50 American plantations had already been put up in choice lands around the Davao Gulf and that these American planters hired workers from indigenous tribes.
But later, however, the Americans found the work habits of the Lumads as unsatisfactory so that many of them were forced to recruit laborers from Luzon and the Visayas while others later engaged the services of Japanese laborers and contract workers for the plantations.
Interestingly, many of these Japanese workers had worked on the construction of the Kennon Road in Baguio. When their contracts expired, they were brought to Davao, where they became the first Japanese workers in the plantations.
Mention was also made of a Japanese man, Kyosaburo Ohta, who is said to be the agent or contractor to hire the said Japanese workers for the American plantations.
Ohta opened a store in Davao City and later started an abaca plantation of his own, paving the way for the Japanese dominance of plantation holdings and trade and commerce in the city. Little wonder then that there was a time in history, in the 1920s, when Davao was referred to as “Davaokuo” or Little Tokyo.
Perhaps because of this historial kinship, the Japanese are still drawn to Davao City even to this day. According to Department of Tourism data, most foreign visitors to the city are Japanese. (Cheryll D. Fiel/davaotoday.com)