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Once there were Filipina entertainers in Japan



As early as the 1970s there were already Filipino women entertainers in Japan or maybe even preceding the decade because Filipino singers were performing, holding concerts in Japan during the reign of Perla Adea, Nora Aunor, Esperanza Fabon, Joe Alvarez, Efren Montes, Boy Mondragon, Florence Aguilar, Baby Alcaraz, Janine Frias and their ilk. Although the shows might just be one or two nights in bars or concert venues they were giving a semblance of pro performances because they were popular names back home. Newspaper or magazine publicities on them including radio or TV guesting could prop up the status of local artists in the Japanese entertainment circuit as equals to fellow Asian performers.



Meanwhile, on the “faceless” and “nameless” Filipino performers in the so-called Land of the Rising Sun, I could vouch that as early as 1975 my cousin Mitha Ardiente was already a model and a dancer in Japan. She said she and her fellow performers were showing Filipiniana dances in our native costumes like kimona (embroidered blouse made of indigenous materials like jusi or other fabric) and patadyong (skirt of floor length in floral prints or loud colors but subdued design) not onstage of cultural exchanges in art galleries, auditoriums or consular offices but in night clubs. Mitha said they had performed folk dances like “Binasuan,” “La Jota Moncadeña” or even “Tinikling” to the amazement, she observed, of the Japanese audience mostly composed of males.

Until I saw an influx of Filipino entertainers in Japan especially in the early 80s when the poverty index in the Philippines was very high and many Filipinas who had backgrounds in modeling or student participation in cultural convocations in high schools or even in college were raring to go, to put to practice their self-validated or generally approved talents and to try entertainment export because it was going around the buzz that entertainers were earning a lot.

I could cite my townmate Cora Datario-Sakamura, a Filipina model in Japan, now married to a Japanese man who was a toast of our community because she was able to build her own talent agency which earned much for her to build a house and to venture in other businesses outside entertainment export. Another kababayan singer in Japan was Armela Erandio who was abuzz in our town in the 1990s because she was able to build a palatial house in the posh Ayala Alabang.

Closer to home, inactive actress Vida Verde, Catherine Mejia in real life, was once upon a time an entertainer in Japan before she was discovered for the movies. At the time Vida was already doing solo starrers and her Japanese boyfriend was always in town apparently impressed by what his girlfriend has turned up to—a national figure. Verde at the time was a staple in tabloid entertainment news it added to her standing every time she would request the Jap something it was given to her in a silver platter. In the early eighties, aside from Vida, there were many young, pretty faces that were mostly entertainers in Japan who wanted to be movie stars but sadly, they didn’t catch the glitter.



At the time, the Japanese government was lax to Filipino entertainers when movie and TV stars were invited to perform there to the tune of hundreds and thousands of dollars and yens. I remember Jobelle Salvador and a bevy of other actors had performed there for at least one month and brought home, according to witnesses, quite a fortune. Filipino male actors who worked in pub houses in Japan were billed “hosto.”

While most Filipinas who worked in clubs as entertainers were called Japayuki which has earned a derogatory meaning all these years popular movie and television stars who go to Japan weren’t and still aren’t attributed or described with it. For instance, the late sultry torch singer Didith Reyes consistently performed in Japan or Aegis Band which has girl members aren’t billed Japayukis.

Unlucky are the wannabes and the ordinary entertainers who were and still are tainted with the Japayuki image as it evolved and evoked a woman of shady or devious behavior. Japayuki has become a negative connotation when in fact, japayuki as a word means “those who go to Japan.”

Normina Budoy, a countryside colleen who could carry tune as attested by her neighbors, classmates and friends, was enticed to go to Japan in the mid-80s to work as a vocalist of a band. Normina said she grabbed the offer to help mitigate her poor family.

Award-winning actress Marissa Delgado wasn’t an entertainer in Japan but she had a prosperous talent agency business which sent Filipino talents abroad.

Going to Japan as an entertainer has weaved many colorful tales, some disgusting and horrible even tragic, some mirthful and meaningful. For Filipinos, there were memorable stories such as the Maricris Sioson narrative which was even translated into a film. Sioson as an entertainer was beaten to death in Japan.

I’ve talked to some former entertainers in Japan and I asked them if it’s true that a female entertainer is indeed asked or even forced to strip off her clothes before the customers. One of my respondents said that there were only remote cases like that.

Entertainment export to Japan today isn’t as active as before because the Japanese government has imposed stricter rules to migration but there are many memories that the stint has created.



Many Japanese men sired their Filipino girlfriends with kids, many of them love children but they are now professionals although there are also unlucky ones. There are also Filipino entertainers who already build families in Japan and they are living happily.

Normina didn’t marry a Jap by choice and decided to settle down with another Filipino musical artist instead. But she has a lot of unforgettable experiences while working as entertainer. Here’s one anecdote: “Ang hindi ko makakalimutan, pag pinapainom na kami ng lady’s drink. E, di ba, matamis ‘yon? Ako, hala, sa isang lagok ng lady’s drink, isang lapad, e, ang laki ng foreign exchange no’n. Kaya ako, lagok lang nang lagok kaya ang dami kong kita (What I cannot forget is when they—the customers—would offer us to gulp up a lady’s drink. It’s sweet, right? In my case, I would drink it right away because each drink meant one lapad—(a wide, big amount of yen) which had a high exchange rate. That’s why I just gulped up unrelentingly so I had a lot of money),” Budoy recalled.

“Pero ano naman ang kapalit no’n (What was in exchange of that?” she hinted.

“Nagka-diabetes ako (I contracted a diabetes),” she said matter-of-factly. 

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