Philippine-Japanese relations span a period from the 17th century to the present. Relations between Japan and the Philippines date back to at least the late Muromachi period of Japanese history, as Japanese merchants and traders had settled in Luzon even before the Spanish colonization. Especially in the area of Dilao, a suburb of Manila was a Nihonmachi of 3000 Japanese around the year 1600. The term probably originated from the Tagalog term ‘dilaw’, meaning ‘yellow’, this describes their general physiognomy.
The Japanese had established quite early an enclave at Dilao where they numbered 300 to 400 in 1593. In 1603, during the Sangley rebellion, they numbered 1,500 and 3,000 in 1606. In 1593, Spanish authorities in Manila authorized the dispatch of Franciscan missionaries to Japan. The Franciscan friar Luis Sotelo was involved in the support of the Dilao enclave between 1600 and 1608. In the first half of the 17th century, intense official trade took place between the two countries, through the Red seal ships system.
Thirty officials “Red seal ship” passports were issued between Japan and the Philippines between 1604 and 1616. The Japanese led an abortive rebellion in Dilao against the Spanish in 1606-1607, but their numbers rose again until the interdiction of Christianity by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1614, when 300 Japanese Christian refugees under Takayama Ukon settled in the Philippines. On November 8, 1614, together with 300 Japanese Christians Takayama Ukon left his home country from Nagasaki.
He arrived at Manila on December 21 and was greeted warmly by the Spanish Jesuits and the local Filipinos there. The Spanish Philippines offered its assistance in overthrowing the Japanese government by invasion to protect Japanese Catholics. Justo declined to participate, and died of illness just 40 days afterwards. These 17th century immigrants are at the origin of some of today’s 200,000-strong Japanese population in the Philippines. More rebellions such as one known as the Tondo conspiracy had Japanese merchants and Christians involved, but the conspiracy was disbanded.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi also threatened the Spanish to leave or face full scale Japanese invasion, however this was near his decline and death, and it wasn’t long before the Tokugawa rose in power right after. However, by the mid-17th century, Japan had established an isolationist (sakoku) policy, and contacts between the two nations were severed until after the opening of Japan in 1854. During the 1896 uprising against Spanish colonial rule the 1898 Spanish-American War, Filipino independence leaders sought assistance from the Japanese government.
Although the Meiji government of Japan was unwilling and unable to provide any official support, Japanese supporters of Philippine independence in the Pan-Asian movement raised funds and sent weapons on the privately-charted Nunobiki-maru, which sank before reaching its destination. However, under the terms of the Taft-Katsura Agreement of 1905, the Japanese government officially acquiesced to American colonial rule over the Philippines. During the American period, Japanese economic ties to the Philippines expanded tremendously and by 1929 Japan was the largest trading partner to the Philippines after the United States.
Economic investment was accompanied by large scale immigration of Japanese to the Philippines, mainly merchants, gardeners and prostitutes (‘karayuki san’). Japanese immigrants Davao in Mindanao had over 20,000 ethnic Japanese residents. By 1935, it was estimated that Japanese immigrants dominated 35% of Philippine retail trade. Investments included extensive agricultural holdings and natural resource development. By 1940, some 40% of Philippine exports to Japan were metals of iron, copper, manganese and chrome.
During World War II, immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces invaded and quickly overcame resistance by the United States and Philippine Commonwealth military. Strategically, Japan needed the Philippines to prevent its use by Allies forces as a forward base of operations against the Japanese home islands, and against its plans for the further conquest of Southeast Asia. In 1943, a puppet government, the Second Philippine Republic, was established, but gained little popular support, primarily due to the Imperial Japanese Army’s brutal conduct towards the Philippine civilian population.
During the course of the Japanese occupation, and subsequent battles during the American, an estimated one million Filipinos died, giving rise to lingering anti-Japanese sentiment. On 1944 to 1945, beginning the combined Filipino and American soldiers during the Liberation of the Philippines was the attack the Japanese Imperial forces at the end in World War II. The Philippines were granted independence by the United States in 1946, and was a signatory to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan. Diplomatic relations were re-established in 1956, when a war eparations agreement was concluded. By the end of the 1950s, Japanese companies and individual investors had begun to return to the Philippines. Japan and the Philippines signed a Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation in 1960, but the treaty did not go into effect until 1973, when then-President Ferdinand Marcos abolished the Philippine legislature under martial law and ratified the treaty ten days prior to the visit of Japanese Kakuei Tanaka. By 1975, Japan had displaced the United States as the main source of investment in the country.
Japan remained a major source of development funds, trade, investment, and tourism in the 1980s, and there have been few foreign policy disputes between the two nations. Philippine president Corazon Aquino visited Japan in November 1986 and met with Emperor Hirohito, who offered his apologies for the wrongs committed by Japan during World War II. New foreign aid agreements also were concluded during this visit. Aquino returned to Japan in 1989 for Hirohito’s funeral and in 1990 for the enthronement of Emperor Akihito.