DAVAO has always been a special place for many Japanese. Local old timers in Toril district could share anecdotes about their childhood days looking up to certain Japanese businessmen growing abaca in the area. Abaca is a close relative of the banana plant – native to the Philippines. Also called Manila hemp, abaca fiber was originally used for making twines and ropes.

Abaca plantation workers from Japan arrived in Davao in the early 1900s. Like the Filipinos who went to Hawaii to work in pineapple plantations, the overseas Japanese workers came here to seek greener pasture. Until the end of the Second World War, abaca propped Japan and Davao’s economic growth.


A 1942 picture of Davao Times from Wikimedia Commons

In Toril, Mintal, and Calinan areas, Japanese descendants – or Nikkei Jin – from inter-racial romance are considered lucky because they are said to have a good chance to work and live in Japan. Treasure hunting has been common in these areas because of rumors that many Japanese buried gold there. Hence, it is not surprising to learn that some residents dig very deep garbage pits every now and then because of the buried gold rumors.



DAVAO Times became Mindanao Times (images from

Although not heavily promoted for tourism, the Ohta Kyozaburo obelisk in Bago Oshiro is a concrete reminder of the enduring friendship between the Japanese and Davaoeños. Erected in 1926, the monument pays homage to Ohta Kyozaburo, a Japanese entrepreneur who came to Davao and developed vast abaca and coconut plantations. He played a pivotal role in the economic growth of Davao. Some people even revere Mr. Kyozaburo as the Father of Davao Development. Perhaps he did help make Davao become, once upon a time, the top producer of abaca in the world.


JAPAN town Davao, circa 1930s (source:

The PNJK IS or Philippine Nikkei Jin Kai International School in Davao City is just one of the many symbols attesting to the unshakable Davao-Japan friendship.

The University of Mindanao’s Bonifacio-Ponciano area was called the Embassy Area because the Japanese officials originally occupied the property. Since I was a UM high school student in the 70s, I have heard rumors about unearthed gold in the area but no hard evidence ever surfaced.

Perhaps the real gold left behind by the Japanese at the UM Embassy Area was a pre-war newspaper called Davao Times. In 1946, it became Mindanao Times – the oldest newspaper in Mindanao.


THE OHTA Kyozaburo Obelisk (source:

Unproven stories about finding Japanese gold bars in Davao construction sites persist. Even President Rodrigo Duterte is not spared from rumors that he earned a fortune from unearthed gold a long time ago. Oh, the silly zigzag grapevine of taxi drivers who seem to know it all.

The January 2017 visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Davao City further strengthened the bond between Japan and Davao. Abe’s tour of Davao included the room of the Philippine President with the now famous mosquito net. Presidential Assistant Bong Go uploaded pictures of that endearing moment on his Facebook page.

Many young Davao artists are infatuated with Japanese anime and cosplay. Foodies patronize local Japanese restaurants.

Japanese products, in general, are perceived to be of high quality. Many motorists even call Davao as Toyota country because the popularity of that brand among local car buyers.

For more than a century, the Davao-Japan friendship continues to grow.

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