The Portrait of a Japayuki as a Filipina (now with a podcast)

I had a college friend who was one of the headturners around campus. She’s no stunning beauty, but there is substance between the eyes. She found college life (to be precise, college life at THAT university, as everyone does) hard, daunting, and unforgiving. Like the others, she incurred failing grades on her very first semester; she was candidate to become an out-of-school youth if the university wishes. She shifted to an associate degree to make things easier. It was not so.

It did not help that she had family problems. She seemed cheerful enough, but as one quote says, “Laughter masks a lonely heart.” I guess her family problems complicated her college difficulties.

Before I left the university, she seemed to be on the way out. Then I had found out that she had left the university for good, beset with problems, with a bad experience from an uncaring university. I used to fear for her life, for herself. She seemed to be frail, weak, exploitable.

Then I got a letter from her. Datelined from a province, she said she went there to take stock of her life, and to explore her options. One of her options: to be a Japayuki.

(We Filipinos invented the term Japayuki as euphemism for any job that moralists among us deem as undesirable. The term is specific for Filipinas who work in Japan as hostesses. When the Brunei scandal broke out, a variation of the term was invented – Bruneiyuki.)

Several years later, she wrote me a long letter, relating her life in Japan. It was not easy, she said, but she was surviving. At least she had control over her life, and not prostituted to the whims and fancies of family members and poverty. She was earning more than she could ever earn from a desk job in Manila. Attached in the letter was a picture: there she was, in full make up, wearing a dress that your grandmother would not approve of.

Last year, she managed to visit the country. She was a changed woman, physically and emotionally. For one, she looked matronly. But her smile remained the same, her laughter retained the jolliness of the late 1990s. I had to risk being awake for more than 24 hours just to visit her and catch up on old times. What surprised me is the strength of character that showed when I saw her – as if the storms of life has toughened her.

She is now married to a Japanese, she said. Life is still tough, the husband’s family can’t accept her yet, but she took things in stride. Her family life has changed. She adores her younger brother, and she dotes on him. She probably sees in him the lost innocence of college life. She supports her family, like any other overseas Filipino worker.

I asked her about the stigma of being a Japayuki. What stigma, she retorted. She doesn’t care; what the society says can’t feed her. She’s glad that she is not a burden to the country, she’s happy to be a loving wife to a Japanese husband, she’s happy because she can support her family here. She is proud to be a Filipina and a Japayuki. The hell with stigma and moralists, she said with strong conviction.

As I left her house that day, all of my misconceptions and preconceptions were shattered. She has proven to me what a true Filipina is – proud of her country, proud of herself, strong, independent. She made me proud to be a Filipino.

Listen to a recording of this post, read by AJ Matela (thanks, AJ!):

Click here to get your own player.

35 thoughts on “The Portrait of a Japayuki as a Filipina (now with a podcast)

  1. There are many like this Japayuki friend of yours all over the world.

    A Pinay ‘Malaysiayuki’ I met in Penang recently said pretty much the same thing. She is officially a ‘masseuse’ in a massage clinic but in reality is more than just a therapist – she confessed that she does more than just body massage for her middle easterner clients.

    I met her through a hotel masseur (a male massage therapist) who upon learning that I was a Pinay said one of her closest friends was a Pinay and one of the most popular therapists in a Penang massage clinic. I called the said clinic and asked for for a reflexology appointment with her.

    Was pleasantly suprised to meet a pretty and college educated, young 30ish woman who came to Malaysia through the back door – Sabah.

    We chatted during the 45 min seance – she said she couldn’t care less how Pinoy society may brand her when they find out what she is doing in Malaysia, i.e., more than just being a therapist on several occasions.

    She’s able to feed a big family back home and that’s what matters, she said. Her ambition is to be able to see 2 of her siblings and her only child through to college and says that she hopes to save enough money to set up a legitimate beauty shop in Penang one day.

    No one has any right to condemn what she does for her family to survive. She is no murderer and no thief.

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  3. ‘yuki’ is somewhat like a suffix in Nihonggo which means ‘bound'(relating to direction). Thus, the term ‘Japayuki’ literally means ‘Japan bound’ (or ‘to go to Japan’).

    Since the influx of Pinoy entertainers in Japan, because they were the common ‘Japayuki’, the term became limited to them.

  4. Wow, very inspiring story! How many people out there who could really expose themselves and show to the world that they are proud to be Filipinos?

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  17. “She is proud to be a Filipina and a Japayuki. The hell with stigma and moralists, she said with strong conviction.

    As I left her house that day, all of my misconceptions and preconceptions were shattered. She has proven to me what a true Filipina is – proud of her country, proud of herself, strong, independent. She made me proud to be a Filipino.”

    Moralists are concerned of what the world looks at us Filipinos. There are so many so many other jobs to be acquired abroad. Why does it have to be a Japayuki? There are so many other jobs that do not do not require the filipina to prostitute herself to foreigners.

    It is because such jobs are easy? And since dignity can’t feed us?

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  20. I know not all japayukis are bad persons but I know of a terrible japauki. I had a girlfriend who, without my knowledge, took my money to go to Japan and be a Japayuki. She told me she just needed to go to another place to find a job and “stand on her own” (she couldn’t find a job in the Philippines). When she arrived in Japan she told me through a telephone conversation that she used my money, I forgave her. I even provided for her family while she was in Japan, she said she’d pay me back once she’s earned enough. I didn’t know that she was a prostitute in Japan. She had several Japanese boyfriends who were giving her material things like monetary allowance, digicams, cellphones, etc. When she went back to the Philippines after six months (having all the money she has from prostituting) she broke up with me and then she told me about what she did in Japan. She didn’t even bother to pay me back everything that she owed me, from the her travel expenses to Japan and the financial support I’ve been giving her family. Her money eventually ran out, but she can’t go back to Japan because her Japanese “boyfriends” are looking for her because of the money and things that she also took from them. Now she has a live-in partner (whom she houses in her family’s home) and has a child out of wedlock and is constantly bugging me, trying to reconnect with me. Hope other japayukis do not follow this bad example.

  21. Di natin masisisi ang mga tao kung husgahan man ang ating pagkatao dahil narin sa mga bagay,kilos at gawa ng iilang kababayan.Pahalagahan natin ang ating katauhan bilang Pinoy na maipapamana natin sa ating magiging mga anak na Japinoy.Salamat po at magandang gabi

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