Four years after the first wave of Japanese laborers arrived in Davao in 1903, the first seed of the Davao Japanese Association was hatched. The intention to create a small community of migrants with same roots was floated at the advice of the Japanese consul in Manila.
This initiative, though, did not take off. Nine years later, the idea was revived but the interest in the plan remained tentative. In 1918, a functioning Davao Japanese Association (DJA) was established; this transpired a year before the Public Land Act was revised in 1919.
One of the aims of the association was to avoid any form of discord with the Filipinos. An example of this was the hiring of Japanese girls in brothels, which was construed as a disgrace to the local Japanese population. Davao, in 1917, had around 13 licensed prostitution houses.
Cecil E. Cody, in ‘The Japanese Way of Life in Prewar Davao’ (1958), wrote about the issue, saying: “Following considerable concern and agitation among worried leaders, the Japanese consulate in Davao forced the houses to close, reportedly upon orders issued by the Foreign Office in Tokyo. By 1923 four or five of the houses had registered ostensibly under Filipino operators, but with Japanese involved in ownership.”
The association did not receive the Japanese involvement in brothels sitting down. It sent several petitions to local and national authorities who, two years later, ordered the closure of the remaining prostitution houses owned and managed by Japanese.
Cody also wrote that the association, as early as 1920, was already strongly campaigning against the participation of Japanese in gambling, which was a favorite Filipino pastime. The drive eventually led to the drastic reduction of Japanese involvement in games of chance.
With around 7,000 members by 1938, the society had a vital role in strengthening education in Davao, but not necessarily in terms of training teachers and providing supplies. The contributions it made was in the solicitation of funds from its members for use in the building of schools and their upkeep. The donations are aptly highlighted in many accounts. During this time, DJA was sustaining 12 exclusive Japanese schools with 65 educators, 12 of them Filipinos.
The Japanese association later became the “nerve center of the entire Japanese colony,” as described by Serafin D. Quiason in ‘The Japanese Colony in Davao, 1904-1941’ (1958). With consular support, it operated with five committees, namely administrative, financial, educational, informational, and social and owned a building where it held regular meetings and celebrations.
Four reasons were cited why the association was formed, which are “(1) to assure better living condition for all its members and their families; (2) to protect the individual member as a business partner; (3) to provide financial or medical assistance to those who are in need of it, and (4) to extend educational benefits to the children of the settlers.”
Quiason explained that there were actually five “dominant institutions” established in Davao as part of the “high consciousness of [the] Japanese way of life. These were the Japanese primary schools, the Davao Japanese Association, the Davao Buddhist sects, the Japanese language school and the Japanese newspapers.
Speaking of newspapers, the Davao Mainichi and Manila Nichi Nichi, which carried “information concerning contemporary events and other matters of particular interest,” were the most popular. Other bulletins published in Davao as secondary sources were the Davao Japanese Association Bulletin, The Journal of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, and the Nanshin Jiho.
During the war, the club launched a drive among its members and patriotic Japanese to gather funds to buy an airplane for use by the Imperial Army in its war campaign.
In a March 30, 1944, report sent to Tokyo by news agency Domei, the club was also involved in the “matrimonial problems of the Japanese residents” in Davao which was then getting serious. The association reported “that Consul General (Kato) had decided to invite girls soon from among the womanhood of Japan from various circles in Japan proper… in anticipation of the solving of the trouble of the matrimonial front.”
Interestingly, the association was also dragged in numerous claims of bribery, foremost of which was the charged filed by Davao assemblyman Cesar M. Sotto against another lawmaker, Romualdo C. Quimpo, author of the bill elevating the old town of Davao to a city who was, at the time of filing of the case, the private secretary to the Interior secretary.
In Administrative Order No. 126 signed by Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon on June 6, 1940 dismissing the charges against Quimpo, one of the allegations raised was the supposed 1938 bribery where Quimpo received P15,000 from the association.