Getting to know the Filipino diaspora in Japan

Be a cultural ambassador in your own right

At a glance

  • This thanksgiving wasn't just for a festival; it was a celebration of the spirit of bayanihan, of communal effort that builds bridges.

VIVA PIT SEÑOR Sinulog dancers with their Sto. Niño statues

Across bustling Tokyo, whispers of home still flutter—in the familiar lilt of Tagalog laughter echoing through the streets of Meguro, in the aroma of laing wafting from the church’s community hall. Here, at the Meguro Catholic Church dedicated to St. Anselm, thrives a part of the Filipino diaspora in Japan. Celebrating Sinulog abroad is one of my most vivid memories from our time in Berlin and Kuala Lumpur. So attending last week’s festivities here in Tokyo was quite a trip down memory lane while noting how things were done here. 
The dancing with Sto. Niño statues of varying height, the show-quality all-Filipino choir, and the feast that comes after—similar but has its own, localized flavor. 

After attending the mass, Philippine Ambassador to Japan Mylene Garcia Albano addressed the community. Just last week, in this column, we talked about soft power and how harnessing the diaspora is a key factor in improving our international image. And there I was, seeing it again first hand. 
Addressing the Gathering of Filipino Groups and Communities (GFGC), the ambassador talked about the importance of community. She also thanked the Filipino community leaders in different parts of Japan for stepping up during the recent earthquake, allowing them to reach Filipinos who have yet to register with the embassy and opening channels for the embassy to provide assistance. “We will continue to reach out,” the ambassador said. “The more communities that we can reach out to the better.”

A HAPPY GATHERING From left Consul General Charmaine Serna-Chua, Fr. Edwin Corros, Philippine Ambassador to Japan Mylene Garcia-Albano, and members of the Filipino community in Japan

The Filipino diaspora in Japan is estimated at around 300,000, contributing to various industries, from the IT, service, and manufacturing sectors to entertainment. I just recently learned that our country’s current tourism ambassador to Japan is Alan Shirahama. Born to a Filipino mom and Japanese dad, he’s a well-known performer, actor, and DJ who is a member of boyband Exile. He’s also the leader of Japanese all-male dance and music group Generations from Exile Tribe. He recently visited the embassy and my husband conveniently remembered to tell me about it after he has gone.
As with any Filipino gathering, food was a central affair. With flavors from home paired with Japanese desserts making the Sinulog celebration a bit more special. It was a weekend but the day did not end at the church gathering. Back at the embassy, the Philippine Assistance Group (PAG), a non-profit organization also composed of Filipino communities in Tokyo, was celebrating the success of the Philippine Festival they organized back in December.

This annual event, a vibrant display of music, dance, and culinary delights, is a love letter to the Philippines, a bridge that connects Tokyo to Manila. Held at the Yoyogi Park, it was accessible not just for the Filipino community who knew about the festivities but Japanese people who were out for the weekend and we warmly welcomed to join in. But behind the dazzling spectacle lies the tireless dedication of volunteers and the embassy team, their sweat and sacrifices the backbone of this cultural endeavor.
Ambassador Garcia-Albano’s words were not just of gratitude, but of celebration. She recognized their invisible threads, the countless hours woven into making Tokyo a home away from home, a stage where Filipino identity shines bright. “Events such as the Philippine Festival continue to serve as an excellent platform for promoting our country by highlighting our heart and our culture,” the ambassador said as she welcomed the huge crowd at the embassy. The success of the festival was felt not just by those who organized it but by the non-Filipino attendees as well. 

TO MORE YEARS TOGETHER Going 20 years strong, the Gathering of Filipino Groups and Communities shoes the strong bond Filipinos have even when overseas

“I was talking to a fellow ambassador who enjoyed his day at the Philippine festival and now wants to replicate the experience, this time showcasing all ASEAN nations,” Ambassador Garcia-Albano shared.
This thanksgiving wasn’t just for a festival; it was a celebration of the spirit of bayanihan, of communal effort that builds bridges. These two events, mere snapshots in the embassy’s ongoing work, reveal a powerful truth: the Filipino diaspora is not just a scattered multitude, but a potent force. 
And the Philippine Embassy, through its commitment to engagement, is harnessing this collective energy, transforming it into soft power, that paints Tokyo with the colors of resilience, cultural richness, and unwavering determination. In these seemingly ordinary gatherings, we witness the seeds of a brighter future being sown, where the Filipino spirit takes root not just in faraway lands, but within the very fabric of the global community. 

FIESTA TIME Members of the Filipino community and embassy staff bring Filipino dishes for a taste of home

And to those who are part of the diaspora elsewhere, remember to spread the warmth of Filipino culture in your own way. Share a dance, a dish, a story. Be a cultural ambassador in your own right.