The Old Japanese Houses Preserve in Davao - Philippines
Due to the world demand for hemp and abaca in 1914 to 1920 Davao City saw the unprecedented influx of Japanese workers and investors in the vicinity. This gave rise to what we now call Old Japanese Houses in the city once known as “Little Tokyo.”
Japanese migrants were dramatically growing in number and being aggressive in the area business-wise. Profiting much from the abaca boom, they soon erected posh Japanese dwellings made of precious wood which are now popularly the Old Japanese Houses.
Most Japanese migrants settled in the areas of Tugbok and Toril in Davao City. In Mintal, Tugbok many abaca warehouses and processing plants were erected before World War II erupted. But the Japanese mostly chose Toril District for their residences, specifically in Daliao Town. At first the dwellings were simple one-room affairs built of ordinary and cheap materials. The abaca boom changed all that.
Soon, as their profits soared, the Japanese started building posh dwellings we now call the Old Japanese Houses. They also began sending for their families to settle in Davao permanently. Today, we see the Old Japanese Houses with Seikei Yoma and Kuichigai Yoma—dwelling room extensions segregating family from guests.
Some of the Old Japanese Houses are Furukawan in style—bunkhouses where Japanese laborers settled. Actually, Okinawans were mostly the farmers and laborers or jieisha, and the Japanese were mostly the investors. Hence, Okinawans were likely the residents of the Furukawan Old Japanese Houses we see today.
Dalia in Toril District and Mintal in Tugbok District are adjoining and some 10 to 12 kilometers away from the city proper, or some 20 to 30 minutes away via car. Davao City has various scenic spots commemorating the presence of Japanese settlers in the land and also the fierce battle between the Japanese army and the allied forces (RP and US forces).
Abaca industry, as introduced by the Japanese, became a major agricultural product in Davao. This can be gleaned from the tools and implements used by the Japanese jieisha displayed in the Japanese Museum also in the city. The Old Japanese Houses are only part of the considerable Japanese influence in the city. There are also shrines, a Buddhist Temple, memorials, a Japanese tunnel, among others.
Today, spearheaded by the Tourism department, local and foreign tourists, especially Japanese, regularly visit these places—especially the Old Japanese Houses—to pay respect and reminisce a glorious past. And it’s amusing to think that Davao City used to be the Little Tokyo this side of Asia.