Neriza Sarmiento-Saito

Neriza Sarmiento-Saito

On The Road To:

“What makes Christmas in the Philippines even more gratifying?”

We don’t stop playing because we grow old.

We grow old because we stop playing.  -  George Bernard Shaw

If there is any country in the world that can be officially labeled as having the longest celebration of Christmas, then you can bet on the Philippines! Three centuries under Spain are evident in our country’s religion, customs, and traditions. And the Filipinos have even made some of the religious events and festivals uniquely, if not lavishly, Filipino, where you can see, hear, feel, and smell Christmas the way it was in your childhood.


It cannot be denied that years of living abroad made us miss the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi (the nine consecutive mass at Dawn), the bibingka and bitsu bitsu, puto bumbong, sikwate and salabat, and the Noche Buena. Lucky for those who booked early to spend the holidays with their families, but for those who couldn't, some churches have scheduled Simbang-Gabi masses, and Filipino communities have organized Christmas events and parties so that overseas Filipino workers wouldn’t feel too homesick this time of year in Japan.

As a way to ignite the spirit of Paskong Kansai-Ya, the Philippine Community Coordinating Council is going to hold the second pre-Christmas event, HIPTOK, on Sunday, November 26 at the Ikuno-ku Kumin Center from 1:00 p.m. Several communities under the PCCC umbrella, in cooperation with the Philippine Consulate General and the Department of Migrant Workers, Osaka, will compete in a hip-hop dance competition. This event is supported by Philippine Airlines with a free round-trip ticket to the Philippines. During the latest tourism expo in Osaka last October, the new regional head of Japan, Korea, and Oceania, Mr. Bryan Lim Ang, met with PCCC Chairperson Neriza Saito and the Vice Chairperson for Cultural Affairs, Katrina Fujikawa. Mr. Ang was accompanied by PAL’s country manager in Tokyo, Mr. Tomoyuki Nagao, and PAL Osaka Office Head, Mr. Kentaro Kusamoto. Through the years, PAL has been bringing Christmas joy to Filipinos, especially with a free-round ticket as the grand raffle prize. The "Paskong Kansai-Ya" last year attracted close to 500 attendees. Moreover, with the support of the Department of Migrant Workers Office in Osaka, headed by Labor Attache Elizabeth Marie Raquel Estrada and OWWA Officer Ms. Pilipina Dino, exciting prizes await the winners of the hip-hop dance competition, which is also a way to encourage and involve the younger generation of Japanese Filipino children.

Mr. Ang was also very enthusiastic to announce that travelers to the Philippines can avail of the SMAC cards, where points can be used for PAL’s Mabuhay miles. With more young people, especially students who find the Philippines a very attractive destination to spend the holidays and learn English and Filipino as well, the large number of visitors to the Philippine booth at the Tourism Expo in Osaka, where PAL also had a

Promotion space was also proof that more travelers are opting to go to the Philippines, for business or for pleasure. What more? There's nothing more gratifying than feeling that you’re already "home in the Philippines" the moment you go on board!

However, for some of us who aren’t able to travel for the Christmas holidays, join some of the Filipino community events in your area, and you’ll feel the warm welcome of our Kababayans, your extended family away from home!


Neriza Sarmiento-Saito

On The Road To:


Autumn is the season I like best not only because of the calming effect of the colors of the fall foliage but simply because it’s a time for retrospection—going back to what had transpired a few months before.

To my regret, I didn’t get a chance to have my Obon holidays in the Philippines due to work schedules and regular hospital check-ups. One day, while I was loading my groceries onto my bicycle one day, the cart I was using unexpectedly started rolling down the street. Realizing I wasn't nimble enough to catch it, my heart sank. To my surprise and immense relief, a young boy quickly ran after it, recovered the item, and kindly offered to return it to the supermarket.

“What a nice boy with proper upbringing!" I said to myself while I bowed politely to his mother watching from a distance.


I chanced upon this old poem composed by my grandfather in 1955, from his collection of published and unpublished works usually for some magazines like Liwayway and local newspapers. Coincidentally, it has something to do with the dilemma of most old people in Japan. Let me share with you the first few lines of “Ang Matanda“ by D. C. Ramos.


Ako’y matanda na at wala nang lakas

Uugod-ugod pang

pangit na lumakad

Mata’y malalabo’t


Buhok ay maputing

para nang busilak…


And then he concluded it with a message to the younger generation with:


Ikaw kabataang nasa aking likod


huwag malilimot,

Kahit anong anyo, huwag sanang mayayamot

Gumanti ka sana ng utang na loob…


I was in my 20’s when I read it the first time. Of course, I couldn’t relate to what my Lolo was saying. As I’m about the same age as he was when he wrote it, I am now experiencing what he said as “pangit ng lumakad“ due to joints and muscle pains.


September 18 is Respect for the Aged Day.  Japan is ranked as a “Super Ageing“ country as a result of its low birth rate. It is predicted that by 2030, there would be about 37.16 million people whose ages are 65 years or older. Although this age bracket is still capable of working and are still willing to work even after retirement, a large percentage is still unemployed. It's quite noticeable that in certain restaurants or coffee shops during the afternoons, there is an abundance of elderly customers leisurely passing the time, surpassing the regular crowd of working individuals.

However, a small percentage of people beyond the age of 70 who are still active at work have provided advice to their young co-workers.


One of the worries in our Filipino community associations is the lack of younger members who can help revitalize our communities and continue the work that we started for the next generation. In the meantime, here we are, the super ageing generation, trying to keep our communities intact but maybe we should not to expect Generation Z to give us accolades but maybe just a little respect and understanding of our predicament coming to terms with old age.


Let me share with our readers some of the major events of the Philippine Community Coordinating Council these past months: 



After its postponement due to the pandemic, the 4th Kapihan Panel Discussion was held at the Osaka International House last March 19, 2023. The guest panelists were Mr. Vernon Villapando, former music instructor and orchestra conductor at the Senri/Osaka International Schools of Kwansei Gakuin, who gave a virtual presentation; Mr. Jorge Takara, leader of the Yagi Filipino Community in Nara, and a Kawara craft expert; and Ms. Atsuko Matsuura Vizcardo, Coordinator of the Social Action Center of Archdiocese of Osaka (SINAPIS); the moderator was Mr. Alvin Tan, Asst. Chief of Staff, International Relations Department of the Osaka International House Foundation. Deputy Consul General Melchor P. Lalunio of the Philippine Consulate General and other officials like Labor Attache of the DMW Osaka and Ms. Pilipina Dino, Tourism officials were among the special guests. The Kapihan committee was headed by Mr. Jeff Plantilla. Kapihan was organized by PCCC (Philippine Community Coordinating Council) and co-sponsored by Osaka International House Foundation represented by Ms. Rie Umemoto in collaboration with International House Osaka, Southeast Asian Community and Kansai Nippi Tomo no Kai.


5th PCCC LEADERSHIP TRAINING SEMINAR and LAUNCHING OF COACH project of the Philippine Consulate General in Osaka

On July 8-9, the 5th Leadership Training was held in Rakan Furusato, Aioi Hyogo, attended by 35 representatives of Filipino Communities from Osaka, Hirakata, Shiga, Suzuka, Mie, Hikone, Yokkaichi, Kakogawa, Kobe, Akashi, Nara, Okayama and Tokushima. Deputy Consul General Melchor P. Lalunio launched the first COACH (Consular On-site Assistance Counseling and Help Project) consisting of consular modules on leadership skills and organizational skills. OWWA Welfare Officer, Ms. Pilipina Dino also gave a presentation on the services of the Department of Migrant Workers Office in Osaka. PCCC Chairperson, Neriza Saito welcomed the participants. The Leadership Training Committee was headed by Vice Chairperson for Social Affairs, Herbert Benzon, with the assistance of the PCCC officers, Katrina Fujikawa (Vice Chairperson for Cultural Affairs) Larry Macalalad (Secretary), Delia Nakashima (Treasurer ), July Bartiquin (Auditor) and Yoriko Hayashi (Asst. Treasurer).

Neriza Sarmiento-Saito

On The Road To:

Sunflowers and Firecrackers with...


Team Leader, SBI Remit, Kansai

Those who bring sunshine to the life of others, cannot keep it from themselves ...

James Matthew Barrie

Summertime can be both irritating and soothing! As for me, there’s more of the latter because it reminds me of summer in the Philippines. Images of summer in Japan are those of sunflowers basking in the sun and a nationwide display of firecrackers, contrary to how we associate firecrackers with welcoming the New Year.


Let us travel in time and find out who was responsible for introducing a way to beat the summer heat. No less than Tokugawa Ieyasu. He stumbled upon this idea in 1613, while watching some fireworks from his castle in Shizuoka. It wasn’t until 1733 that it became an annual attraction along the Sumida river in Tokyo.

Two hundred and ninety years since then, this extravagant display of fireworks are still enjoyed by people but are even brighter and more magnanimous with the use of modern technology and perhaps aided by Artificial Intelligence. Tenjin Matsuri is one of the biggest summer attractions where a two-day event culminates in a display of 5,000 fireworks along the Okawa River. My family enjoyed watching it from Osaka Castle Park or we would go near Temmabashi and view it from the bridge. Another good spot to enjoy it is from the Osaka Business Park.


Speaking of Tenjin Matsuri and the vibrancy of the people of Osaka, I thought of featuring a Filipina who has been trying to prove that a woman like her can be like a firecracker that can light up the lives of many people.


Julie Takeuchi Garces, works as the team leader of the Kansai Branch of SBI Remit at their newly opened office on the 2nd floor of the Mid Tower Building at the Osaka Business Park. Her family is from Bulacan but she grew up in Paranaque. In 1987, she decided to join her mother who remarried a Japanese from Osaka. She was only a high school student then. Before her mother and stepfather enrolled her at the YMCA to study Japanese, this teenager's life wasn't always simple. They gradually learned to like their new life in Osaka. Naturally, she occasionally felt homesick since she missed her relatives back home. She would forget about her loneliness whenever she thought back to the good times they had as youngsters playing in their garden.

When she worked at McDonald's, she and her sister quickly became friends with numerous Japanese people. The Takeuchi sisters spent some time working at Tomiya san's embroidery shop, a kind neighbor who was fond of them.

Julie met the love of her life, Chris, a handsome performer, and their union produced 5 children: Kurt Jan, Sean Christopher, Miharu, Hikaru, and Joshua. Jan was the name of her oldest child since he was born on a lucky day, New Year's Day. Although they speak Japanese with their friends, Jan stated in an earlier interview with Jeepney Press that her parents have made it a priority for them to speak Filipino at home. But when the siblings argue, they all swear at one another in Japanese!

Julie, who was born under the sign of Cancer, prefers to stay at home and just enjoys spending time with her expanding family. Now that she has 5 gorgeous grandkids, she always has something to do on vacations.

When Julie was suggested to join the staff of SBI Remit, she quickly advanced to the position of team leader due to her powerful yet compassionate demeanor, which has a significant positive effect on others. Almost all Filipino events in Kansai have had Julie and her SBI team participating as sponsors, particularly in Kyoto or Hyogo where many of their Filipino clientele are employed. She encourages them that in addition to remitting money to their family in the Philippines, they should also save and invest in some properties in the Philippines so that their hard-earned money may increase. Like a typical native of her sign, money represents security to her.

Many Filipinos can experience Julie and her team's genuine hospitality at their new office in the Mid Tower of the Osaka Business Park, where everyone greets visitors with smiles akin to smiling sunflowers and a spectacular display of fireworks!

Neriza Sarmiento-Saito

On The Road To:

Celebrating Busy Bessie’s 20th Anniversary As A Caterer 

Jeepney Press May - June 2023 Issue



This year’s Golden Week in May meant 9 straight days of holiday in a package for some, but not for someone like BESSIE VICENTE, Kansai’s Master Chef in her own right. I’ve always wanted to feature her in my column but never got around to doing it because she was always on the go. Aside from working for a food processing company, she accepts catering jobs for parties and events, food festivals or lunch deliveries for companies where many Filipinos work.

When she announced that she would be holding the 20th anniversary celebration of her catering service at the end of May, then I took the chance.

Before doing the interview, I had a relaxing drive to the countryside with my family on Golden Week and as our eyes feasted on the lovely flowers and the majestic mountains along the road, I remembered our annual summer vacations in Baguio decades ago. I really love the scent of roses and gladiolas and the fresh fruits and vegetables that we always brought home as souvenirs. My mother’s Kare-Kare and my father’s

“Caldereta“ couldn’t have been more savory without those Baguio vegetables! And to complete the exquisite dining experience, there must always be steaming freshly cooked rice (harvested from my aunt’s farm) on our dining table! My sister, Alice usually tells us, “Let food be thy medicine” because she strongly advocates balanced nutrition as the secret of longevity!

The first time I tasted Bessie’s caldereta and Kare-Kare, I was overwhelmed because it was exactly like how my parents cooked it. Nonchalantly, I asked “Ano’ng sikreto mo?“ She giggled and whispered something!! “Sabi na nga ba, ehh“, I answered back.

Bessie was born in Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur, where the Spaniard Juan de Salcedo landed and planted a big wooden cross in a town that has become famous for Bagnet, Empanada and sukang Iloko and Balatinaw rice.

In this town of hardworking Ilocanos, Bessie spent her younger days with her big family. Her father passed away when she was only a teenager. ”Lumaki akong mahirap, kaya laging ipinaaalala ng mga magulang ko na dapat ay masipag lagi para di magutom.” 

Young Bessie helped her mother peddled goods in the market to support their family. From then, she knew many ingredients for cooking. By this time, she was visibly interested in culinary arts, and the first dish she cooked as a teenager was Pinakbet. The family moved to Sta. Rosa in Laguna where her sister opened a grocery store.

Bessie enrolled at Adamson University and took up Political Science because she wanted to be a lawyer. In school, she used to join oratorical contests. She also took some subjects in social sciences at nearby PNU under Prof. Rene Romero. In 1999, she visited her sister Venus, who is married to a Japanese. She owned a small store selling Philippine products in Osaka.

On Bessie’s second visit, she met a Japanese man who soon became her partner. They opened a restaurant in Osaka but had to close it after 5 years. In reality, it was the catering service that was closest to her heart. As word spread on how delectable Bessie’s dishes are, orders came from all places, from private home parties, to church and community events, to consular gatherings and so on. She was the caterer at the retirement party for Prof. Mamoru Tsuda at the Osaka University Campus in Minoo in 2013.

Bessie has all praises for Labor Attache Elizabeth Marie Raquel Estrada, who is a food connoisseur herself. LabAtt Beth knows exactly what food goes well together. When former Labor secretary Silvestre Bello III came to Osaka, Bessie served her specialty Pinakbet and Bagnet! There was also a time when she went to deliver to as far as Takamatsu City in Shikoku because the customer definitely wanted to try Bessie’s dishes.

What are Bessie’s basic ingredients for the success of her catering service. It’s something inherent to her — faith in God, hard work, humility and a healthy lifestyle. Like what her mother taught her, she uses fresh and natural ingredients and definitely no additives like MSG and knows where to buy good meat for her caldereta! Asked about what she brought home as souvenirs for her family in the Philippines - frying pans, Sea Food Instant Noodles, Mikan oranges and Fuji apples!

But most of all, she is quick to say that her children are her fortress and source of inspiration and maybe it’s her youngest son, who is now a student in Nagasaki University taking up law who makes her even happier.

I asked her who she idolizes among the famous chefs in the Philippines.

Of course, Glenda Baretto of the world renowned Via Mare Restaurant and hats off to the first winner of Master Chef Philippines and a fellow Ilocano, JR Royol, who is now the host of GMA 7 - From Farm to Table.

As the 125th Anniversary of Philippine Independence approaches, we remember some of our national heroes who also had their favorite Philippine dishes. Jose Rizal (Tinolang Manok and Ginisang Munggo), Bonifacio (Lechon Manok sa Saha ng saging), Pio Valenzuela (Kare Kare), Lapulapu (Sinigang na Isda sa Mangga) and Gabriela Silang (Pinakbet).

And who knows, a hundred years from now, the heroes of the millennium, our OFW’s in Japan would also mention Bessie’s caldereta, Pancit palabok or Kare Kare as their comfort food from the Bagong Bayani ng Bayan- Busy Bessie who delivers delights!!!

On The Road To:

Kagawaran ng Manggagawang Mandarayuhan

The Department of Migrant Workers ( DMW) 

with the Honorable Secretary Susan ‘ Toots” Ople 

Jeepney Press March - April 2023 Issue

Rise from winter’s nap

Stretch to feel the Sun’s warm rays

Spring is among us...

- Shannon Schofield

Spring is in the air... as many say but unfortunately for those with pollen allergies, this season could be worrisome.

The arrival of spring has various connotations for different countries. In Japan, it’s the Sakura or Cherry Blossoms. Although in reality, it is the “Ume“ or plum blossoms that herald the arrival of Spring.

In the Philippines, since we have only 2 seasons — the dry and the wet - March and April are associated with the Lenten season. The date of Easter Sunday was decided in ancient times by the Council of Nicaea that it would be held on the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. So this year, it will fall on April 9.

Despite the shivering and chilly February this year, our hearts were warmed by the visit to Osaka of the Secretary of the newly created Department of Migrant Workers, the Honorable Susan “ Toots “ Ople.

At the ”Meet and Greet” meeting in the office of the former POLO now Office of the Department of Migrant Workers and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Consul General Voltaire D. Mauricio of Philcongen Osaka introduced the Honorable Secretary and Undersecretary PJ Caunan. Leaders and representatives of the Filipino Communities led by the officers of the Philippine Community Coordinating Council and its member communities in the umbrella organization such as the Kansai Nippi Tomo no Kai, Kakogawa Filipino Community, Sacra Famiglia Catholic Community, Shiga Filipino Christian Community, St, Joseph Catholic Church Hikone Filipino Community, Kishiwada Filipino Community Sama-sama Filipino Community, Kawachi Kayumanggi, Kyoto Pag-asa Filipino Community, Yagi Filipino Community, Nara North Filipino Community , SEAC, and IFFIK.

The new government office was specifically mentioned by President Ferdinand “Bongbong “ Marcos when he met with the delegates of various Filipino Communities in Tokyo last Feb. 12. He also said that the Department of Migrant Workers and the Department of Tourism with its new Secretary, the Honorable Christina Garcia Frasco have launched a travel incentive program for OFW’s and Overseas Filipinos... Bisita: Be my Guest Philippines.

Like her late father, former Labor Secretary and also Secretary of Foreign Affairs Blas Ople from Hagonoy, Bulacan, the Secretary is also an advocate of the rights of the OFW’s and promises that with the DMW, their mission in Osaka is geared towards a more robust Philippine Japan Manpower Resource Agenda. Before joining President Marcos’ meeting with the Filipino Community in Tokyo, Secretary Ople held very productive meetings with Employers of Filipinos in Osaka with Consul General Voltaire Mauricio and Labor Attache Elizabeth Marie Raquel Estrada.

On The Road To:


Paskong Kansai-Ya

Close to 500 Filipino expatriates in Kansai and their Japanese family and friends attended a pre-Christmas event, Barrio Fiesta style at Osaka’s Taisho Kaikan on Nov. 27, 2022. The number of attendees considering the situation in post pandemic days was unprecedented, making it one of the most exciting pre-Christmas events and Barrio Fiesta rolled into one. The Philippine Consulate General (PCG) in Osaka headed by Consul General Voltaire D. Mauricio, represented by Deputy Consul General Melchor P. Lalunio at the event and the Philippine Community Coordinating Council (PCCC) in partnership with POLO Osaka - Labor Attache Elizabeth Marie Estrada, Asst. Labor Attache Miguel Castriciones, OWWA Officer, Ms. Pilipina Dino and DOT Osaka Tourism Attache Jerome Diaz. The Philippine Community Coordinating Council (PCCC) is the umbrella organization of more than 25 Filcom groups from Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Nara, Mie, Shiga, Kishiwada, Takatsuki Hirakata, Kadoma Wakayama and other areas in Kansai. 

A cultural dance competition was the crowd drawer of the event that featured a consultation corner of POLO OWWA afforded many OFW’s to consult directly on labor matters. A beautiful church-inspired-booth complete with “parols“ was the DOT’s contribution to the festive Christmas atmosphere. There were also different stalls offering Philippine food and goods, reminiscent of our simbang-gabi in the Philippines. The nation’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines raffled off a round trip ticket. In between the dance performances were song numbers by Filipinos who have made names for themselves in Japan.

SBI remit headed by Julie Garced was one of the major sponsors.

PCCC, formed in 2002 is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Its major events are the Leadership Training Seminar in August, the Sportsfest in September, Christmas event in November and a Panel Discussion in March 2023. Paskong Kansai-Ya was conceptualized after the Seminar for community leaders in August. Ms. Katrina Fujikawa (Vice-Chairperson for Cultural events) and her committee together with the officers of PCCC sought the advice of the consulate and POLO about the event.

The winner of the Dance Competition was the church based Sacra Famiglia Filipino Japanese group. Second place went to the Akashi CFC Community and the 3rd place was awarded to the Philippine Dance Company. The Officers of the PCCC are Neriza Saito (Chairperson), Herbert Benzon (Vice Chairperson - Social), Katrina Fujikawa (Vice Chairperson - Cultural), Larry Macalalad (Secretary), Delia Nakashima (Treasurer), July Bartequin (Auditor), Yoriko Hayashi (Asst. Treasurer), Maria Hiramatsu (Asst. Sec).

“Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs!“ - Steve Saint

Masaganang 2023 po sa inyong lahat! This is an auspicious year for Jeepney Press as we commemorate our 20th anniversary. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of our publisher, Irene Kaneko and Dennis, our creative editor. Personally, they are my inspiration whenever I go through the process of writing my articles for each issue. It’s like embarking on a trip when I start to think of a topic and then reaching my destination as I finish the article. So, for this first issue, please join me on an exciting “Jeepney Press“ ride with my story!

Last year, the year of the Tiger was a year I can label fierce, fearless and ferocious. One of the highlights of 2022 for me started when my son sent a message:

“Mom, are you afraid of heights?”

“Of course not, why?”

“Then, join us on a helicopter ride!“

“What???”, I answered back!

So, before the end of 2022, I embarked on one of the most exciting rides in my life!! Of course, I had second thoughts about going. Afraid that what if something happened or if the engine suddenly stops or... But I trusted my son so I went with him and his girlfriend. Up there in the sky, I remembered an episode in my childhood.

In the late sixties, I was one of those innocent schoolchildren, who watched a helicopter carrying Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato land in our school grounds. We were selected for the rare visit because our school was in First Lady Imelda Marcos’ hometown. For me, it looked magnanimous, a symbol of authority and power. Little had I imagined that decades later I would have a chance to fly on a helicopter.

For me, it wasn’t the thrill of going on board a helicopter but the sense of accomplishment it gave me. I wasn’t afraid anymore to try new experiences. It was the same feeling that I had when Dennis and Irene asked me to start this column. I thought I couldn’t do it. But each time I finish writing, there’s always a feeling of accomplishment, like a flower blooming again. 

Another inspiration for me are the two babies, born during the pandemic who were still infants when I featured them in this column. Now, they are growing up fast and robust! Like Alice in Wonderland, let us follow the rabbit to more exciting adventures and stories in this column. I have included here some pictures and a write-up of “Paskong Kansai-Ya”, one of the main projects of Philippine Community Coordinating Council with the full support of the Philippine Consulate General in Osaka, in association with POLO, OWWA and the Department of Tourism.