Remnants of little Tokyo

A few months ago I was invited as one of the pageant judges for Barangay Mintal's annual beauty pageant-  Mutya ng Mintal.

While waiting for the program to start we were ushered into the office of barangay captain Ramon Bargamento. Kap governs an area of 600 hectares with about 15,000 residents, located about 15 kilometers from Davao City proper.

Shells and grenades

A Japanese bayonet

A water canteen from an American G.I. he could be one of 
the  casualties in  the liberation of Mintal.

In his office he showed us newly dug relics from World War II. Among these include Japanese bayonets, bullets, grenades and water canteens from liberating American troops. They were discovered by workers who were constructing a barangay building.

Kap says the discovery is an evidence that  Barangay Mintal was a strong Japanese stronghold in World War II. One of the last areas in Davao City to be liberated by the Americans. He cited that Japanese built defensive fortifications such as tunnels, bunkers and foxholes which made retaking Mintal an difficult task.

In the early 1900s American rulers decided to open Mindanao particularly Davao to interested colonists, in the early days former American soldiers took the opportunity and developed abaca plantations. In 1903, Japanese workers who came from the Kennon road construction project in Baguio came to Davao to work in the American-owned abaca farms.

Through hard work and resilience the Japanese workers prospered becoming Abaca growers themselves. The Japanese population in Davao grew and in the 1939 census they had about 18,000 Japanese living in Davao City.

Before the creation of Davao City in 1937, there was the Municipal District in Guianga which covers Mintal and Calinan. This is where majority of the Japanese plantations were located and is the center of the Japanese community in Davao.

Fearing Japanese domination which had encroached into politics, in 1937 the Municipal District of Guianga was joined with the Municipality of Davao to form Davao City and where for 17 years the city's local officials were appointed by the national government to prevent being manipulated by the influential Japanese if the city's local officials were to be elected.

Mintal became a self-contained Japanese community, as Kap recalls only the Japanese were allowed to reside in Mintal. They built a hospital, a school, irrigation network, water system, hydropower plant, cemetery, shrine and a monument.

With Mintal as the center of Japanese presence in Davao which was often referred to as Davaokuo or "Little Tokyo" the barangay basically 'inherited' the title.

Old photo of the Oht monument, picture taken in 1920.

The bustling community was interrupted by World War II. During the liberation the US Army's 24th Infantry Division took nearly a month to capture the areas of Mintal, Toril and Calinan. That same army division would distinguish themselves in the Korean War during the 1950s and in Desert Storm against Saddam Hussein in the 1990s.

Nowadays the only remnants of their  presence in Mintal includes the Ohta obelisk located inside Mintal High School, the monument is in honor of Ohta Kyosuburo the abaca grower who developed Mintal, the Japanese cemetery built in 1910 once exclusively for Japanese residents is where memorial service are held every year in August with many Japanese nationals making their pilgrimage to honor their ancestors.

Plans are afoot by the local government of Davao to build a heritage site in Mintal trying to preserve the few remaining relics of the long-gone Japanese community.


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