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Eric Gamalinda: Confessions of a Volcano

Daniel is a thirty year old Filipino who has ambitions to be a journalist. He has won a competition to spend a month in Japan. The competition involved writing an article and going to Japan to research it. The subject he chose was the Japanese writer Osamu Dazai. Throughout the novel, Gamalinda will quote from Dazai and refer to him, as well as refer to two other well-known Japanese novelists – Yasunari Kawabata and Mishima. All three, as well as being well-known novelists, committed suicide. Only later in the book, do we learn that Daniel considered suicide when he was younger.

As well as studying Dazai, Daniel has two other motives for coming to Japan. The first is the obvious tourist one and he does travel around Japan. The second is to write an article about illegal Filipino immigration into Japan and how these illegal immigrants are massively exploited, particularly the women. Early on he meets Seiji and it is Seiji who will be, at least in part, his guide to Japan, both geographically and culturally. However, on a train, he also meets Luisa, another Filipino immigrant. She maintains that she does not have the problems other Filipinos have, as she has a Japanese boyfriend – Kato – who has got her a visa that allows her to stay. She does, however, have a room-mate, Rosie, who is illegal and promises to introduce Daniel to her. When he comes to their flat, however, he is told to urgently call a taxi as Rosie is overdosing and needs to be rushed to hospital. It turns out that this is not the first time this has happened. He finds out that Luisa and Rosie work at a club called The Crazy Horse where salarymen pay 4000 yen entrance and then a lot for drink, entertainment and, of course, sex. The Filipinas, called Japayuki (it means Go-To-Japan), get six month visas but many of them choose to stay on, illegally, as they get much better paid in Tokyo than in Manila. Kato runs the club and had taken a fancy to Luisa so her job involves more of the organisation of the girls. Daniel also learns than Kato has promised to marry Luisa and the they will marry shortly.

As Daniel travels around Japan, usually with Seiji, occasionally with Luisa, we learn that he is tired of Manila – the violence, the political upheaval, the dirt and the poverty. He seems to become closer to Luisa but, when he introduces her to Seiji, they seem to become close. Seiji, in particular, seems to have fallen very much in love with Luisa. However, Luisa and Daniel exchange books – he gives her Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion after they visit it and she gives him Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness and, of course, are able to talk in Tagalog and discuss the situation in the Philippines. Daniel also learns that despite his promises, Kato is married with two children, though he plans to leave his wife. Meanwhile, Daniel meets Hiruko, who works for a Japanese organisation helping Filipino women, not least those that come over to Japan as mail order brides and are then abused.

Daniel’s month is soon up and he has to return to Manila where he starts his career as a journalist, writing about the exploitation of the Filipinos in Japan and also writing about exploitation of the poor and violence in his own country. He keeps in touch with Seiji, Luisa and Hiruko, where he learns that things are not going well for Luisa. When she becomes pregnant, Seiji is sure that he is the father.

The book is, of course, about the exploitation of Filipino women in Japan, but it is also about the differences between the Japanese and Filipinos. We are told that the Philippines is more women-oriented, where women can easily divorce abusive husbands, which they cannot do in Japan, or even where men will stand up for women in buses whereas a Japanese man would find it demeaning to do so. We see the the Filipinos are more open and outspoken than the Japanese, particularly in the case of the women. Much is made of this. However, Gamalinda is quick to criticise his own country and can easily see the desire of Filipinos to go to Japan where, at least economically, they will be far better off. Refugees, the poor and exploited and political violence – he witnesses the brutal murder of a man simply for wearing a pro-Aquino T-shirt – seem to be very much part and parcel of his country and he also would love to get away. But, ultimately, life in Japan for Filipinos is not likely to be a happy one.

Publishing history

First published by Anvil Publishing in 1990