THE SONG OF O-SEI-SAN
By: Quennie Ann J. Palafox
A popular song among ex-couples, who had let go of one another for the reason that breaking apart is the right thing to do, is “Somewhere Down the Road”. It’s lyrics tells the story of a love that was lost, but one that still clings to the hope that someday and somewhere lovers who fell apart will find themselves in each others arms again. It was written by Cynthia Weil and Tom Snow recorded in 1981 by Barry Manilow.
If O-sei-san were still alive in the 1980’s, she could have dedicated this song to Jose Rizal, as she had to let go of Rizal in order for him to fulfill his dream for his country. Rizal could have lived longer and established his own family had he opted staying in Japan with O-sei-san. However, Rizal made a great sacrifice when he chose to return to the Philippines and devote his precious life for his fellow countrymen.
It was only in recent years that interests have arisen to unravel the mystery of Rizal’s Japanese love- ‘Osei-san’. His relationship with O-sei-san and his residence in Japan for over a little month has been one of the highlights of Philippine-Japan relations. Leonor Rivera may be Jose Rizal’s greatest love as she was his girlfriend for quite long years. However, their relationship did not last as Rivera was forced to marry an English Engineer named Charles Kipping. On the other hand, a Japanese maiden named Seiko Usui (Osei-san) had loved Rizal like no other woman.
Novelist historian Ki Kimura helped the Philippine embassy in Japan to identify the Japanese girl that Rizal had love in his short stay in the Land of the Rising Sun. Mr. Kimura’s quest for the identity of Osei-san started during the war when he was dispatched to the Philippines by the Army Air Force to write for a Japanese newspaper. His frequent visit in the the National Library to look into Rizal’s diary and other documents was a success as he found the photo of Osei-san which was said to have been preserved by Trinidad, Rizal’s younger sister. O-Sei-San must be very special to Rizal that he had kept a photo of her.
Rizal left Hong Kong for Japan aboard the S.S Oceanic to accept the invitation of Don Juan Perez Caballero, secretary of the Spanish Legation, to live with him in February 1888. He was offered a position in the Spanish Legation with a handsome salary of P100 a month. Jose Rizal penned a letter to his family in Calamba in which he described Yokohama as a town inferior to Manila in respect to outside appearances. He stayed at Grande Hotel in Yokohama. The next day, he went to Tokyo and stayed at Tokyo Hotel, located inside the Hibiya Gate, from March 2 to 7, 1888. He left Tokyo Hotel and resided with Perez Caballero in the Spanish Legation in Azabu, Tokyo Japan.
In his first days in Tokyo, Rizal found difficulty in communication with the Japanese because only few could understand English. Hence, he spent a month and a half in learning the language, Japanese art, judo, theater (kabuki), and music. He also learned the Japanese way of life, their customs and progress. Rizal admired the industry, courtesy, cleanliness of the Japanese. He found out their homes clean, that beggars were rare, but he could not stand the sight of human beings pulling cars (kuruma). He was surprised to discover that many members of a Japanese brass band were not Japanese but Filipinos. While in Tokyo, Rizal marveled at the architecture of the shrines and temples. He frequented the National Museum to appreciate Japanese fine arts. He also visited Meguro, Nikko, Miyanoshita, Hakone and other cities.
Rizal was entertained by Kabuki plays in Tokyo and Osaka. He appreciated the play Sendaihagi in which Masaoka, court-nurse of a daimyo, played by Kikuguro saves her young lord’s life at the sacrifice of his son. In Osaka, he watched the Chushingura and was inspired by the chivalrous spirit of Amagawaya Gihei who placed allegiance on top of his life and even his son’s.
One spring afternoon, Rizal set his eyes on a beautiful Japanese woman who passed by at the Spanish Legation. His eyes were captured by her charm and lovely face. Rizal went on asking information about the name of this woman whose beauty captivated him. Finally, he learned from the gardener that her name was Seiko Usui and she took a walk every afternoon near the legation.
Rizal did all means just to introduce himself to Seiko. Seiko was born in 1865, three years before the Meiji Restoration, in Edo (now Tokyo) to a samurai, who became a trader in Yokohama after the Restoration. The Japanese lady was impressed with Rizal’s wit and charm and eventually their admiration for each other developed into a romantic bond. Rizal was 27 and O-Sei-San was 23 when they met. Osei-san conversed in English and French with Rizal, thus, it removed the language barrier. From thereon, the two meet everyday and they visited all interesting places in the city. She helped Rizal understand the Japanese language and also related to him the culture of the Japanese. O-sei-san was truly an epitome of a high-cultured Japanese woman.
This short-lived residence in Japan proved to be one of the happiest days in Rizal’s life for he was not only fascinated with the sceneries in Japan but he also fell in love with O-Sei-San. Their love came to an end when Rizal had to leave. His heart was filled with grief as he bid sayonara to O-Sei-San. Rizal left Japan for San Francisco on board the English ship Belgic in April 1888. A day before he left Japan, Rizal wrote in his diary his regret for leaving, and his longing for the love of O-sei-san.
“. . . O-Sei-san, sayonara, goodbye! I have spent a lovely golden month; I do not know if I will have another one like it in all my life. Love, money, friendship, esteem, privileges… no woman like you has ever loved me..no woman has made such sacrifices as you have…you shall never know what I still think of you, and that your image lives on in my memory..when shall I return to spend another divine afternoon like that in the temple of Meguro?..when will the sweet hours I spent with you come back?…everything is at an end! Sayonara, goodbye!
Rizal might not have left a promise that he will return to Japan to be with O-Sei-San which was probably the reason that Seiko got married to another man. She became the wife of Englishman, Alfred Charlton, who was an English teacher in the Peer’s High School, then the Yamaguchi High School in Imaguchi, and later taught chemistry in the prestigious Gakushuin High School. He was decorated with the Japanese Order of Merit, 5th class, as indicated on his tombstone. Charlton and Seiko had a daughter named Yuriko who married the son of a senator named Yoshiharu Takiguchi. They had a son (no name) who was a Japanese diplomat assigned in Geneva. Charlton died in 1925 while Seiko survived World War II. Seiko died on May 1, 1947 in Hagi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture in Western Japan where she relocated during the war from Tokyo to avoid the bombing. She died at age 80.
On December 30, 1960, officials of the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo placed a bouquet of flowers on a grave at Zoshigaya Cemetery in Tokyo. The inscription of the tomb reads: “Alfred Charlton and his wife Sei-Ko”
Guerrero, Leon Ma. The First Filipino. Manila: National Historical Institute, 2006
Zaide, Gregorio F. and Sonia M. Zaide. Jose Rizal Buhay, Mga Ginawa, at Mga Sinulat ng Isang Henyo, Manunulat, Siyentipiko, at Pambansang Bayani. Quezon City: All-Nations Publishing Co, Inc., 1997
Tezuka, Tatsumaro. Footmarks of Rizal in Japan. Reprinted in The Cable Tow. July, 1961
Ocampo, Ambeth “Osei-san”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. June 23, 2009