Philippines — A new home for Japanese retirees

MANILA, Dec. 29 Kyodo Sunshine filters through cloudy skies as 90-year-old Ai Suzuki sips coffee on the porch of a Philippine retirement house she now calls home.

Suzuki’s stooped back and frail frame contrast with her nearly bellowing voice and her hearty laughter during an interview with Kyodo News.

The Rose Princess Home 1 in Cabuyao, Laguna Province, some 35 kilometers south of Manila, is where Suzuki and scores of other aging Japanese have found a new haven to savor their twilight years.

Suzuki, from Miura in Kanagawa Prefecture, decided to live in the Rose Princess Home 1 two months ago after checking out three nursing homes in Japan. Before coming to the Philippines, she stayed in a private nursing home in Japan, but found it unsatisfactory.

“It was expensive. My room was very small. Food was bad,” she complained of her former nursing home.

While noting her new Philippine home has a remarkably bigger room and the food is much tastier, she finds hygienic standards stricter in Japan.

Suzuki is one of 519 Japanese who opted to abandon the dry winters and unbearably humid summers in Japan to enjoy the comforts of retirement in the Philippines.

The Philippine government, in a bid to attract foreign retirees — notably Japanese — to settle in the country, has offered “special resident retirees’ visas.”

To be eligible, a foreigner has to deposit a minimum of 50,000 dollars in a Philippine bank. The depositor can use the amount to invest locally or to buy or lease a condominium unit.

Potential applicants must be at least 50 years old. However, those between 40 and 49 years can be granted exemptions for an additional 75,000 dollar deposit.

In a separate interview, Atsukuni Munetomo, owner of the Rose Princess Home 1, said his business, which he started two years ago, is thriving. He attends to 34 retiree clients aged 47 to 90.

Of the 34 Japanese, 18 live in the 36-room Rose Princess Home building, while 16 enjoy the privacy of individual houses located within walking distance of the retirement home.

Two Japanese and 38 Filipinos staff the retirement home complex.

Munetomo says he runs the largest retirement home in the Philippines specifically catering to Japanese retirees. In 1997, he had only four clients although he devoted at least one year in enticing Japanese to settle in the Philippines.

“Now 50 to 60 people are visiting or calling us each month without advertising,” he said.

Munetomo said the influx of Japanese retirees to the Philippines is due to steep fees demanded by Japanese nursing homes and the growing apprehension among Japanese that their national pension program may not be able to support them in the future.

Munetomo said Japanese retirees living in the Philippines can enjoy the same service for five or six times less than the amount they have to pay in Japan. The Philippines, being a democracy with an English-speaking workforce, also suits his Japanese clients, he said.

Healthy and still active retirees are taken on local tours monthly while a shuttle service is available for those who want to go to Manila, he said.

“We are also sending our retirees to an elementary school nearby as volunteer teachers of Japanese language and culture. In return, they get English and Tagalog lessons,” Munetomo said.

Some of the retirees also serve as part-time managers in a Japanese tea house near Manila’s Makati financial district.

Masaaki Monda, 57, is one of those actively taking part in the exchange program with the elementary school.

Asked if he enjoys his stay in the Philippines, he said “hai” in a booming voice, and then broke into an infectious grin.

Monda, a former elementary school teacher in Japan, came to the Philippines in May 1999 after quitting his job in Osaka.

In June 1998, he suffered severe pains in his waist and was hospitalized. That was when he began worrying about his future because he is single and had no one to take care of him, he said.

“Even after receiving my pension, I was not sure if I could live a comfortable life in Japan,” Monda said, adding he researched and found out about the Philippine retirement home from a book.

He said he decided to relocate to the Philippines because the retiree visa was “comparatively cheap” and Filipinos speak English.

He said he feels more at home in Asia and the Philippines is near Japan, just four hours by plane.

Monda said it is better for him to live in a warm place like the Philippines because of his high blood pressure.

Now that they are settled comfortably in their retirement home, Suzuki and Monda share a problem, how to kill time.

Suzuki, used to being independent and in fact traveled to the Philippines and located the retirement home on her own, also complains her movements are restricted.

She said she could not just hail a taxi to go shopping or sightseeing as she had done in Japan, due to security considerations.

For Monda, an added diversion is tending a small garden in front of his bungalow. He complains, with a wide grin on his face, however, that the neighbor’s goat usually chews the flowers faster than they can bloom.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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